His sublime score for Burden of Proof, the HBO limited true crime series, is as haunting as it is beautiful.
The haunting Chuck Johnson score for HBO’s limited true crime series Burden of Proof is dense with musical moans and sighs. Floating analog synth tones give way to jittery moments of bliss. Pipe-organs hum and pulse. The occasional contrabass rumbles. Absent knowing the storyline of the series — about a brother who’s convinced that his parents are hiding information about his missing teenage sister — the unspoken narrative moves with a kind of dramatic arc. It was just released on vinyl by the respected British ambient label All Saints.
Those unfamiliar with the Oakland-based guitarist’s work have a lot of gratifying listening to do. His work for labels including Trouble in Mind, Three-Lobed, Vin Du Select Qualitite/Thin Wrist Recordings, and others have established him as a guitarist’s guitarist, an explorer whose muse travels to places most of us never knew existed.
Mixing pedal steel, electric guitar and washes of synthesized noise, Johnson’s vibe draws on both Americana and ambient psychedelia to create pieces that seem to envelop your eardrums with harmonic overtones and strange aural dynamics.
Below, Johnson, who will play on a remarkable bill at 2220 Arts + Archives on Sept. 9 with Six Organs of Admittance, Arian Shafiee, and Shelley Burgon, selected five recent film scores that sound as good on their own as in the movies.
“I’ll focus on relatively recent film scores that have elevated the form, in my opinion,” Johnson writes of his picks.
Jóhann Jóhannsson – Arrival
Chuck Johnson: I think a lot of people associate Max Richter’s beautiful “On the Nature of Daylight” with Arrival, which was licensed for the film. But it’s Jóhannsson’s bespoke score that really captures the unsettling and uncanny events on the screen. Jóhannsson totally avoids the tropes of sci-fi music, and he makes brilliant use of analog tape manipulation and extended vocal techniques (including the voice of Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe). Absolutely masterful, and his presence is deeply missed.
Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow – Annihilation
Another example of film composers meeting the challenge of scoring absolutely mindbending scenes from one of my favorite directors (Alex Garland.) If you’ve seen the film, then you understand how well the cue titled “The Alien” works for that incredible scene. The atmosphere of the “Shimmer,” where most of the film takes place, is visceral thanks to Salisbury and Barrow’s score.
Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe – Candyman
Perhaps more than any other picks on this list, the Candyman OST stands on its own as an incredibly compelling suite of compositions. If I could listen to it again for the first time without any context or information, I might think it was an Italian avant-garde record from the 70s. Buzzing electronics, field recordings, electric piano, orchestral instruments, and voices blend into an atmosphere of modern dread. Lowe’s process for scoring the film is fascinating — visiting and recording sounds on location during filming ensured that he had a unique degree of insight into the film in its early stages.
Alexander Berg and Calle Wachtmeister – Aniara
I actually do watch a lot of films besides science fiction (ha!) but for me the scores that stand out in the past few years are mostly from that genre. I REALLY loved Aniara. I don’t think the Aniara score was ever released as an album, but I remember being struck by how the composers scored a story about the vast desolation of space and an incomprehensible scale of time with music that at times seems somewhat light and playful.
Hildur Guðnadóttir – TÁR
I loved this film, and I can’t imagine a more difficult scoring assignment, but Guðnadóttir’s music is as integral to this story as it is subtle. She manages to capture the internal world of music that is still nascent, before it is made audible, and that is fighting to exist in the troubled mind of Cate Blanchett’s character.
The Gondwana Records boss shares five essential favorites. Manchester-based trumpeter, bandleader, and composer Matthew Halsall has a new album coming out tomorrow! Inspired by the breathtaking sea views […]