Clint Mansell soundtracks the apocalypse

Exclusive: stream the epic soundtrack by the long-time Aronofsky collaborator and moody maestro

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Since he was 13-years-old, the story of Noah and mankind's demise at the hands of God has obsessed cult director Darren Aronofsky, and we're celebrating his environmental epic with Aronofsky on Dazed – an in-depth look of his work as an auteur of our time.

You'll remember that string piece from Requiem for a Dream. It goes like this. The man who created it (along with the remarkable Kronos Quartet) is Clint Mansell, former frontman of alt-rock band Pop Will Eat Itself. After a move to New York in 1996 "with no real plan to be honest", Mansell bumped into a budding filmmaker. Darren Aronofsky enlisted the then 33-year-old to put music to his 1998 feature debut Pi. A lasting partnership was formed, and Mansell was again brought on for Noah, Aronofsky's retelling of the classic two-by-two bible story. Along with an exclusive stream of the soundtrack, Mansell tells us what worked and didn't work when putting together the epic soundscape for humanity's annihilation.

I know you’ve worked with Darren a lot in the past, when did he first approach you with the idea for Noah?

Clint Mansell: Now I read a script a long time ago. Probably after we did The Fountain I think. So it’s probably 6-7 years ago, something like that.

And what was your initial reaction? 

Clint Mansell: I don’t really remember, I don’t really like scripts to be honest.

How come?

Clint Mansell: I don’t know if I really get much from them. It’s a personal thing, it’s not to do with whether the script is any good or not, it’s just me. I don’t really take them on board. What I mean by that is a script is a story and you can go, "I like that," but it really tells you nothing about what the actual film’s going to be like. So I tend to not really take to much notice of scripts outside of going this could be interesting or I’m not really interested. And obviously being Darren’s script I was very interested.

“The scale, the amount of time we spent on the film – they were excessive compared to other productions that we’ve done – but every one’s an experience and it’s different and you kind of take it in as part of that journey”

Noah is quite different to what Darren’s done in the past… 

Clint Mansell: I actually don’t think it’s that different to what we’ve done in the past. You could break it down into simpler elements: the protagonist who is obsessed and is challenged, he gets to his breaking point to see through his obsessions. It’s quite a universal theme in Darren’s films – Pi, Black Swan, The Fountain, The Wrestler even. The scale, the amount of time we spent on the film – they were excessive compared to other productions that we’ve done – but every one’s an experience and it’s different and you kind of take it in as part of that journey.

So you mentioned that you read the script first 6-7 years ago, what was the timeline like?

Clint Mansell: I always write music from the scripts just to gather ideas. There’s a piece on the soundtrack called "Make Thee An Ark", which was actually the first piece I wrote for the film about 2 years ago, maybe more. It was written from ideas in the script but also for some digital animatic thing they were doing in the studio to show ideas. I always work on Darren’s films for a long time, but this was for the best part of a year really. From beginning to end, actually working on it, all 2013 was spent working on that.

Did you visit the set at all? 

Clint Mansell: Yeah I went to Iceland to see some of the filming and I had a great time but going on set, you’re usually just in the way. It’s just to get a feeling, get a vibe with the landscape of Iceland, that was really cool to see. We spent about 4-5 days there but we kept out of the way of the shoot as much as we could. We went out to places where they were shooting like the glaciers to get a feel but we had a brilliant time in Iceland, it’s a great place.

Does that help you to visualise what you’re going to put in the final soundtrack?

Clint Mansell: Any project that I work on I like to do a lot of research. Just try and find anything that will help me get a start point for some inspiration for the music. You never know whether these things are valuable or not, but I think they’re always worth doing, see what comes out.

“One thing that never came to fruition but I was really excited about was this guy in Canada who has these Aeolian wind harps, these huge structures that create these natural tones through the wind passing through them”

What did you start to look at in terms of how you wanted the film to sound?

Clint Mansell: I started looking out for very organic instruments. One thing that never came to fruition but I was really excited about was this guy in Canada who has these Aeolian wind harps, these huge structures that have got piano wire in them and they create these natural tones through the wind passing through them. They sound absolutely awesome and I was really interested in pursuing something like that but it just didn’t really work out.

I know that I wanted something primitive or primal, something that was raw, not too sophisticated, that energy but also had emotion to it. I’d written a lot of stuff last year, last summer I’d written probably two thirds of the themes that were going to be used but I couldn’t really get the context of them. For me, every cue in the film has got to relate to every other cue in the film – it’s got to be a cohesive piece of work. Someone paid me the other day what I consider the greatest compliment, which is when you listen to one of my scores you know what’s going on in the film, you can appreciate the film without even seeing the film. That for me is what it’s got to do, it’s got to connect on all levels and until I get to that point, it’s just noise, it’s just music.

“You can’t really stick a John Williams score in a Darren Aronofsky movie. It’d just be incongruous, you know?”

This is a huge, biblical epic, did that put any pressure on you to make the sound more epic than you would have regularly?

Clint Mansell: Obviously we wrestled with a few things because a biblical epic makes you think of huge choirs and angelic voices and soaring melodies. You kind of need to have those things because they are a staple of ‘epicness’. But it’s finding a way to do that that doesn’t sound like you’ve heard it a million times before and you knew it was coming. We actually tried recording bits of choir and bits of orchestra, recording elements that were more shall we say traditional approaches, but they just didn’t stick to the film. It felt like you were in a different movie. So it’s always the film that is the master that you’re serving and that starts with what Darren’s presented to us. You can’t really stick a John Williams score in a Darren Aronofsky movie. It’d just be incongruous, you know? By that I’m not trying to decline John William’s work, I’m just saying it’s like me doing Star Wars, it just wouldn’t work. Different approaches. But like I say the film is the master and you have to bow down to it and you have to serve the film and if you’re awake it’ll tell you where to go and it’ll certainly tell you what it doesn’t need.

Noah is out in cinemas today

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