Daniel Pemberton on Composing the Score of “Gold”

Posted on January 25, 2017 at 3:55 pm

Daniel Pemberton is one of my favorite composers (“The Man from Uncle,” “Steve Jobs”) and I was delighted to catch up with him to talk about the score for the new Matthew McConaughey film “Gold,” inspired by the true story of the rise and fall of a gold miner.

“Gold is a pretty remarkable movie about this character called Kenny Wells who comes from a family of gold prospectors,” Pemberton said. “He is down on his luck, down to his last few bucks but he still believes and dreams he can make it big. So he goes on one last splurge to try and find a gold mine in the Indonesian jungle which he does, remarkably, and then it’s kind of rise with him and what he has to battle with having found that gold mine.” Former Sexiest Man Alive Matthew McConaughey is almost unrecognizable in the film, “with a massive pot belly and balding.”

Pemberton came to the project later than usual, “but it was really great to work with Stephen Gaghan, who I hadn’t worked with before. He was a really great collaborator to work with, really enthusiastic and great at trying to push unusual ideas into the score. It is a quite complicated film to score in the sense that it’s not really like a film you can describe in one line. It’s got everything. There are aspect of the relationship between Kenny and his wife played by Bryce Dallas Howard, there is this kind of caper of trying to find the gold mine, there are two major locations which are the jungle and New York. What I really wanted to do with the soundtrack is take New York to the jungle and take the jungle to New York. Even though they are vastly different there were still similarities. The mountains of Indonesia were not that different to skyscrapers in New York and there are predators in the jungle and we have predators of Wall Street who try and take over what Kenny’s built. And so musically it’s trying to find a way to put all these story strands together and try and do it in an unusual fashion.”

Wall Street is famous for a sound that is musical but not usually heard in music. “I always try to find a way into every film I do. I was watching it again and again and there was a noise that came in the film, that I’ve heard many times before but I don’t think it has been used musically and I was suddenly struck by this sound. It was perfect for the film. It’s the sort of sound of the American dream, of modern capitalism, of making it rich, of New York City and it’s a bell and it has a pitch I like as well. It’s bare metal and shiny and it’s the bell at the New York Stock Exchange. We started trying these ideas, taking that bell and looping it and building beats underneath it and rhythms and throwing that into these early adventures in Indonesia and it was just amazing to have just the right pace for the film and his relentless drive. Kenny won’t stop even if he’s down to his last dime. He always keep going. And that bell has got a sound like someone just hitting away which is like a casino paying out or like people smashing rocks. So, it was a really great sound. So I end up manipulating that a lot, using it like straight, looped, then I speed it up or slow it down. Slow it down and it sounds like this incredible death bell. That is all peppered through the score. It was a really interesting starting block and then I went into using different kinds of bell and gongs as well and then there’s like a real variety of instrumentation, more synthetic for the relationship moments. It’s quite a broad canvas musically on this film.”

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