Bluesy tones for broken folk in 'Brothers'

Still one of the most original voices on the U.S. film scene, 10-time Oscar nominee Thomas Newman supplied a sparse, intimate score for Jim Sheridan’s “Brothers,” about the psychological damage inflicted on an American soldier and the emotional havoc wreaked on his family when he returns home from the war in Afghanistan.

“All of these characters are good people,” says Newman. “I don’t think anyone is unheroic or bad. They’re just people who have made mistakes and are trying to do the best they can, and oftentimes failing. There’s nothing more moving than that.”

The idea that these were essentially “ordinary people” led Newman to choose the Stratocaster guitar as his primary voice, along with electric mandolin, both played by top studio guitarist George Doering. “I was interested in those kinds of colors as they related to young people, and manners of expression they could relate to,” Newman says.

But, as often with Newman, that’s just the beginning of the sonic experimentation that took place, involving musical “sound design” and the processing of acoustic sounds.

As the composer explains: “Here’s the skeleton of something. How can we improve it with color? Does it need more drive and pace? Does it need ambient tones? A solo instrument?” A string quartet, the EWI (electronic wind instrument) and various percussion instruments came into play.

He treaded lightly when it came to suggesting the Afghan locale during scenes with Tobey Maguire as a tortured American POW, using “colors that point us toward an area, and are somehow descriptive of the drama. ‘‘You want to be very respectful of the indigenous music of the region.”

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