Unexpected tunes spice up FX drama

From the very beginning, showrunner Ryan Murphy and “Nip/Tuck” used music — both songs and underscore — in unexpected ways.

“Ryan’s vision was always clear,” says music supervisor P.J. Bloom. “He wanted a combination of big songs everyone knows and ultra-hip material that accentuates the decadent world in which our characters live.”

Adds score composer James S. Levine: “Typically I’d score a lot of pain and darkness, stuff that wasn’t necessarily on the surface. It was like a metaphor for the show: beauty is only skin-deep. That holds true for a lot of the music.”

Bloom, who has been Murphy’s musical partner on numerous projects, including the current Fox hit “Glee,” was there at the beginning, “developing the song architecture in Ryan’s creative image,” as he puts it, discovering composer Levine and figuring out how to budget for as many as eight songs per episode.

He’s especially proud of his work on “Nip/Tuck,” because “at that time no one was taking the kind of artistic risks we took,” he says. “It was a deep challenge to get the music community to embrace our inventive uses of song and story.”

With tunes occupying key moments in every episode, it fell to Levine to “score the darkness behind the action, the sub-conscious as opposed to the conscious,” the composer says. He and Murphy worked closely during the first two seasons to create “a nontraditional sonic palette” of synthesizers and samplers.

“I used a lot of old electric pianos, distorting and delaying to create interesting, unique tones that might make you sit up in your seat a little bit,” he adds. He also wrote the arrangements for songs performed on set (including the Bacharach number and last season’s infamous Jennifer Coolidge rap video, “Yo Stink Bitch”).

“There were moments during the series when I thought, ‘How far can I go?’” says Levine. “And literally the more crazy we got, the better it was and the more fun we had. It certainly taught me to be brave.”

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