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Sound design mixes it up with ‘kick-ass rock’

Billion-Dollar Composer: Steve Jablonsky

When “Battleship” opens on U.S. screens Friday, American naval forces will battle hostile extraterrestrials to Steve Jablonsky’s ferocious, heroic, percussive music — and sounds for the aliens based on the noise of magnetic resonance imaging machines.

Says Mike Knobloch, Universal’s president of film music: “We knew we needed someone who could bring something unique and fresh to ‘Battleship’ and all the challenges that go along with a big, loud, alien-invasion, war-at-sea movie. Steve was already proven in that genre.”

Director Peter Berg admits he wanted Hans Zimmer and that Zimmer recommended Jablonsky for the job. It turned out to be “one of the best experiences I’ve ever had working with anyone,” he says.

Jablonsky’s score is a hybrid of traditional orchestra and cutting-edge electronic sounds, not unlike his last big scores for the “Transformers” trilogy.

Says the composer: “You need the music to help people like these characters, to support the emotional storyline. But mostly you need kick-ass, fast music that drives the scenes along and helps the action. That’s why people go to these films.”

Jablonsky’s ability to handle today’s musical technology is a big advantage. “A lot of what I do is experimenting with sounds,” he says. “A lot of the orchestra in ‘Battleship’ is processed with distortion pedals and things like that.”

The most unique aspect of the score was Berg’s idea. He had just had an MRI and found the machine’s noise to be “really scary.” The result was a recording session of MRI sounds, which Jablonsky modified and adapted into weird, unearthly music for the aliens.

And, in an another unusual twist for a popcorn-movie score, Berg enlisted pop producer Rick Rubin to advise, and Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello to contribute solos at key moments. Jablonsky worked closely with both. “In the third act,” says Berg, “I wanted to be able to move away from something that felt electronic to something that felt bad-ass and rock. Morello was my first choice.”

“Steve’s score really propels the movie and just heightens the overall experience,” says Knobloch.

“He brought a real intensity, a muscularity, that was very tone-appropriate,” adds Berg, “but also an accessibility, something that has universal appeal.”

Billion-Dollar Composer: Steve Jablonsky
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