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Sound bites: David Newman

'The Spirit'

Comicbook movies always seem to need a lot of music. But it need not always be heroic, or even action-oriented. For “The Spirit,” Frank Miller’s adaptation of the Will Eisner strip, composer David Newman found himself “playing the subtext more than anything.

“There are all kinds of adult, fairly philosophical conundrums in the movie,” says Newman. “It’s a much more intellectual score than I’ve done in quite a long time.”

To characterize the mysterious Spirit (Gabriel Macht), Newman made an unusual musical choice: the harmonica, played by acclaimed musician Tommy Morgan (who has played on everything from the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds” to “Dances With Wolves”).

“The Spirit is a kind of postmodern loner hero,” Newman explains. “He comes from nowhere, he has no real relationship to anything. … An artist like Tommy can make the harmonica really expressive, yet it retains this singular quality; nothing else sounds like it.”

There are jazzy moments for femme fatale Silken Floss (Scarlett Johansson) and an eerie, wordless soprano for Lorelei (Jaime King) that is performed by Newman’s 19-year-old daughter Diana, a vocal major at USC.

One thing that made the job easier was the fact that Miller supplied all the sound design to his composer in advance. “I could orchestrate accordingly and just stay out of the way when you can see that they are going to favor (sound effects),” Newman says.

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