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‘Knight of Cups’ Composer Got His First Work With Terrence Malick Through a Want Ad

As a college student from New Zealand spending a year in the U.S., Hanan Townshend answered a generic-looking help-wanted ad that, he recalls, read something like “notable director seeks composer to help with current project.” He figured that if he got the gig, it would be good for his resume.

He ended up getting more than he bargained for. After a brief interview, Townshend found himself working with director Terrence Malick, creating additional music for “The Tree of Life,” on which Alexandre Desplat was composer. Soon, Townshend himself was hired as composer on the helmer’s “To the Wonder” and “Knight of Cups.”

In their collaboration, Townshend works without a script, and with loosely defined characters, speaking to Malick about the story’s “metaphoric symbolism.” He spends months finding appropriate sounds — a process that continues through post-production.

“The creation of the score is just an extension of the way you experience (the images) when you go to the cinema,” Townshend says. “It’s this wash of ideas and emotions.”

For “Cups,” Townsend produced a theme of soft, gentle arpeggios with pipe organ, woodwinds and low brass representing flowing water. The score incudes new music, existing properties and reimagined variations on themes.

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