"When [writer/director] Rian [Johnson] and I first started dreaming up what the score was going to sound like, we knew it had to be really different," said Johnson. "Looper is a big action movie, so we knew we needed the score to be massive, but we didn't want to go down the road of traditional big action movie scores."
"Nathan's solution," said Rian Johnson, "was to build massive-sounding instruments out of digitally manipulated found sounds, and it worked beautifully."
As a composer, producer, art director, and songwriter, Nathan Johnson's innovative film scores and hybrid media performances have consistently blurred the lines between stage, screen, music, and narrative. Best known for his unconventional work in film and music, Nathan favors modified, organic instrumentation combined with unique approaches to recording and performing.
Nathan's creative partnership with writer/director (and cousin) Rian Johnson started when the two were children and has continued throughout their professional lives. Beginning with the critically acclaimed score for their first feature collaboration, Brick, Nathan and his team used and abused a variety of household implements including dinner settings, filing cabinets, cheese graters, and radiators. Any real instruments that were included in the soundtrack were horribly misused: pianos were bolted and tacked, double basses were beaten with mallets, and tuned wine glasses were re-purposed in place of a string section. After developing this "junkyard orchestra", Nathan went on to produce and compose the scores for The Brothers Bloom, Joseph Gordon-Levitt's Morgan M. Morgansen series, and the forthcoming Melanie Laurent feature Et Soudain, Tout Le Monde Me Manque, among others.
Looper is perhaps Johnson's most unique score to date, featuring a host of indecipherable instruments along with intertwining rhythms and textures. In preparation for the project, Nathan began gathering a wide range of field recordings and then he and his team created a sort of playable, hybrid found-sound orchestra using those original recordings. The results were combined with live strings and horns to produce deep textures featuring pitched industrial fans, tuned treadmills, and a wide range of intricate rhythmic elementsall looping and cycling on themselves at various speeds.
When Rian and Nathan Johnson began the spotting session for the film, "it quickly became clear that our starting point was going to be drums... but not drums as we know them," said Nathan. Chris Mears joined the team, "and we began going on these rhythm reconnaissance missions, searching for metal and plumbing and plastic. Basically what you find in a hardware store."
Instead of going straight in to a studio to record these sounds, Johnson headed first to a garage. He explained, "LA has an impressive selection of parking garages. We found one in particular that had an amazing natural reverb and then we just went to town recording metal and chains and eventually all of these car door slams that would become our custom kettle drum kit." In addition to these sounds, the various sounds that a gun makes became part of the mettleand metalof the drum kit.
"I'm super excited about imperfection in music. One of the things that was so much fun was taking these imperfect cycles and turning those into the rhythmic core," explained Johnson. "I started building from these sounds the texture and atmospheric elements that would eventually become the groundwork of the score."
Said Rian, "as cool as this technical ingenuity is, it's just a glaze on the heart of Nathan's real skill, which is storytelling."
In the futuristic action thriller Looper, time travel will be inventedbut it will be illegal and only available on the black market. When the mob wants to get rid of someone, they will send their target 30 years into the past, where a "looper"a hired gun, like Joe (Joseph Gordon-Levitt)is waiting to mop up. Joe is getting rich and life is good... until the day the mob decides to "close the loop," sending back Joe's future self (Bruce Willis) for assassination.