SoundWorks Collection Interview Series - Composer Marco Beltrami

November 10, 2014 7:07pm

This week we talk with Composer Marco Beltrami about his recent collaboration with Director Tommy Lee Jones for his film, The Homesman.

Jones’ instructions to composer Marco Beltrami were typically succinct. “He told me to be creative and find an authentic source of inspiration for the music,” says Beltrami. “That period was a spare time in American music. The themes we developed drew on the simple folk tunes of the time and are orchestrated to reflect the austere nature of the landscapes and lives of the characters.”

Beltrami wanted to evoke the loneliness and desolation the homesteaders lived with daily. “These women are driven insane by the life that surrounds them,” he says. “The ever-present wind on the plains seemed like a manifestation of that solitude and was a source of inspiration for me.”

In order to create that feeling, Beltrami and his partner Buck Sanders created what they call a wind piano. “We explored many different ways to capture the sound we were looking for,” says Beltrami. “The wind piano was one of the most effective. It is an ordinary piano that we put up on the hill by my studio in Malibu. The piano wires were attached to water tanks 175 feet up a hill that would resonate when the wind blew through. It was like we were drawing out the essence of the wind. That became a signature sound in the score.”

Usually, Beltrami says, he prefers to work in his studio, where controlled conditions create a warm beautiful sound. “But that would have worked against the sense of the movie,” he explains. “So we recorded a small ensemble of strings and percussion outside. There were no walls for the sound to bounce off. The sound is very dissipated. It was difficult to work that way, but the environmental noises bring the right feel.”

Beltrami and Jones are admirers of the work of audio archivist Tony Schwartz and borrowed his technique of using the natural noise of the environment to build musical compositions. “The landscape itself contains harmonic elements and we used that as inspiration,” he says. “We worked with simple pieces of wood hit together or rattles as well as traditional orchestral instruments.”

Working with Jones was a singular and inspiring experience for the composer. “He is open to experimentation and really creative work, and he is extremely collaborative.”


Upon completing undergraduate study at Brown University, Marco Beltrami entered the Yale School of Music on a scholarship. His pursuit of music composition then lead him to Venice for a period of studio with the Italian master, Luigi Nono and then finally to Los Angeles to undertake a fellowship with Academy Award-winning composer, Jerry Goldsmith.

Shortly after arriving in Los Angeles, Marco landed Wes Craven’s “Scream,” embarking on what would become the widely successful terror franchise. In his approach to scoring the film, he threw away conventional horror music clichés and instead called upon his concert music roots to explore a new sonic landscape.

After “Scream", Marco went on to write his critically acclaimed score for Guillermo Del Toro’s “Mimic.” This was the first of several collaborations with Del Toro, including “Hellboy” and “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.” Subsequently, his resume has expanded to include films ranging from epic drama to dark comedy, working with some of the most recognizable names in the industry such as Kathryn Bigelow, James Mangold, Robert Rodriguez, Luc Besson, David Goyer, Bertrand Tavernier, Alex Proyas, Jonathan Mostow, Roland Joffe, Len Wiseman, Jodie Foster, David E. Kelly and Tommy Lee Jones.

Marco has been nominated twice for Academy Awards for Best Score. First, for “3:10 to Yuma,” starring Russell Crowe and Christian Bale, and shortly after for his score to 2010’s groundbreaking Best Picture, “The Hurt Locker.” Most recently, Marco’s score for “Soul Surfer,” won the 2012 Satellite Awards for Best Film Score of The Year.