If it was some sort of Arthurian legend, you might consider calling it The Myth of the Synthesizer. In it, our hero, Sebastian Robertson, gets this wonderfully wonky keyboard handed to him by his father, rock and roll legend Robbie Robertson, and creates a deeply-unsettling slice of music for the new horror film, Condemned.
“It was the same synth that my dad used to compose the thing called ‘Main Title’ for the film The Color of Money,” says Robertson. “I used it on the piece, ‘Shynola’s Rumble.’ It was probably the first instrument I ever saw in his studio when I was a kid. It’s the old Yamaha DX7. And it still works fine.”
I’ll say. And then some.
This remarkable score, which Robertson wrote with longtime friend, Daniel Davies, brilliantly augments and animates Eli Morgan Gesner’s truly grisly movie. But it does more than that. It shows this kid fully stepping out of the formidable shadow of the The Band’s former leader. Which is a sort of triumph in itself. But the score is the real triumph. Featuring everything from burbling, foreboding mood music, to ‘House’ to Cool Jazz, it’s chockfull of both beauty and dread-just like the film. Which concerns a condemned building in Manhattan full of meth heads and other degenerates, who due to the toxic waste they imbibe, somehow manage to become even more frightening. He got the job due to both talent and good genes.
“I’ve known Daniel (son of Kinks co-founder Dave) for about fourteen years,” says Robertson, an enthusiastic and altogether charming cat. “He’s a great musician. He is also the godson of (Horror director) John Carpenter. Our director was already interested in my work, but when I decided to bring in Daniel, Eli knowing about the Carpenter connection was thrilled. We discussed the score with Eli. And I told him I wanted to do a retro synth-sounding thing and he was sold. Then he told us, ‘You’ve got the job. And I want it in three weeks.’”
As it turns out this was a blessing. Once Robertson, a longtime TV music composer, gave Davies a crash course in scoring, the two ended up digging the scant amount of time they were given. It was just enough room to be creative, but not long enough to second guess themselves.
“We watched the film on an iMac desktop computer, looked at the director’s notes to see suggestions of where he wanted music and … just did it. Deadlines are always a good thing.”
The score, which works as a unified, inventive piece of music on its own, also sets up some of the film’s most frightening scenes. One wonders, naturally, if Robertson bounced any of the in-progress music he and Davies were creating off his father. Robbie Robertson’s interest and involvement in movie scoring is now as impressive as the songs he wrote for The Band. And includes work on Raging Bull and The King of Comedy. As it turns out, dad had a good suggestion.
“He really liked it,” says Robertson the Younger. “But if he had anything to say, it was always, ‘Pull stuff out. Make it more spare.’ That’s sort of my dad’s mantra when it’s come to his own work.”
One listen to this score and you’ll be pleased to know that the Robertson mantra is alive and well. And now clearly thriving in a new generation.
Condemned opens on November 13 at theaters across the country. The score by Daniel Davies and Sebastian Robertson is available on Amazon.com.