From the clanging guitar and loud drums to the moments of confounding silence, Sound of Metal takes viewers through the hearing loss Ruben, played by Riz Ahmed, experiences as the drummer of a heavy metal band. The task of scoring the film, and chronicling the sounds—and lack of them—that help tell the story fell to Abraham Marder, who alongside his director brother, Darius Marder wrote its screenplay.
Working on Sound of Metal was Marder’s first foray into film. His brother brought him into the story-telling process at a time when the Brooklyn-based musician had been going through his own rough patch, brought on by a back injury. Ahmed’s character learns to finally face himself after he goes deaf, but the course he takes to get there is what makes the film such a stellar debut, worthy of the acclaim it has received. “Who can’t relate to taking the long exhausting routes we take in life only to realize a beautifully simple path was right there all along?” Marder tells American Songwriter.
The brothers spent time together upstate, working on the story. Marder began identifying with the detachment that the main character experiences. “For a long while in the film, Riz’s character is completely separate from the hearing and deaf world. This always struck me as the highest form of alienation,” he says.
The film also explores themes of disability and acceptance, which Marder, who grew up with a learning disability, has thought much about. “It’s taken me years to realize that I am not somehow unworthy. Still, the anger and abandonment that still lives in me from feeling less than for so long was a great source of inspiration with which to communicate through Ruben. It was a truly cathartic experience,” he says.
Working with his brother, despite their nine-year age gap, brought them even closer together. “Creatively, we have always been huge believers in each others work, so the collaboration on Sound of Metal was quite natural,” he says. Marder views his brother as the screenwriter of the family but they helped each other with different aspects of the story. “I love living into the poetry of scenes and dialogue,” he says. “Darius is such a pure storyteller and he was always quick to tell me if I was being too artsy and vague, and I was quick to tell him if he was being too easy and obvious.”
When it came to the score, Marder wrote with the intention of keeping the sound design of the film—itself an important character—top of mind. At first, he brought pre-composed pieces and sounds to the film but once he saw the footage, realized he needed to start over. “The sound design and quiet is so essential to the telling of Ruben’s intimate journey so it felt essential to score to the film’s sound design and not over or around it,” he says. “The music is low and vibrational and mostly devoid of high frequencies so to represent Ruben’s deaf ‘point of hearing,’—as Darius calls it.”
Marder needed the score to be happy to not be “heard” in a traditional sense but rather felt. “In the beginning of the film, score is meant to live inside Ruben’s anxious body and mind. Later, once Ruben begins to spiritually settle into the deaf community, the music moves outside the body, blending with the wind and rustling leaves in the trees.” It’s an affecting element of the film, as Ruben wrestles with giving way to what is unfolding in his life.
Marder also wrote the track “Green,” which plays over the end credits and lingers long after the screen goes black. He started working on it when Sound of Metal was first being conceived, but only finished the the lyrics during the last week of the film’s final sound mix. “I have always started my songs from a place of improvisation,” he says. “I then take the worthy bits and try to craft them into a more complete vision. Perhaps because there is this subconscious element to my songwriting, I often find that I don’t know what the songs are truly about until years later.”
As was the case with “Green,” where Marder felt intimidated by the challenge of making a credit song. “Breaking the silence at that sacred moment required a sparse arrangement and sonically, each instrument and effect was considered to fit into the language of Ruben’s sound journey,” he says. The cochlear implant that the character has can be heard in an effect on the vocal, while the piano is tuned down and stripped of high frequencies so as to tie us back to Ruben’s deaf perspective. As the song closes out, we can hear sounds of rain and children laughing from Ruben’s time spent in the deaf community.
“The final words are: Gone into the rain today, Gone, To safety. Safety, felt from within, is all I ever wanted for Ruben at the end of his long journey,” says Marder. It’s a poignant moment in the film that brings with it the relief of surrender.
“Green” has finally been released as a single, to fans delight, and Marder, buoyed by the response to the song and the film, says he’s planning to get back into the studio soon to work on new songs: “They are of a similar lyrical nature and atmosphere as ‘Green’ and I’m so excited to share them with the world.”
Photos Courtesy of Amazon Studios