Joseph Trapanese on Scoring New Netflix Blockbuster, ‘Project Power’

It’s the summer of at-home blockbusters and that’s exactly where composer Joseph Trapanese  finished scoring Netflix’s latest action-packed tentpole, Project Power — at his home studio in Los Angeles. “I got sent an early cut in February and then just as I was really rolling up my sleeves, digging into it, all this s*** started happening,” he tells American Songwriter. Despite the challenges a global pandemic threw his way, the award-winning composer and arranger had something working in his favor — his not-so-secret power to seamlessly blend organic, orchestral sounds with electronic prowess, honed over years of scoring film, TV and video game music.

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In taking on the action-packed Project Power, now streaming on Netflix, Trapanese returned to the genre of his breakout: sci-fi. Oscar-winner Jamie Foxx plays a former soldier who teams up with a cop (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) to find the source behind an unpredictable pill that provides temporary superpowers. “It’s been a minute since I did sci-fi,” he says. Trapanese made his reputation as the go-to guy for sleek scores through the likes of Tron: Legacy, the Divergent series and Oblivion. “That’s what I become known for,” he chuckles. “I went to music conservatory, I learned how to write for orchestra, but at the same time, I was always the weirdo playing in the basement with synthesizers. So in film scoring, I really found a home, because, for something like Project Power, you really need to have a mastery of both.” 

He put this skill to work on the film by creating a hybrid of cinematic orchestra on a grand and epic scale with synthesizers, rooted in a contemporary sensibility. “One of the things I even did was I took recordings of animal sounds because this pill unleashes hidden powers within your within your DNA,” say Trapanese. “So I use these animal screams and animal calls as part of the musical textures. It was really fun to do something like that. And I’m really grateful that while I was locked down, I was able to have some fun.”

The film is fast-paced and packs a lot of visual punch with each trip the power pills provide — something Trapanese’s score had to keep up with. “A lot of times, in scoring, you really have to be a music producer because you have to find cool sounds and you have to bring together different musicians, different variables.” From scene-to-scene, he looked for one drum, one synthesizer element, one cello melody to convey in just a few notes, power as music. 

“That’s kind of how I interpreted it, as a film composer. Finding that one element that can create musical power all by itself. That really sums up the film itself; you take this pill and you can really enhance something about your inherent power. You take one thing that makes you unique, and that becomes your superpower,” he says.

Trapanese’s own superpower hasn’t only been developed by sci-fi. Just last year he scored a new take on Lady and the Tramp for Disney, which provided inspiration for some of the jazz elements in Project Power, and his range of work covers everything from The Greatest Showman to Stuber and the Raid series. With Project Power, there’s a touch of his other favorite genre too, in the budding young emcee played by Dominique Fishback who joins Foxx and Gordon-Levitt’s characters in trying to find the source of the pill. “I fell in love with hip hop music of the late ’80s and early ’90s when I was a kid growing up in New Jersey,” says Trapanese, who also scored Straight Outta Compton back in 2015. Rising Alabama rapper Chika makes a cameo and has a song playing over the credits. While Travanese didn’t get to work with her, he likes that the film will share more about her talent with others. 

“People ask me a lot, ‘how do I discover new music? How do I discover new artists? I’m listening to music all the time, but it’s mostly through friends who’ve told me, ‘hey, check out this artist.’ And that’s been something great about this film, this film says ‘hey, check out Chika,’ and that’s been amazing getting to know her work. I’m a big fan of that type of integration that we did in this film where music is a living, breathing element within the film itself.”

Up next is another Netflix series, Shadow and Bone. He says he doesn’t mind that it’s another at-home viewing experience. “I don’t say, ‘I just want to do movies that are seen in the movie theater.’ No, I want to help tell amazing stories,” he adds. “You could find amazing stories everywhere.”

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