The decade that marked the coming of the streaming era, where multi-platform visual media was not only omnipresent, but dominating, is ending, but this young age of the film and TV landscape is just about to take its final form, going into the stages that will secure its world-conquering ambitions. The new decade will present us an entire universe of possibilities and challenges, and although it may represent the end of the film and television industry as we still currently know it, it will be exciting to watch, as the industry’s giants embark on their own streaming platforms, and the indies, aware of the massive risks that will be caused by this, fight back using the Internet’s infinite capacity for connection and distribution. What is 100% sure, is that we will have a never-before-seen number of options, therefore there will always be something playing on our screens.
The 2010s was an incredible era for film and television music. As the worlds of audio and video become more and more intertwined, some of music’s biggest talents, ranging from traditional classical composers, to rock stars searching for new musical paths, to ambient and electronic mavericks, flock in to the visual domain to try new creative endeavors, bringing their sonic genius to enrich our screening experiences. 2019 was, of course, no exception, but it was especially noteworthy in the TV department, as many of film scoring’s rising stars take advantage of the serialized nature and the accessibility of the format to expand further on their aural pursuits.
Visual media of all genres has enjoyed an endless outpouring of quality this year, producing some of the most incredible audiovisual works of the decade. Here are 10 of our favorites.
10. Bobby Krlic – Midsommar
From the very beginning of the decade, composer Bobby Krlic has enchanted (or haunted) audiences all over the world with the rogue dark ambient of his project The Haxan Cloak, and his extremely narrative approach to sonic painting made it natural for director Ari Aster to tap him for his trippy horror film Midsommar. The resulting score is not only a triumph of film composition, but of sound design. Every scream, gasp, shriek, and whisper recorded in the audio track serves as a melodic inflection, a note with a certain colour, as the space around it, comprised of both electronic soundscapes and abstract variations of Nordic folk tunes, encompasses both the real-life sacred runic traditions and the Hårgas cult imagery in Aster’s uncompromising script. It demands the film to be read as emotional sheet music.
9. Yukari Hashimoto – Sarazanmai OST
Anime has always placed music as one of its main components; scores are mega productions, in which musicians take all kinds of risks and use huge budgets and orchestras to compliment the sweeping, epic works of animation. However, for the series Sarazanmai, Yukari Hashimoto eschewed the evocative, quiet epicness of traditional anime composing in favor of a hyperactive, fast-paced score that echoes the intensity and the youthful rush of this powerful coming-of-age-turned-supernatural story. There is a pop spirit underneath the gleeful boisterousness, and the use of everything, from happy hardcore and other forms of effervescent electronica to bebop, lounge, surf rock and everything in between, always underscores both the screenwriting and the pastel-heavy animation.
8. Tigran Hamasyan – They Say Nothing Stays The Same
The best ambient music is a constant, dimension-expanding meditation, and this principle also applies in the film style of young actor-turned-director Joe Odagiri, whose film They Say Nothing Stays The Same is a Zen-like tale of rural life, that takes on profound themes of age, the country-city dichotomy, labour, silence and trauma. Set in the early 20th century but feeling ultimately timeless, the slow-paced film leads us into a vivid, viscerally impactful ending, aided by the masterful photography of veteran Christopher Doyle, and inspired by the otherworldliness of Japanese art and Zen traditions. But the conducting thread that makes the proceedings really come alive is the soft, dreamy score by Armenian jazz pianist Tigran Hamasyan, who uses the thrilling evolutivity of his home genre with an ambient mentality, to lead us further into the quiet bluntness of Odagiri’s promising debut.
7. Mark Korven – The Lighthouse
A buddhist master once said: “true darkness is not the absence of light; it is the lack of clarity even in the presence of light”. This is especially true in the confusion and uneasiness transmitted in Robert Eggers’ sophomore opus The Lighthouse, where solitude, distrust, and the overall lack of expectations in the lives of Robert Pattinson and Willem Dafoe’s characters lead them to nightmarish consequences. In Eggers’ stark black-and-white, the true darkness is not hell, but purgatory, and Mark Korven’s unique brand of ambient music underscores the feelings of total confinement that drives the story forward. Korven’s music is their most insidious companion; as thick as the air they breath, as cacophonous as the voices in their heads, and as bleak as their fortunes.
6. Fatima Al Qadiri – Atlantique
Mati Diop’s Atlantique was kind of an ephiphany in 2019’s film universe. Few films in recent years have interlaced themes of love, female solidarity, migrations, impermanence, and magic as the Cannes Grand Prix winner, and for a film this wide-ranging and socially poignant, it’s appropriate that the music would come courtesy of Fatima Al Qadiri, one of electronic music’s key innovators of the recent day . Al Qadiri’s music has always been embracing post-colonial, female-centric and globally-minded perspectives in a style that is not only unique to her, but has served as an influence on a new wave of experimental composers, and in Atlantique she brings the perfect atmosphere to enhance Diop’s dexterous direction, using dissonance and low-key uneasiness to convey the moments where the story goes into ghost territory, and luminous soundscapes to evoke the alchemy of romance.
5. Ben Frost – Dark, Cycles 1 and 2
Australian-born composer Ben Frost is an unstoppable creative force; a master of tone, Frost has produced some of the most throat-grabbing, harrowing aural experiencies in the ambient and modern classical genres, and his transformative work in the German series Dark (streaming on Netflix) is perhaps the entire series most brilliant element. His score is what shapes the show’s aura of mystery, and even when the opaque cinematography and the creepy natural settings try to convey the story’s suspense, these expressions are not complete until the music floods our senses. It gets you tied to your seat, gasping for air.
4. Jung Jae-il – Parasite
From dark drones to upbeat jangly guitars, from mournful piano themes to gliding strings, Jung Jae-il music for Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, the most acclaimed film of the year, captures the nuances and complexities of the film’s fascinatingly challenging story, and mirrors the broad visual palette with thrilling sonic brushstrokes of its own. Jung’s score is an essential part in Bong’s near-perfect masterpiece, always rich in expression and blending naturally within the flow of the movie, and serving not only as texture, but as part of its life force.
3. Kensuke Ushio – Boogiepop and Others
Perhaps the most important characteristic of great anime music is their composers’ otherworldly talent as melodists. All the classic anime scores are unequivocally linked to iconic melodies that stay with us forever, and even when they make use of an endless pool of instruments, music styles, production techniques and voices, the captivating melodies are always at the forefront. This year’s most brilliant example of this is Kensuke Ushio’s stunning work for Boogiepop and Others, an urban psychological horror series based on the award-winning light novel by Kouhei Kadono. The story pulls from an extensive set of themes and references — criminal psychology, memory, the supernatural realm, psychedelia, conflicting realities and genetic manipulation, to name just a few — and Ushio brings together a plethora of compositional styles to reflect this, but these are all connected by a strong melodic sense. It leads you through the mist, tugging your heartstrings in the process.
2. Hildur Guðnadóttir – Chernobyl
The Icelandic composer, cellist and former Jóhann Jóhannsson collaborator Hildur Guðnadóttir is, simply put, an all-around musical genius. More widely known this year for her gripping score for Todd Phillips’ Joker, it was her astonishing work for HBO series Chernobyl that puts her on this best-of-year list, and firmly among the greatest TV series scores of the entire decade. Her idiosyncratic style of composition, based around the use of field recordings — including that ominous Geiger counter —, serves as a perfect vehicle to express the dreariness, the despair, the claustrophobia and the sheer horror of a nuclear disaster. She has brought the cutting edge aspect of her solo work to effectively change the face of TV music creation, and just like last year’s best score (Marcus Fjellström’s The Terror), this is a major victory for experimental musicians in the industry.
1. Max Richter – Ad Astra
Legendary German-born composer Max Richter’s score for James Gray’s space epic Ad Astra was by far the most ambitious of the year. It was also the most beautiful, and the way it was composed is as important as the way it works within the film. Richter was not only the perfect fit for creating music for this movie, but a score for Ad Astra could only come from him; for decades, he has been the very personification of the connections between classical and electronic music, academic minimalism and space ambient, sacred and secular. He remixed and re-arranged Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and thus completely changed our conceptions of how the classical and the modern universes interact and create new sonic dialects; he took IDM production techniques to the concert hall, and spectacular orchestrations into minimalism, and used both to explore big topics and evoke powerful emotions.
For this film, Richter brought the story’s central duality to life — in one hand, a physical journey to the very limits of our Solar System; in the other, the emotional journey of a man trying to re-connect with his father — and interlaced lush. breathtaking orchestrations with the weight and tension of electronic ambiences, including Richter’s own manipulations of real-life Plasma Wave Radiation Data, to enhance it. The score’s greatest quality, however, is its emotional consistency, putting power in both texture and melody all throughtout the film, but always with a certain warmth that not even its visual counterpart manages to fully get across. Even in such a grandiose, bombastic audiovisual project, Richter always placed the heart at the center, which makes his execution all the more miraculous.