Tyler Bates On Scoring 'Conan the Barbarian'
Tyler Bates On Scoring 'Conan the Barbarian'

Tyler Bates has written the score for "Killer Joe," director William Friedkin's ("The French Connection," "The Exorcist") first film in five years, an adaptation of Tracy Letts' play starring Matthew McConaughey and Emile Hirsch. But he used a far different arsenal of instruments on that score -- acoustic guitar, GuitarViol, melodica, baritone guitar and percussion - than the film that opens on 2,900 screens this Friday (Aug. 19): "Conan the Barbarian."

Lionsgate's "Conan the Barbarian 3D" is being counted on to launch the career of Jason Momoa who is playing the title role that Arnold Schwarzenegger created 29 years ago. And Bates, who has gained attention for creating musical netherworlds in "300," "Day of the Dead" and "Doomsday," hopes to help the cause scoring the film with a 40-piece orchestra recorded in Prague and then double tracked.

Bates, a guitarist who gave up the rock 'n' roll band life for film work 15 years ago, discussed his approach to scoring with Billboard.biz a few days before Warner Bros. Records released the "Conan the Barbarian 3D" score album on Aug. 16.

BILLBOARD.BIZ When you came on board with the film, what were the key ideas you discussed?
TYLER BATES: Marcus Nispel ["Conan'''s Director] cited several scores I had done where there was a juxtaposition of orchestra and choir and non-organic elements fused together. He liked that idea. I thought it would be much more of hybrid like '300,' buts as I got into it, it seemed to respond more to traditional orchestration. Then there's some strange stuff that's not orchestra.

There are certainly ethnic elements in the strings and percussion.
I love the hammered dulcimer. One thing I like to do is record it and lower it an octave or de-tune it above the key we are working in so it has a heavier texture and I'll integrate it into the hand percussion. In a way it works like a synth, cutting through the action. It's nice to lay it in there with a little distortion. Some of the vocal treatment is similar -- some are pristine female and other times I wanted something androgynous so again I would record a vocalist a fifth above pitch and tune her down.

How long did the "Conan" score take?
Initially I was brought on in October (2010). I got my feet wet and they decided to do reshoots over the Christmas holidays so I did not come back until February. It was pretty intense. There's a 100 minutes of score and as we got about midway through, there were some significant picture changes that took place. With the volume of music necessary, I knew I would be in deep trouble if I did not bring my orchestrator Tim Williams into the mix with me. He helped with some of the conforming of the music already written and when we had to quote themes in other places in the movie, he would blow out those cues. At the 11th hour, all parts were moving. Didier Hartmann helped out in same capacity. Brian Cachia, he's a percussionist who works (at my studio), was put him to work doing percussion for 24 days straight. We were trying to fit the pants on the running man, so to speak.

As a guitarist in rock bands before you went into film, how does that background play in your scores?
I've always been experimental in my approach to music. One thing that is part of what makes me who I am is that I have performed a thousand concerts. I have had that experience with bands where you have to develop a sound, you have to collaborate and find a way -- if you're looking at the big picture -- to incorporate everyone's ideas and their objective. In the raw, distilled form of my music, there is a feeling about performance and a visceral connection with that music.

There are other composers, Thomas Newman, for example, whose music comes from experimentation and performance. Musicians compliment him on leaving space for interesting, unexpected things to occur. There's more to it than having musicians coming in and playing a score. There's an ownership to the performances and the people who respond to the music feel that. To create that environment you really want to engage people in a way that invites them to be part owner. I'm always awed by incredible musicians.

Besides Nispel and Friedkin, you have also worked on "Suckerpunch" and with Emilio Estevez on films for release this year. How do you find a way to communicate with so many directors with different perspectives and experience?
Most importantly I'm a student. You have a guy like Billy Friedkin in your studio -- you're wise to shut up and listen. He's extremely intelligent and knows what he is doing. He has made incredible films. You need to be perceptive of where their comfort zone lies. I try to stage a process that is natural for them to engage in the discussion so they can be part of the development of the music. If you don't do that, you don't know how to speak to an issue and you'll blurt out something because you're frustrated. So I think it's important for me to get their perspective and then set the table for them to enjoy being here and working together.