After completing the score for Ridley Scott’s 2013 film The Counselor, British composer Daniel Pemberton decided to reward himself with a vintage Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer that goes for $20,000. The purchase came in handy for another scoring gig: Danny Boyle’s Steve Jobs.
The Universal Pictures film, now in limited release and opening wide Oct. 23, plays out in three acts, each pivoting around a product launch by the iconic Apple co-founder in 1984, 1988 and 1998. Before production began, Boyle and Pemberton, 37, determined that each act would have its own discrete score. “I started writing before they started shooting based on the [Aaron Sorkin] script,” says Pemberton. “It’s a collaborative way of working instead of just coming in at the end. It takes about three times longer, but you get under the skin of the film better.”
As a result, Pemberton’s score became part of “the DNA of the film,” says Boyle, adding that their method — of Pemberton writing in London while shooting proceeded in San Francisco — worked so well that Pemberton’s request to come on set was denied. Says Boyle: “I blocked his visit, which I felt cruel about.”
The 1984 segment of the film revolves around how Jobs envisions computing will change the world. “I wanted to tap into that optimism,” says Pemberton. “Computers were still very futuristic, and the sound that encapsulated that idea was the synthesizer.” He pulled out his CS-80, the same model Vangelis made famous with his Chariots of Fire score. Using only instruments from 1984 or earlier made Pemberton realize how far recording technology has come in 30 years. “I’d have to take photos of the synthesizers of where I’d put the knobs, because they didn’t have any memory,” he says.
For the 1988 act, Boyle requested an operatic score to match the segment’s heightened drama and San Francisco opera house setting. Using a 74-piece orchestra, Pemberton wrote a Verdi-style work featuring a choir singing in Italian about computers.
In the 1998 section, which introduces the candy-colored iMacs, Pemberton wrote and mixed the completely digital score on his Apple, including a repetitive two-note electronic pulse that adds tension to a confrontation between Jobs and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak. “Steve [Jobs] saw how computers could help artists express themselves, so I thought it was fitting,” says Pemberton. In a rare move, the scene was edited around the score instead of the dialogue. “The music was the scaffolding of the editing; it made the scene stand up,” says Boyle.
The Steve Jobs score is available digitally now; a physical release on Backlot Music is slated for Oct. 23.
This story originally appeared in the Oct. 31 issue of Billboard.