Composer Steven Price on scoring the soundscape of 'Gravity' and the power of Dolby Atmos
In a film such as Alfonso Cuarón's "Gravity," which takes place in orbit and embraces the reality that "in space, no one can hear you scream" -- or anything else, for that matter -- music was always going to have an expanded role in the experience. The director was very determined from the outset that, like so many other elements in the film, the score would need to serve the immersive ends he was aiming toward. It was always going to be sort of moving around the audience in the theater, making you feel as though you were part of the action taking place on screen.
That directive naturally ended up influencing the way composer Steven Price, who initially came onto the film just as a music editor, wrote the pieces that became the score, as well as how they were recorded and, eventually, how they were mixed (particularly via the immersive Dolby Atmos technology, which added a whole new level to the experience of the film).
The word "textural" was something that came in very early when it came to actually writing the music. Cuarón didn't want it to ever feel like a conventional Hollywood movie score and he didn't want it to feel beholden to action genre tropes. Like so many things in the development of the film, the score was an adventure, a chance to try new things and risk failing.
So a lot of the early conversation revolved just around sounds that Price and Cuarón liked, without the structure of considering tunes and melody and percussion. They talked about ways to make the soundtrack as intense as what was happening visually on the screen, and indeed, the idea of juggling two extremes was a concern from the beginning.
"The visuals are incredibly beautiful, but equally, it's the most terrifying thing you've ever seen in lots of ways," Price says. "So the music had to do both of those things and feel kind of very organic and very textural, but equally kind of help your stomach to drop when things were spinning around you."
There was never a point in the process where there was a typical temp track -- an amalgamation of other score cues to help dictate the aural tone of the film as post-production progressed. That tone was consistently directed by work-in-progress bits of Price's work. And yet with all the unique elements at play in the score throughout, the music really goes for it in the end, embracing the emotional journey of the lead character and allowing that sort of overt release on the soundtrack.
"I think it was felt that Ryan [Bullock's character] kind of merited it," Price says. "It always felt like you had to go with the achievement and go with her strength and the fact that she achieved so much since the first reel, from being nervous and feeling sick just doing her job up in space, to all the things that she goes through. A lot of the film is about her strength, I think, and I certainly didn't want to underplay that; it felt like you had to honor the achievement."