ISLAND OF DR MOREAU LINER NOTES
“In film music, we’re all part painters and part plumbers,” Gary Chang posits. “Some guys lean heavily on the craft side, some people lean heavily on the art side. We’re all different and we all have a different combination.”
Chang manages to balance both the art and craft of creating film scores. He offsets a masters degree in composition with teachers that include seminal impressionistic electronic musician Morton Subotnick. He contravenes the exacting craft demands of creating electronic music as a studio musician with artistic mentors like Robbie Robertson and Giorgio Moroder. In eleven years since his cinematic music debut on John Hughes’ The Breakfast Club, Chang has scored close to three dozen features, cable films, movies of the week and television pilots. The Island of Dr. Moreau marks the sixth time he created the music for a John Frankenheimer project.
“John is an incredible action picture director,” Chang says with admiration. “My role is in subtext, as opposed to let’s make something scarier or more real. That’s as it should be. When John chose me to do the movie 52 Pickup in 1986, we entered into a dialogue regarding his movies. All of these concepts I have regarding how to apply music to film are demonstrated in John’s movies. John’s movies are so real, the subtext of the score becomes extremely important.”
For Island of Dr. Moreau, Chang sought to balance several basic paradoxes in the film. The film tells the story of a brilliant scientist who isolates himself on a remote island and tries to improve humankind by fusing human beings and animals. His experiments create a colony of mutants who eventually try to take over the island. In this third film version of H.G. Wells classic tale of horror, suspense and weird science, Chang sought to bring to the soundtrack something that he felt both of the previous films lacked.
“H.G. Wells, as with many writers of his time wrote a classic, thinly veiled morality tale,” Chang notes. “The challenge is bringing it to this contemporary medium of film. In many ways, the first two versions failed to do that. There is not enough humanity brought to the mutants. One of the goals of the score was to try to bring humanity to the mutants.”
As far as the score is concerned, they did this by giving the mutants their own music. “Music is a basic attribute of any society,” Chang asserts. “One of the approaches we took in the movie was to try and generate aborigines music, for lack of any better thing to call it. Indigenous mutant music. It’s bizarre. If I had to name the approach we took toward the music, I’d call it future primitive. The music is trying to encourage commonness between the audience and the aborigines, as opposed to establishing the differences. Good dramatic film music encourages the commonness. For instance, another project I did with John, The Burning Season, happens in the Amazon. We wanted to use Brazilian music, but the Brazilian music everyone knows is parade music, Mardi Gras music. That didn’t seem to be the right temperament for something about Chico Mendez. We searched further, and found indigenous Amazonian music. It sounds like Amazonian music. The buzzword on this one was we want to have digeridoo. We got a digeridoo and realized this music is too obscure. It can’t be that way. It has to sound very primitive, and it has to have a certain indigenous stature to it, but in many ways, just like all film music, it’s Western music.”
He wound up creating a soundtrack that captures this humanity without overwhelming the film. To Chang, this amounts to doing his job well. “The role of a film composer,” he stresses, “is to encourage the audience to embrace what they have in common with the characters and action in the film.”