REPORT: The recording of the music for Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation

Joe Kraemer and Tom Cruise


The film of Mission: Impossible - Rogue Nation starring Tom Cruise, opened in the UK and the US at the end of July. The music for the film, by the American composer Joe Kraemer, was recorded at Abbey Road Studios earlier this year. Andrew Cartmel was invited to the recording. This is his report of the sessions:


Joe Kraemer is standing on a low podium in the huge, vaulting space of Studio One at Abbey Road. He has a conductor’s baton in his hand and a pair of headphones on one ear and off the other. Sitting arrayed before him, spread out across the vast studio space are 86 of London’s top session musicians. “Clicks at 18, play at 20,” says Joe. “We’re going to tacet the horns in 22 and 23 in case we have some dialogue. Groovy. Everything okay in the booth?” He looks up at the control room where the recording engineer Casey Stone, music editor John Finklea and the film’s writer and director Chris McQuarrie are sitting behind banks of state of the art sound equipment and an impressive array of Bowers & Wilkins speakers.

“Great,” comes the response from the control room. Joe nods. “Right, we’ve got one minute. Tubas, you can back off in 22 and 23. Timps, we’ll back you up a notch, too.” The message from the control room — “Mazel tov.” Joe lifts his baton — “the stick” — and the musicians begin to play, a great rising landscape of sound. In a few seconds it’s over. Joe looks up at the control room again. “Did we get it?” John Finklea and Casey Stone and Chris McQuarrie confer. “We got it.”

Joe comes up into the control booth to say hello and looks down at Studio One. “This is the room where the Beatles recorded ‘A Day in the Life.’ It’s also where they recorded the Star Wars scores and the Lord of the Rings scores.” Joe is here to record the score for Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, the fifth in the film franchise which was set rolling way back in 1966 when the television series Mission: Impossible first hit the airwaves. The show was propelled to success by an unforgettable theme tune, the work of Argentinian jazz prodigy Lalo Schifrin who had cut his teeth with Dizzy Gillespie. Schifrin’s theme lives on in the movies, and Joe Kraemer has woven other thematic material by Lalo Schifrin throughout his score.

The attentiveness and concentration of the orchestra is impressive, the players are busy amending their scores with pencils. The sense of professionalism is absolute. And they’re into the music. What do the musicians get paid, I ask Joe. “I don’t know, but I wouldn’t be surprised if today’s session cost about a hundred thousand.” He sees the look of shock on my face and hastens to reassure me. “Only dollars — not pounds.”

A screen depicting the action in the film hangs at the front of the control booth with three sets of numbers on it — bright lime green figures racing. There is a watermark on the image: Property of Paramount to discourage anyone from creating a bootleg duplicate of the movie footage. Joe is back down in the studio now, briefing the orchestra. “Let’s just go on the stick. Be careful not to swing the 8th notes. It’s Mission: Impossible, not Bach. Strings, if you’ve got any more we’ll take it…” On the screen Tom Cruise is enduring a torture scene — menacing string textures with tense, shimmering veils of sound. Joe looks up towards the control room. “McQ, how was it for you? That was good everybody. Strings, low brass, thank you.” After the musicians play the next segment, there are nods of approval in the control room. “That’s the master.”
The Recording taking place in Abbey Road Studio 1

In the studio Joe tells the musicians, “I want to do this gag…” And the orchestra plays a long ascending passage reminiscent of ‘A Day in the Life’, which Joe has integrated into one of the cues for his score. For the following piece Joe instructs, “These first five measures are pretty lovely music, but let’s be careful not to make them too heartwarming.” And they are gorgeous — especially the horns, with an edgy, insistent, unsettling undercurrent from the strings and a low warning growl from the horns. There are hornet-swarms of string and then soft sultry flutes. “It should be double P. It should be like a distant memory — at the risk of being too poetic.” “Should we mute it?” asks the trumpeter. “Let’s try it double P,” says Joe. A soft, elegiac trumpet solo ensues. Joe Kraemer’s parents are in attendance in the control booth and Joe’s mother reminisces. “He came home from seeing Star Wars and sat down and played the theme on the piano. This little six-year-old kid — I mean shit.”

Upstairs, above the booth, you can go out on a carpeted balcony which is in the room itself — you’re in Studio One, up above the musicians and looking down on them. Hearing the orchestra in the same room, the hardest thing is resisting the urge to applaud after they play a piece to perfection. Matt Dunkley, the orchestrator, has a suggestion for the bass that works well. Joe says to him, “You play the trumpet. How the hell do you know what goes on at the bottom?” “Years of hanging around with trombonists.”

“I set out to use synthesiser as little as possible,” Joe Kraemer explains. “My aim was not to have any sound that couldn’t have been made by an orchestra in 1966.” The date of the original Mission: Impossible TV series. Hence his inventive use of percussively rubbed double basses for one cue. After this amazing sequence the silence in the room sounds exquisite, as if the music is persisting in it. This is what they call the reverb tail, and its one reason Abbey Road Studio One is so in demand. “Great, awesome,” Joe tells the orchestra. “Thank you for that.”

In the booth, listening delightedly to the playback, Joe says, “It sounds like a movie.” Casey Stone replies,“It sounds like an expensive movie.” Then they play back a couple more cues — loud — for the benefit of Tom Cruise, who is on the other end of the line, listening, as Chris McQuarrie holds his phone up in the air. “Your producer is pleased,” Chris McQarrie tells Joe afterwards. “Was that Tom Cruise on the line?” asks one of the assistants in the booth. “No,” says Joe, grinning with relief, “That was Joe Kraemer on the line!”

Mission Impossible — Rogue Nation is in cinemas now. Joe Kraemer’s score is available on CD from La-La Land Records, LLLCD 1361

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