The Tone of Destiny

Mike Patton, the composer for THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, reflects on his collaboration with Derek Cianfrance.

Mike Patton recalls his first meeting with director Derek Cianfrance, who immediately told the rock musician and first-time film scorer that he wanted him to do the music for his new feature, THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES. “I was pretty shocked — he knew more about my music than I did,” says Patton of the encounter. “And then he said, ‘I want you to do the score, you are going to do the score, so just do what you do.”

But what does “just do what you do” mean when it’s said to Patton? After all, Patton is a rigorous eclecticist, whose band Mr. Bungle would hopscotch through metal, jazz, ska, new wave and exotica across albums and sometimes even single songs. Their self-titled 1991 debut was produced by experimental musician and composer John Zorn, whose own work can be similarly schizophrenic. (Indeed, Zorn and Patton would go on to collaborate many times, including on a good-spirited holiday-album cover version of “Santa Claus is Coming to Town.”) Following the break-up of Mr. Bungle, Patton exploded in scope his CV, not focused it. He became the lead singer of the alternative metal band Faith No More, launched a record label (Ipecac), collaborated with Björk and Kool Keith, formed the avant-garde metal band Fantômas and sang in an Italian opera.

So, about that “do what you do,” Patton just laughs. He admits his “first instinct was to write thematic stuff, but [Derek] said ‘no.’ He said to just write without thinking about [musical themes] at all, consider the entire spectrum of what he was doing cinematically and [create] mood stuff. That meant the score shouldn’t be omnipresent, it shouldn’t be ‘narrative‘ — it should be atmospheric.”

For inspiration Patton thought of Les Baxter, the former orchestrator for Nat King Cole who went on to score over 100 films, including Roger Corman’s The Pit and the Pendulum and the Annette Funicello-starring Beach Blanket Bingo. “Baxter would make thematic records without themes that repeat, and without choruses and verses,” says Patton. “[He’d create] a vibe — something that lasts two hours and can hold up and still say something.”

For THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES, the vibe Patton created was one of dread. His keyboard-based soundtrack avoids the failing of so many ambient scores that wind up as generic sonic blobs by not embracing specific emotions. Patton’s slowly shifting chords and ominous aural textures create narrative tension while also evoking the simmering conflict in the minds of characters played by Ryan Gosling and Bradley Cooper.

Patton said he was aided by Cianfrance’s referencing of the temp music he used in the edit. One particular track was by Sun O))), the experimental metal drone band, whose rumbling bass chords and guttural groans evoke a kind of primordial terror. “Those guys are friends of mine,” says Patton, “and just hearing that temp music helped me a lot in terms of what vocabulary, language and instrumentation to use.”

Mostly, though, Patton says he was inspired by Cianfrance. The director began their meeting by telling Patton what a huge fan he was. In an interview with Pitchfork, Cianfrance recalls growing up in Colorado with Mr. Bungle as his favorite band. “My older brother gave me a cassette tape of Mr. Bungle, and I couldn’t stop listening to it,” he said. “I used to drive around Colorado in a Mustang II… I couldn’t go above 45 mph in that car, but I would drive around listening to Mr. Bungle. Then in Denver, around 1991, I saw Bungle play, and it was one of those transformative musical experiences. It was the best show I’d ever seen. Patton was wearing, like, a bondage mask with horse blinders.”

The two men immediately bonded over not just music but life. Cianfrance noted that Patton’s brother is a police officer, which seemed “like fate.” And Patton said he responded to Cianfrance’s passion and his desire to use THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES to address big themes and life issues. “I read the script, we met, [and I thought], this is someone I want to work with,” says Patton. “It was a film about generations and legacy, things that last beyond your lifetime that will have consequences in other generations. Even though I don’t have kids, he explained to me that one of the things that made him write this film was having his second kid. Will this child have the same drive and fire and obsessiveness that I have? And when I wrote the music, that’s what I felt.”


Want to hear THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES album? You can download it, get the CD, or wait for the limited-edition vinyl (out on May 7, 2013).



Essential Listening: Five Albums from Mike Patton

Mike Patton, the composer of THE PLACE BEYOND THE PINES score, has been making beautiful music since the ‘80s. Here are five milestones.


Faith No More, The Real Thing (1989) Faith No More’s third studio album was the first to feature Patton on vocals. The singer joined the funk metal band while simultaneously fronting Mr. Bungle, and the album’s single “Epic,” with Patton’s sneering vocals alongside bodyslamming guitar riffs and triumphant horn blasts, would go on to become a ‘90s anthem. Faith No More would get weirder in subsequent albums, but The Real Thing was their breakthrough recording.


Fantômas, Fantômas (1999) Following the break-up of Faith No More, Patton assembled a rock supergroup featuring members of Slayer, Mr. Bungle and the Melvins and named it after the villain in a French crime novel. Comprised of 30 songs ranging in length from four seconds to just over five minutes, Fantômas was described by Patton as a “sci-fi homage.” Recorded for Patton’s own Ipecac label, Fantômas was heavy metal as it might have been imagined by Chuck Avery sitting in a Left Bank cafe with a table full of surrealists.


Mr. Bungle, Mr. Bungle (1991) Mr. Bungle’s eponymous 1991 debut album, produced by experimental jazz composer John Zorn, unleashed a furl of adjectives from critics (“unpredictable,” “schizophrenic,” and “Tourettes-like”) describing the record’s dizzying mood and intensity gear shifts. The opening song, “Travolta,” prompted a legal challenge from the actor himself and MTV refused to air the video, but both critics and a cult audience gathered around an album whose genre mashery and loopy transgression pre-dated the mashup experiments that would occur nearly a decade later.


Peeping Tom, Peeping Tom (2006) Named after the classic Michael Powell film about a murderous filmmaker, the 2006 Peeping Tom is what Patton called “my version of pop music.” A series of imaginatively produced collaborations with musicians ranging from Kool Keith to Norah Jones, Peeping Tom mixed futuristic hip-hop soundscapes with parodistic lyrics and Patton’s menacing vocals. Patton worked with all the musicians virtually, sending files over the internet. “It was charming, really,” he said at the time. “None of the usual Animal House stuff. Instead of swapping spit and underwear, we were swapping files."


Mike Patton, Mondo Cane (2010) After listening to Italian pop music while living in Bologna, Patton put together his 2010 record, Mondo Cane, in some ways his most ambitious project to date. With a 40-piece orchestra, a 15-member band, and a choir, Patton recorded covers of songs by The Blackmen, the film composer Ennio Morricone, and Gino Paoli. Singing in Italian, Patton brings humor, ferocity and genuine warmth to these wonderfully arranged charmers from the ‘50s and ‘60s.