For Steven Price, the composer of Gravity’s score, it was a year of regular experiments with melodies and sounds. “It constantly evolved,” says Price. “I was on it for a year, and we wrote it as we went. I literally started on the first day and was still writing on the last day.” The results were textured sounds, layered with everything one could garner from a string orchestra, choir, church organ and even a glass harmonica. What’s a glass harmonica? It’s an oblong glass instrument that rotates and as the virtuoso of the art places his fingertips on it, it generates tones like someone circling the rim of a wine glass. It gave the score an other-wordly, almost spiritual sound. “The idea was to be this incredibly immersive experience,” said Price. “The sound crew knew exactly what I was doing, so it all changed together.”
To make it feel even more immersive, they employed the Dolby Atmos system, which uses up to 64 speakers to fully surround the audience in sound. The original Gravity mix was in 7.1 surround sound, meaning three speakers in the front, two on each side and two in the back. It also allows elements to be amplified or extracted to create the desired effect. “Because there is no sound in space, the music is designed to give you an emotional feel. The camera sometimes takes the point of view of the character, so the idea is that the music pulled you into the character a little more,” said Price. “That was the challenge. We had to figure out the emotional journey and how best to express within this experience that [director] Alfonso [Cuaron] was creating.”
Price said he would try different melodies and different approaches and then present them to Cuaron. They would talk about it every step of the way, continuing to monitor the sound of the film and how it matched to the characters and story. Some sounds just merged into others. “There were moments that maybe it sounded like a radio wave that would then become a melody,” said Price. “It was a lot of experimenting. It was one of those films where Alfonso was doing something so very interesting, so it was fun all the time.” It was also a hard job. Price worked seven days a week throughout the entire moviemaking process. Literally working from the first day when he met Cuaron on December 8, 2011, to the final day of the mix on November 2, 2012. It was 94 weekends and 237 days from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. And it paid off. Price is nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Score. Take a listen:
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