Each month, we turn our spotlight onto the unsung artists behind the biggest new movie releases. Last month we highlighted Phil Lord and Chris Miller, co-writers and co-directors of The LEGO Movie. This month it’s Clint Mansell, composer of the original score for Noah.
Chances are, whether you realise it or not, you have heard the work of Clint Mansell many times over. Even if you have never in your life watched a film scored by this prolific musician and composer, you will have unconsciously captured the various strains of his melodies on countless adverts, film trailers and episodes of Top Gear. Mansell – the former lead singer and guitarist of ‘alternative rock’ band Pop Will Eat Itself – makes memorable, moving music.
As a founding member of Pop Will Eat Itself, Mansell helped kickstart a group that would evolve through many stages of development during its fifteen year career. With fellow original band members Adam Mole, Chris Fradgeley, Malcolm Treece and Miles Hunt (who would go on to form The Wonder Stuff), Mansell’s group began life as From Eden, transforming into Wild And Wandering, before settling in as Pop Will Eat Itself in 1986. Later additions to the line-up variously included Graham Crabb, Mary Byker, Tim Muddiman, Davey Bennett, Jason Bowld, Richard March, Robert “Fuzz” Townshend and Kerry “The Buzzard” Hammond.
Inevitably, their sound moved through ‘alternative rock’ with furious bass-lines and energetic vocals, to incorporating more digital and experimental aspects, including sampling and pre-programmed drums. They enjoyed moderate success with the RCA record label, and briefly toured with Run DMC before signing with Trent Reznor’s Nothing Records, and touring with Nine Inch Nails. They experienced some chart success, and even saw some of their tracks used on the PlayStation game, Loaded.
By the summer of 1996, however, the group were disbanding, and Mansell found himself involved in the directorial debut of one Darren Aronofsky – a project that would lead to a new career, and years of collaboration. Reflecting on this life-changing introduction in The Quietus in February 2011, Mansell explained:
“I moved to New York in 1996, and my then-girlfriend knew Darren’s then-producer. They were trying to make Pi. They didn’t have any money, they didn’t know anybody who could write any music, so they put the feelers out and we were introduced randomly. We hit it off, we had similar kinds of ideas; he told me about Pi, I read the script, he gave me a lot of the background research. Paintings by people who had migraines. Then I wrote a couple of pieces on spec, before he’d even started shooting, and he loved it. It went really well. And that’s sort of how we’ve continued to this day. Just kicking ideas around even before he’s got to a filming point. At the start of a project it’s good just being around and absorbing ideas, thinking about stuff. Sometimes you’ll be prepared. And then the film comes along. You can put some ideas up against the film and find it doesn’t work at all. But even from that you learn a lot: you ask ‘why didn’t that work?’ and ‘what do I need to do?’ So nothing’s wasted, I don’t think. It’s all very informative stuff.”
Pi, released in 1998, is a surrealist psychological thriller in which a number theorist – believing that everything in nature can be understood mathematically – obsessively searches for the key number that will unlock the mysteries of the universe. Aronofsky won the Directing Award at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival, as well as the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Screenplay, and the Gotham Open Palm Award.
As Aronofsky’s debut was deservedly well-received, so was Mansell’s. His soundtrack for Pi was filled with frenetic techno beats, perfectly apt samples and sweeping electronic tones that greatly enhanced the emotional and dramatic impact of the story Aronofsky was working so hard to tell. In addition to delivering a piece of original, thought-provoking independent cinema, Pi also delivered what has become one of the greatest director/composer collaborative relationships of modern times, with Mansell scoring every one of Aronofsky’s six feature length films to date.