Last Saturday November 20, I was privileged enough to attend a conversation between TRON: Legacy director, Joseph Kosinski, and music supervisor, Jason Bentley, hosted by Los Angeles public radio station, KCRW, at Apogee Studios in Santa Monica.  Bentley, also the KCRW Music Director, and Kosinski discussed key role of music in the film, what it was like to work with with legendary electronic artists (and robots) Daft Punk on the score, and even shared FIVE previously unheard tracks.

Now you can stream the entire event (tunes included) on the KCRW website.  I’ll be honest, I was definitely surprised by much of what I heard – both about the process and the actual score cues.  Here are some tidbits you may not have known about the TRON: Legacy score….

1.  Music was always a key part of the fabric of the film. Okay, it’s not like I didn’t think music would be important – they nabbed Daft Punk to do the score.  But music (and electronic music) has been a part of the director’s life ever since he was a kid.  Kosinski majored in jazz and mechanical engineering and started off in architecture before finding his way into film.  He described long nights at the computer listening to Daft Punk and Sneaker Pimps as he worked, “it unlocks a part of the brain that gets a visual thing going.” As for TRON: Legacy – approaching the French duo was one of the first things they did (more on that later).  They had Daft Punk music on set at all times; Kosinski even had a sound station at his directors chair and would play songs between takes. It “affected the whole vibe of the process,” he told us.

2.  For their first large scale composing gig, Daft Punk took the process pretty seriously. So seriously that after they first met with Kosinski and Bentley at the 101 Coffee Shop it took another year for them to finally agree to come on board.  Said Kosinski, “they wanted to make sure they could completely creatively commit for a couple years.”  Once they signed on, they immediately went to work.  Months before TRON even started filming, Kosinski was reviewing demos and ideas sent over from France, several of which made all the way into the final cut.  For those unfamiliar with the process of scoring for film, this situation is almost unheard of.  More often than not composers don’t sign on until the film goes into post production. When directors start editing their first cut of the film they have to use temp score – pieces from other existing scores to set the tone until later cuts when the composers have written more.  Not Kosinski.  He was using original Daft Punk material from Day 1.

3.  And they did it all themselves…well, almost. Early on in the process Bentley and Kosinski took Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter (the men behind the robot masks) around LA to meet with potential composers to work with them on TRON: Legacy. After spending time with some of the biggest film composers working today, the pair decided they wanted to work with none of them.  From electronic to orchestral, Daft Punk dedicated themselves to composing every bit of music – but translating it to an 85 piece orchestra? Both Bentley and Kosinski are quick to give credit orchestrator/arranger, Joe Trapanese.  The 26 year old was “invaluable” to the process, from spending two years locked in a room with Daft Punk working on orchestrations, to attending the film’s scoring session at Britain’s legendary recording facility, AIR Lyndhurst, when Kosinski couldn’t be there.  Trapanese not only has an impressive list of credits even before you throw TRON in the mix – as a composer, arranger, orchestrator, producer, you name it (Dexter, What Happens in Vegas, The Bannen Way, among others), he is also one of the youngest professors at UCLA, where he teaches Electronic Music and Composition.  I’m not 26 yet, but I doubt I’m going to accomplish anything so freaking awesome in the next 4.5 months.

4.  The result is not the bad ass electronica album you might expect. Rather than dropping heavy beats, Daft Punk utilized the power of brass and strings.  Listen to “Adagio,” which plays during a flashback sequence in the film, and you would never guess it was composed by Daft Punk.  Even cues that meld both orchestral and electronic elements lean heavily toward the orchestral side.  Using the track “Solar Sailor” as an example, each is extremely complex, blending several layers of sound and making that orchestral/electronic transition seamless, complementing the visual transitions from practical to digital – which is exactly what Kosinski was hoping for.  If you’re still jonesing for that hard-hitting dance track though, you won’t be totally disappointed – “TRON Legacy End Titles” is for you.

5.  The music is so important that it affected most aspects of post-production.
Not only was it essential for orchestral and electronic elements to mesh, the score and sound design needed to be in harmony as well.  But getting such a dynamic score to work with such explosive sound effects was not an easy feat.  It was important to Kosinski that the music felt like it emerged organically out of the environment.  To make it work, much of the score was designed to carry sections of the film without the usual effects, and the sound effects were tuned to the key of the score. Everything from room tone to the frequency of the light cycles were taken into consideration.  It’s not really a surprise then that the final mix required six weeks to complete up at George Lucas’s famed Skywalker Ranch facility (most films mix in one week).  And if you’re wondering how it all came out – just know that a team of Academy-Award winning engineers and technicians named TRON: Legacy the loudest film they had ever mixed.

Here’s hoping both our ears AND minds will be blown when TRON: Legacy hits theatres on December 17th.

TRON: Legacy Soundtrack available on December 7th on Walt Disney Records.  Pre-order on iTunes now!

Learn more about how you can support KCRW and all the neat events they do here.