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The Music Of 'The Martian,' Deconstructed

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The Music Of 'The Martian,' Deconstructed

Music Interviews

The Music Of 'The Martian,' Deconstructed

The Music Of 'The Martian,' Deconstructed

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/453153097/453217145" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Harry Gregson-Williams leads musicians at a scoring session for The Martian. Benjamin Ealovega hide caption

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Benjamin Ealovega

Harry Gregson-Williams leads musicians at a scoring session for The Martian.

Benjamin Ealovega

Outer space is silent, and that may be one reason why a lot of movies about space have iconic scores — in addition to helping advance the the plot, the music in films like Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey must fill a literal void.

Composer Harry Gregson-Williams wasn't looking to take up that challenge: He's made his best-known scores for fantasy films like the Shrek and Chronicles of Narnia series. Instead, the challenge came to him.

"A script plopped through the letterbox one day, with a terse little note on it which said, 'Read it. Like it. Do it.' I plowed through the script in one hungry sitting, and it was a no-brainer," Gregson-Williams says.

That script would eventually become The Martian, the new Ridley Scott movie starring Matt Damon as an astronaut stranded on Mars, and featuring music by Gregson-Williams. The composer says his first meetings with Scott completely upended his expectations for how to frame the story and its lonely hero.

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"His optimism for life, his love of science and problem-solving that he always seems to be able to handle with humor and charisma — all this should be reflected in the music. There's no reason for the music to be too dark for too long in this film," Gregson-Williams says. "And that was quite a revelation, to begin with, because I had thought there would be a lot of darkness and despair He's only hanging onto a tiny thread of belief that he could live. But for the most part, this is a guy who's up for the challenge."

In a conversation originally recorded for the Song Exploder podcast — in which host Hrishikesh Hirway asks musicians to deconstruct their songs part by part — Gregson-Williams explains how each moment in a particular scene from The Martian was matched to an instrument and a melody. You can hear the full breakdown at the audio link, and find more Song Exploder episodes at songexploder.net.