Here's How The Score Of 'Apocalypse Now' Originally Sounded The original score for the 1979 film was never used because the director, Francis Ford Coppola, had a falling out with the composer, David Shire. The lost music is being released for the first time.
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Here's How The Score Of 'Apocalypse Now' Originally Sounded

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Here's How The Score Of 'Apocalypse Now' Originally Sounded

Here's How The Score Of 'Apocalypse Now' Originally Sounded

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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

With the award season upon us, you might have movies on your mind, so this seemed like a good time to tell you the story behind a famous film score. Remember the helicopter attack scene in the film "Apocalypse Now"?

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "APOCALYPSE NOW")

MARTIN: The composer initially hired to score the film had a completely different sound in mind.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID SHIRE'S "RIDE OF THE VALKYRIES")

MARTIN: David Shire's all-synthesizer score was never used, but now, nearly 40 years later, it's been released. Rick Karr has the story.

RICK KARR, BYLINE: Composer David Shire says he'd mostly forgotten the music he wrote for "Apocalypse Now." He heard it again for the first time a little over four years ago playing back from a cassette that had been gathering dust in a drawer.

DAVID SHIRE: I couldn't believe that all that music was written because I guess I had repressed it. You know, I listened to it and thought, where did all that stuff come from? I don't remember working on the picture that long.

KARR: But he had, for about a year and a half. We'll get to why he repressed those memories in a bit. Shire had already collaborated with Francis Ford Coppola on the film "The Conversation." For that score, the director had asked Shire to stick to the piano. For "Apocalypse Now," Coppola wanted a fully-orchestrated score played entirely on analog synthesizers.

SHIRE: The reason Francis wanted a all-synthesized score instead of an orchestra was precisely because it had a little inherent coldness to it.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID SHIRE'S "VILLAGE ASSAULT")

KARR: Coppola decamped to the Philippines to shoot the film. Shire began drafting ideas for the score in a Los Angeles studio. He didn't want the synthesizers to simply emulate strings, brass, woodwinds and so on. In his head, Shire heard imaginary instruments with novel tones.

SHIRE: What I would do is write in rough descriptions of the sounds I wanted - like, celeste with gong ring-off or that instrument we dubbed the scumbone. It sounds like a dirty, huge trombone.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID SHIRE'S "VILLAGE ASSAULT")

KARR: David Shire was one of Hollywood's go-to composers at the time. He'd scored TV shows, including "McCloud," and such films as "The Taking Of Pelham One Two Three" and "Saturday Night Fever." He'd been writing for synths for years but he'd never learned how to program one, much less a whole ensemble of them. So he turned to a musician who was just itching to change the way most people heard synthesizers.

DAN WYMAN: They were gimmicks. You heard them on Toyota ads.

KARR: Dan Wyman's job was to figure out how to make the massive synthesizers of the time generate the sounds Shire heard in his head.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID SHIRE'S "ORANGE LIGHT")

KARR: Wyman was already doing that job for filmmaker and composer John Carpenter, musician Stevie Wonder and others. He had something to prove.

WYMAN: Synthesizers were capable of so much more. David knew that. Francis Coppola certainly knew that. We needed in our own minds to prove that the instrument could be as human as human players but more wonderful.

KARR: Some of the sounds for Shire's score required three synthesists to make one sound, and the parts had to be layered one at a time. Recording a couple of minutes of music could take days.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID SHIRE'S "HELL-ICOPTER")

KARR: Still, there was lots of downtime. Francis Ford Coppola's shoot in the Philippines dragged on and on thanks to a hurricane, casting issues and Marlon Brando. "Apocalypse Now" seemed to be stalled, so Shire took an offer to score another film. Then he got a call from Coppola.

SHIRE: I had to take another job. He said, well, I can't deal with that. And I was fired with a very short phone call.

KARR: Turns out, Shire was also going through a divorce with Coppola's sister at the time. The director hired his father, Carmine, who started from scratch on the score. Shire says he was devastated, but he understands what Coppola was going through to make the film.

SHIRE: We were working in a very sanitized, quiet, safe environment, and he was going through hell down there.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID SHIRE'S "KURTZ CALLING")

KARR: Like David Shire, Francis Ford Coppola had forgotten about the abandoned score. But the ex-brothers-in-law have reconciled. A picture in the CD liner notes shows the two grinning side-by-side at the wedding of Shire's son, Coppola's nephew. For NPR News, I'm Rick Karr.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAVID SHIRE'S "KURTZ CALLING")

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