With the release of the Justice League vs. The Fatal Five soundtrack through their own specialty label, Dynamic Soundtrack Records, the music collective known as Dynamic Music Partners – consisting of Michael McCuistion, Lolita Ritmanis and Kristopher Carter – is set to embark on the next leg of their musical journey, one ripe with endless possibilities both for them and the listeners aching to hear more of their works. In this Q & A, Dynamic Music Partners talk to The World’s Finest about their work scoring the fan-favorite DC Universe Movie title, their goals for their label, what fans can expect in the near future, and more.
Justice League vs. The Fatal Five (Music from the DC Universe Movie) is available to purchase here. To read more from Dynamic Music Partners, just continue reading below!
The World’s Finest (WF): Let’s kick things off back at the very beginning of Justice League vs. The Fatal Five. When you were brought on for Justice League vs. The Fatal Five, did you know it was going to be DCAU-based movie and, when you knew, did that essentially make things a little easier (the Justice League Unlimited guitars are back!), or did it add to the pressure, knowing you’d be returning to such a iconic universe filled with so much iconic music?
Michael McCuistion (MM): We weren’t sure initially what direction the score would take, but when we had our first meeting with executive producer Bruce Timm he came in the door talking right away about the return of the Justice League Unlimited sound, which was really exciting to hear! We had access to some production materials ahead of that meeting so we knew the potential was there, and to hear Bruce be so definite about it gave us a ton of confidence to really go for it with Justice League Unlimited sound and approach.
WF: And as a follow-up, during the brainstorming session about the soundtrack, were you all of the same mind on using new technology or was there a desire to try and do what was done when you were working on Justice League Unlimited?
Kristopher Carter (KC): We always stay up to date on current studio tech both to remain competitive and also to make our workflow more efficient, but most of that wouldn’t be noticeable to our clients and listeners of the final scores. Justice League Unlimited featured electric guitars, which haven’t changed much in a few decades, and orchestra, which has remained pretty much the same for a few hundred years! So as far as creating the scores from a technical standpoint, not too much was different.
WF: For Justice League Unlimited, or any movie you score based on an episodic series, what are the major differences it when scoring essentially two different versions of the same program? Is there a difference in how cues, themes and even the score itself are plotted out arranged, especially given the difference in program length?
Lolita Ritmanis (LR): With longform projects, the fact that the story arc has more time to develop allows for a longer musical arc. In general, music cues are longer, but it is more than that. With Justice League, for the most part we were given two part episodes, which when tied together felt like a longform. Bruce was instrumental during the scoring of the series, and continues to be instrumental when collaborating with us on the range of emotion, how and when to bring themes in, when to use restraint. Our collaboration continues to be an artistically invigorating process. He has a clear vision from day one, and it is our job to make the magic happen, and do as much back and forth as needed to “nail it” for him.
WF: You’re revisiting a familiar world in Justice League vs. The Fatal Five, but there are some changes. There are new characters, new villains, etc., Is it a challenge to work these new aspects (the new themes, character and location cues, etc.) into an established sound without them sticking out in a negative way?
MM: I think it’s wonderful to bring something new to an established musical world. Something fresh—a new perspective, a new theme, a new approach—and in this project we did all three! Bruce was our litmus test as to what he felt was working in this extended world, and collaborating with him to find the right tone and balance of new vs. classic was integral to the success of the score. It was fun to see new themes come to life with new characters and for original themes to be brought forward in a new way. When listeners and fans make that connection while watching and listening film music is at its best.
WF: In a past interview with World’s Finest, it was said Jessica Cruz’s character theme has a series of notes that move in opposite directions to the accompaniment (sometimes upwards, sometimes downwards), in order to capture her intense inner struggle. What came first, her character theme or the songs that played during Cruz’s scenes in the movie? Was one an extension of the other?
MM: I wrote Jessica’s Theme as a standalone theme first. I was going for a sense of longing—definitely a sense of inner struggle—she is conflicted about being the choice to be a Green Lantern, and she is not sure whether it’s right for her or not. At first the theme is asking “can I do this? Why was I chosen? Will I be good enough?” Later in the movie those questions are all answered by how the theme is treated as she makes her decision and wields the full power of the ring. I also wanted to keep the flavor of the original Green Lantern theme from Superman: The Animated Series, so there are tidbits of connection (listen for the bell motif!) in Jessica’s theme that musically place her in the overall world of the Lanterns. For me, starting with a well-conceived theme to begin with (apart from the music for the scene) gives me more options to shape and arrange it as needed for any scene or part of the story.
WF: As a semi-follow-up, what was the inspiration and process in creating the music for Star Boy, the Legion of Superheroes and the Fatal Five? Were you able to pull on your past Justice League Unlimited and Legion of Superheroes work?
KC:Justice League was absolutely packed full of character motifs, some carried over even from the animated Batman and Superman series! I introduced a “Legion of Superheroes” motif all the way back in the Superman episode, “New Kids In Town”. It carried through when the Legion showed up on Justice League Unlimited, and now returned for the Justice League vs. The Fatal Five treatment: (Slight spoiler alert…) It plays in the Legion Museum, and also in a scene near the end where the Legion features prominently. Because Star Boy’s character is uniquely developed in this movie, we created a new theme for him, and even though the Fatal Five were prominently featured in the Legion of Superheroes TV series we scored, we didn’t bring over any of their musical material to this story.
WF: What was the process in “teaming up” a dozen French horns and an electric guitar for the score? Was that always the choice or were other instruments considered? Was the pairing of horns and guitar your own wink/callback to how Justice League was the first project you all worked on that a full live orchestra wasn’t used like on Batman: The Animated Series?
LR: Credit goes to Michael for this brilliant idea. Guitar was a given, but we really wanted to “plus” this project. There are incredible French horn sample libraries available, which we all hear every day when we turn on the TV. When Michael suggested we hire LA’s best horn players for this, I distinctly remember Kristopher and I smiling ear to ear. Growing up listening to scores by the masters: Goldsmith, Williams, Mancini, and later Walker, in picking apart what made those composers great, was not only their gift of composing, and storytelling, but their gift in orchestration choices. Who can forget Shirley’s use of an accordion ensemble amidst an orchestra when scoring
WF: As a semi-follow-up, what was a piece of technology or new instruments used for this soundtrack that you wish you could have had when you worked on Justice League or Justice League Unlimited?
KC: Except for Lolita’s Emmy-nominated Main Title, Justice League was our first series to not feature a live orchestra, and at the time, it was very difficult to make an orchestra using synthesizers that didn’t sound synthetic. Even with the advances in technology, I can confidently say that machines will never replace the emotion and sonic power of a live orchestra, but it has become easier to make relatively-convincing simulations, so we can spend more time writing music and less time having to wrestle with the technology to capture what we’re hearing in our heads!
WF: The score to Justice League vs. The Fatal Five is being released, which is so cool, but even cooler is that it’s also the first release of Dynamic Music Partner’s new label, Dynamic Soundtrack Records. First, can you tell us how the decision to make this label came about? What sparked the idea?
MM: It will be the first release of our DC music, that’s true! But it will actually be the second release on our Dynamic Soundtrack Records label. We established the label several years ago to release our score to the documentary film “An Act Of Love,” and having the label already in place made it so much easier to transition now into our first release of DC music.
LR: Our motivation for releasing as much of our music into the universe as possible comes from our own desire to just get it out there, and leave a legacy, but truthfully, it is about the fans.
MM: If we can share a digital release of the music with our fans, we want to do it.
WF: All three members of Dynamic Music Partners have their own solo projects in addition to your collaborative work. In addition to soundtracks, are we also going to get to see original works as well as non-soundtrack titles and projects?
LR: My score for “Blizzard of Souls,” a World War I drama, scored with 100 musicians/choir has been submitted for Oscar consideration this year. It is Latvia’s entry for best International Feature as well as being entered in the general categories. It contains 70 minutes of music, and has been a life changing experience for me. CD available through LaLa Land Records, as well as it is available on all digital platforms. The film is available as well.
I also am thrilled to have been one of the producers of the symphonic soundtrack for Women Warriors: The Voices of Change, a ground-breaking concert creation that honors the strength and heroism of global activists fighting for social justice, human and civil rights, environmental causes, minority rights, gender equality and for the right of every girl to have access to education. Created by conductor/executive producer Amy Andersson, it features the works of 9 women composers. I composed 20 minutes of the music for this project. Amy Andersson, along with album producer/engineer Mark Mattson and I traveled to Riga, Latvia in February of 2020, before everything shut down due to the pandemic, to record this soundtrack. The live to picture concert event premiered at Lincoln Center, September 20th, 2019.
The pandemic allowed time for other interesting and challenging projects. I also just completed a commission for Chamber Music Palisades.
KC: I have been very busy with creating music outside of my film work. I released a piece for piano and orchestra called “Autumn Ruminations” in August that is the first in a series of four pieces, one for each season, that are marking our journey out of this pandemic, to whatever our “new normal” will be! I’m currently in the process of writing and producing “Winter” and “Spring” and “Summer” will follow later this year. And then, in a completely opposite direction, I have been DJing and producing dance music with my EDM project, The Kr Protocol. My newest track is a dance remix of Hans Zimmer’s “Wonder Woman” theme called “Is She With You?” It drops this Friday, Jan. 22 on all digital platforms and will be followed by several new tracks later this year!
WF: Building off that last question, what do you hope to see Dynamic Soundtrack Records grow into? Is it safe to assume there are long-term goals and plans in mind? And what we can we do to help?
MM: We are just beginning to formulate long-term plans for our label now. In a perfect world we’d release everything we’ve ever done! There are a lot of logistics required to legally make this music available to the public; it can be daunting, especially as an independent label, and we are pursuing the process with passion. By helping to get the news of our release out to the people who are interested you are helping a lot already!
KC: We’re on a mission to see as much of our original animated scores released as possible, either in collaborating with other labels, or on our own. No further teases can be offered at this time, but just rest assured there are a lot of scores we’ve been talking about!
WF: To circle it back, with Justice League vs. The Fatal Five being DSR’s first release, would you mind sharing cues from the movie you’re all particularly proud of. Which ones should we crank up when we blast the soundtrack for the first time?
MM: Hahaha – the “JLFF DC Logo” track … a great start to the day!
LR: The track “Selfless,” was composed in the weeks prior to my father’s passing. He was 92, had a beautiful life. We had an incredibly strong bond. I remember my husband (our engineer, Mark Mattson) walking in to my studio, and seeing me in tears composing that piece. Fast forward to the morning of the session. As I was driving to the recording session for Justice League vs. The Fatal Five at “The Bridge,” my daughter Ilze called to say that he had just passed. My amazing partners took up the slack that day. I felt I needed to record a few of my cues in the first hour and then rush back to be with the family. I was 100 percent feeling my dad’s presence while conducting. I did not cry at the session. It was almost as if he was there, guiding me. I drove back to my parents place 2 hours later, and sat in the room with his body. His soul had already moved on. It is a deeply personal moment, reflecting one the power of love, the power of music, and our connectivity.
KC: I relished the purely psychotic nightmare energy of “Jessica Forest Nightmare” (evil laugh), but I wouldn’t recommend blasting that one as you’re risking the ire of your neighbors! It was so fun to recall several of our favorite themes in “Legion Museum Visit” and I as blown away by the incredible musicianship of the French horns playing as soloists in the 12-part chorale in “Legion Pays Respects”, but if you’re going to crank up one of my cues, “Wonder Woman Defeats Persuader” features the rock opera culmination of my original JLU Wonder Woman theme that I had been hinting at over several minutes of a huge battle!
WF: In addition to all of that, can you give us some insight in what you’re working on right now, both in terms of writing and producing scores (perhaps a tease or two for Young Justice: Phantoms?) and you’re next slated Dynamic Soundtrack Records release?
MM: We’re currently scoring the Warner Bros. show Young Justice: Phantoms. It is an amazing season, the best episodes yet! As far as Dynamic Soundtrack Records goes, we are pursuing a couple of options which we can’t discuss right now, but, and I am serious about this, we are taking suggestions! One of the reasons we decided to release the Justice League vs. The Fatal Five score ourselves was to gauge the amount of interest out there in general. We do get requests from time to time for specific cues, but if any of your readers have a “holy grail” score they’d like to see released please have them let us know. It will make a difference in our decision-making process as we plan for the future of the label.
KC: Unfortunately, the pandemic postponed a few concerts we had in the works, and there isn’t anything we can currently announce about virtual DMP events, but I am going to be DJing a Dance Party as part of the virtual Film Music House at Sundance on Friday, Jan. 29, from 6-7pm. It will be free to watch and free to dance at home! Details are here!
In addition to my solo projects, which are streaming on all the popular digital platforms, I currently present two monthly DJ live streams on Mixcloud: 1st Tuesday dark techno/deep house called Kronos Club, and 3rd Saturday night fun dance party featuring House/Tech House/Disco called Bay 94 Club, and I’d like to invite anyone who has a wee bit too much pent-up quarantine energy to join! Come join here!
WF: To wrap things up, and to change things up a little, it’s been difficult recently for so many. Can each of you share or suggest a piece or two of music or a certain song, a cue, etc., that has helped you out? What has helped things seem a little bit brighter for you?
KC: When I’m overwhelmed by what’s happening in our world, which is so easy to happen these days, I turn off the TV, close my eyes and meditate to music by Max Richter or Ólafur Arnalds. Their music transports me to a place where I can just “be” without the pressure of the world and really, any of their albums would be a good remedy for the news. Be kind to yourself, this is a really tough time! But remain patient and hold on to hope—we will emerge from these times some day soon, and be stronger for the experience.
WF: Here’s an extra random, fun question to go out on – name on episode or show you wish you scored but didn’t!
MM: I’d say anything that I haven’t scored that followed Superman’s story line. I always find inspiration in his story!
KC: I think many people just assume all we compose are superhero action music, but we all have passions outside that genre. I would absolutely love to score an emotional dramatic period film like Sense and Sensibility or The English Patient with extended landscape shots and not a single supervillain in sight!
The World’s Finest would like to thank the Dynamic Music Partners for taking the time to participate in this Q & A! Justice League vs. The Fatal Five (Music from the DC Universe Movie) is available to purchase here.
Interview conducted by James Harvey.
Superman: The Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Justice League/Justice League Unlimited, Teen Titans, Batman: The Brave And The Bold, The Spectacular Spider-Man, Young Justice, Batman: Return Of The Caped Crusaders, Batman vs. Two-Face, Batman: The Killing Joke and Batman & Harley Quinn