For a brand that’s been around for 45 years, IMAX still seems pretty relevant: Millions of people will see Spectre in the massive-screen format in the coming weeks, and more than $6.5 million worth of tickets for the opening night of Star Wars: The Force Awakens (in December) have already been sold. As people look for theatrical experiences that can’t be duplicated in their living rooms, they’re still looking to IMAX. And IMAX is looking to make that experience new for them, too.
One of the ways that IMAX is trying to do that is by refreshing the audio experience that takes place in the theaters. After opening its 1,000th theater, IMAX partnered with Man Made Music’s Joel Beckerman to create a new theme to play before screenings of Spectre in every theater they have in 65 countries. IMAX has long used sound–and some visual elements–to count down the final 30 seconds before a movie begins, but the new sonic rebrand makes that experience new, and fiercely contemporary, using not just cutting edge sounds but also cutting edge technology to advance the form.
“One of the reasons we were so excited is that they now have 12-channel sound,” Beckerman explains. “If you think about surround sound, it surrounds you–it’s all around you–so there are different games that you can play by pushing different instruments or parts of the soundtrack around, or in back, or to the left, or forward. You can move things around in that space. But with 12-channel, they’ve put speakers over your head. So from my perspective, in terms of creating something, there’s a cone of sound over your head. Part of what we were thinking about when we were creating this is how to use that to the max, to really feel like you’re inside the anthem, and inside the sonic identity for IMAX in the theater.”
That 30-second piece, Beckerman says, was designed for maximum impact. “It’s to say, ‘We’re IMAX, we’re showing up, here’s what we do,’ and it’s setting up a tremendous sense of anticipation for the film that follows.” But the elements of it come from a longer piece that Beckerman created, working with IMAX, to serve as the anthem for the brand.
“For the anthem, which is the DNA for everything else we created and which will be the DNA for their identity going forward, we created a whole musical story that dates back to programmatic music–music that tells a story, whether it’s written for ballet or films,” Beckerman says. He and his partners at IMAX started with the music, though visitors to IMAX educational programming and to the company’s website may see it accompanied by a dramatic series of iconic images from films like Avatar and The Dark Knight. “It inspired them to go back through the archives and pull clips for each of the most famous IMAX films and cut this visual montage to the anthem.”
The anthem was recorded with a 150-piece orchestra and a 75-voice choir, and buttressed by a number of electronic elements. The combination of technology and the mass of humanity that is 225 musicians was important to both IMAX and Man Made Music. “When we were working on this, we wanted to meld technology and storytelling, so we needed to have all of the weight of the human element in the big orchestra and the choir.”
The project was conceived by IMAX as a way to use music to tell the company’s story–where they’ve been in the past, where they are now, and where they’re going in the future. Capturing all of that without words, in a way that reminds audiences of how powerful it is to be overwhelmed by the sheer size of a film they love in the IMAX setting, was a unique challenge for Beckerman.
“The process was pretty intense,” he says. “It was a pretty detailed creative brainstorm trying to get to the center of what the story was about and to get to the emotional takeaway for IMAX. It had to do with the intersection between humanity, technology, and storytelling. That’s where it all ended up coming from.”
Beckerman and the IMAX team started with dozens of ideas, and developed them through an ongoing process that lasted more than six months of refining, throwing away, and bringing in new ones. What they settled on was an anthem that centered around one musical element–“The Drop,” as Beckerman calls it–in an attempt to create something both memorable and flexible.
“One of the things we learned was that they work on a million genres of films–comedies, and family friendly films, and foreign films, and museum films, in addition to the superhero films and action films,” Beckerman says. “So we ended up developing a whole catalog of arrangements of this hook that fit all the different genres, so they know have this enormous catalog of arrangements and sound that they can use over time, as people begin to recognize it.”
And creating something that can stand the test of time is an important thing for Beckerman, and for IMAX. The anthem is very much of the moment–with its EDM bass drop and soaring, cinematic score, it sounds a lot like what 2015 sounds like–which was important to the project, but it was also vital to do something that wouldn’t be stale a few years down the line.
“The DNA of it, ‘The Drop,’ that probably can last forever,” Beckerman says. “But it’s all how you contextualize it, it’s all how you frame it, it’s all the musical storytelling you do around it. I think what we’ve done is very relevant for now, but that’s probably gonna change in the future. When you think about a great hit song, there’s always the classic version you love, but they also get reinvented. And that’s what we expect here–it may be three years, it may be five years, but they’ll probably be reinventions of this. So what we wanted first and foremost for the hooks to stand the test of time, and be something that can inspire reinvention–that there be a lot that you can do with it.”