Music

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ESPN's recent X Games Global Championship, which aired first on ABC Sports and later on ESPN, afforded composer Wendell Hanes, at New York's Bang Music, a rare opportunity to stretch out on television: a two-minute trailer of nothing but colorful quick-cut graphics, driven by a hybrid electronica score with a wildly eclectic international flavor. "It was an enormous task and somewhat overwhelming to look at based on the amount of graphics that we were required to score," says Bang producer Sheila Horgan. "The client wanted every movement to be treated with priority - the first step was for Wendell to come up with the musical pulse of the composition. He knew it needed to be hard-edged and aggressive, but he wanted specific segments of the piece to stand out from one another and at the same time create a musical arc that keeps you watching."

"In terms of sound, nothing was out of bounds," adds Hanes. "The piece is an overwhelming fusion of hip-hop, metal, techno, Indian and big band. It's a relentless battlefield of beats and textures racing from one side of the world to the other. Having scored four feature-length movies in the last two years, I was prepared to put in the hours it would take to make this piece great."

"Initially, the piece was divided into four different sections of varying tempos and textures," explains Horgan. "Wendell 's philosophy was to change the musical flow every 25 seconds or so. He added distorted guitars, vocal samples, arpeggiating drum kits and high-energy synthesizers, and he incorporated live sitar, fusing it with infectious drum rhythms." After a presentation for ESPN music director Claude Mitchell, it was agreed that the piece needed "a common thread throughout, as opposed to changing the tempo with each new section," says Horgan. And Mitchell "wanted to make sure that more of the visual textures in the spot were treated with elements of sound design."

After the revisions were made, yet another challenge popped up: Hanes was asked to create 20-second musical pieces for each of the countries represented in the program. Some of these were derived from the two-minute film and some were composed from scratch. All in all, quite a musical showcase, with the final film having a touch of that persuasively pounding '90s Prodigy techno sound that works so well with videogames; ESPN's extreme-sports productions being akin to live-action versions of the same, one could argue.

"Sometimes I hesitate when people use the phrase 'sound design' in connection with Wendell's art," concludes Horgan. "As if that aspect of his sound were more important than its intrinsic musicality. Over a year ago, we trademarked 'Symphonica' to identify very specifically Wendell's ability to combine the rhythms of electronica, hip-hop and dance music with dramatic musical themes and instrumentation of the classical symphony. It probably sounds a bit high-minded, but I believe some of that comes through on the soundtrack for the Global X Games."

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