Amazon Prime’s Tales from the Loop is like nothing else on television right now. It’s a sci-fi series with much more on its mind than gadgetry. Developed and written by Nathaniel Halpern, the series presents an isolated town in Ohio built on top of “the loop,” a mysterious machine designed to unlock the secrets of the universe. Through the run of the show, the audience explores a variety of characters whose lives are severely impacted by the loop. Here, character development serves as the main event, not science fiction wizardry (although there’s plenty of that).
The series hails visually from the art of Simon Stålenhag, and composers Philip Glass and Paul Leonard-Morgan jumped at the opportunity to create an accompanying score that serves multiple purposes for the series. Their score aurally echoes the stark landscapes originally imagined by Stålenhag, yes, but most importantly, it serves as a gorgeous stand-alone body of music. It’s as deeply accomplish a score as I’ve heard in a very long time.
Here, Paul Leonard-Morgan talks to Awards Daily about the process of co-creating the score with the legendary Philip Glass. He also elaborates on the intent of the overall score.
Awards Daily: Paul, much of your body of work is peppered with scores for sci-fi themed projects. Do you gravitate toward sci-fi? Do you tend to approach sci-fi differently than a traditional drama?
Paul Leonard-Morgan: No, in the sense that, yes I’ve done a lot of sci-fi stuff like Limitless and Dredd, but I’ve also done animation and Walking With Dinosaurs. The world at the moment is geared up to sci-fi because its escapism from everything going on in the world. I’m not just talking about the last few weeks either. I think your approach is the same as any project. You look at the visuals and see what inspires you. I think that one of the things about Tales from the Loop which was quite unique was that Philip and I started composing for it before they’d even started shooting a frame. They were sending over visuals and Simon’s [Stålenhag] beautiful pictures. We were really inspired by the beauty of those visuals. They’re so descriptive. They just set your mind racing.
AD: Are those visuals what drew you into the project?
PLM: So many things drew me to this project. Mark’s [Romanek, director] vision – as well as other directors involved – was just unbelievable. I knew his work from One Hour Photo and Never Let Me Go, and his imagery is just spectacular plus the level of detail which I’ve never seen anything like. Then, the opportunity to collaborate with Philip Glass is not something that comes up every day. We started looking at the dailies they were sending in, and they were beautiful. They are really eight stand-alone films. The difference with this compared to a lot of other sci-fi shows or films is that most tend to rely heavily on visual effects. These stories are just so powerfully moving by themselves that, even if there were no special effects, the acting or the scripts are just so immersive that they barely need the visual effects.
AD: I was really mesmerized by the combination of the timeless, classic score and the set design. It doesn’t seem to have a period. There are aspects of the 1970s, but there are also robots and other evidence of modern technology. The whole series feels very out of time.
PLM: You’ve absolutely nailed it. I kept asking, “When is this?” It almost doesn’t matter. That’s what I meant by it’s not a typical sci-fi thing. It’s almost like the visual effects don’t matter. It just is, and it is timeless. That’s one of the things that I wanted to show through the score as well. Avoid any kind of electronica and keep this very timeless feel to it. To keep that timeless or classic feel to it by using an orchestra with wood or natural instruments. The result is a soundtrack that doesn’t date. One that you can listen to without watching the series. It’s as nice listening to it as a stand-alone experience as it is associated with all of the images.
AD: That’s very true. I actually listened to the score before I watched the pilot. It is totally absorbing without knowing anything about that show.
PLM: Mark said that, and Nathaniel as well. Let’s create something that’s a unique thing. Music is so intrinsic to this series, and we identified opportunities to create something that you don’t get the chance to do in modern scores. We could write melodies and themes that people will want to listen to independently. Even after they finished filming the show, Mark and Nathaniel told me they’re still listening to the score by itself.
AD: Tell me about working with Philip Glass on this project.
PLM: Where to start! He’s a genius and on a completely different planet in terms of the stuff he comes up with. The idea we started with was that he was going to write things and I would write things, and we’d meet in the middle to see what fits. It didn’t end up quite working like that though. It ended up that Philip would write some tunes, and I wrote some tunes. Then, Mark would listen and make some suggestions or some weird or wacky instruments. That inspired us to not make it this massive Hollywood soundtrack. In the end, neither Nathaniel nor Mark could figure out who had written what we were so in sync with each other. We’d email themes back and forth and change some of the chords or highlight the melodies. It really was a great collaboration.
AD: So, you’ve talked about wanting the score to stand on its own and about drawing from the imagery as inspiration. Was there anything else you drew from to create the score?
PLM: If you’re not aware of Simon’s fantastic works, then go and buy these books. You look at these things, and I’m reading stories that Simon put into the book. I had no idea if these stories were true or not. Did they actually happen? Was this really sci-fi? It sets your brain off in one direction, and then you read all the scripts Nathaniel wrote based on those stories. I think that was our jumping off point to go and write some music. One theme we pursued was innocence, the innocence of this unspoiled world. That was really what got us creating and writing.
AD: I’d read that you use a recorder to develop the sound for the loop itself. Tell me about that.
PLM: We started out with a few other instruments, but they weren’t quite right. We tried to come up with the most simple instrument that could carry a melody, and what is something that sounds innocent and untouched or unspoiled because that’s essentially what the loop is. The recorder just seemed to be a very simple instrument that sounds haunting when you cover it in reverb. It’s not used everywhere, but it’s used to signify the loop each time it comes around.
Amazon Prime’s Tales from the Loop drops today.