Music can be very soothing when one is trying to relax. A lot of people listen to certain playlists to help them go to sleep or when they are lounging in the tub after a long day. If you decide to splurge on a getaway to relieve some stress, you would think the music at a posh spa would assist in your transformative journey. Composers Miles Hankins and Marco Beltrami had the surprisingly large task of composing a tapestry of music that reflected the emotional metamorphosis for the all-star cast of Hulu’s Nine Perfect Strangers.
As you watch this limited series, you are reminded how expensive a stay at a facility like Tranquillum House could be. Hankins and Beltrami, who have worked on several scores together including both chapters of A Quiet Place and The Shallows, shaded the score with elegance and a string quartet. One would think that the duo would create themes for all of these characters, but they focused on the overarching evolution of these people as a whole. They are in different stages of their lives, but they are all craving change. The shadows that color Masha, played by Nicole Kidman, can sometimes be menacing or transfixing.
Unlike other limited series with huge casts, the music reflects a grounded character journey and doesn’t rely on cheap tricks to lure in the audience. The score from Hankins and Beltrami feels like an added benefit to a lavish excursion.
Awards Daily: What conversations did you have with Jonathan Levine about elevating this story with music? I found this score to be very elegant.
Marco Beltrami: That’s all Miles.
Miles Hankins: Elegance is my middle name.
MB: Jonathan sent over the first three episodes for us to watch and we have conversations about it. He always mixes humor and drama together in examining people. That’s what I love about him. When we talked about this, we knew it would cover a lot of terrain and vary great stylistically. Miles and I talked a lot about that and we came up with some ideas and the consistent ensemble would create a lot of that grounding.
MH: Yeah. The original idea was a modern, experimental string quartet. Maybe some of the DNA stayed with the show and Marco did create a lot of great stuff for the quartet. That lends an elegance to it. That opening scene when they are driving to the spa, we tried a lot of instrumentation but we stayed with the piano and the writing had a bit of snooty, refinement.
MB: It has a Mancini-eqsue quality to it with setting this place up with false pretenses.
MH: Luring them in and setting the demons on later on.
AD: I had to remind myself that wellness is such a huge industry. It’s expensive and it can be elitist sometimes. Maybe Gwyneth Paltrow would be at home at Tranquillum House.
AD: There is a hopeful quality to the piano in the opening too.
MH: Thank you.
AD: With such big personalities and the temptation to create themes for everyone, was there a character theme that was particular difficult to nail down?
MB: All the characters are hard to nail down because they are constantly evolving. For us, we sat in the passenger seat and were along for the ride. We just didn’t know from episode to episode, but we found consistencies. We found elements for Masha and the house. When the family sees their dad son, Zach, there are elements that repeat. Melissa McCarthy has some too. We didn’t set a theme down and then move on.
MH: If we tried to create themes for all the characters and the spa, it would’ve been a disjointed score. One thing we ended up doing but instead of assigning a them to one character we passed them around a bit. One theme for one character might be appropriate for another down the road. So there is that continuity thematically but it’s not always character specific. When those themes intermingle, it can work for multiple characters and we can thread them together.
MB: As the show progresses, things unravel and it’s a theme of unraveling to all the character. It serves as a bridge between them.
MH: They start as nine perfect strangers but end up closer than they thing. Whether they like it or not.
AD: Any music with Masha, I imagine the sounds you created for her differed the most because of her position and her background. In the track, “Meeting Masha,” there is an ethereal quality. Maybe that’s because of Nicole Kidman?
MB: She shimmers.
AD: Tell me about her music.
MH: “Meeting Masha” there is an earthly thing. It’s a combination of string quartet, windchimes, Tibetan bowls…
AD: The little “ting!” sounds.
MH: Yes, those cues. A little of the rubbing of the rum with the mallet to create the hum. On top of that, Buck Sanders devised this process of recording all the elements to magnetic table and twisting the pitch and the duration and tempo. It created this halo and this glow. It can sometimes sound beautiful and sometimes it can be subversive and sinister. The vibrato gate on the cello in one of the tracks throbs and it’s very disconcerting. The processing kind of knocks things off kilter.
MB: We wanted a meditative and reassuring vibe about Masha but something like a snake charmer.
AD: Snake charmer is a really perfect way to describe her. Another cue I loved is when Carmel attacks the mannequin. What can you tell me about that.
MB: We had a hand in that, and Buck had a big hand in that one. There’s a lot of percussion and analog synthesis and percolating rhythms. Carmel has this dark cue but it’s very intense. It’s a great example of another side of the score. This is an area where you don’t expect a cue like this. It’s almost a cinematic, action sequence or something but it leans on Buck’s mad scientist ways. It relies on a lot of synths and it just shows you where the show can go. We let the show tell us where to go. We didn’t want to enforce a musical mandate on it.
Nine Perfect Strangers is streaming on Hulu.