Black Swan: The Chemical Brothers’ Ed Simons On The Soundtrack

We spoke to The Chemical Brothers’ Ed Simons about his band’s contributions to the musical score of Black Swan, Darren Aronofsky’s latest theatrical thriller starring Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, and Mila Kunis. Find out what he had to say about working with Aronofsky and soundtrack composer Clint Mansell, his band’s future film score plans and their next album.

Chemical Brothers


Without giving anything away, what are your thoughts on Black Swan as a film?
It’s sad. It exercises so much emotion, that film. It’s very draining afterwards, how it ends, and the whole thing of it. It’s so quick, it’s like every moment is loaded with significance.

How did this collaboration initially come about?
We used to know Clint Mansell years ago. We used to see him when we played in New York and we became friends when we first started playing in America. So we went to the studio and they played us two scenes – the club scene and the build-up to that – and they said they needed some music for that, and they were quite vague about it. So we sent out a few bits and bobs and Darren Aronovsky got in touch with us and then it all came together.

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We met him and he played an extended version of the scenes that we were gonna soundtrack and we had a pint down the road and we thought it was really interesting. The way he was talking about the film really drew us in. It’s such an involved project and he really was living it. We wanted to include some of Clint’s ideas and what he’s taken from Tchaikovsky, and spin it into our own thing. It was very intricate. There were so many people – editors and people having their views – so we had to come up with initial ideas.

What was it like to work with Darren Aronovsky?
He’s a nice guy, very creative, very forthright. He said it how it is, and he was just really excited by the film he’s made. We didn’t see the whole film until quite a long time after our music had been put into it. It’s just an incredible film, a real experience of a film. You get really drawn into its world so quickly, and the emotions are so heightened by the music.

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Were you happy with the space for artistic freedom they gave you?
Yes, we were very happy with it, very happy to be involved. When we make our own music we’re in complete control, and what people get to hear is totally our own decision. But it was nice to work with the two of them. They were accommodating, but they had a definite vision of how they wanted the scenes to be and how the soundtrack would work in those bits. So it was more collaborative, but it was with people we respected.

Why will the tracks not be included on the soundtrack? Will they be available anywhere else?
I think Clint’s score is so spectacular that I think they wanted to just put that out. I think the songs might be available in some form somewhere, but I don’t think it felt like part of what the score was. It’s kind of like a different moment in the musical direction of the film. For me it’s just music that exists in this one place. It works in the context of the film, but doesn’t necessarily have to be something to hear again. That’s what’s good about doing soundtracks, they sort of have a different quality to them.

Are you much of a classical music fan? How did the classical music in the film impact your musical contributions?
We really got into that Tchaikovsky score. When I saw the film I immediately went on iTunes and bought the symphony orchestras and some versions of Tchaikovsky’s work. So it was really good, but it’s maybe not part of our day-to-day musical experience. We’ve drawn things from the classical score, so there are elements of it. Even in our bits. I think it really works.

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You’re also working on the musical score for Hanna – have you finished it yet? How did that project come about?
We finished up just last week. That was more involved than Black Swan was, because we did the whole score. And that’s been pretty much on-going for a year, working on that. We had to get some music ready for when they were filming. Joe [Wright, director] is an old friend of ours, and we were glad to get involved with that.

How is the music different from Black Swan?
It doesn’t have the classical element. There’s a lot of fight scenes. It’s this kind of fairytale, other worldly atmosphere in Hanna. So there’s kind of lots of twinkly, otherworldly sounding music. There’s some quite dynamic chase scenes and fight scenes, and there’s melody. There’s a lot of different elements. It’s psychedelic and otherworldly, but there’s a lot of movement and dynamics. It’s kind of like what we try to do with our own albums.

Was the creative process much different for Hanna?
We were involved right off from the start with the script, and Joe wanted stuff that was ready to play when they were filming scenes. So just being involved from a much earlier stage, and we’ve been there every stage of the making of it, rather than given these scenes that have already been made and being asked to score the music around it.

Do you have any plans to make more film music in the future?
We’ll see what happens after Hanna comes out, and see what people think of that. It seems to be a trend at the moment, as Daft Punk have just done Tron. We’ve been quite fortuitous in working on these two films that we’ve felt so attached to. It might be a different experience working with people we don’t know or have an immediate connection with. But it was fun and we’ll see. I think it’s been a different experience making music when other people have a say, so I think our next step is to probably make our own Chemical Brothers album. I think we’d like to work as just the two of us for a little while, where it would just be us making the calls and the judgments.

Are there any particular directors you hope to work with? Maybe Michel Gondry or Spike Jonze, who have produced music videos for you?
Yea maybe I’d work with Michel Gondry or Spike Jonze, or maybe Jason Reitman. He’s like our number one fan. He directed Up In The Air and Juno and he comes to all our shows whenever we play in America. He just sneaks in the back with his wife and they travel all over to see us. I think we owe him now. So if he ever gives us a call, maybe we’ll make some music with him.

You mentioned Daft Punk’s musical contributions to Tron: Legacy. Did you see the film? What did you think of the music?
I think the soundtrack for Tron was a lot better than the film was. I liked the music, not so keen on the film. I don’t think the film was made for me, but I think they did really good work on the music, that was good, and it works really well with the film.

Have you started a new Chemical Brothers album yet? What’s next for you guys?
Well we just finished putting together a big live show, but there’s always music being written, and there’s some ideas. But we’re gonna do these two shows we’re playing in Luxembourg and Paris over the weekend, and then I think all the gear that we play live with is going on a boat to New Zealand, and whilst the boat travels we’re gonna regroup and see what we’ve got. And then start thinking about an album.

The next thing for us is for people to hear the Black Swan moments and Hanna. I’m pretty excited for people to experience both the films, they’ve both definitely got some magic in them.

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Black Swan will be in cinemas on January 21st.