When “Get Out” opened in 2017 and ignited the fuse for Jordan Peele’s skyrocketing filmmaking career, Steven Spielberg told him, “Michael Abels – this guy is amazing. You have to use it again. It’s like me and John Williams.”
“Since he said that, I’ve reinforced it,” Peele says now.
After (literally) doubling the scare factor on Us with the help of composer Abels, Peele tripled the collaboration on Nope—a film with Spielbergian tendencies and scope.
“It was clear that if the film was going to be an action-adventure, it would have to deliver on that in its entirety,” says Abels. “As it was shot at Imax, it had to be sonically larger than any of Jordan’s other films.”
But the film also led her to her origin story. Peele first discovered Abels thanks to a concert piece called “Urban Legends” that was uploaded to YouTube.
“I knew he was able to create a chimera effect of the music genre,” says Peele, “to take what sounded to me like jazz and Western score and stirring Chinese epic – and combine it into this new flavor . That’s what I wanted to achieve with “Get Out” and “Us”. I wanted a new kind of film. I wanted a new kind of thriller.”
Peele was listening to “Urban Legends” again while writing “Nope” and ended up using the track while editing a climax of a horse ride during the final intergalactic showdown. Abels was surprised how well the piece, composed in 2010, worked in this completely foreign context.
“It sounds like a galloping horse,” says Abels, laughing. “But it’s like a new version of a western. When I heard it from Jordan’s ears, I realized: This is my connection between traditional western music and our modern western. And the excitement the characters feel when they’re being chased by something that’s planning to eat them and how they’re risking their lives because they know they’re risking it and they’re both scared and enjoying it — I think , the music captures that.”
Abels has written a family theme for siblings OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald (Keke Palmer) that evokes the classic feel of heartland Americana. He also wrote a hypnotic groove to accompany her preparation for a trap for the predator in the sky – complete with marimba, soothing piano, glass bottles and other “ear candy”.
One of the film’s central ideas is the concept of an ‘evil miracle’, and Abels has explored this from a number of angles – both as an abstract idea and as the protagonist’s slightly dizzying excitement about it. He used pesky orchestral techniques – like having strings or brass play the same note but out of sync with each other – to achieve “a very neat chaos”.
Abels’ “ability to play the horror part of things and the prescient moments — the moments before something happens that terrifies you — is really remarkable,” says Peele. “And yet, with this film, it was the elements that were meant to enchant an audience — the love, the pace, the thrill, the magic of being a kid again and playing with your siblings in the backyard and feeling like aliens real… those are all sorts of things we would discuss and he could pinpoint those tonalities, those vibes.”
Abels wrote much of the film’s original music, from the faux western score tracks played at Jupiter’s Claim amusement park to a fast food jingle that didn’t make it into the final version. “I really like writing music that’s just supposed to be a joke and nobody should notice,” he said. “It can be used to tease Jordan or just tell him a joke and make him laugh.”
But “the piece of the puzzle that I think really surprised me,” says Peele, “was how much of the warmth and love story of the siblings and the heart of the film needed to be translated through its music. That was something completely new for me. I think my films have a barrier of some sense of humor or satire. But the vulnerability of this score, I think, is something that is most relevant to my work and to Michael’s work with me. I was in love when he started playing me things that made me cry.”
The overall tone of “Nope” was harder for Peele to define than in his previous films, but he kept coming back to the idea of a spectrum – “something where you can see the beauty of each part of it, but also together it means something that is.” even more beautiful and spectacular.”
“What I think about in films in general is the bad that I’m trying to call out in humanity, and that’s the exploitative part of the industry,” notes the director. “And I’m also trying to give people a way out, and I’m trying to provide some of the spectacle that I condemn [in the film]. When I think of the score and I think of Michael’s work, I think of honoring that idea of spectacle and spectrum.”
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/awards/story/2022-11-15/score-nope-jordan-peele-composer-michael-abels How the ‘Nope’ score leans on dread — and warmth