Music Review: Animal World score by Michael Tuller and Neal Acree

Chinese writer/director Han Yan took a major gamble on his latest sci-fi manga movie, Dongxu shijie, (Animal World) by putting an American musical twist to a best-selling Japanese manga series, Kaiji, the ultimate survivor by Nobuyuki Fukumoto. The June 2018 premiere at the Shanghai International Film Festival proved the gamble to be a winning choice.

The music is an intriguing score written by the American duo Michael Tuller and Neal Acree. Han Yan was thinking outside the box when he hired these two, but their experience with both electronic and instrumental music paid off. Neal Acree is an award-winning game music composer (Warcraft) and Michael Tuller (Nine Inch Nails) thinks in terms of orchestral texture, although most of what he writes is composed at the keyboard.

He confesses to dabbling “in guitar, bass, violin, and cello and other stringed instruments….” which you can hear in his composition.

Tuller and Acree did an incredible job blending their ideas and styles – but also kept the film as their focus. They were both fairly new to Manga and this is perhaps what kept their ideas fresh while they let the story be their guide. As Acree says, “We brought along our two individual musical voices but in the process we found a ‘third voice’ that spoke directly to the film through our collaboration.”

Neal Acree
Michael Tuller

The title instrumental, “I am crazy” has a trap beat that is punctuated by string and wind sounds – building up in texture to a heavy constant with the rising B – C – E-flat thrumming over the percussion. The minimalist effect is hauntingly Steve Reich in style.

Michael describes their work as being in “constant dialogue”. Their coordination can be seen most clearly in the song “The Chase”, which starts with a bell sound and rolls into a fiery buzz of cymbals and percussion, using the support of a bass guitar line and trumpet to change pulse and slim down to a guitar ending.

“Destiny” starts with a violin and horn playing half steps and melting into a glorious symphonic texture. As Michael Tuller says of his music, “I tend to try to think in textures, but if there was ever an ensemble instrument created for generating texture…it’s the orchestra.” “Dream” also has a melodic texture and symphonic feel, but “Redeem him” is the song that resonates with me, it’s melodic upward B-flat scale is haunting.

There are many cuts which are more mechanical in nature. Of those, “Stuck in mud” is the least successful, but it is also the shortest and should be thought of as a transition. “Betrayed”, with its constant sound of clicking underlying the track, has great dynamic changes – going to an absolute pianissimo in the early part of the track and thundering out in the end.

Michael Tuller
Neal Acree

The harp and guitar sounds of “Getting out” are reminiscent of Neal’s childhood influences of Celtic music and it is in this track that the changing rhythms enliven the entire sound. “Go with rocks” with its bells playing a D octave, is also a mesmerizing track.

But what works for this score is the tight editing by Fei Yu which assures the well-matched music is perfectly in sync with the film’s action. Han Yan entrusted his incredible cinematic achievement to a duo who are totally outside of the Chinese action movie culture, but he used that widened view to make a film that will have worldwide appeal and chose a crack editing and orchestration team to seal the deal.

Crossing cultures is a balancing act, but the movie profits from it. By reaching out to American composers, Han Yan has created a film with a wide international appeal, well served by the superbly edited and orchestrated score.

The soundtrack is available through Velvet Machine Records and Genkako No Oto.

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