Immigration, whether documented or not, is the lifeblood of New York City. Pretty much anything you love about the city stems, at some point in time, from a group of people risking everything for a safer, better life in the five boroughs: food, music, fashion, linguistic quirks, architecture, and so forth. Sometimes the risk pays off in the end, and other times it’s a constant existential struggle.
In writer/director Bari Kang’s new film Lucky — coming out Friday on all digital platforms — the eponymous main character definitely is on the struggle timeline. The film, the Kim Henninger/Shawn Parke-crafted score of which Vehlinggo is premiering today in full below, tells the story of an undocumented immigrant and his struggles to make his way as he finds himself caught in a web of crime and murder, forcing him to take extreme action.
The score is a rich tapestry of electronic experimentation. Portland, Oregon-based composers Kim Henninger and Shawn Parke — known for their work on Claire Carré’s indie sci-fi darling Embers, among other things — draw from a wide array of inspiration and tools to craft the sounds of Lucky’s experiences in NYC.
There are cues like “Looking for Ricky,” with the pulsating, noirish synths that Chromatics employ on their cuts like “Tick of the Clock” from Drive. There are more ambient numbers like “Sliver of Hope,” that have the crystalline beauty of Brian Eno’s early ambient work or, more contemporarily, Cliff Martinez or Atticus Ross. The pair’s love for Giorgio Moroder, John Carpenter, and Tangerine Dream bleeds through, too. So, too, Massive Attack.
There are also dance/hip-hop numbers topped with the deft rhymes of indie rapper Afrok.
Overall, the pair use synths, drum machines, vocal manipulations, field recordings, and their renowned experimental techniques to craft a score that delves into all of the light and dark areas of NYC’s cornucopia of urban tales. They draw heavily from both the past and the present in order to perfectly compliment the life of Lucky.
And Now: A Q&A With Henninger & Parke
The following has only been edited for grammar or style, or to clarify certain facts, like the first name of a referenced director or composer.
Vehlinggo: Your score for Lucky is great. It’s a nuanced, multi-faceted electronic collection that achieves both film-complementary and stand-alone storytelling. What sort of experiences did you draw from when writing it?
Henninger and Parke: Thank you! We started on Lucky by reading the script first, and received a rough assembly shortly after.
For us, the character of Lucky, who is a young lone immigrant, was the most important aspect of the film to understand. He is isolated, lonely; alienated from everything around him that is out of his grasp. At the same time he is ambitious and driven to change his circumstances by any means — and those felt to us like not only experiences of this character on the page or screen, but universal experiences that everyone understands, in one way or another. The longing for magic to intervene and for the fates to align in just the right way, and despite all odds to pull you out of a less than advantageous situation is an experience we all know.
We drew from our own understanding of that feeling and what it takes to just grind it out despite no clear path forward.
How do you typically approach composing scores, in general? And how different is it depending on the project? This time around, was there anything new, novel or unique you tried? If so, what was it?
When we start working on a score, the very first thing we consider is the character motivation, history and backstory, and the overall theme of the story.
Soon after that we are contemplating atmosphere and vibe — what sounds will pull together all these aspects to help to tell the story from beginning to end?
Lucky is definitely a New York City night at its heart, and we moved toward that vibe when we understood the main characters’ motivations. When we get the early edits of the film, the actual color and action on the screen is also a big influence of the beat and “colors,” so to speak, we will use for our palette.
Each film has a feel to it — color, the way it’s edited, pace — it has a personality. We find sounds that express these somewhat intangibles.
Each project we have worked on has had a completely different vibe, and that influences our palette, arrangements, and even writing process. For Lucky, we saw orange street lights, a cold precision and determination in the characters, and picture-wise purples, blues, and sepia. For Lucky a synth score felt just right. This film was also quick and dirty, the timeline on this score was super tight and we had a few all-nighters that were really amazing! (Which is not necessarily how we always work on other films. Like we said, different personalities.)
Both of us have written many songs in our past musical incarnations, but Lucky was the first film we have written songs for. Most of our work in scoring has been writing cues and writing material that didn’t have lyrical content. So writing tracks like “Bells (Lucky’s Theme),” and the other songs in the score, was a unique, challenging, and rewarding experience. Writing musical material that feels right, as well as lyrics that stand alone but also support the story, was awesome.
Additionally, with both of us being predisposed to experimental work, it was awesome to take the vocal from Bells and warp and stretch the vocal across the crescendo of the film in a way that is almost unrecognizable.
What’s the most important thing to you about this score?
For us, the most important thing about anything we write for a project is that it supports the director’s vision and that it becomes a part of the fabric of the film; rather than something that is even noticeable as separate from the world the film creates.
To understand the film and play with it and have our work perfectly support the emotional and psychic vibe is what we love to do. We also love it when it can stand on its own as a musical piece. When [Lucky director Bari Kang] approached us, he knew he wanted dark synth. And we were stoked to finally get to do a synth score.
We both grew up loving synth music: John Carpenter/new wave. For the last few years we have been making a Halloween mixtape in the fall — usually pretty synth heavy, kind of in hopes of eventually get to write this kind of score.
“For us, the most important thing about anything we write for a project is that it supports the director’s vision and that it becomes a part of the fabric of the film.”
How’d you two get into score composition? Where do you see style/instrument-choice trends going in the next 5 years?
We both grew up making music, film, and art. Shawn was making little horror films with his high school buddies and making Casio keyboard scores for them and Kim grew up in church choir, making skate videos and studying video production in high school. Eventually we both ended up in bands and played shows and put out records as performers and producers.
Shawn had licensed some music for several documentaries and had just been laid off from a record label in promotion and production. Kim had just sold her small business and we decided to go for it. We both have always had a love for film and the way sound and picture interacts and wanted more than anything to make music a daily part of our lives.
It can be tough at times, but we feel very lucky to spend our days thinking about how instrumental music can communicate emotion, feeling and experimenting with ways the film experience comes together. We thrive when our work blends seamlessly with all the other aspects of a project and it becomes film.
Where scoring styles and instrument trends will go in the next five years is an interesting concept to ponder. If one looks at it as the whole of the world having influence — every nation, every state, or colony within those nations and the amazing weirdos within those places who decide to embark on the crazy road of writing for picture — it can only be awesome.
The only thing that is certain is that people who decide to write music for pictures will need to be driven by the art of it and communicating emotion and texture however they feel. To hell with the rest.
Take, for example, the score for [Martin] Scorsese’s Silence by Kim Allen Kluge and Kathryn Kluge: The Academy ruled it not eligible because it did not meet the criteria of “a substantial body of music that serves as original dramatic underscoring and is written specifically for the motion picture by the submitting composer.”
That is some bullshit: a score is a score. The brave will make sounds that work to benefit the picture and engage the audience emotionally and psychically.
Honestly, when [Trent] Reznor and [Atticus] Ross were nominated for The Social Network, we were both floored; even more so when they won. That was a good day. Things will move forward no matter the traditionalists or those who long for the good old days.
Nature can’t be stopped. Evolution can’t be stopped. People will keep creating with the technology they have and imagination we unlock together. Really, who knows? But we think it will only get more awesome.
What future projects can we expect from you two?
We are currently working on a social political horror film called Previous Man, starring musician Daniel Higgs (Lungfish) in his first acting role, and we are also finishing up work on our first episodic series, Crazy Possible, premiering on Portland’s XRAY.TV (an offshoot of the XRAY.FM) on June 26.
We are also working on a dark synth/experimental hybrid score for The Gnashing, which will be available on all digital outlets in February 2018.
Trailer for Lucky
Lucky is an undocumented immigrant hustling to get by and saving for a green card marriage. Mechanic by day and car thief by night, Lucky is close to achieving his goal. When Lucky’s partner in petty crime disappears he naively befriends a local drug dealer, pulling him deeper into the NYC underworld. Lucky soon finds himself in over his head and forced to take extreme action to protect the ones he cares for.
From the Press Kit: Bari Kang Tells the Story Behind ‘Lucky’
Below is a reprint of the interesting tidbits from the press kit for Lucky. They don’t directly deal with the music of the film, but I thought you might find it interesting nevertheless.
Writer/Director/Star Bari Kang’s Statement:
I grew up in a struggling immigrant family in Queens, New York. My parents and I came to America as refugees seeking a better life for their children and themselves. They came to work and live honestly. The irony is that most immigrants are forced to partake in petty crime, whether it be acquiring a fake ID so they can make an honest living or illegally sending money back home to support family members who could not make it to America.
As a young boy thrown into a new world I often found escape in cinema, particularly the works of Scorsese, De Palma, Mann, Melville and Tarantino. The anti-hero, the recluse, the lone ranger, the underdogs living on the fringes of society were my heroes. My passion for cinema and the immigrant experience is what inspired me to pen the story of Lucky, an illegal immigrant hustling to make it in America against ever increasing odds and risks.
With Lucky, I want to show that an unlikely protagonist can resonate with a larger audience regardless of his ethnicity and circumstances. It is a story that many of us are familiar with but rarely ever gets told. Lucky is an exploration of the underbelly of New York and it’s tragic characters from the POV of an ambitious illegal immigrant, the titular character Lucky, a modern-day anti-hero who is blinded by his ambitions and ultimately shaped by his environment and circumstances.
The film has a gritty tone with elements of voyeurism aided through the use of hand held camera work. Authentic Queens and NYC locations such as the beaten down mechanic workshop, the seedy DVD shop, and brothel pull the audience into Lucky’s world. By capturing these settings in their true colorful urban tones with the underlying bleakness and fatalism to them the audience will experience this side of NYC. I consciously sought a fully ethnic cast comprising of professional actors and non-actors to give further credibility to the work. With the lack of diversity in cinema it is imperative that these stories be told with a genuine cast.
My main goal as a director is to serve and entertain the audience. Although I touch on many relevant social issues, such as immigration and crime, it is not my intention to preach or manipulate the audience. I simply wish to share a story, which deserves to be told in the most entertaining and truthful manner.
Bari Kang / 2017