How ‘The Marvels’ Composer Laura Karpman Created a ‘Space Opera’ With an International Choir

How ‘The Marvels’ Composer Laura Karpman Created a ‘Space Opera’ With an International Choir

When director Nia DaCosta told composer Laura Karpman she wanted the score for “The Marvels” to be a “space opera,” Karpman, who crafted the music for the Disney+ shows “What If” and “Ms. Marvel,” was up to the task. She knew that vocals — specifically male vocals — would need to be a large part of the score.

Out Nov. 10, “The Marvels” sees Brie Larson returning as Carol/Captain Marvel, along with Captain Monica (Teyonna Parris) and Kamala/Ms. Marvel (Iman Vellani). The superhero trio is forced to band together after their powers become entangled, and the women are swapped into one another’s worlds when their powers are activated. When they realize Zawe Ashton’s villain, Dar-Benn, is intent on destroying several worlds, the Marvels set out to stop her.

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While “The Marvels” follows events from “Captain Marvel,” “Ms. Marvel,” “WandaVision” and “Secret Invasion,” DaCosta didn’t set out approaching the 33rd film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as a sequel. “She thought of this as a new thing,” says Karpman. “It’s like the relationship of ‘Captain America’ to ‘The Avengers.’ This is a collaboration that needed its own sound, power and creative juice. She wanted an original theme and she wanted low, male voices.”

So, Karpman sought out Basso profundos, bass singers with the lowest range, in both Los Angeles and London. Those vocals would be key in defining the “space opera” sound DaCosta was seeking.

Karpman ended up recording three choirs. The first choice was based in Los Angeles, and one she considered an “experiment.” She says, “I wanted people from diverse musical traditions. I used Indian Carnatic singers and African singers.”

Karpman used male countertenors and had them “sing in their falsettos, which meant they were singing in their head voice to give an odd sound.” She did the same in London and also utilized a traditional choir.

Thematically, “The Marvels” explores pain and trauma, as well as people uniting.

When it came to creating the main theme, “Higher. Further. Faster. Together,” Karpman calls it the “chosen family” theme. Musically, it begins by centering in on Carol and Monica but progresses to include Kamala. “It’s this feeling that you make your family, but it’s not necessarily what you expect. I think that was another important thematic thrust … as they come together and create this epic camaraderie,” Karpman explains.

A solo viola was in her toolbox to give the title theme a mournful but warm sound. The cue builds with chanting and singing, and 12 French horns come in toward the end, giving it the “big hero music” sound. Karpman adds, “There’s a new language created for the theme by my niece, who is a poet. At the end of the main title theme, they’re singing in Latin, ‘higher, further, faster, together.’”

When it came to scoring Dar-Benn’s theme, Karpman says, “There’s something slithery and jazzy about her, so I wanted to play with that.” While in the studiom, Karpman was listening to a Herbie Hancock song that featured a flute solo, which inspired her to use flutes as Dar-Benn’s main sound.

“We had seven flutes in the scoring section. We used a contrabass flute, which is so massive that you have to stand up to play it. We’d go from the tiny piccolo flute to the contrabass,” Karpman says. “It just gave a huge diversity of sound. One thing I loved for Dar-Benn was this sense of breathing. We did it with the singers, and we did it with the flute. So that breathing became a part of her sound.”

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