to a self-imposed silence on the part of its creators, Larry and
Andy Wachowski, The Matrix has inspired more pseudo-intellectual
mumbo jumbo than any movie since the '60s, when maestros Bergman,
Antonioni, Resnais and Kubrick combined to turn cinema into a religious
experience. Critical analysis of the brothers hugely entertaining
sci-fi trilogy has run the gamut from astute and inspired, to pretentious
The same can be said about the response to Star Trek, Star Wars
and every other blockbuster series that succeeds in transcending
its genre. Overheated hype and media overkill, I suppose, are small
prices to pay for movies that provoke vigorous public and critical
debate and encourage fans to renew their library cards. They mostly
deserve kudos, if only for their ability to stimulate the growth of
brain cells, instead of hastening their destruction.
Don Davis' musical compositions have played a crucial role
in the success of all three Matrix movies, and, in certain circles,
the scores have been dissected with the same passion as the comings
and goings of Neo, Morpheus, Trinity and the Oracle. It may not be
completely accurate to describe the soundtracks as being characters
onto themselves, but there's no questioning their dramatic impact
and distinct intellectual voice. Thus, it can be assumed the Wachowskis
parsed every note, movement and influence.
Davis has been working with the Chicago-born brothers, ever since
they emerged from the relative obscurity of the comic-book universe
in 1996 with the psycho-sexual thriller, Bound. In addition
to his work on the Matrix series, the Anaheim native composed music
for the Wachowski's sidebar project, The Animatrix.
Revolutions picks up where Reloaded left off, with the machine army
threatening to destroy Zion and the Smiths preparing to finish off
Neo, once and for all. The soundtrack album for The Matrix Revolutions
will be released a day before the film opens on Nov. 5, day-and-date
in multiplexes and on IMAX screens around the world.
Davis was raised in Anaheim and, as a young boy, began playing trumpet.
His early leanings were toward jazz, but while at UCLA he developed
a passion for scoring movies. His first big breaks came orchestrating
such TV shows as The Hulk, Hart to Hart and Beauty and the
Beast. His other film work includes Jurassic Park III.
and The House on Haunted Hill.
This interview took place the evening after Davis attended the gala
premiere of Revolutions, at the spanking-new Disney Hall, in downtown
NEWS: How did Disney Hall handle the high-octane sound of The
DON DAVIS: Those of us involved in post-production all had
different expectations, and, to various degrees, some of us were disappointed.
The hall wasn't designed for movies, though, and I doubt that many
premieres will take place there.
MCN: What's the difference?
DD: Films are dubbed to create depth. By putting six speakers
around the audience, you're creating an artificial environment, and
in a space as "live" as Disney Hall -- which was built for
acoustic music -- the bouncing of the sound made our music sound muddy.
People sitting in the audience couldn't discern the separation in
the speakers. When an orchestra is playing in the halls, however,
that's the effect you do want ... a fully integrated sound.
MCN: Even so, I suspect that Disney Hall will be the hot place
to stage premieres for a while. How did this one come about?
DD: I think the premiere came about because (producer) Joel
Silver and (architect) Frank Gehry are friends. Joel owns
and has restored several Frank Lloyd Wright homes, and is an
authority on Wright.
His company's logo is taken from a Wright tile. Joel's pretty well
known in the architectural community, so that's how that came about.
But, it isn't an ideal situation for movies.
MCN: I assume the Wachowski brothers had more than a little
input into your compositions.
DD: Well, there is a lot there. We wanted the music to function
dramatically with the audience, and put forward what Larry and Andy
were to trying to communicate to them.
Any time I could add some symbolic imagery to the score, I would.
MCN: For instance?
the first movie, for example, one of the recurring motifs was reflection
... reflections off glass surfaces, mirrors, Morpheus' eyeglasses,
Neo's glasses. At one point, Neo touched a mirror and it appeared
to turn liquid, and began crawling up his arm.
I saw that as playing off of the idea that the reflections were describing
an illusory environment, and what we were seeing might not be real
MCN: Larry and Andy aren't the most accessible guys in town.
How did you get together?
DD: Several years ago, I worked with an editor named Zach
Staenberg, who was hired by the Wachowskis for Bound, their
first movie. We had developed a mutual respect for each other's work,
and Zach asked them to consider me as composer.
MCN: Not much is actually known about Larry and Andy. Were
they much different to work with than other directors?
DD: Well, all directors are different. But, I was astonished
from the get-go at how much control they were able to maintain over
A lot of times, when you have two people in charge, people on the
set will sit back and try to determine which one really has the power.
MCN: The old divide-and-conquer game.
DD: Sure, but I've never seen Larry and Andy disagree with
each other. There were times when they would get together away from
the cast and crew to discuss something, but it was clear that they
both shared the power.
MCN: The first Matrix became such a huge commercial
hit, Warner Bros. agreed to simultaneously film two sequels. Did its
popularity change the way the brothers approached the material?
philosophy was there all along. The difference between the first and
second Matrix was the amount of money they had at their disposal.
The first Matrix was not an inexpensive film ... something like $80
million. The next two were budgeted at around $300 million, though,
which may have been the largest green light in history.
MCN: I suppose we could discuss the philosophy behind the music
for hours. I'm particularly interested in the compositions for the
monumental fight scenes, which had some pretty amazing choral work?
DD: There was a big choir in the Super Burly Brawl sequence
... and, no, I don't know why they called it that. I asked Larry and
Andy to examine their canon, and determine if there might be a particular
text the choir could recite/sing over the action, which would add
another texture to that scene.
We discussed several texts, before Larry suggested Upanisads, an ancient
Hindu scripture. They picked out six passages in the original Sanskrit,
which, when translated, were remarkably close to the concept of the
MCN: Was there a lot of digital tweaking done to the compositions?
DD: There are some electronic elements in the score as a whole,
but the battle-for-Zion scene has fewer than most. It came mostly
in the stacking of sounds required to emphasize impact and crashes
involving the machines.
MCN: I don't suppose the boys asked you to add any subliminal
DD: No, if you play the soundtrack backwards, you don't hear
Larry and Andy singing 'Sweet Home Chicago, or anything like that.
MCN: The Wachowskis don't grant interviews or do publicity.
DD: They feel very strongly that a movie should stand on its
own, and to speak about it is really unseemly. They think it's ludicrous
when other directors go on and on about their work.
I couldn't imagine that the studio would allow them to walk away from
the film scot-free, without doing any publicity, but that's the power
they had. If it wasn't written into their contracts that they didn't
have to do any publicity, they probably would have walked away from
the sequels if it wasn't in there. That's how strongly they believed
MCN: And, personally?
DD: They're pretty normal, for big-shot movie directors ...
definitely introverted, though.
your mission on The Animatrix different than for Matrix?
DD: It was different. The music was edgier, I think, in a more
organic earthier way. I was able to refer to The Matrix, especially
in the power plant scenes.
MCN: You seem to get more than your fair share of sci-fi projects.
DD: We're all pigeonholed, to a certain extent. People have
their perceptions of what we do best. But, of course, it's better
to be pigeonholded than not get any work. I'm not asked to do comedies
very often, which would be a drag except I have friends who can't
stand being pigeonholed as comedy scorers.
MCN: I can't imagine what a Wachowski comedy would look like.
DD: I was told that Larry and Andy once were asked to attend
a pitch meeting for a major motion picture with a big star attached.
They listened to the pitch, until the producer said, 'And it will
have a lot of laughs," at which point they got up, and said,
'We don't do fuuny,' and left the room.
MCN: The sound in IMAX theaters should be better than at Disney
DD: Yeah. I'm looking forward to that.