Countdown to Zero
Composed by: Peter Golub
Distributed by: Lakeshore Records
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
A documentary that makes a rather convincing case for the disarmament of nuclear weapons worldwide, a cause recently taken up by the United States via the Obama administration, Countdown to Zero traces the nuclear age from its conception to the present date. Written and directed by Lucy Walker, the film features quite a few historically influential figures such as Mikhail Gorbachev, President Jimmy Carter, Tony Blair and more. The soundtrack of such a poignant documentary must be dramatic, yet engaging. To achieve this, Walker turned to American composer Peter Golub.
Born in New York to a family of musicians, Peter Golub began his interest in music at an early age, learning to play the piano at six. By high school, his musical interests became centered on music in the theater and began composing for the theater shortly after completing his studies at Yale University. He eventually turned his attention toward film score composition, creating musical scores for documentaries and dramas including Wordplay, The Laramie Project, and Frozen River. He also co-composed the musical score of The Great Debaters with James Newton Howard.
In seeking to compose a suitable musical score for Countdown to Zero, Golub had to weigh the heaviness of the topic and the need to captivate the audience: “The task with Countdown to Zero was how to keep the music serious and compelling while at the same time leaving the audience with a sense of wanting to know more and follow the story. I tried to balance the frightening enormity of the issue with a desire to follow the specifics in a positive way.” The result is a musical score that is dramatic and yet, somewhat understated.
Piano-rich in content, the musical score of Countdown to Zero offers up a sense of intrigue while at the same time establishing a sense of foreboding. The music conveys a sense of “what have we gotten ourselves into” which, I believe, is exactly the message the film’s director was looking for. Soft at times and then incredibly direct, the music seeks to arouse a feeling of concern which perfectly compliments the dramatic quality of the film’s visual content. The message is simple - we’ve gotten way ahead of ourselves and now we need to find a way out.
Golub’s musical score is intense enough to convey the importance of the film’s message while subdued enough as not to overpower the senses and allow the viewer to think about the visual and verbal content being presented before him/her. The musical score of Countdown to Zero not only serves as the perfect compliment to the documentary but is quite enjoyable as a stand-alone album.