Composed By: Michael Abels
Distributed by: Back Lot Music
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
In the thriller Get Out, Daniel Kaluuya is Chris, a young African American man whose relationship with his white girlfriend Rose (Alison Williams) has reached the meet-the-parents stage. Rose invites Chris for an upstate weekend getaway with parents Missy (Catherine Keener) and Dean (Bradley Whitford). Though the family seems nice enough, Chris notes they are a bit overly accommodating. He initially chalks it up to nervousness over their daughter’s interracial relationship, but soon makes a number of disturbing discoveries that lead him to the truth about this weekend getaway.
The musical score of Get Out was created by American composer Michael Abels, who began showing an interest in music by the age of four, learning the piano and composing at the early age of eight. Studying with James Hopkins and Robert Linn at the University of Southern California, Abels went on to study West African music with Alfred Ladzekpo at the California Institute for the Arts. Michael Abels has created scores for both film and concert, working with such notable artists as James Earl Jones and Doc Severinsen. Some of his most notable scores include those created for Global Warming, Delights and Dances, Urban Legend, Be the Change and Limitless.
According to Abels, writer/director/producer Jordan Peele was very explicit in what he wanted for the Get Out score: “Jordan gave me very clear direction for this score. He said that above all, it needed to be ‘seriously scary.’ That's hard to misinterpret!” Abels did his best to comply, beginning with the track Sikiliza Kwa Wahenga, complying with Peele’s request that the score have “distinctly African-American elements without relying on stereotypes…the African-American voices we hear would represent the souls of Slave or other black victims of oppression, speaking to Chris from the spirit world.” This track in particular is quite spooky with its harp background and deep choral voices singing lyrics that are not readily understandable. According to Abels, “Unintelligible lyrics are always scary, so I knew the voices should not be singing in English. I wrote some phrases these souls might say, and then read the Swahili translations aloud to see what music occurred to me. Out of that process I wrote a couple demos, and Jordan chose one of them, “Minor Trouble,” to be the Main Title for the film. The translation, allowing for some poetic license, is: ‘Brother — listen to the elders. Run! Brother — listen to the truth. Run, run far away! Save yourself.’”
The rest of the score is orchestral, featuring strings, a harp and metal percussion and some minor electronic sound. The idea is to offer up a simplistic, natural approach and tailor the sound to the emotions of the scene. Chris & Rose is a light, airy love song performed on strings. It’s probably the only moment in the film when everything feels safe and beautiful. And then things get hairy – electronic sound is mixed in with metal percussion to give the listener the idea that someone is being harmed or perhaps killed. Fast paced music accompanies running, while slower-paced, darker tones represent revelations. Throughout, pieces of that main theme show up, warning us that Chris is in incredible danger.
Though there are a whopping 43 tracks of music on the Get Out Soundtrack, the tracks are mostly short and the score is actually so interesting, you never realize how long the album actually is. The usual horror cues are present, except for the lack of screeching violins, but it’s that addition of Swahili lyrics combined with a relatively natural sounding musical score that is so captivating. I hear great things about this movie and I have no doubt it is in part due to the scoring prowess of Michael Abels.