The name J. Ralph has become synonymous with music in documentaries. The composer has crafted scores for the Oscar-winning “Man on Wire” (2008) and “The Cove” (2009), as well as Best Documentary Feature nominees “Hell and Back Again” (2011), “Finding Vivian Maier” (2014) and “Virunga” (2014). And he reaped a Best Song bid in 2012 for “Before My Time,” which he penned for the documentary “Chasing Ice.”
He reunites with “The Cove” filmmaker Louie Psihoyos on “Racing Extinction,” a provocative new film that details our responsibility for the biggest mass extinction of other species since the days of the dinosaurs. Ralph composed not only the score, but co-wrote two original songs — “One Candle” and “Manta Ray” — as well. And, as he explains in our recent webcam chat (watch below), “Both of those are intended to help bring awareness to the message.”
The song “One Candle,” as performed by Sia, plays over the ending of the film, which Ralph describes as an, “anthemic call to action, where Louis and the team projects all these images onto the Empire State building and other buildings such as the United Nations.” He continues, “We needed something that would punctuate this and help draw attention, and could travel very fast through culture.”
Of the song “Manta Ray,” he says, “The film ends with this montage of all different species, allowing the audience to reflect and absorb everything they’ve seen in the entire film, with this incredibly powerful performance by Antony Hegarty of Antony and the Johnsons.”
While “One Candle” is meant to, “inspire, and tell you that everyone has the power within themselves to create real change in the world,” “Manta Ray” is, “this haunting, kind of reflective meditation that there is real loss going on.”
Ralph is one of the few songwriters to be recognized by the academy for his work on a documentary. Reflecting on that 2012 nomination, he reveals, “It meant a lot because it’s completely outside the Hollywood system, so there’s no marketing campaigns, there’s no giant parties or things like that. It’s a very small team and a very small reach so it really relies on people’s excitement of seeing these projects and being moved by it.”
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“Racing Extinction” photo credit: Abramorama