Daniel Pemberton interview: ‘The Trial of the Chicago 7’ composer
Aaron Sorkin knew exactly what he wanted the score for “The Trial of the Chicago 7” to sound like and where in the film, and that was actually music to Daniel Pemberton’s ears.
“He had already mapped the whole film out. He already knew what he wanted to do with the music, how he saw the whole film structured musically, which is really cool,” Pemberton tells Gold Derby during our Meet the Experts: Film Composers panel (watch above). “It’s great when a director really understands what music can do and has already, like really detailed, worked it into how they’ve structured the film. So right from the top he was like, ‘This film is four big pieces: the opening, the two riots and the ending to take us out.’ He was like, ‘That’s where the bits have to count. Those bits, the music has to be right in your face, like really strong.’”
Written and directed by Sorkin, “Chicago 7” follows the 1969 trial of seven anti-Vietnam War protesters who were charged with intention to start a riot at the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago. While the music for the courtroom scenes are more traditional, the score for the opening montage and the two riot sequences, especially, have a propulsive, aggressive edge — sort of like you’re in a mosh pit at rock concert.
“I really wanted to scenes to really throw you into that moment [of the riots]. ‘Chaos’ is a really good word for that,” Pemberton, who also scored Sorkin’s “Steve Jobs” (2015) and his directorial debut “Molly’s Game” (2017), explains. “It’s about the building chaos and the viscerality of what’s happening and the violence and the tension and the anger. The elements of rock music, guitar and drums, are really good for getting that across because you can get chaos.”
The three-time Golden Globe nominee, who also penned the ending song “Hear My Voice” with Celeste (who sings it), describes the riot pieces as “orchestra and guitar feedback.” “I wanted to kind of have the instability of guitar feedback and really dissonant guitars throughout the piece kind of exploding as the riot blows up, but at the same time have musicality and control over that so it’s not just like a bunch of noise,” he shares. “That’s always something I’m interested in: how close can you get a piece of music to chaos and yet still retain the musical elements of it and retain the emotional elements rather than the abstract? Those riots were just tailor-made for that kind of approach.”