How Spanish Church Music Inspired the Film Score for 'Risen'

Roque Baños is a Spanish composer known for writing beautiful scores for both English and Spanish films. His latest work is the score for the biblical thriller Risen, the Sony Pictures portrayal of the Resurrection as told through the experience of a Roman military tribune. The Local Church’s Daniel Darling had a chance to chat with Baños about composing, Easter music, and storytelling.

You've composed scores for movies such as In the Heart of the Sea and Regression. Risen, though, is a different kind of movie. Did you have to change your creative approach when composing this score?

I have to change my creative process of composing in every film. It might sound like the Regression score, or could be close to In The Heart of the Sea, but it’s not—it's a different story, and a different approach to themes and orchestration. In every case, the music has to have a unique function, which is supporting the scenes and evoking emotions. That is common. But each film also has its own story and its own different type of music.

What I found special in Risen is that the director, producers, and I chose a sound that could have been what they heard at that time—like if they listened to wind, or sand blowing from the desert, or the crashing of waves on the shore. I used those sounds as part of the music. In many scenes of the film, it seems like the music is coming from the surroundings.

Risen presents the well-known story of Christ's resurrection, but from a perspective not often explored—that of the Roman soldier. How did this point of view impact the way you approached this project?

Yes, this is true. At the resolution of this story, the music becomes a bit more biblical, but 80% of the score sounds like a thriller. It’s like a CIA investigation, but from a Roman point of view. In most of the movie, it’s the Roman trying to find the truth. He didn’t believe that the people were saying Jesus was going to become the Messiah and he was going to rise from death. That was witchcraft for this Roman. But when the body disappears, he wants to find the truth, and he starts with an investigation. So the music—it’s a thriller score with sounds from the environment and the time period.

A movie soundtrack is so crucial to conveying the emotional arcs of a story. When you are writing for a movie like Risen, what are thinking as you approach each scene?

My main goal in this score was to develop the music while the main character changes. The music in each scene reinforces what he feels from every discovery he finds. The main character is evolving and changing, so the music goes with him until he finds what is supposed to be the truth. And then he is really in shock, and from there the music is no longer evolving. It’s like an opening—a whole new world to him. That’s where the music opens up and becomes more biblical, and that's when we see the miracle happen in front of his eyes.

The Christian church has celebrated Easter for millennia and has produced some of its best music for this important holiday. How did the Easter music from church history influence your writing?

I am happy you are asking me this question. In Spain, there is a big Easter tradition with big celebrations. You can hear part of this sound from traditional bands that play at Easter in many of my cues. For example, there are a lot of cornet instruments, which is basically the brass. It’s kind of like a trumpet, but it’s longer, like an old trumpet they used in the ancient Roman Empire when they were announcing the games. There is also a lot of percussion—l like different types of drums.

Was there anything in Risen that moved you personally?

Yes! The scene near the end in which Clavius, the Roman, approaches Jesus. This was moving to me—what they said to each other. The music that I put there—it’s the part of the score that I am really, really happy with. It’s very emotional, and it opens up and gives a big sense of dimension to what they are talking about.

September
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How Spanish Church Music Inspired the Film Score for 'Risen'