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Z For Zachariah (Heather McIntosh)

September 16, 2015

Cover_ZForZachariahZ FOR ZACHARIAH

Heather McIntosh, 2015, Varese Sarabande
26 tracks, 52:18

Music for the apocalypse. Yet, no thundering drums and chanting choirs? Instead, a very subtle, introvert and totally mesmerising score from Heather McIntosh.

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

In the wake of a disaster that wipes out most of civilization, “Z for Zachariah” is a Danish sci-fi drama about a young woman, who believes she is the last human on Earth, who meets a dying scientist searching for survivors. Their relationship becomes tenuous when another male survivor appears. As the two men compete for the woman’s affection, their primal urges begin to reveal their true nature.

Before Heather McIntosh composed her first movie score, she was already leaving a permanent mark in the music scene. She toured with Lil’ Wayne, played bass for Gnarls Barkley, created music with indie bands like Animal Collective, Norah Jones, and St. Vincent, and has performed on stage with a variety of artists, such as Bright Eyes, of Montreal and Cat Power. An indie rocker at heart, she collaborated with the Elephant 6 Collective on various projects.

What does it sound like?

“This work has a very pastoral tone, even though we are depicting the end of the world, it takes place in the only part of the world unaffected by the apocalypse,” said McIntosh. “Along with lush chamber strings and horns, there is also an subtle underlying tension developed by the use of electronic and acoustic manipulated sounds.”

There is a timeless beauty about this score. It’s minimal and slow-moving and certainly isn’t one for instant gratification. This is a brooding score that requires (and deserves) time to grow. It’s achingly beautiful. Strings dominate the score with additional colours from horns, woodwinds, piano and organ.

The score is not without its influences. The opening cue “Outside the Valley” is gorgeous and the way it builds-up, especially when a cello ostinato comes in at 1:20, is superb. The theme that plays on the violins from around 1:40 owes a great deal to Steven Price’s Oscar-winning “Gravity” though.

Elsewhere the score reminds of the introvert parts of Hans Zimmer’s “Interstellar”. Not least the crescendo towards the end of “A Visitor”, or the careful harmonies for strings and winds in “Your Brother”. The similarities aren’t limited to these cues alone, but are most recognisable here. The resemblance with “Interstellar” is largely stylistic; and I certainly don’t mind it.

McIntosh’s orchestrations are absolutely mesmerising. Even where there is little going on in terms of notation, she keeps the sound moving and evolving. She makes great use of different playing techniques to get the most out of her strings section. A distant, slightly grating string ostinato in “Prayer” sounds almost synthesized. So do the high strings in “Danger”, an 18-second cue that only plays one chord and yet I can fully understand why it’s there. And therein lies one of its strengths… it’s modern, it’s ‘otherworldly’ and it is largely acoustic.

McIntosh had the opportunity to write for organ in a scene where Margot Robbie’s character plays the instrument on screen. “We knew that we needed to get the tone of this right. It needed to feel like a timeless hymn and also be a defining theme for Ann. I started working on this after reading an early draft of the script, long before the film was shot,” McIntosh described.

I love this little “Hymn”. In combination with the sound of the organ it has an achingly melancholy tone to it.

Is it any good?

Heather McIntosh’s score for “Z for Zachariah” is a little bit of a slow-burner. It’s not one for instant gratification. Give it the time it deserves and the subtle, clever orchestrations, the constantly evolving sounds and melancholy themes will get under your skin and produce a few goosebumps. It owes a little to the quieter, elegiac moments of both “Gravity” and “Interstellar”, and that’s okay. I wasn’t familiar with McIntosh before and I’m now very much looking forward to how her career as a film composer unfolds.

Rating [4/5]


01. Outside the Valley (2:43)
02. Stranger (3:15)
03. Worry (2:23)
04. Prayer (1:38)
05. Library (1:25)
06. Danger (00:18)
07. Lady (1:38)
08. Generator (00:49)
09. Thief (00:52)
10. Ann Plays (00:27)
11. A Visitor (2:11)
12. Caleb’s Plan (1:02)
13. First Meal (2:15)
14. Your Brother (3:25)
15. The Hunt (1:35)
16. The Church (2:11)
17. After a Walk (00:50)
18. Everyone Working (2:02)
19. I Love You (2:07)
20. While Loomis Sleeps (1:25)
21. The Wheel (2:48)
22. The Falls (00:50)
23. Electricity (6:07)
24. Hymn Part 1. (00:44)
25. Hymn Part 2. (5:54)
26. End Credits (1:24)


For more information visit Varese Sarabande‘s website.

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