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When director Rachel Lears, and Ryan's brother Robin Blotnick approached him to work on the score for Knock Down the House, they all agreed that they wanted to eliminate midi samples and go for a live chamber group sound, with traditional and modern elements. After forming a tight musical bond during the mixing of his last album Kush, Ryan knew he wanted to collaborate with producer/engineer/keyboardist Tyler Wood (Glass Ghost, Joan as Police Woman) on the score, but began by composing demos in his Maine studio, creating midi mockups of every cue. With nearly constant feedback from Robin and Rachel (who is a serious musician in her own right), they eventually honed in on a palette of strings, clarinets, guitars, pads and keyboards with no drums or percussion. Since the film is about insurgent candidates learning how to compete on-the-fly in bewildering political arena, they wanted the score to reflect this feeling of volatility and spontaneity. A lot of the music feels like it is in the process of formation, with momentum building toward an unknown outcome.
Suddenly working under a very tight deadline after the film was accepted to Sundance, Ryan and Tyler organized some live recording sessions for the week after picture-lock. They recorded all the strings and piano in a single day at NRS Recording and recorded clarinet, Fender Rhodes, Moog and guitar over the next few days at Tyler’s Sauce Farm Studio.
The score features two extraordinary cellists with very different styles- Jane Scarpantoni was part of Hoboken’s underground rock scene in the 80s and 90s, playing with R.E.M., Bruce Springsteen, the Lounge Lizards, and was Lou Reed’s musical director; Garo Yellin has played with everyone from They Might Be Giants to Bon Jovi, Allen Ginsberg, and David Byrne. Sam Sadigursky, who played clarinet and bass clarinet on the score, is an acclaimed jazz composer and played with Garo in the pit band for the Tony Award Winning Musical the Band’s Visit.
After the film premiered at Sundance and won the festival favorite award, Ryan and Tyler decided to take on the soundtrack album release as a serious musical endeavor. They cut out the pieces that didn’t contribute to the album’s flow, and remixed and reworked some of the more rhythmic pieces to include percussion (one track, How to Beat the Machine, features Chris Bear of Grizzly Bear on drums). The result is a fresh-sounding combination of rollicking tracks and dark ambient moods that bring back the emotional weight of this powerful and timely story.