Jim Riker finds himself marooned on a tropical island in the Caribbean after his ship is destroyed having come up against a Spanish galleon. In search of riches, Riker and his friend Esma Alvarez race to find the buried treasure they seek. Pursuing them is Spanish pirate-hunter Capitán Garza, who also seeks the island’s bounty. A mysterious islander – who comes to Riker’s aid –seems to have a connection with the cache the pirate is hunting for. The question is, what lengths will Riker go to in order to secure the prize he covets. King of The Gallows (2015) is a low-budget, short 20-minute film directed by film school student Erik Magnusson and submitted as a first year project at the Australian Film, Television and Radio School (AFTRS) in New South Wales. The film’s score is written by young composer Jayden Lawrence (recently graduated from the AFTRS and who studied under film composer Christopher Gordon) who rises to the challenge of writing a score that captures the mysterious nature of the pirate tale and delivering integrated action music for a number of short action set-pieces.
There is no music for the opening 3-4 minutes of the film during an exchange between Riker and a fellow marooned pirate. Lawrence’s score opens straight into a statement of a jaunty theme (associated with Riker) as Riker sets off into the island’s interior in search of the treasure (“Riker Seeks Riches”). Based around strong drum percussion, solo strings and with additional guitar, this thematic material reinforces the pirate storyline and also adds an Irish feel to events – and definitely helps to support some ropey Irish accents. The association of this high-spirited theme with Riker, however, does seem a bit at odds with the character’s single-minded determination to get the treasure at all costs: he can be particularly brutal. It’s a good thematic opening nonetheless.
As well as Riker’s theme, there’s some nice, short motifs that add interest to a score that has its fair share of ambient music (more on that later). A soft Spanish-infused acoustic guitar motif plays whenever Riker’s associate, Esma, features (“Salty Scoundrels”, “Thick As Thieves”) and what sounds like some variety of hammered dulcimer accompanies Mr. Hood, the mysterious island inhabitant who is important for the story’s finale. The composer’s short motif for Hood, together with the dulcimer’s clean and sharp tones, are particularly effective at adding a mysterious air to Mr. Hood. Its enigmatic tone also has an underlying threatening feel to it that’s particularly effective in tracks such as “Mr. Hood”, “Thick As Thieves” and the closing cue, “Mad As A Hooder”.
The remainder of the short score is made up of short bursts of action scoring – featuring adrenaline-fuelled strings and percussion combinations commonly heard in today’s action-oriented scores (e.g., “Capitán Garza”, “Fight For The Key” & “Face-Off With Garza”) – punctuating some particularly effective ambient soundscapes that dial up the eeriness (“Riker Seeks Riches”, “Through The Jungle”) and tension (“Capitán Garza”). The score closes with “Credits (Director’s Cut)” which features an extended version of the jaunty pirate theme.
King of The Gallows is a worthwhile and enjoyable work that has some interesting ideas that are executed well. The use of acoustic guitar and dulcimer are particularly memorable and Lawrence does a good job at making these instruments have an immediate impact on the score. I found myself wishing that the composer’s music was part of a full-length movie so that the musical ideas heard here could have been expanded upon further. The shortness of the cues themselves does mean that the score does suffer when heard away from the film itself, but the immediacy of the themes and motifs used goes a long way to making the score an enjoyable, independent listen. On the strength of his score for King of The Gallows, here’s hoping that Lawrence is given the opportunity to work on a feature film. King of The Gallows can be heard at the composer’s Bandcamp page.
- Riker Seeks Riches (1:35)
- Through The Jungle (1:42)
- Salty Scoundrels (0:49)
- Capitán Garza (1:48)
- Mr. Hood (0:52)
- Thick As Thieves (0:57)
- Fight For The Key (0:20)
- Face-off With Garza (1:03)
- At What Cost (0:32)
- Mad As A Hooder (1:37)
- Credits (Director’s Cut) (1:57)
Running Time: 13:17
Jayden Lawrence (2015)