Director Steven Soderbergh and composer Cliff Martinez have been collaborating together for over 25 years, but Martinez was shocked when Soderbergh asked him to create the music for his current series on Cinemax, “The Knick.“
Set in 1900s New York City, the former rock drummer (Red Hot Chilli Peppers) turned one of the most sought-after composers working today was pessimistic about how his electronica-focused sound would work for the show, a period hospital drama set during the turn of the 20th century.
Then Soderbergh had Martinez watch a rough cut of the show, which included a temporary score filled with music Martinez created for movies like “Spring Breakers,” “Drive,” and “Contagion.”
“It seemed extremely wrong,” Martinez told Business Insider over the phone. “But it’s funny how music works — you hear something repeatedly and it becomes the sound of the show.”
“The Knick” follows the landmark work of Dr. John Thackery (Clive Owen) and his fellow surgeons as they expand modern medicine with pioneering (for the 20th century) methods like a C-section or the incredible procedure done for a patient suffering from syphilis.
Given the forward-looking bent of the characters, it’s fitting that Soderbergh would want a score that sounds nothing of the era.
“I’ve come to that theory, too,” said Martinez, who admits Soderbergh isn’t the type to often explain his motivations. “At the time it’s just getting the music down. For me it was, ‘Seems like it’s working!'”
Martinez said he continues to work with Soderbergh because neither is afraid to take on new challenges. But he did realise early on an important theme in sounds the director goes for: less is more.
He recalled that when he played Soderbergh the demo to the first film they worked on together, “Sex, Lies, and Videotape,” the director liked what he heard, but asked him to strip certain parts of the music until it was one instrument.
“It was just this ‘waaaa’ sound,” Martinez said. “He was like, ‘Yeah, that’s working for me.’ So the trick for him has been to do things that are really stripped down to just a couple of elements, but still make it engaging. That’s how we’ve worked ever since.”
Listen to “The Knick” theme music below:
Season 2 of “The Knick” airs Fridays nights at 10 p.m. on Cinemax.
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