Composers Nick Hutson and Stephen Cavit, as well as IMAscore’s Xaver Willebrand each gave Blooloop a list of five favourite soundtracks from the themed entertainment sphere. So, if you’re missing your favourite park or attraction during the COVID-19 shutdowns, music can help take you back
Nick Hutson (Nick Hutson Music) is a composer, lyricist, arranger and broadcaster working in both the musical theatre and theme park spaces. Before talking about his favourite themed entertainment soundtracks, he spoke a little about his career so far.
“I had an interest in theatre from a young age,” says Hutson. “But then I grew up at the time of the Chessington World of Adventure boom, as I like to call it. When we had such things like Professor Burp’s Bubble Works, the Fifth Dimension, and the Vampire.”
It was a world he found fascinating and compelling: “That was my local park. I was always going there.”
His theme park compositions can be found at Alton Towers, Chessington World of Adventures, Six Flags in Mexico City, and at Sunway Lagoon in Malaysia.
He composed for the West End’s hugely successful “Cabarét Dés Distractions” which ran for almost two years. Hutson is also the creator of MusicalTalk – The UK’s Independent Musical Theatre Podcast. He has featured regularly on BBC Radio London and Talk Radio, and is a regular contributor via Nick Hutson’s ERT on The Season Pass Podcast.
An interest in storytelling
He developed an interest in storytelling through music, and, as a teenager, in radio production:
“I wanted to be a DJ. Through that, many years later I started to do a musical theatre podcast. I still do, as well as Thee Season Pass, a theme park podcast.”
His introduction to the theme park community was through some work he did for an attraction in Sunway Lagoon in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
“It was with The Sudden Impact! Entertainment Company who, funnily enough, do lots of original scare mazes in the UK, at places like Thorpe Park, Alton Towers, and Madame Tussauds. At that point, they were working out in Malaysia, and I did the music for their Halloween event, an edutainment attraction called Cleopatra.”
This led, eventually, to Hutson doing the world’s first Ghostbusters live attraction for them.
“It was fun, and also bizarre to be trusted with this loved brand. I did three more Ghostbusters attractions through them, straight after that, and then, through interviewing John Wardley (Ride Consultant for Merlin Entertainment) for the Season Pass podcast, I was able to do lots of stuff in the UK as well, getting my foot in the door with Merlin, which was good fun.”
Nick Hutson’s favourite themed entertainment soundtracks
Selecting his five favourite themed entertainment soundtracks, Hutson says, “Starting with the fifth, I’d choose Ghostbusters. The first one we did was actually in Mexico. Subsequently, they went to Malaysia, the Philippines and beyond. Just to do that kind of weird sound-weld using quotes from the film for the original Ghostbusters attraction was fun and zany. That’s the first thing that comes to mind.
“Another piece I’ve always loved is the theme tune to Hex at Alton Towers. It’s amazing; so atmospheric. Every time I listen to it, I think the level of writing veers into romanticism – it’s just so swirling and beautiful. And we’ve never seen anything like that since it came out in the UK. So that is on my list.”
Tying in with that is the original theme tune to Nemesis at Alton Towers, which is iconic. That influenced me for an attraction I did called Subspecies, which was a scare maze at Alton Towers. I took the melody and turned it upside down.”
Soundtracking firework shows
His next choice is actually two tracks:
“I’m putting these two tracks into one place because they’re two things I’m very proud of: two firework shows that I scored for Oakwood Theme Park in Wales. To do one firework show is an honour as a composer. But to get to do two within four years is quite lovely.
“One was a kind of Disney-esque magical epic spectacular; the other shocked everyone because it turned into some sort of trance rave, so it was fun to do that.”
“I also do want to mention my Tomb Blaster redo, which we’ve just done at Chessington. The Fifth Dimension at Chessington had such an influence me early on. And it is now Tomb Blaster. It was great to get the chance to go in there late last year and redo all the audio, putting the terror back into the tomb, and adding a narrative and a story. It was brilliant being a part of that process.”
An interactive experience
Hutson’s final choice on his list of favourite themed entertainment soundtracks is a project he is currently working on for a company called Faceless Ventures:
“It’s really exciting and something that has never been done before. The Pandora Network is a creepy, fun, interactive mystery-solving experience that centres on the imaginary village of Pondermere, and that participants take part in from their homes. Having listened to the brief, the guests then, over the course of a week, interact online with live ‘Field Agents’ who provide the evidence and clues as they work together to solve the case.”
“Burying the Hatchet”, which began on the 2 May, is the first story of The Pandora Network to be launched. Each story presents a new and unique mystery that can be enjoyed individually or as a continual series.
A collaboration between Faceless Ventures, Incognito Experiences, and Nick Hutson Music, the series has also been entirely produced by the creators remotely whilst in lockdown.
“When you buy a ticket, you interact with agents via Facebook messenger, email, phone calls, and text message. You get audio briefs, documents, photos and videos. I’m the audio person in charge of putting all that together. It’s what I’m working on at the moment. We sold out two runs already. It’s fun, opening that world up. The first album of the music for the first show is going to come out on all streaming platforms, which is quite exciting.
“It blends everything that I’ve learned with theatre, storytelling, music, audio production, radio production. Right now, I’m just putting together a fake radio advert for the local Pondermere radio station for the circus that is arriving from Russia.”
Xaver Willebrand from IMAscore
Xaver Willebrand is co-founder of leading audio production studio, IMAscore. This is a team of composers and sound designers.
Characterised by versatility, the studio has created trailer music for blockbusters such as Disney’s The Lion King and composed for numerous AAA games including Final Fantasy XV, The Elder Scrolls: Online or Call of Duty WWII, as well as creating atmospheric music for theme park rides and attractions. This includes The Smiler and The Wicker Man at Alton Towers, Excalibur, Secrets of the Dark Forest at Moviepark Germany, and Toverland’s Avalon soundtrack.
Willebrand writes concepts, scripts, lyrics and press articles in German and English. He founded IMAscore in 2009, together with brothers Andreas and Sebastian Kübler.
“We played live music together in a band, back in 2008, before we founded the studio,” says Willebrand. “They are from Southern Germany, closer to the Switzerland border, while I was in the NW part of Germany: we founded IMAscore in 2009, without any idea of what sort of projects we would be producing music for.”
In the beginning, they composed mainly for gaming apps, commercials, and business. The three were always theme park fans and visited many around the world.
“Then it just happened: two years later, we made our first track for the theme park industry, which was awesome because it combined our hobby and our job.”
Xaver Willebrand’s favourite themed entertainment soundtracks
Listing his five favourite tracks, he explains each choice.
“The first is Europa-Park – Hymn by Hendrik Schwarzer. He’s a great composer, and this theme is remarkable: very melodic. We wouldn’t have made it any differently in any respect. It’s exactly what a theme park needs, and he did it in a brilliant way, recording a live orchestra.
It gave it a really nice warm sound; it’s very recognisable and it sits very well with the whole Europa-Park spirit. The soundtrack is grand, but not too far away from being theme park-ish. It really works.”
Theme park classics
The next track he singles out on his list of favourite themed entertainment soundtracks is Efteling – Villa Volta.
“It’s a little bit dated, maybe. But it’s one of the first theme park melodies that stuck in my mind when I was just a theme park enthusiast, not working in this industry. It shows how much effort and love the theme park Efteling put into the music when for many other parks, music still wasn’t that important.
“It’s such a big influence on the experience, both when you’re riding, and when you’re standing in the queue line. It brings a new aspect to the experience. And the melody is recognisable, which is always a good thing. There are so many themes out there that aren’t. You forget them as soon as you leave the park.
That’s sad because we think it is the music, especially these tracks that you can buy at the park, that really brings the theme park to your home. It’s not like a teddy bear or something. It’s a part of the experience and the fun that you had that day: it’s the peak of the roller coaster.”
Doing something different
“The next ones would be by us,” says Willebrand. “We picked three that we haven’t mentioned too often before, because of course, it’s hard to choose one of your own children. These were chosen because we think they are in a way different from others that we did previously.
“First of all, Alton Towers Resort – Wicker Man. It was, in a positive way, challenging. The rides at Alton Towers are usually very iconic and story-driven. Our connection with the park started with The Smiler. But I didn’t want to choose that, simply because it’s always mentioned in connection with our work.
The Wicker Man is a very different soundtrack. It was so important to create a tune that fit to the whole culture of the ride, the story; that solemn yet creepy feeling. That was a lot of fun. We tried a lot of things that didn’t quite work out before we found the right one. In the end, we understood why it needed to be like this.”
“Working on these pieces, you sit in your studio, and while you have the artwork and people’s written ideas, it is something quite different when tied together with the actual visual input. It was one of those interesting projects where you notice only after the opening how well the overall experience turned out.”
A chance to produce beautiful music
IMAscore produced the epic soundtrack for Dutch theme park Toverland’s Avalon, which comprised the theme area Avalon, the roller coaster Fenix and the boat ride Merlin’s Quest, featuring one the first songs by IMAscore written for an attraction: Fire & Ice.
Willebrand says: “The next choice is Toverland – Avalon. The Avalon overall area music, running in the region around the Lake, is sort of folkish; a piece of very laid-back and subtle music, which doesn’t over-play and it isn’t too big.”
“For attractions, for roller coasters, for queue-lines, it always needs to be exciting. It needs to be dramatic. For Avalon, we had the chance to produce music that was just beautiful.
“The briefing was quite brief, actually. There was some back and forth, but we had the chance to be quieter, calmer. That was fun, and an interesting experience. We created something diverse without being too diverse.”
More favourite themed entertainment soundtracks
“My last choice is Phantasialand – Chiapas. This is one that you might expect from us because it was our first big project for Phantasialand. We had recorded live orchestra before, as a one-or-two minute piece, but for Chiapas, we had a 20-minute recording.
“It involved a five-hour recording for the 20 minutes of music for the ride, which was quite a challenge because we had never written so much music for live orchestra. Another challenge was the briefing, which was to combine Mexican music with orchestral music without using mariachi trumpet.”
“We had this blank white paper in front of us for quite a long time, and our composers tried a lot of different ways to create a Mexican feel without using typical Mexican instruments – that was challenging.
“But still, it’s one of the best themed water rides in the world, and I would say out there on a sunny day under a blue sky, it just works so well. It proves that more than a year of hard work was worth it. This was a great milestone for the company, but also a musical milestone, because of many different challenges starting with the orchestra, up to the very special kinds of orchestral Mexican music.”
Stephen Cavit of Iconic Music Consulting and Design
Stephen Cavit is a two-time Emmy Award winner and a Sundance Composers Lab fellow.
Iconic Music Consulting and Design, a full-service audio and music company, is based in Seattle, WA, USA, and recently scored original music for the permanent Walking Dead attraction at Universal Studios Hollywood, Ice Age: No Time for Nuts for 20th Century Fox/Blue Sky Studios, The Fantastic Mr Fox mall activation for 20th Century Fox/Pico Hong Kong, and Alien vs Predator for Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Japan.
Iconic provided original composition, background music, and sound design for Electric Ocean, SeaWorld San Diego’s flagship nighttime spectacular and 2017 IAAPA Brass Ring Award winner. The company also recently completed sound design, original music, and spatial audio programming for Alien: Descent, the latest VR experience for 20th Century Fox/FoxNext.
In addition, it has worked on spatial audio programming, sound design, and original music for Trans Studio Bali and Trans Studio Jakarta; among many other projects throughout China, Europe, and the rest of the world. Currently, Iconic is working with Sony Pictures and Dream Island Moscow to create an original score, sound design, and audio programming for their Hotel Transylvania experience.
Finally, Stephen and Iconic created the new sound of PBS – the main theme, station IDs, and all other non-program music and sound – for its 50th anniversary in 2020.
A varied career
Before discussing his favourite themed entertainment soundtracks, Cavit spoke about what led him to the sector. “I started my career scoring independent films and TV and had several films premiered at Sundance Film Festival, and other major festivals around the world. Then I was invited to be a fellow at the Sundance Composers Lab.”
This is one of the great draws of the industry…I have done just a massive variety of things; dark rides and flying theatres and immersive audio experience shows
Since that point, he has gone on to score many episodes of TV, and many films, winning two Emmy awards in the process for his work in television:
“And then I got into location-based entertainment. It sounds like a giant leap, but in fact it was quite linear. I was working with a friend at Fox Studios on other projects, and they had a film for 4D theatre, for a client. That was an Ice Age film from their Ice Age franchise.
“He knew me from my previous work and asked if I could help them out with that. I did, and I discovered this great, magnificent, gigantic world of themed entertainment. That’s what got me started.
“Since then, and this is one of the great, great draws of the industry, I have done just a massive variety of things; dark rides and flying theatres and immersive audio experience shows.”
A diverse industry
Extolling the industry’s diversity, he says: “I’m as likely to meet a landscape architect as a roller coaster designer or a structural engineer. This is certainly not the case in film or TV work. They are lovely folks, but you always kind of meet the same people: editors, directors, post-production supervisors. I love the themed entertainment sector. It’s a goldmine for a curious mind.”
Cavit’s primary professional focus is on doing location-based sound design music:
“We’ve diversified towards technology, emphasising things like immersive and interactive audio experiences. I guess the simple way of saying it is ‘gamifying location-based audio’. And now, very relevant to the times today, we’ve done a virtual mixing, for clients, as an add on.”
“I think this will become more of a staple item, going forward. We actually do a pretty amazing job, mixing in virtual spaces.
“I guess this is turning into a love-fest of the location-based industry, but I’ve been involved in so many different discussions, seminars, and chats about exactly that, and what is this going to look like. And I have a very strong feeling that the industry is really being proactive and trying to jump ahead of the curve, and, you know, from where I sit, that seems like it has every chance of success.”
Stephen Cavit’s favourite themed entertainment soundtracks
Cavit agonised over choosing five soundtracks: “It’s very difficult, to choose just five. My gosh. Being asked to do this has made me very happy – and terrified.
“There’s the obvious: the Harry Potter music for Harry Potter at Universal Hollywood, because just how are you going to beat that? And then one of my personal favourites is the Jerry Goldsmith score for Soarin’ over California. I mean, these are just beautiful, right?
“You guys are killing me. Couldn’t it be 10?”
Eventually, he settled on Soarin’ Over California – Jerry Goldsmith – Disney’s California Adventure and Hagrid’s Magical Creatures Motorbike Adventure – Universal Studios
Then he talked about three of his own pieces: Ice Age: Not Time for Nuts 4D – Various Locations, The Walking Dead – Universal Studios Hollywood and Hotel Transylvania – Dream Island Moscow
Working with top IPs
“Talking about my favourite themed entertainment soundtracks, I thought I could give you some of my work. The first is the Ice Age piece that I mentioned. I’m choosing it for two reasons because it’s some of my favourite work. It was such a pleasure to work with 20th Century Fox and with Blue Sky Studios.”
“I worked with Harry Hitner at Blue Sky, who directed the piece, and it was great from tip to toe. As the saying goes, when you cook with good ingredients, good things happen. That was certainly the case here. I feel like I did some of my best work. But also it’s close to my heart because it’s the first thing that got me into location-based.”
“My daughter was quite young when I did the Ice Age piece. She was a constant resident in my studio as I was working. She was a great barometer because if something was working, she was engaged and laughing and enjoying it.”
“I also did the score for the Walking Dead attraction at Universal. I probably shouldn’t leave that off.”
“As a sort of bookend, I’ve very recently, – and by recently, I mean I’m still in the process of finishing it – been working on a score for a dark ride for Sony, for Hotel Transylvania. This certainly feels like some of my best work.
“The IP is fantastic, and a lot of fun to work with. I seem to excel whenever I get a project that my daughter [she is now 10] would like. It only occurs to me as we’re talking about this, but it makes a lot of sense.”
Favourite themed entertainment soundtracks – a lockdown playlist
Blooloop has put together these soundtracks in a playlist, for anyone wanting a bit of themed entertainment escapism or to relive favourite memories during this trying time.