Daniel Pemberton: Music for The Man From U.N.C.L.E.

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Daniel Pemberton: Music for The Man From U.N.C.L.E.
English composer's '60s sounds propel big-screen spy adventure by Jon Burlingame

When moviegoers hear the music for the film adaptation of the TV spy classic The Man From U.N.C.L.E., one thing will be clear: It sounds like the '60s.

English composer Daniel Pemberton has managed to match, musically, the stylish look that director Guy Ritchie has achieved with his long-awaited big-screen take on the 1964-68 series. The mood, tone and colors all involve vintage sounds from 50 years ago, with recording techniques to match.

The result is one of the most delightful scores of the year. Pemberton musically charts the reluctant pairing of CIA agent Napoleon Solo (Henry Cavill) and KGB agent Illya Kuryakin (Armie Hammer) as they team to stop a 1963 nuclear-bomb plot involving a kidnapped scientist, his daughter (Alicia Viklander) and a ruthless businesswoman (Elizabeth Debicki) whose criminal organization is based in Rome. The film opens Aug. 14. 

Ed Cervenka on cimbalom during <i>U.N.C.L.E.</i> session. (photo courtesy of Daniel Pemberton)

Pemberton's score is the epitome of '60s cool as it propels the action, adds to the intrigue, reminds us of the locales, and hints at the emotions and high stakes. And it never sounds like James Bond.

"It took a long time to work out what the tone of the movie was going to be," Pemberton says by phone from London. "It's very difficult getting that balance of action, espionage and humor. A lot of work went into getting the most authentic 1960s sound possible. At the same time, it needed to have the kind of size and weight you'd expect from a modern film."

Pemberton's Man From U.N.C.L.E. score is filled with musical sounds we associate with the spy films and series of the period: cimbalom (a Hungarian zither made famous in The Ipcress File), harpsichord (used in unexpectedly jazzy ways on Danger Man and U.N.C.L.E.), mandolin (used on both The Persuaders and The Adventurer themes), electric guitars and bass (reminiscent of Goldsmith's Our Man Flint films) and such offbeat, vintage instruments as the Marxophone and Jennings Univox. Add to those the bass flute, Hammond B3 organ and "every crazy piece of percussion we could get hold of – rototoms, boo-bams, bongos," and you have a definitive 1960s mix.

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