Big Business Gets an Electronic Pulse as Cliff Martinez Takes Us Inside His Score for ‘Arbitrage’

By  · Published on September 13th, 2012

Have you ever looked at the expensive highrises that dot the New York City skyline and wondered what it would be like to run one of the companies housed within them? Not necessarily the long hours, tough decisions, and stress that would come with such a position, but the type of life that kind of work leads to – a life of privilege, beauty, and lack of consequences. A life where working above the fray causes you to feel like you may almost be above the fray itself.

Director Nicholas Jarecki takes us past the velvet ropes and doormen into this decedent and stunning world, a world you usually only find in people’s fantasies, but one that is a reality for those select few able to afford it. While this life is unquestionably beautiful and enticing, the big businessman it is afforded to got a bit of a shake up when things started crashing down on Wall Street and those who may once have been viewed (and viewed themselves) as untouchable started to experience some undeniable cracks.

Arbitrage focuses on the life of powerful businessman Robert Miller (Richard Gere), a man whose world is surrounded by rich mahogany, dollar signs, and the insides of town cars. His life is one you would expect for a man in his position, but Cliff Martinez takes a more unexpected route with his score, giving this stiff and almost antiquated environment some real texture and vibrancy. The juxtaposition of these classic settings with Martinez’s more modern, electronic sound helps create a palpable feeling of anxiety as you watch these cracks start to form on these perfect lives while a more kinetic and unsettling sound begins creeping in.

I had the opportunity to speak with Martinez about his score for Arbitrage and asked him what led to his choice to stick with a more updated sound rather than the more expected choice of classic orchestration. He explained,

“That was really Nick’s choice. He had used my score to The Lincoln Lawyer to cut the picture to and he was very keen on role modeling that style and sound.”

Jarecki grew up around this world of high finance, but despite his upbringing he still invested a good amount of time researching and delving into this life to accurately bring it to the big screen. Martinez looked to both Jarecki and the film itself when it came to creating the score, saying,

“One of the first things Nick showed me was a picture of his father on the cover of a German, Forbes-like magazine. Both his mother and father work in the financial industry, so Nick grew up being steeped in that stuff. I took everything in the film at face value for the most part and what wasn’t clear to me would come up in conversation.

The film is always my main source of inspiration and even if the subject is not something I have intimate and specific knowledge of, I feel that my job is to universalize the characters and the subject matter; to bring out aspects of the emotion and psychology of a story that everyone can relate to.”

The relationship between Jarecki and Martinez shines both on screen and throughout the score with Martinez’s music beautifully highlighting the film’s more seductive moments in pieces like “Mistress” while also helping to drive the more adrenaline filled ones like “Involuntary Manslaughter” (which you can listen to in its entirety HERE) and “Bring A Notary.” I asked Martinez what his process was working with Jarecki and he told me,

“Composers have a great deal of freedom in that regard. Nobody ever hands us a script with all the music written out, so we get to make stuff up all the time. You do, however, spend a great deal of time sitting in a room with the director playing, listening to, discussing, and adjusting the music. So in the end; it’s still a very collaborative process.”

While there are many wealthy people in this world, there is a very specific look and feel to those living at the top of the food chain in New York, a city that can be as rough as it is beautiful. This dichotomy makes New York a own character in it’s own right as it parallels these attractive lives which may actually have a dark current running through them. Martinez confirmed that New York certainly had an influence on the music, saying,

“Sometimes the setting exerts a strong influence on the music and that was the case with Arbitrage. I felt that in watching the film, and it came up in conversation with Nicolas numerous times. He spoke of the city’s elegance, danger, sexiness, and intense social environment. Also, Arbitrage depicted New York’s sophisticated, upscale side. I tried to imbue the music with some of these qualities.”

Arbitrage is filled with many engaging, complicated, and entrancing characters from Robert’s ever-supportive wife (Susan Sarandon) to his ambitious daughter (Brit Marling) to his elusive business colleague (Graydon Carter), but each and every character in Arbitrage is connected, in some way, to Robert himself. While it is certainly flattering to be at the center of people’s attention and focus, it is also a bad place to hide. Naturally, it was Robert that Martinez focused on in the score, explaining,

“A little thematic material goes a long way in film music. So I directed most of that at Robert Miller, Richard Gere’s character. All the other characters orbit around him and there simply wasn’t enough ala carte, musical real estate surrounding other characters that didn’t involve the lead character in some way. So I kept most all of the music coming from Robert’s point of view.”

While the soundtrack for Arbitrage is not exclusively score from Martinez, the compilation also features songs from artists such as Billie Holiday (“Just One More Chance”) and Robi Botos (“My Foolish Heart”), it is Martinez’s score that reveals the true underbelly of the narrative. This feeling of manipulation and subterfuge drives Arbitrage and runs throughout Martinez’s score, taking listeners from feeling on edge to suddenly feeling at ease again and barely noticing as you cross between these two drastically different emotions. Robert manipulates all the players in his life and Martinez keeps pace by creating a score that emulates all the emotions Robert experiences, but consistently blurs the lines between each change, reflecting a man who is certainly powerful, but who’s cunning prowess proves he did not get to that position simply through luck.

Despite all the deception, Robert is not an evil man. A representation of Robert’s moral center is certainly present within the film and that influence also shows up in the score through dramatic and emotional piano refrains on tracks like “What’s He Offering You Now?” and the dissonant, almost foreboding, notes buried in “Dad Are You Listening?” and “We Will Pick It Up Later.” But that glossed over feeling of floating from one track to the next (or one decision to the next) permeates the score from beginning to end and works as a true reflection of Robert and his life.

But in the end, is that life really worth the price you pay for it?

The score for Arbitrage is available through Milan Records.

1. “All Business”? – Cliff Martinez
2. “Mistress”? – Cliff Martinez
3. “Slow Mistress”? – Cliff Martinez
4. “It’s Not My Problem”? – Cliff Martinez
5. “Involuntary Manslaughter”? – Cliff Martinez
6. “Just Go Away”? – Cliff Martinez
7. “Dad Are You Listening?”? – Cliff Martinez
8. “This Is Not Going To Go Away”? – Cliff Martinez
9. “Everything OK Sir?”? – Cliff Martinez
10. “I’m Sorry”? – Cliff Martinez
11. “What Would You Have Paid?”? – Cliff Martinez
12. “I Need A Serious Favor”? – Cliff Martinez
13. “He’s Using You”? – Cliff Martinez
14. “This Is Crazy”? – Cliff Martinez
15. “Then I Don’t Make It”? – Cliff Martinez
16. “Last Chance”? – Cliff Martinez
17. “What’s He Offering You Now?”? – Cliff Martinez
18. “Bring A Notary”? – Cliff Martinez
19. “We Will Pick It Up Later”? – Cliff Martinez
20. “After The Accident”? – Cliff Martinez
21. “I See Who You Are” – Björk
22. “Laura Palmer’s Prom”? – You Say Party !
23. “Para Manuchar Meu Coraçao”? – Stan Getz
24. “Just One More Chance”? – Billie Holiday
25. “My Foolish Heart” – Robi Botos

Arbitrage opens in limited theaters tomorrow.