The Expansive Multiverse of Son Lux and ‘Everything Everywhere All At Once’
Everything Everywhere All At Once is a dazzling, mind-bending, multiversal adventure touching on themes of family, tradition, immigration, monotony and chaos, with unexpected turns into the surreal, absurd and comedic.
The directors, Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, collectively known as Daniels, spent nearly six years creating, editing and re-working the script.
That level of dedication to and complete absorption in their vision is truly reflected in the scope and detail of the work.
Likewise, the score, composed by experimental trio Son Lux, is a work of immense scale, comprising nearly 100 cues and 49 tracks on the official soundtrack release, clocking in at over two hours-worth of material.
WHO IS SON LUX?
Son Lux. Credit: RichardMcCoy/Wikimedia Commons
Son Lux is the trio of musicians Ryan Lott, Ian Chang and Rafiq Bhatia.
The project began as the solo recording project of multi-instrumentalist Lott, and subsequently expanded to a trio setting to include guitarist Bhatia and drummer Chang after many years touring, recording, and producing together.
Son Lux’s sound blends multiple elements of electronica, post-rock, experimental improvisation into a style that “largely eschews genre and structural conventions” in favour of an “equilibrium of raw emotional intimacy and meticulous electronic constructions”.
SCORING AS A COLLABORATIVE AND INDIVIDUAL EFFORT
The band took a unique approach to scoring Everything Everywhere All At Once. While Lott had some previous experience working as a composer in commercial settings, the band had never worked together on a scoring project, which opened many new creative avenues for them to explore.
Additionally, the sudden appearance of free time afforded by the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns allowed the musicians to dive much deeper into the work than they might have otherwise.
As such, the band spent hours and hours sampling and creating unique virtual instruments, generating a database of sounds to match the extensive worlds the characters in the movie traverse.
The directors, Daniels, also had a clear directive at the beginning: the band should score collectively, but also score individually.
The directors were interested in the work of the band as a collective, but also intrigued by the solo works of each musician, allowing for a larger palette of sounds to compliment the enormous range of settings in the film.
In addition to that, Son Lux engaged a slew of high-profile collaborators for the project, including famed composer Randy Newman, Andre 3000 of Outkast, Mitski and David Byrne, among others.
EXPLORING THE SCORE
(L-R) Stephanie Hsu, Ke Huy Quan, Michelle Yeoh, James Hong. Photo credit: Allyson Riggs/A24
The score for Everything Everywhere All At Once is an insanely expansive work, blending elements from myriad genres into a chaotic, highly-detailed, and compelling work.
A cast of high-profile collaborators combined with a nearly 3 year time-frame allowed ample creative freedom and direction of Son Lux to explore near endless possibilities.
From samples of traditional Chinese gongs and drums, to Andre 3000’s never-before-recorded flute virtuosity, to a cataclysm of sonically decimated synthesisers, guitars and drums, the soundtrack could be studied for years without uncovering every nuance.
The band described their process of creating sorts of micro-melodies and then repurposing them in multiple different ways across the different multiverses.
Since scenes in the film are often cut so quickly, it did not make a lot of sense to approach larger thematic movements in the same way a composer might in a more traditional film.
This more memetic approach to theme allowed Son Lux to experiment deeper with orchestration, effectively creating musical identities for the different characters as they travel, or “verse-jump” as it is called in the film.
However, with the sheer volume of music, action, and effects in the film it is at times difficult to identify strong character based themes in the first watch, with of course a few exceptions.
‘THIS IS A LIFE’
Ke Huy Quan. Photo credit: Allyson Riggs/A24
The cue “This Is A Life” functions as the title theme for Everything Everywhere All At Once. The cue was released as the first single of the soundtrack, some weeks before the film debuted at the South by Southwest Festival. The track features a vocal duet by Mitski and David Byrne.
The extended version opens with a dramatic, almost kitschy fanfare – a sort of tongue-in-cheek reference to 21st Century Fox or something.
A finger-plucked string segue moves into a straight-forward verse section, matching the vocals of Mitski and David Byrne in a beautiful and classically dramatic way, hearkening back to some sort of golden age of musicals – however less tongue-in-cheek and more serious.
The end of the cue continues the vocal duet over a beautifully melancholic harp section with string accompaniment. The cue could easily have been found in a Disney movie eight years ago.
‘WHAT A FAST ELEVATOR’
In a scene where the main protagonist Evelyn is riding in an elevator with her husband Waymond and father Gong Gong to visit their IRS auditor, Evelyn is shocked to discover the existence of Alpha Waymond – a different version of her husband from a distant universe called the Alpha Verse.
This “Alpha Waymond” has appeared to warn Evelyn of an impending apocalypse and the destruction of all the multiverses by an evil entity called Jobu Tupaki. Needless to say, Evelyn is stunned.
The cue “What A Fast Elevator” is a fast-paced piece of music featuring several key elements.
Immediately defined by a ticking, finger-picked string figure reminiscent of a ticking clock, the cue is punctured by rapid ascending melodies on violins before a wash of synth wipes away the scene.
What emerges is something darker, more ambient, and almost horror-like.
The rhythmic figure generated by the finger-picked strings is echoed in a reverb-laden piano part, a collage of reversed tape effects and ambient, rushing sound effects leave us feeling disoriented and out of place – a sonic equivalent to realising there are in fact multiple universes.
‘THE FANNY PACK’
(L-R) Michelle Yeoh, Jing Li. Photo Credit: Allyson Riggs/A24
Everything Everywhere All At Once owes a debt of inspiration to classic kung-fu movies. In the “Fanny Pack”, we get the perfect blend of kung-fu and video game boss level music.
Drawing inspiration from the score for The Matrix and exploring samples of traditional Chinese instruments, the cue is action-packed.
The cue is punctuated by a stop-start motion, heavily distorted drums that alternate between a sort of rock feel and an intense, drum-and-bass pattern that teeters on the edge of chaos.
Composed of several segments, but lacking some overarching melody figure, the cue effectively compliments the absurd fight scene between “Alpha Waymond” and unsuspecting IRS security agents.
Shortly after we learn of the existence of multiple universes, we meet the apocalyptic dark forces attempting to subjugate the multiverse – Jobu Tupaki.
Tupaki is nihilism personified – a being completely consumed by their own belief in complete nothingness and the sheer lack of meaning in existence.
As far as villain themes go, “Jobu Tupaki” is much more of an ambient experience than a hardcore motif.
A wash of heavily reverbed-vocal, a dark and sinister tonality, and a constant swirling wave of fractured synths reveals a simple two note bass line that could have been found on Johann Johannsson’s score for Mandy.
Stephanie Hsu. Photo credit: Allyson Riggs/A24
The cue “The Temple” is a heavy, brooding, and sinister piece accompanying Evelyn on her journey to Tupaki’s temple where she keeps the Everything Bagel, the void that captures the souls in the multiverse.
The cue is full of snarling and distorted synth drops, demented and disembodied breathing sounds, and strange fluctuations in speed that deliver a truly anxiety-inducing experience as we begin to gaze deep into the void of the Everything Bagel.
“Fence” was the second single released from the soundtrack before the official debut of the film.
Featuring vocalist Moses Sumney, a frequent collaborator of drummer Ian Chang, “Fence” is much more an experimental pop work than the first single, “This Is A Life”.
The track is perhaps the simplest of the film’s 100 cues in terms of instrumentation. A darker tone, punctuated by heavy synth bass and the soaring vocal of Sumney accompanies the final scenes of the film where Evelyn and Tupaki reach the climax of their conflict.
AN EPIC SCORE FOR A CRAZY FILM
(L-R) Michelle Yeoh, Jamie Lee Curtis. Photo Credit: Allyson Riggs/A24
Son Lux’s score for Everything Everywhere All At Once is a genre-defying work of epic proportions, mirroring and complimenting the ever-changing chaotic layers of the film.
Representing an interesting cross-section of music technology, where heavy sampling and virtual instrumentation meets real-world traditional instruments, the score is one of the rare examples where the actual process of composing is both a reflection on and informed by the chronology and absurdity of the film.
Cover Credit: Allyson Riggs/A24
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Writer | Edward Bond
Edward Bond is a multi-instrumentalist composer, performer, and writer currently bouncing between Trondheim and Berlin. He apparently has the eyes of the devil, enjoys leopard prints, and will read your tarot, but not your future.