Somewhere amidst the early 1980’s, I had gotten my hands on a VHS tape of George Romero‘s unique vampire vision, MARTIN. Once John Amplas’ razor went the forearm of the woman on the train – I was hooked. And not so much by the Tom Savini style gore, or George Romero reputation for entering legendary horror realms – but by the purity of it all – and the way the soundtrack, the film, the atmosphere and the abstract of it all blended together in such genre purity.
For many years after, the music has resonated in my mind. It is the direct link to the lingering memories of an exceptional genre film – and what I like to think of as its signature. I had the honor of being able to speak with MARTIN‘s soundtrack composer – Donald Rubinstein – recently. Although he is acclaimed and accomplished at Jazz and other score works that include George Romero’s BRUISER and KNIGHTRIDERS, we reflected on MARTIN alone, and how the magic, that is that score, came to be.
BD: Looking back, how do you personally regard your work on the MARTIN soundtrack?
Rubinstein: True is the first word that comes to mind. True and real and wedded to the creative connection I had with George. He provided through his script and personal commitment, a blueprint for success, in the best sense. That sense related to digging into the questions created by the work and looking for resonant answers via the music.
BD: I personally regard MARTIN as one of George Romero’s best works, and the soundtrack stands out as its signature. Was it something that came relatively easy / natural right off the bat – or did you struggle with it at all until you found the right groove?
Rubinstein: It did not come easy. It came blistered and tormented and committed – an uncovering that wrestled with personal discipline in an effort to do the best job I could. The ‘groove’ however was with me from the first, again via the commitment and shared vision I had with George.
BD: What is that beautifully morbid / primary synth instrument used, that dominates most of the tracks?
Rubinstein: I used an electric piano with a phase shifter. There also an Arp string synthesizer.
BD: Can you share what inspired your composition choices after seeing the un-scored cut?
Rubinstein: What inspired me first was the film. After that it was my own excitement over groupings of instruments in the context of what was available. I tried to reflect those sounds and instruments, which delved into the soul of things.
BD: What element of MARTIN sparked your creative inspiration for the sound choices you made?
Rubinstein: It was George’s fantastic vocabulary including his references to vampire films of the past, coupled with a forward-looking vision. His unique, creative vision gave me not only license, but call, to do the same. If you couple that with the sincerity of the questions asked by the film – the sense of search – you have much of the answer. I think George and I had a similar commitment to innovation rooted in tradition. He ‘got’ me and once it was established we were of the same ilk, he gave me room to fly.
BD: There is a relatively new genre in music now called Doom Jazz that I’m pretty sure didn’t exist when you scored MARTIN, yet you sort of pioneered modern music into the vampire / horror genre, crossing jazz elements with modern electronic synth what is now 30 years before. Can you explain how such a new brotherhood in music came together for you along the composition process for MARTIN?
Rubinstein: That was who I was, and in many ways, still am. I grew up with a natural affection for varied genres of music, so it was my pallet, so to speak. I adapted my own personal hybrid of jazz, contemporary classical (including synths), and folk music because it was my language. It was how I spoke. The film and my creative connection to George afforded me the opportunity to explore and expand its use. It was in the end the coming together of forces between George, myself, and my brother Richard Rubinstein, whose production created many of the opportunities.
BD: What do you think it is, personally, that makes it one of the best horror soundtracks of all time?
Rubinstein: I thank you for the assessment. It was about two artists, as well as again, my brother Richard, the producer, coming together with unique vision, capability and opportunity. Everybody was ready and everybody did his or her job. I had a personal vision, already in process, and I was given an appropriate and demanding canvas on which to develop it. That development was supported and inspired in one way or another by everyone who worked on the film, including Mike Gornick, John Amplas and a host of others. It was a confluence of individual and collective opportunity, buoyed by like-minded creative people.
BD: The MARTIN soundtrack was hard to find for quite some time after its album release – but is now available through CD Baby, for instance. I read there that it was recorded off your last unopened copy of the album?
Rubinstein: Yes, it was taken from one of my last, if not my last, unopened copies of the Varese Sarabande album release. It is actually now available via a great pressing on Perseverance Records, (spearheaded by Robin Esterhammer), with great liner notes by Daniel Schweiger. It is coupled with my ‘unused’ score for Ed Harris’s “Pollock.” I recommend that pressing. It is also available on my website (www.donaldrubinstein.com), at CD Baby and elsewhere, via an earlier CD pressing on Levelgreen Records. Perseverance Records has also released a very cool CD pressing of my score for KNIGHTRIDERS.
BD: Are you a fan of Mr. John Carpenter’s soundtrack work – ie. THE FOG (heavy jazz score) – and did you two ever come close to working together?
Rubinstein: I never spoke to John, though I dig THE FOG and also loved ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.
BD: Would you score another horror film, by either Mr. Romero or another director, if the right opportunity presented itself?
Rubinstein: I would do anything with George. We remain close friends and I have the deepest respect for him, both as a filmmaker and human being. I’ve scored three of his films and he’s made an effort to have me score more, though sometimes circumstances have come between. I would relish the opportunity to score another horror film of creative intent with any committed director. I know there are some great directors out there and I look forward to hearing from them.
BD: I’m very honored that you’ve taken the time to talk to myself and your fans at Bloody Disgusting – so thank you very much. I think if you check back on the comments of this article after it posts, you’ll find a LOT of love for your work. Anything you’d like to say to fans of your music in the horror genre?
Rubinstein: The response to my work has touched me deeply. I am grateful to have had the opportunity. Thank you to all the folks who appreciate and share this work.