While he lacks the clout and recognition of such titans as Ennio Morricone and John Williams, Joseph LoDuca is one of the more talented composers working in film and television today. In particular, while he has not worked on many major film projects, LoDuca's television credentials are second to none.
LoDuca played in a rock band in his teens, before studying literature at Michigan University. After that, he went to New York and played jazz for a while, before drifting into classical guitar and then further afield, sampling music from different cultures around the world. He trained at Michigan University - again - in composition, which he has claimed he preferred to playing because it let him 'run among the disciplines without getting caught'.1
He produced his first film score in 1980. Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert were looking for 'frightening' music for their first picture, The Evil Dead, and LoDuca, fresh out of school as a composition student, sent them a demo tape. Since then, he has collaborated with the pair on the two sequels to The Evil Dead (Evil Dead II and Army of Darkness), and on TV ventures including Hercules, Xena: Warrior Princess and Jack of All Trades, as well as on Evil Dead star Bruce Campbell's Stryker's War.
LoDuca's work is highly rated by many, and in particular his scoring for Army of Darkness and Xena is much admired. He is sometimes criticised for being derivative, but such an accusation could equally be levelled at the Godfather of modern film music, John Williams, and even where it does take a theme or two form elsewhere - usually in parody - LoDuca's music remains distinctive. He also has a tremendous range, being equally comfortable in producing stirring orchestral epics or cheesy surf-rock pastiches.
Television - Hercules and Xena
While hardly the be-all and end-all of his work, the scores for these two highly successful shows are far and away his most visible efforts. They have won him the Most Performed Underscore and Top TV Series Awards from the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers2 three years running (1998, 1999, 2000), and also an Emmy. They are composed for the companions series, yet they are very different creations.
In the original plan, Hercules was to have an exotic, somewhat Arabian score, redolent of 1001 Nights style adventure. When LoDuca saw the first rushes of the series, set amid the rolling greenery and dramatic mountains of New Zealand, with the muscle-bound Kevin Sorbo facing down evil with nothing more than two-fisted action, a square-jaw, a heart of gold and an endless parade of witty quips, he realised that this hero wasn't so exotic as he had thought. Hercules was an old-style hero, and needed an old-style theme tune. Out went the Arabian themes, and in came the rolling, triumphant brass.
We would instead surround him with the hummus, as I call it, the ethnic spicing appears around him as required; the score of 'Festival of Dionysus' for example. It's a hybrid of Brazilian escola de samba with an Arabic melody.
- Joseph LoDuca
But if the hero was all-Greek (in the world of Hercules where Greek is American, naturally), then the world around him was still pretty exotic. Thus while the principal theme remained strictly in the triumphal march mood, the weekly underscores featured a wealth of other flavours, as LoDuca created a mood for each environment, whether 'Herc' was visiting old friends in a Turkish market or battling the walking dead in a dusty necropolis.
In addition to drawing on his knowledge and experience of world music, LoDuca also drew on more modern and western influences to create the playful and deliberately derivative themes which surround and highlight the essential Twentieth-Century-ness of Hercules, his values and his life-ethic.
Xena: Warrior Princess
Xena, the spin-off from Hercules, was from the start a darker show, and the music reflects this. In contrast to Hercules' booming theme, Xena has an eclectic mixture of modern orchestral arrangement and haunting, Bulgarian female-voice choral. In addition to the choir, both the main theme and the incidental music draw on traditional Bulgarian instruments such as the kaval (a shepherd's flute) and gaida (bagpipes). The music evokes the dark and exotic atmosphere of Xena as the Hercules theme sums up his basic, uncomplicated heroism.
In addition to the regular weekly underscores (including the episode 'Fallen Angel', for which LoDuca won his Emmy, having been nominated on three previous occasions), LoDuca also composed or arranged music for two musical episodes: the bizarre, tarot-inspired almost operatic fable 'Bitter Suite', with a completely original score and songs; and the lighter rock musical 'Lyre, Lyre, Hearts on Fire', featuring arrangements of many famous rock tracks. While perhaps not so polished as his regular orchestral work, both episodes demonstrate LoDuca's impressive range of competence.
LoDuca also collaborated with Sam Raimi on the excellent, but oft overlooked American Gothic. Sometimes accused of being a Twin Peaks wannabe, American Gothic was a less convoluted ghost story, complete with meditations on the nature of good and evil and predestination. To accompany this, LoDuca created a score so unlike the bulk of his work on more action-oriented series as to be almost unrecognisable. Gently sawing strings and woodwind coupled with children's chorals to create a creepy, sinister and understated score, in place of the bold, in-your-face incidental music of Hercules and Xena.
Army of Darkness
Often thought of as his best work - along with the Xena underscores - LoDuca's original score for Army of Darkness (the third part of the Evil Dead Trilogy), effectively captures the essence of the film. Switching between fast and furious action tracks like 'The Deathcoaster', eerie scene-setters such as 'Forest of the Dead/Graveyard', the gentle romance of 'Give Me Some Sugar'3 and the triumphant pounding of 'Building the Deathcoaster' and 'Manly Men', the music is all excellent, evocative, and classy.
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