Ludwig Göransson, and the Perfection of Sound
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Ludwig Göransson is perhaps the most interesting name in the musical world at present, in large part because he spans so much of it. Born in Linköping, Sweden in 1984, Göransson was named after the German composer Ludwig van Beethoven. He attended the Stockholm Royal College of Music and in 2007, moved to Los Angeles to study film composition at the University of Southern California (USC). Göransson has worked on a multitude of shows and movies, including “New Girl” (2011-2018), “Community” (2009-2015), “Creed” (2015), “Venom” (2018), and “Black Panther” (2018).
In the film world, Göransson’s work on the soundtrack of “Black Panther” was the result of a college friendship. Göransson met the film’s director, Ryan Coogler, at USC through a roommate. Coogler, 21 at the time, was directing the short film “Fig” (2010) and asked if Göransson would score it. The duo went on to collaborate on all of Coogler’s short films and feature films, as well as “Fruitvale Station” (2013) and “Creed.” The two stayed in close communication throughout the production of “Black Panther,” discussing what countries the fictional Wakanda would resemble culturally. Göransson felt that he would only be able to do Coogler’s script justice if he experienced West African culture firsthand, so he traveled to Senegal. There, he accompanied prominent Senegalese musician Baaba Maal on tour in Dakar and met many other griots, or storytelling musicians. He recorded with many of these griots in Maal’s studio, assembling an arsenal of unique instruments. The final score combines African instruments with classical music and hip-hop percussion in a thrillingly, unexpected—but fitting—balance. Göransson’s score earned him a Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack For Visual Media and the Oscar for Best Original Score at the 91st Academy Awards in 2019.
His most recent endeavors include Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet” (2020) and Season 2 of Jon Favreau’s “The Mandalorian” (2019-present). Göransson returned to “The Mandalorian,” acclaimed for the final episode of Season 1, for which he received the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Music Composition for a Series. The flute theme he created for the show is nothing short of iconic. Rather than trying to imitate the mastery of John Williams, the composer of the original “Star Wars” trilogy (along with “Jaws,” “Jurassic Park,” and many others), Göransson found his own way to make the music fit. While the soundtrack stays true to the original “Star Wars” music, which utilizes recognizable themes, he combines rhythmic percussion, ricocheting wind instruments, and a medley of strings to create a unique sound, contrasting John Williams’s use of typically classical instruments. Alongside his embrace of acoustic instruments, Göransson uses synths to amplify climactic moments. At times he even incorporates electric guitar, and during the introduction of the formidable “Dark Troopers,” harsh dubstep-esque electronic music. Remarkably, it all feels coherent within the show’s context, as the Mandalorian traverses various planets and encounters a range of challenges.
In contrast with “The Mandalorian,” Göransson’s work on “Tenet” is highly dissimilar. Scored to complement Christopher Nolan’s style, the soundtrack is bold and extreme. Göransson departs from his efforts to stay culturally authentic, since “Tenet” doesn’t represent a particular culture (or cultural struggle), as previous films Göransson has scored have. Göransson’s soundtrack reflects an audacious, futuristic premise with accordingly avant-garde synth. It is, in a word, epic. Tense arpeggiation enhances the suspense or anxiety of certain scenes, while softer, padded synths add texture throughout other, less action-packed scenes. Additionally, a liberal amount of thud sounds are incorporated alongside synths for dramatic effect. Göransson, however, is attuned to the more emotional passages within the film, during which he prefers to use classical string instruments. Ludwig was present on set for the film’s climactic scene and used rather unorthodox techniques to produce a soundtrack he was satisfied with. To reflect a major aspect of the film, “inversion,” Göransson actually wrote the sheet music for some of his musicians backward.
Though he has worked predominantly in television and film, Göransson’s career has reached the realm of hip-hop as well. In fact, it was on the set of the NBC sitcom “Community” that Göransson met Donald Glover, better known as Childish Gambino. Glover and Göransson have since collaborated on every Gambino album, from “Camp” (2011) to “3.15.2020” (2020). Their most critically acclaimed album to date is the 2016 Funkadelic-inspired “Awaken, My Love!” The album received nominations for Album of the Year and Best Urban Contemporary Album at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards in 2018. The single “Redbone,” which is RIAA quintuple-platinum certified, was nominated for Record of the Year and Best R&B Song, and won the award for Best Traditional R&B Performance. Göransson also produced the 2018 hit single “This Is America” (triple-platinum RIAA certified), a critical discussion of racial injustice and gun violence.
Ludwig Göransson is distinguished by his versatility and eagerness to experiment—the two go hand-in-hand. From reversing sheet music in his own studio to flying to West Africa, he has demonstrated a commitment to perfection and authenticity of sound that is rare among his peers. Additionally, he has played a role in the conversation of race within the United States. Though a foreigner and white, he has shown his dedication to assisting his Black collaborators, like Glover and Coogler, and amplifying Black voices rather than speaking for them. Göransson throws himself wholeheartedly into all of his work, and the music reflects it. He is a modern master of sound, whose expertise will only increase throughout the future of his career.