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Interview: Neil S. Bulk


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24: Score Another Day -  Interview with Neil S. Bulk



An exclusive Interview with album producer Neil S. Bulk for
Interview moderated by Amer Zahid

NEIL S. BULK is an independent freelance soundtrack Producer and Editor; who has lent his talents to various soundtrack reissues and expansions from such labels as La La Land Records, Film Score Monthly, Varese Sarabande and Intrada. His most significant output has been the mammoth 15 cd box set of STAR TREK The Original Series Soundtrack Collection. He recently worked on Varese Sarabande’s deluxe expansion 2cd set of The Abyss scored by Alan Silvestri and also the re-mastered re-issue of Jerry Goldsmith’s The Blue Max 2cd set from La Land Records.

AZ - First of all you are foremost a fan and then a producer. What’s it like, when you are the first in line to experience and listen to the original session tapes on the start of a new project? Do you feel overwhelmed, surprised in addition to the obvious feeling of joy on a purely geek level?

NSB - To be able to do this job effectively, I’ve discovered it’s best to set aside any sort of fandom and concentrate on the job. So while I grew up loving and admiring these composers and their music, when it comes time to start a new project, I have to set all of those feelings aside and focus on the project.

When I’m evaluating the tapes, my focus is on the quality of the transfer. Is it the right speed? Is there any damage? I don’t get a chance to really enjoy the music, as I’m trying to listen beyond the music, if that makes any sense. And then I want to make sure it’s all there and put together accurately. It’s a strange phenomenon, but it’s happened many times after an album has been cut and assembled and I’ll sit down to listen to the new mix or a master and think to myself, “Did I cut this? I don’t remember this.” and then I’ll look at my notes and see that yes indeed, I did work on it.

AZ - You have handled many projects over the years with labels such as La La Land and Varese Sarabande. How difficult was the reconstruction of The Abyss the expanded title after coming from the very familiar and short album that Varese had initial produced at the time of the film’s theatrical release?

NSB - The Abyss was an enormous session and took up a lot of space on the hard drive. It was multi-track tape (I forget how many now, probably 48 tracks). It had a usable mix on it so we didn’t have to deal with all of those tracks, but it was a process of figuring out which tracks were which. Once that was done, it became a process of deciphering the paperwork from 1989 and going for the selected takes, the ones used in the film. The challenge then came when I realized how much of the music either wasn’t used or used where it wasn’t intended. Once that was all sorted out, putting it in order became fairly obvious, as the takes were all slated with their intended positions.

Many of the alternates were found on different tracks of the tapes. Quite a few were abandoned and never completed with a final master take. So the performances and mixes are not as polished as the main score, but they were so fascinating and different, I’m glad we were able to include them.

The original album didn’t really come into play with this release. I did check it to see if it had any unique takes, but it didn’t. They used the same selected takes as the film.


The Abyss (Soundtrack) by Alan Silvestri

AZ - Technically what’s the most frustrating part of starting a project? Is it the time bound deadlines or the research work that is necessary to assist a project that you have not been familiar with from the onset?

NSB - Starting a project is never frustrating. It’s a clean start. Everyone is different, and I’m not talking about the music being different but rather recording methods, what was saved, how was it assembled? These are all things you have to take into consideration. I’ve worked on projects by the same composer with the same engineer in the same year and the recording methodology was different. So there’s always a challenge when you start a new project, but it’s always a relief, because it will be different than the last one.

AZ - Today we have had to date both the Theatrical and Special Edition Cuts of The Abyss on DVD. A transition to Blu ray HD is yet to come; although a High definition cut was aired recently on TV. How often were you required to cross reference these for your groundwork even though both have substantial amounts of re-tracking and re-edits?

NSB - That was an interesting dilemma on The Abyss. On all of these projects, I record in the audio from the movie to use as reference for take selection and to make sure the pitch is correct. On The Abyss, I debated loading in both versions of the movie but decided against that. It’s been documented that Alan Silvestri did not score the “Special Edition” of the film so I figured (correctly) that his score would line up with the theatrical release. Then it became a matter of figuring out where his score was supposed to go when he spotted and recorded it.

AZ - Many cues were retitled and one cue in particular titled ‘ Sub Battle’ was not easily identified in the new set. Was this re-edit creation exclusively for the album on the OST?

NSB - I wasn’t there for the production, but all signs point to yes, “Sub Battle” was editorially created for the album and given that title. On that score, I went through the paperwork for the tapes and labeled every selected take. That way in my session I could see I had the entire thing in order (“1m0, take 148”, 1m1, take 56” for instance) and then I would go and line these up to the movie, which I also had cut up to show where the music was.

When I got to the sub chase in the film, I realized I was missing slates! We had slates that went from 12m2 to 12m6, so I was on a mad hunt for 12m3-5. When I couldn’t find them I checked the OST and saw “Sub Battle” and figured if worse came to worse, we could get an album master and use that. Only when I listened to it, did I realize it was made up of two earlier cues (“He’s Convulsing” and “Crashing Crane”). Listening to the movie, I realized the entire sequence was tracked. It was just another normal day at the office.

AZ -  It seemed that James Cameron’s team re-edited the whole score to their vision of the film. This becomes evident now as both the OST and Deluxe edition offer a totally different perspective. How do you think this makes for as new listening experience for the fans of the score and film. Does it truly opens up the whole music as different listening experience?

NSB - On The Abyss it was a bit of a surprise, but in hindsight it shouldn’t have been. The amount of music editing on Cameron’s previous film, Aliens, is well known, but I never thought that it carried over into The Abyss. And I can’t debate these decisions that are made post-scoring because both films are effective as they are. I don’t know if Aliens would be any more exciting or scary if Horner’s original ideas were put back in place. The same goes for The Abyss. Until this album was released, people enjoyed the film as it was, not knowing that different music was meant to appear sometimes.

However, I love when these albums come out and people can experience the score as the composer intended. Listening to The Abyss, away from the movie, you can get the story of the film through the music. We’ve even sequenced a cue that was tracked into the ‘sub battle’ sequence to keep the narrative going.

AZ - The sound quality is greatly improved and the new re-mastering is nothing short of stunning. The sound is so present and dynamic and adds a great deal of acoustic detail that was perhaps not so obvious on the original Varese album. When you go from listening to a commercially existing album and then to the original sessions in pristine quality- how does that impact you?

NSB - When I first get to hear the new tape transfers, in many cases I realize that many of these older scores had wonderful recordings, but because of the era in which they were made they never had an opportunity to sound as good as they could. It’s at that point that I realize these albums are a true upgrade and not just, “The Abyss - Now With More Music!”.

AZ - Once a project gets completed and is finally released to the public- all that hype that is created by the label, the fandom on the message boards,- does that make you curious as to what gets appreciated and what doesn’t (in terms of recognition of all the hard work that has gone in it)?

NSB - Editing has been referred to as “the invisible art”, meaning if it’s done well, no one will notice anything has been done. That’s always been my goal. I didn’t write any of this music, so my job is to present it the best way possible, but to also stay out of the way. I love getting the best materials and working with people to make them shine, but in the end it’s about the composer and the music and not the guy who cut it in Pro Tools. Obviously, I’m very proud of my work and I stand behind everything I’ve done, but my desire is for people to enjoy the music more than anything else. But of course, I’m human and I am flattered when I see a comment on Facebook or Twitter where I’m mentioned or thanked. It’s a nice feeling.


Buy The Blue Max (Soundtrack) by Jerry Goldsmith from LaLaLand Records

The Blue Max Limited Edition Soundtrack from LaLaLand Records

AZ - Great! Moving on to The Blue Max- which not only received a stunning 2CD remaster from La La Land (not to mention the wonderful artwork and packaging) but also two isolated score in stereo mix via Mike Matessino on the blu ray edition release from Nick Redman’s Twilight Time label. What was your contribution to these project(s)?

NSB - The Blue Max was a fun project. This one may have been a little daunting to dive into. Intrada released a terrific album only a few years ago. It sold out quickly though, which for a score this great, meant someone at some point was going to take another crack at it. I worked on the La-La Land album first and then we moved onto the Twilight Time Blu-ray. All of the research, cutting and restoration work Mike Matessino and I did for the La-La Land release (prior to final album mastering) was utilized for the isolated scores. This worked out well because the HD transfer wasn’t delivered to us until Friday afternoon and the isolated scores had to be delivered on Monday morning! Nick Redman mentions on the commentary track just how new the transfer was when they were recording that track.

On this show, my main task was to figure out what had come before. I only went down this path because among the materials given to me for this release was a sealed LP of the Citadel release. The Blue Max had five previous releases before the La-La Land release and every release was different in terms of musical content. The Citadel was the toughest to figure out because it had track titles that didn’t match any other release and a later pressing (the one I had was the first) corrected a typo that swapped track titles. So my first goal was to figure out what had been released and where. This meant tracking down all of the previous releases. Jon Burlingame lent us his original Mainstream LP. This was the original soundtrack album. Johnny Dee Davis at Precision AudioSonics transferred that and the Citadel for us. I had the Sony and Intrada albums in my personal collection, and John Takis, who has admired this score for years, helped me with getting the Varese Sarabande release. Once I had them all in my Pro Tools session, it became pretty easy to identify all of the music and come up with a list of cues based on where they were meant to be in the movie and where they could be found on all of the releases.

But it wasn’t always easy. As beloved as the score is, it’s mostly known because of its various album releases. A large portion of the score doesn’t appear in the movie, and some of the album highlights that have been on every release of the score don’t ever appear in the movie. Fortunately, the tapes were all vocal slated (an engineer announces, “1m2 take 2” for instance) so the score can be put into some kind of order just based on the slates. After doing that step, it became a matter of listening to how these cues were used in the film. Again, I had the movie audio in my Pro Tools session and I had a cue sheet to guide me but they didn’t answer every question. The alternate opening to “The Attack” is used in a different spot than intended in the movie, so for a while I thought it was an insert meant to come in the middle of the cue. I tried several ways to edit it in, but they never worked. I then tried it at the beginning of the cue, and it worked perfectly. Mystery solved!

AZ - Wonderful work there. Also I also really enjoy listening to the vocal slates that Twilight Time label incorporates in the beginning of the cues in the isolated tracks. As you say this is the 6th and hopefully the last time we will see The Blue Max re-mastered (not counting another re-issue when this sells out) The edit and re-assembly going back to the original session tapes must have been an exhaustive process. A lot of detective work must have been done to exactly determine which takes of music were used and where they were used in the actual movie and how all the music was to be edited together since many of the cues were not used entirely or just dialed out in the film?

NSB - In the case of The Blue Max, with rare exceptions, only the final print takes were archived to the tapes. So unlike The Abyss, where we had every recorded take available to us, on The Blue Max, it was just the final takes.

While it was fun to piece together the revised versions of “First Blood” and “The Attack”, the real detective badge goes to Jeff Bond. While writing the notes, he asked where “A Toast to Bruno” goes in the movie. It’s slated 2m2, but as he pointed out to us, there’s no toasting going on that early in the movie. He went back to the film and watched it and realized where the music was supposed to go, for a quiet scene in Stachel’s quarters. Realizing this, it was decided to rename the cue (as a search through the manuscript titles didn’t turn anything up) “A Pretty Medal” which is a line of dialogue from this scene. That’s the only cue entirely dropped from the film, and it was incredible to hear it against the movie and know Jeff figured it out precisely.

AZ -  A toast to Jeff Bond then and of course Thank You for your time.

NSB - You’re welcome! Thank you for your interest. I hope that readers and listeners enjoyed the insight.


Special thanks to Neil S. Bulk, Marie Merillat, Mike Matessino and Christopher Coleman .

AMER ZAHID is an ardent film music buff by hobby, and a banker by profession. He lives in Karachi, Pakistan. John Williams and Bernard Herrmann remains as his favorite composers to this day, followed by Jerry Goldsmith, John Barry, James Horner, Danny Elfman and Maurice Jarre. He has been associated with Film Score Monthly print magazine run by Lukas Kendall in particular during its early days. His other claim to film music fame is his involvement with the Grammy Award Nominated The Danny Elfman-Tim Burton 25th Anniversary Music Box collection set. He has also written reviews for the online website:



Buy The Abyss
(Deluxe Edition)


Buy The Blue Max
(Limited Edition)




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