The music to “Ms. Marvel” is as colorful as the bright, splashy visuals of the Disney+ series, and composer Laura Karpman – who just completed five months of scoring – relished the challenge.
Karpman frames it like this: “How do you bring someone like Kamala Khan into the Marvel Universe, give her the kind of dignity and presence of all the other major Marvel superheroes, and also recognize where she’s coming from? “
The answer, in part, was close collaboration with executive producer Sana Amanat, who came up with specific musical ideas and even suggested a violinist to contribute unique sounds. She often spent up to seven hours a week at the composer’s studio in Los Angeles.
Karpman, a five-time Emmy winner who scored animation’s “What If…?” last year. from Marvel, had already been announced as the composer for next year’s big-screen feature “The Marvels” when “Ms. Marvel” (actually a prequel to “The Marvels”) arrived in February of this year.
“The Marvel superhero encounters a deep and meaningful legacy that also had to be part of the show’s sound,” she says of her overall concept for the score. “It’s about representation, about bringing up people who haven’t been seen in a certain way cinematically yet. And when I can help with that, it’s really satisfying for me.
Kamala Khan (Iman Vellani) is a Pakistani teenager and Captain Marvel fan from Jersey City, NJ, who inherits a magical bracelet that gives her cosmic energy powers. Her journey ultimately brings her back to her grandmother’s home in Karachi and the unveiling of family secrets related to the partition of India in the 1940s. The series’ sixth and final episode drops on Wednesday.
Kamala’s superhero side would need a traditional orchestra, but her heritage suggested a South Asian musical component. And, Karpman recalls, “she’s a teenager. Kamala’s theme had to be hip, driven by contemporary beats, dhol beats, tabla beats, or both.
Adding South Asian flavors, a variety of artists, most of them recording remotely in India and Pakistan: musicians playing string sarangi and sursringar, bansuri flute, mridangam drum, as well as two unique soloists: violinist Raaginder, a specialist in Indian classical music, and singer Ganavya Doraiswamy, raised in South India.
“I wrote major themes, sent them out, and then saw what came back,” Karpman says of his world music performers. “But then they would do a third or fourth take, and sometimes the most interesting stuff was in those takes, when they started to improvise. It was incredibly exciting.
Karpman combined these sounds with a 70-piece orchestra, which recorded weekly at the Synchron Stage in Vienna; and, for Episode 5 (set entirely in Pakistan), an eight-voice choir of South Asian singers singing partially in the Urdu language.
“I brought music and themes that I had written,” she says. “And together, as a group, we found the sound of the choir. Incredibly extraordinary things happened during this session. It was lightning in a bottle, not only having to come up with quick ideas based on what was going on in the room, but also what people were throwing back at me. It was one of the greatest sessions I have ever attended in my life.
The music, which accompanied the powerful train sequence in Episode 5, will be included in Volume 2 of “Ms. Marvel’s Soundtrack,” also slated for Wednesday. (Volume 1, containing music from episodes 1-3, was released June 22.)
In addition to Kamala’s theme, there are sub-themes for the bracelet, her heritage, a love theme for Aisha and Hasan (Kamala’s great-grandparents) and more. In addition to mixing all of these acoustic elements together, a fair amount of production and processing went into it.
That a television series from the Marvel Cinematic Universe would show viewers the history and tragedy of the region is not lost on Karpman. “When you present people who have no idea what partition is and how destructive the diaspora has been, you feel responsible,” she says.
“I tried to be as authentic as possible by collaborating with a lot of different musicians. I bring what I can, which is a sophisticated orchestral score combined with these incredible elements from a tradition that is not my own. I’m glad they asked me to do it.