The Music of Marco Polo

“Marco Polo”

Netflix released 10 episodes on Friday so, dear readers, just for you, I watched all of them by Monday.  They were, in a word, epic.  The same way The Hunger Games and Lord of the Rings are epic.

There was sand, wind, rain, beautiful sets and wide expanse.  The credits for each episode are as extensive as the program itself, allowing two minutes to go through frame after frame chock full of unit and post production talents.

Also notable was the music, and in the interest of not revealing any spoilers, I’d like to talk about the music of “Marco Polo.”  It hails mostly from Mongolia and China, with the occasional (and still Tuvan-style) heavy metal in the credits.Blue sky, white clouds and green grassland holds a tiny speck of a man on a horse

A scene in the Mongolian palace in "Marco Polo" where the person is very small

Two men play Mongolian instruments by a fire

The morin-khuur and shudraga pictured above paired really nicely together.  They sounded like a cello and banjo, evoking a beautiful bowed melody with a strummed harmony.

Tuvan throat singing was alluded to throughout every score in the series, but it lacked the dischordant overtones so signature to that style.  There are violins that evoke this at times but I think the overtones themselves were ultimately excluded from the broadcast, and I am sorry to say that I’m not that sorry.  It is the classic difference between “Eastern” and “Western” ear training and harmony.  There’s a great documentary about this style called “Genghis Blues” that I got on Netflix DVD back in the day that’s worth watching.

In China, a mother sings to her child in a pentatonic 5 line verse, with the fifth line being a repeat of the fourth and in extra time.  The child repeats later in this style.

The two composers, Peter Nashel and Eric V. Hachikian did phenomenal jobs on the scoring.  Hachikian recently worked on “The Mindy Project” (OMG,) Revenge (Wow) and Fury.  Nashel did the “22,” “Funny in Farsi,” “Dirty Sexy Money” and the reboot of “Life on Mars.”

Netflix’ release in mid-December, the exact week that most fall shows have hit reruns, shows great foresight in timing and certainly allowed me to watch it all at once.  I loved it.  If you’re interested in seeing a wonderful gallery of behind-the-scenes at “Marco Polo” in Venice, Kazakstan and Malaysia, Variety’s got it: http://variety.com/gallery/the-making-of-netflix-marco-polo/

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