Flute players look away; Daniel Pemberton says there aren’t any in Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse, this summer’s sequel to Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
“There’s a scoop for you right now,” the composer joked, speaking via video chat. “There’s no woodwinds anywhere on Spider-Verse 2.”
Pemberton spoke to Polygon on his day off from both crafting the score to Across the Spider-Verse and preparing for Spider-Man: Into The Spider-Verse Live in Concert on March 17 in New York City — sharing what made Into the Spider-Verse such a standout experience, why a live orchestra screening of it had to happen in Brooklyn, and even a few teases for Across the Spider-Verse, too.
It might be difficult to remember, now that Into the Spider-Verse has an Academy Award under its belt and a growing list of films inspired by its signature comics-influenced look, but there was a time when most people knew it as “that other Sony Spider-Man movie, the animated one. No, it’s not in the MCU.”
Even Pemberton says he struggled to get his friends to see the film — then they’d call him up a year later to tell him they finally watched it and were blown away.
“It’s been really interesting to watch how people didn’t really care about this movie,” he said. “They just thought, Oh, I know what this movie is. And that’s what’s been fun about it. I think everyone feels they discovered this movie; it’s their movie.”
Pemberton’s kinetic, inventive, energetic, and emotional score was a not-insignificant part of that love. Sequences like Miles’ leap of faith — combining the orchestra with Blackway and Black Caviar’s “What’s Up Danger” — and a chase scene in which Miles yo-yos Peter B. Parker’s unconscious body across Manhattan, scored by recording a full orchestra to vinyl and then getting a DJ to scratch it to the scene — have gotten a kind of public love not always pointed toward the parts of a film score that aren’t radio-ready singles.
“It’s the most complicated, out-there, crazy score I’ve probably ever written,” says Pemberton. “It’s changing every 20 seconds, going from noir music to jazz to orchestral music. It’s a good embodiment of me as a composer in that I try and take stuff from everywhere and put it into my music.”
And to Pemberton, making a score that comes from everywhere was just his way of honoring the real world of Into the Spider-Verse — New York City — and paying it back for how it had inspired him.
“Brooklyn is the home of Miles, and it’s the home of such cross-pollination of music, which the film is about as well. From a musical point of view, New York is embedded in the DNA of this score.”
Pemberton recalled seeing London DJs scratching records for the first time. “Those DJs were inspired by the hip-hop culture of New York, they bought it over to London; I’m a kid in London, I see it. Years later, I’m in New York, with this score that has been influenced across the world with all these different ideas. New York has such an interesting culture of classical music, of hip-hop, of techno, of disco, so many different music cultures; New York is a melting pot of them. The [Into the Spider-Verse] score, for me, is also like that.”
And while Pemberton is hoping that the Into the Spider-Verse live show can become a series and travel to multiple cities, he knew that if he only got to do it once, it would have to happen in Brooklyn, to bring it all full circle.
“I want people who’ve never seen an orchestra before to see an orchestra,” he told Polygon. “I want people who’ve seen an orchestra but never seen someone scratch records — I want them to see that. I want to bring all these worlds together. Hopefully, die-hard classical fans who have never seen someone scratch turntables, hip-hop heads who maybe haven’t seen a string section. That’s the holy trinity of this live show: orchestra, electronics, and turntables.”
Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse Live in Concert will kick off at Brooklyn’s Kings Theatre, but if you can’t make it, there’s still Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse to look forward to.
Pemberton said that he’s been very aware that he has to “outdo” what he did in Into the Spider-Verse for its highly anticipated sequel. But he’s got an ally there in Across the Spider-Verse’s expanded story.
“The first film was just Miles’ world, and in this new one we enter a lot of different universes, all of which have their own sound and their own art style. I’d say in the first one, we scratched the orchestra; in this one, we warp it. We’ve built weird technology to do certain things with sound. [Spider-Man] 2099 is a big character in this film, and his world is a lot more technological, and his sound world is a lot more electronic, so there’s a lot of electronics in the score. It’s just been trying to find, How do I make this feel fresh and exciting? If I do the same thing I did the first time, that’s not gonna be fresh and exciting.”
Is it difficult to score a movie that takes place in a multiverse? “I’ll tell you what, it does,” Pemberton shot back. “It makes recording schedules unbelievably complicated. [laughs] Because you’re trying to jump through very different styles that might only be in the film for, like, 10 seconds.”
So, where will we be going in the new Spider-Verse? Pemberton says that he’s leaning more into Puerto Rican vibes this time around, as a nod to Miles’ maternal heritage, and he teased a whole list of things to expect: “Drum solos, opera vocals, punk rock, Indian percussion, techno drums, extreme time stretching, emotional orchestration, arpeggiated synths, and crazy sound design.”
Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse will hit theaters on June 2.