SHADOW AND BONE Composer on Crafting the Show’s Fantastical Soundscape

Our wait is over. Shadow and Bone has arrived on Netflix. We were lucky enough to chat with one of the unsung heroes behind it in the lead-up to the series: Joseph Trapanese. He composed behind the fantasy series. Trapanese’s score is a large part of both the epic fantasy world and all of our faves’ character arcs. It’s an immersive level of world-building that came from an unexpectedly deep collaboration with the production. And when we connected with Trapanese he eagerly told us all about it.

Building the sound of Shadow and Bone
Alina goes to touch Baghra in Shadow and Bone


Building the aural landscape of the show from the ground up was both a challenge and an adventure for the composer. He said, “You’re creating this music for a world that exists only in your imagination. Anything is possible, which is great but equally challenging. If anything is possible, then what am I going to do? But world-building is my favorite thing. That’s where I think music is strongest. Music is this other language that has universal understanding.”

Even before work began, Trapanese had meetings with series creator Leigh Bardugo, showrunner Eric Heisserer, and director Shawn Levy. “I sat down with the whole team and just had these individual conversations with everyone about what’s important to them,” Trapanese explained. “Out of each meeting I was able to take away bits and pieces. What’s gonna be important to Leigh about the sound of this world? What’s gonna be important to Eric? Then I take that and combine it with what’s important to me. What am I hearing as a composer? Put that in a pressure cooker and the outcome is Shadow and Bone!”

While the show’s creators had a clear vision, Trapanese felt like he was part of a team crafting something incredibly special. Each of the creators brought insights to their chats. He recalled, “With Leigh, we spoke a lot about her inspiration for the books. Czarist Russia, talking about keftas, the textures and the ideas that inspired her to create this world. With Eric it was more about how these worlds come together. About how Alina and General Kirigan come together, about how the Crows and Alina come together. With Shawn we talked a lot about scope, about how big this world has to feel. So they each gave me these clues of what they were looking to achieve and then I combined those.”

Composing the Crows 
Jesper and Kaz Brekker look suspicious in Shadow and Bone


Trapanese also broke down his process and inspiration for some of his favorite themes, beginning with the secret behind Ketterdam’s best. “One of the greatest things that Eric gave me was what he said for the Crows: ‘Yes, it’s obviously a ticking clock and there has to be a machine element to it. They’re always thinking and planning ahead.’ But he also said, ‘I want to make sure the music always feels like it’s about to come off the rails. Something’s always about to go wrong.’ So that’s why that music is always a little bit faster than maybe it needs to be because I even want the orchestra to feel like it’s about to come off the rails.”

Alina and the General
The Darkling holds Alina's wrist in Shadow and Bone


For Shadow and Bone‘s hero Alina Starkov it was all about a journey of growth and of course her connection to General Kirigan, a.k.a. the Darkling. “With Alina I made a choice very early on that her instrument was going to be the violin. The mirror image of that is how General Kirigan’s instrument was going to be the bass. So when we hear his music it’s very low, but it also has this soloistic bass tone because he is this kind of lone hero. But then again the mirror image is Alina’s beautiful violin. When it’s the orphanage and when Alina is young, it’s like this very rustic unfinished sound. Whereas when she’s becoming the Sun Summoner, it’s this very glorious refined high sound, where there are scales running like rays of light.”

Trapanese also explained how his instrumental choices reflect the arcs of our heroes. “The other part of the fun is where these all collide. Where you could take the bass of Kirigan and all of a sudden you have Alina’s violin playing on top of it. There was a very conscious thing that I did to try to make them work together,” he explained. “There are several parts of the score where the violin is trying to play Alina’s melody, but eventually it just gets wrapped up in Kirigan’s melody, so now all of a sudden the Alina violin sound is playing his melody.”

Mal’s Journey
Mal and Alina stand in the dark in Shadow and Bone


One theme in particular ended up being far harder to compose than Trapanese expected. “Mal was the most challenging to write for,” the composer told us. “I wanted him to be strong, because obviously he represents a certain safety for Alina. He’s someone that Alina can run to and depend on, but at the same time he’s very vulnerable. So his theme is very much tied to the orphanage. To me that was the important thing to put across in the show, to really just kind of give him a warmth. But that being said, his theme definitely goes through this arc where by the end of the season he’s obviously done some things that prove his value, improve his strength. So the theme actually grows stronger throughout the season.”

Shadow and Bone is now available on Netflix.

Featured Image: Netflix

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