Laura Karpman, The Mind Between Ms. Marvel’s Marvelous Soundtrack!

“Absolutely everything that we have done in every aspect of the show but certainly in the music has been carefully considered and carefully constructed to really match who Kamala is”

Check out our interview with #MsMarvel composer, Laura Karpman!

Keshav Kant
Let’s hop right in! So you’ve worked on basically everything: films, TVs, Video games. In the past few years alone, you’ve worked on What If, Lovecraft Country, and the Kung Fu Panda video game. How has that been like coming to Miss Marvel? What’s- What’s that? Like? What’s that secret sauce? Because everything you touch turns to gold, I want to know,

Composer Laura Karpman is photographed for Los Angeles Times on August 12, 2019 in Los Angeles, California. PUBLISHED IMAGE. CREDIT MUST READ: Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times via Contour RA. (Photo by Jay L. Clendenin/Los Angeles Times via Contour RA by Getty Images)

Laura Karpman
Oh, you’re very sweet. Um, you know, it’s kind of a complex question. And it doesn’t seem like it is, but it is. With Ms. Marvel, look, you’re dealing with two things but more the combination of those two things, right?

You’ve got somebody, a young, Brown American girl we are bringing into the MCU. Just start with that. Then you’ve got her heritage; you know it manifests in many ways. And you’ve also got the rich musical tradition that that brings along. Okay, so when you talk about Lovecraft, you talk about Kung Fu Panda, and you know that I have collaborated with many people in different musical genres. And I’ve collaborated with great artists on many cultures’ music throughout my career.

I’ve worked with Sa Dingding, a great star over in China and I’ve done a bunch of arrangements for her. I’ve done a bit of working with Raphael on Lovecraft. You know, I come from an orchestral background, I have a doctorate from Juilliard. That’s where my world is, but I’m a good listener. Basically, I listen and I’m open to intense collaborations with musicians who have different ideas than I do musically.

Chinese folk singer and songwriter Sa Dingding

Who have different backgrounds than I do musically, it pushes me and that’s what I love about it. It pushes me to places that I wouldn’t imagine going just with my own imagination, and then I but I do think that this combination of kind of where my head is, and then where like Rafael’s head is or where, you know, where Kamala’s head is or what she needs for her music or what Sana asked me to do. I think is really what makes the magic happen on these shows.

Keshav Kant
I couldn’t agree more. I really liked that you mentioned your orchestral background because it’s very apparent in Ms. Marvel. Especially with the score, the music that you use, and the instrumentals, it all is so present, but it complements the show really well.

Laura Karpman
Well, thank you.

Keshav Kant
Because I’m a person when I like, just outside of just being a critic as someone who consults in production publishing. I love when things work together in harmony and I’m sure like with your ear, you can always pick up when it just doesn’t sit quite right. And in Ms. Marvel, especially things flowed together so beautifully. I wanted to talk to you a little bit about that because you go through more modern musical arrangements. But you also dive into traditional South Asian instruments. There’s a touch of hip hop and rap. There’s a whole section towards the end of the first episode, where it’s just an entire rap in Urdu, like, how did you come about that creative vision?

Laura Karpman
Um, well, Sana would sit here in my studio, she would sit there on that couch, on the floor, for hours and we would go over stuff and basically what happened is when she first came over, we did this very quickly together and we didn’t start working together till kind of really, maybe even late February, early March. So it was really kind of late in the game and we had to move quickly.

I’ve been listening to a lot of Pakistani music and I have a dear dear friend of mine, who’s actually a former student of mine, Ganavya Doraiswamy who is a wonderful singer, Carnatic based singer, but she plays with jazz and she plays with different kinds of things. So she had come over and we had played with some ideas and then Sana and I kind of you know. We thought we need that superhero oomf. So I moved to something different which is na na naduh duh duh, which you’ve heard probably, and I think they’re releasing the entire, you know, main title suite tomorrow, so you’ll get to hear that.

So I started working with her and then she (Sana) said, Look, I love this violinist. This guy, Raaginder. I said, let’s get him. She said, what do you mean? I said, let’s just get his number and let’s reach out to him and let’s get him to play on the score. And so we did and so that’s what happened is all these musicians. Rasika Shekar, who was a Bansuri flute player fabulous out of India, Raaginder, all these people started playing the superhero theme, right? So you have this immediate really interesting combination right? You’ve got the French horn, doing the duh da dum, which is you have to have that for a Marvel thing, right?

Keshav Kant
You do.

Laura Karpman
You have to have that two-bar phrase that immediately like says superhero because the truth is, you don’t have that much time. I mean, you’ve seen episode two, she’s on the mosque. She’s doing the Spider Man thing. You got to have that two-bar thing that’s going to signify the absolute everybody Brown, Black, white, whatever race you are. We’re in the MCU, this is a new person.

Flautist & Vocalist Rasika Shekar

But you also have to be able to make a quick twist and turn into a tabla beat or a mridangam beat or dhools and the stuff that Raaginder brings and all the stuff that Rasika brings in and Ganavya and, and that adds sometimes functions as a part of the kind of like the main instrumental. It functions as an orchestral instrument for lack of really a more eloquent way of saying that. It functions in conjunction with orchestral with Western orchestral instruments but also can function outside of it, depending on what the context is.

Which as you noted, you know, then you’ve got all that high school stuff, which just needs to be kinda like, electronically and fun and live in that world with maybe, you know, some tabla of beats that are more living in the hip hop world.

Keshav Kant
Yeah, and it works really well! That was something I mentioned in my review as I was talking about how the score follows the show so well. From how you move from scene to scene, you see Kamala, in high school, you have the like, it’s very upbeat, it’s very youthful. Then you know, she’s in the second episode, especially, you know, she’s got her swag. She’s confident she’s moving people. And then you go from that to the Pakistani clothing store.

Laura Karpman
Right.

Keshav Kant
And there’s a shift and it’s so seamless.

Laura Karpman
Right?

Keshav Kant
And it’s part of my job to make sure I’m cognizant of those things. But even then, it was so smooth. I was like, Wait, what did something just shift? When did that happen? That was so well done.

And it was that I’m very glad that you brought up all the South Asian instruments because that was my next question. I noticed so many just like things playing in the background. There’s the tabla, the dhol, the violin. It’s like the violin almost had this sārangī-like tone to it? It was so well done.

Laura Karpman
Good ear! He (Raaginder) plays it like a sārangī but he’s playing a Western violin, although it looks like it has multi strings but he’s really got his own thing that is fantastic. He brought a lot to the score. And he’s got a really, really unusual sound that is its own thing.

Which for me in many ways that kind of embodies, you know, Kamala I mean, the energy the pop-i-ness of it, but also the seriousness and the legacy of it, because she’s living in her legacy. So, you know, she is- she is the living embodiment of her ancestors and and and you’ll see that as the show goes on, more and more, you know, and so I think, in many ways finding Raaginder and that particular sound with that particular instrument, I mean, there’s a little sārangī in the score as well too.

But, really having that voice is a great bridge. It does all the things, it’s a Western instrument but it’s being played in very much a South Asian style, yet it’s unique. It’s not quite, it’s not quite like sārangī, it’s not quite like a Western violin. It’s sitting someplace in this middle ground. And I think that it’s a direct analogy to sort of who she is, in my mind.

Keshav Kant
I couldn’t agree more. I think that’s the conversation I have with quite a few people who grew up in the diaspora of just like, after a certain- there’s a very unique experience of like when you’ve lived in, let’s say, the West for a certain amount of time. You’re not quite South Asian, the same way someone from like back home would be and those differences can be very minute . But it’s very clear amongst the community that if I talk to my cousins back home, I can confidently say their English is far better than mine. I speak Canadian English. It’s very accented. It’s very slang. But the tones and the way we say things, it’s very different.

Laura Karpman
Are you Canadian?

Keshav Kant
I am, I spent most of my life in Toronto actually,

Laura Karpman
In Toronto, you know? My mother was from Toronto.

Keshav Kant
Really?

Laura Karpman
I’m actually a Canadian citizen. We spent all last year in Vancouver.

Keshav Kant
You know, I’m heavily debating if I just want to move to Vancouver at this point.

Laura Karpman
Vancouver’s cool.

Keshav Kant
It is cool. I feel like the art scene and the creative scene there are just very different compared to Toronto.

Laura Karpman
It’s small and it’s not as international of a city. I mean, you know, Vancouver is really about like the outdoors. I mean, if you want to if you’re into all of that, that is the major but anyway, that’s another thing but you’re right, of course.

You’re a Torontonian, you’re a Canadian and you have rich attachments to your background, and I think I think that that’s the whole of it. And it’s, I don’t want to say conflict because conflict isn’t the right word. But that’s the complexity of it, I think. That’s where you’ve got to kind of figure out where all of that plays and that is what we spent the most time working on. Like when do we want to use a South Asian element? Do we want to do it in the high schools, do we not? How much a part of her is? Is this at this moment, you know, there are transformations that happened to her?

But in those first episodes, two episodes, in particular, she’s Pakistani, she’s an American teenager. Yet, you know, that’s the thing and you know that, of course intimately well. Those are the those are things that we’ve talked a lot about, but we but also and you know, it’s funny you bring up Lovecraft because I had many, many of these same conversations with Lovecraft country. Did you watch the whole show?

Keshav Kant
I absolutely did.

Laura Karpman
Okay, so Episode Four is the one where they’re doing basically Raiders of the Lost Ark, right? They’re going in their final thing. Misha Green is the showrunner on that show, and I talked to Sana a lot about this too, we talked about I want Raiders of Lost Art for Black people. She wanted me to lean into the cinematic language of like the whole history of, of sort of action-adventure music and not make it anything but that because that in and of itself, was a statement.

Lovecraft Country Ep. 4 A History Of Violence

So for Kamala we definitely wanted to, she had to be an MCU superhero. Like you can’t just make it, you know, but you can’t just make it only a South Asian extravaganza because that’s a part of who she is, but not the totality of who she is. She needs to be a superhero with that as a part of who and what she is and, and so that was the charge and that was the balancing act, you know?

Keshav Kant
Absolutely. I think that that’s something that we often don’t talk about, which is that it in Kamala and other people. Whether you know, as we saw it in Moon Knight with Mohammed Diab, the entire team, the way they crafted the score so beautifully. We saw it with Ryan Coogler in Black Panther and all the work they- Kendrick Lamar did. The location plays such a vital role in how you interpret the sound. And with Kamala, the fact that she’s from Jersey is a very big part of who she is.

Laura Karpman
That’s right.

Keshav Kant
Which speaks to the community of South Asians that are in Jersey and you touched on how like there’s the shifting like when she expresses her Pakistani-ness and you see it in like the cuffs she wears like at the costume event.

Laura Karpman
But she struggles with that!

Keshav Kant
She does, she absolutely does, yeah.

Laura Karpman
She struggles with that. That’s the whole first episode is her struggling with that. With what she sort of fantasizes she should be and then what she actually is. I think that that that’s but the music has to follow that, you know?

It’s got to follow her journey of finding her way to being a superhero in every possible manifestation of what that means, what that word means in a superhero. You know, it’s coming of age story, as much of it as anything else where, you know, when you come of age, if you’re queer, if you’re South Asian, whatever you are you have to find the way that that identity is opposed upon you, but also function works with you or for you or against you. That is the navigation and all of that has to be closely followed by music.

Basically, we set up all the synth stuff in the beginning all the fun high school bouncy stuff, then that synth starts to incorporate a little tabla, little dhol. Then it turns a little bit more serious come Avenger Con, the orchestra enters in a very, very MCU-y way. I mean, we’ve talked a lot about and thought a lot about. Like it’s this kind of fractile right that here we are in the MCU working for the MCU. But she’s looking at us in a way, right? She’s on the outside looking at, you know, and all the work that that that we’ve done as a part of the creators of the MCU.

Keshav Kant
Yeah, and it’s that that world within a world is so visible, especially when even in the intro sequence alone. I think I’m gonna reference my review because I put it in there. My review was 1600 words of just me talking about how much I love the show.

Laura Karpman
Oh I’m so glad oh my god, wait to see the other episodes, you’ll go out of your mind.

Keshav Kant
I bet! We also have a biweekly podcast and I’ve already told my co-hosts I am about to be insufferable.

Laura Karpman
That’s Marvel! We’re insuff- we’re insufferable about it here. We’re just crazy about the show. Crazy!

Keshav Kant
And it shows! I mentioned this because in the first like four and a half minutes of the show, we basically the Weekend’s like Blinding Lights comes in, the sound is playing it’s beautiful. It’s jazzy, it’s live. Then in comes, Kamala’s fan edit of Carol Danvers’ Hero’s Journey. In those four minutes I was like this show has me hooked.

Iman Vellani as Ms. Marvel/Kamala Khan in Marvel Studios’ MS. MARVEL. Photo by Daniel McFadden. ©Marvel Studios 2022. All Rights Reserved.

Laura Karpman

Yeah, and that’s the moment where you have to do that. Leaning back to what I was saying about Lovecraft, that’s where you lean in and you say, Hey, welcome to the MCU you’re one of us, you know, and you’re up there with Captain America, T’Challa and everybody else who’s in there. So I think that that’s what we’re seeing at that moment.

Keshav Kant
I know it’s definitely very noticeable. It calls back to the old animated scores that used to play we had with Tarzan, with the Prince of Egypt. I still it’s been years I will still play the Prince of Egypt soundtrack on my way to and from work, just driving. It has that staying quality where you just want to enjoy the music as its own thing outside of the show.

Laura Karpman
Well, we’ll be I think that soundtrack is coming up very soon. For the first three episodes.

Keshav Kant
Well, I’m very excited because I that I already had the Moon Knight soundtrack saved so I’m gonna keep refreshing my Spotify tomorrow when it pops up. Well, you actually just in this conversation you already answered questions three and four.

Laura Karpman
All right!

Keshav Kant
Let’s move on to the fifth one. Marvel Studios and The Walt Disney Company, I promise I’m not gonna get us in trouble. So if you can’t say anything, feel free to omit whatever, Ms. Marvel isn’t the only project with Kamala you worked on. You’re also working on The Marvel’s, it’s already in post-production, it’s supposed to come out next year, God willing nothing happens. Because who knows what time is anymore. Can you share anything about what that project was like for you? Can we get any hints of what that sound might be like?

Laura Karpman
You know, no, but I will say we are still very much working on that.

Keshav Kant
Okay.

Laura Karpman
Yeah, that is really, you know, next in the queue.

Keshav Kant
Okay.

Laura Karpman
I can tell you that it’s going to be great and the costumes and the director are fantastic. And you know, Kamala Khan and her family are beautiful, beautiful new members of the MCU.

Keshav Kant
They are, they’ve all stolen my heart. Especially there was a little scene where Muneeba and Yusuf are alone in the house together and they’re having their little romantic moment dancing to old songs. It was beautiful.

Laura Karpman
When she’s looking on the- when she’s looking on.

Keshav Kant
It’s yeah, it was all right. Well, that leads me to my last question. What do you want the audience to know as they go into the series?

Laura Karpman
I think I want them to know that absolutely everything that we have done in every aspect of the show but certainly in the music has been carefully considered and carefully constructed to really match who Kamala is and all the complexities of that. It’s very much along the lines of what we’ve been talking about it because she’s a very, very rich character, she’s multifaceted.

I will say this just from my own standpoint, making music on this show and these collaborations that I’ve had with a whole I mean I’m looking at the list of South Asian musicians, these 15 musicians have been fabulous and totally eye-opening for me. Just making music with people and coming up with new stuff and inventing stuff on the spot and working it out has been just deeply satisfying for me artistically and we’re still high off the off of making music for this show.

Keshav Kant
I can only imagine I mean, I only recently got into the world of production after I decided to no longer pursue medicine and I’ve been fortunate enough to work on small projects here and there.

Laura Karpman
Oh, awesome.

Keshav Kant
And it’s been so fulfilling. So to imagine getting to work on something at such a high grand level with such large impact. I can’t even comprehend it but you did a stellar job.

Laura Karpman
This is- this is a job where everybody wanted everything to succeed. And so all you know it just the orchestra played great all these musicians contributed such astonishing artistry and I think people will hear it and see it and feel it.

Keshav Kant
I’m sure I certainly did. And I can’t speak for everyone, but I know they will too. Thank you so much for taking the time.

Laura Karpman
My pleasure. Thanks for asking for the interview!

+ posts

Keshav Kant, aka Mx. KantEven, is a neuroscience nerd turned Creative Consultant and Executive Director of Off Colour!

You’ve probably seen her on TikTok or caught her work on Off Colour's many channels. From consulting on films & shows, manuscript review, conducting interviews, or hosting podcasts & panels, if there is some way to bring sensitivity and authenticity to diversity, inclusion and equity conversations, Keshav will be there.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: