Things are sounding grim for the Powerpuff Girls on the Paramount lot's Soundstage M: Horns blare deep, ominous tones, accented by fretful notes from a worried string section. In the studio, James L. Venable monitors the recording of The Powerpuff Girls Movie score, asking the conductor to lead the 50-piece orchestra through a tricky passage that sounds, in his estimation, "a bit train-wrecky." (For the series, he writes and performs the electronica score himself.)
The next attempt goes smoothly, leading him to observe with a smile, "It sounds good when it's played right." Soon comes the show's trademark dramatic "Bom-bom-bommm!" "We didn't invent that, but we certainly capitalized on it," Venable says with a laugh.
"I really like to write in extremes," says Venable. "If it's got action, I like to take it to another level. It's fun if I get to scream out, as opposed to getting out of the way. Because Powerpuff Girls is animated, it's really over the top. If they're sad, they're really sad." His Powerpuff Girls work won an Annie from the International Animation Society as well as an Emmy nomination.
Venable listened to old monster movie scores and electronica from acts like the Chemical Brothers and Propellerheads to achieve the series' unique sound; that gig led to his work on another Cartoon Network sensation, Samurai Jack, which allowed him to explore Eastern music and aided him on another score, for the film Iron Monkey.
Filmmaker Kevin Smith collaborated with Venable on both the Clerks animated series and the movie Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back, where the composer indulged his love for John Williams-style action-movie music. "I was lucky because they did parodies of those kind of movies," he says. And Bubbles, Blossom and Buttercup helped him there, too, he notes: "Jay and Silent Bob were approached as cartoon characters."