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Laura Karpman on remixing the sound of the Marvel universe with What If…?

Laura Karpman (What If...?)

On Right on Cue, Editor-in-Chief Clint Worthington talks to film, TV, and video game composers about the origins and nuances of their latest works, along with commentaries on the score’s most important tracks.

Given the sprawling nature of the decade-old Marvel Cinematic Universe, it makes sense that Phase Four would be dedicated to breaking apart the house they’ve built and changing around the pieces to see what happens. We’ve had alternate realities with WandaVision and Loki, of course, but Disney+’s latest, the animated What If…?, is a pure alternate-universe thought exercise. Overseen by Uatu the Watcher (Jeffrey Wright), What If…? escorts us through an anthology of stories that plays merry hob with the Marvel universe as we know it, placing old heroes in new contexts and giving us a side of these superheroes we haven’t seen before.

What if Peggy Carter took the super-soldier serum? What if Thor grew up an only child? What if Black Panther villain Killmonger saved Tony Stark’s life? These are the settings for What If…?‘s nine episodes, often telling alternate versions of the stories we already know or plopping familiar characters in all-new settings.

Such scope, married to the need to touch base with Marvel’s existing musical catalog, needs the deft hand of someone like veteran composer Laura Karpman. A five-time Emmy winner (and Grammy winner for the album Ask Your Mana), Karpman has written scores for film, TV, video games, documentaries, and more since the ’90s — a major feat given that female film composers were even rarer now than they were today.

In order to advance the cause of gender parity in film composing, Karpman co-founded the Alliance for Women Film Composers and is currently the first female governor of the music branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Most recently, she (along with co-composer Raphael Saadiq) was nominated for an Emmy for their work on HBO’s Lovecraft Country.

On this week’s podcast, Karpman talks to me about her early days breaking into the world of film composing, the creative freedom working with Marvel’s open hand and resources provides, and the unique challenges of forging your own musical mosaic from the shattered glass of the Marvel Universe to date.

You can find Laura Karpman at her official website here.

What If…” is currently streaming on Disney+; you can listen to episodic soundtracks from the series on your music streaming service of choice, courtesy of Marvel Music.

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Clint Worthington

Clint Worthington is the founder and editor-in-chief of The Spool, as well as one of the founders of the website/podcast Alcohollywood in 2011. He is also a Senior Writer at Consequence of Sound, as well as the co-host/producer of Travolta/Cage. You can also find his freelance work at IndieWire, UPROXX, Syfy Wire, The Takeout, and Crooked Marquee.