14 Peaks on Netflix: behind the scenes with the composer of the documentary's orchestral score
Nainita Desai, the composer behind the epic soundtrack of Netflix's latest documentary, explains how she created the music to match the vast scale of the mountains...
14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible is Netflix's latest hit documentary, chronicling the journey taken by Nepali mountaineer Nirmal 'Nims' Purja in his quest to summit all 14 of the world's 8000-metre peaks in seven months – breaking one of mountaineering's toughest records.
The documentary has landed on Netflix with epic footage of Purja's journey accompanied by a breathtaking orchestral score by British-Indian composer Nainita Desai. She previously scored the Oscar 2020 nominated film For Sama, and has written for both the small and big screens.
The score was recorded at London's Abbey Road Studio 1 by the London Contemporary Orchestra, under the baton of conductor Robert Ames. It's by far their first foray into soundtracks, having previously performed scores for video games, documentaries and films such as Phantom Thread. The orchestra's leader, Galya Bisengalieva, plays the violin solos heard throughout the score.
These solo lines are paired with lush, broad orchestral playing. 'I knew that strings would be a huge feature, because they could handle the vast landscapes of the region, but I could also bring it down to a single emotion, with intimacy and warmth,' says Desai.
In approaching the score, she admits she was initially intimidated by the scale of the production and the stories being told on screen. 'The huge challenge I faced was to match the scale of the imagery with the music,' she says. 'There are 14 mountains to summit here. The challenge is to represent the climbing of each mountain in a different way.'
Choosing the instrumentation for the score was somewhat easier. 'I knew right from the outset that the sound palette would be symphonic,' she says. 'I'm using the orchestra in a very contemporary modern way to appeal to a universal audience, but also to bring out elements of the cultural heritage.'
She researched the sounds of the landscapes and communities depicted on screen, particularly the soundworlds and traditional music of Nepal. 'I love to research,' she says. 'Writing the score for this film was like preparing for my own mountain climb.
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'You do hear smatterings of plucked scores that are local to the region. The way the strings are played has a raspiness and a rawness to them, to get across the local instrumentation you find in Nepalese music.'
It was the wild expanses and complex human emotions at the centre of Purja's story which provided inspiration for Desai's score. After all, Purja was constantly exploring the line between life and death while climbing these epic mountains. 'He shows what it means to be human,' she says. 'The music had to encapsulate the huge range of emotions and the experience he was going through.'
14 Peaks: Nothing is Impossible is available to watch on Netflix now.
You can stream Nainita Desai's score for 14 Peaks now on Spotify and Apple Music. You can buy the mp3 downloads from Amazon.
Freya Parr is BBC Music Magazine's Digital Editor and Staff Writer. She has also written for titles including the Guardian, Circus Journal, Frankie and Suitcase Magazine, and runs The Noiseletter, a fortnightly arts and culture publication. Freya's main areas of interest and research lie in 20th-century and contemporary music.