When you think of an iconic film or film series, whether it's romance, sci-fi, Disney, or horror, you don't just think of the picture that's occupying your brain. The music plays a major part in fixating those images and creating those memories. The music and sound can set the tone and make the most horrifying visuals even more terrifying than if there was no sound at all.
Movie composer superduo Tomandandy understand, which is why they were painstakingly careful and calculated when composing the film score for the highly-anticipated horror blockbuster, Sinister 2. The sequel features the return of one of the most horrific horror icons to date, the "sinister" (see what I did there?) diety Bughuul. I recently had the pleasure of speaking with Andy, one half of the duo, about what it was like to work on the score, how they were able to match the original score that Christopher Young composed in the first film, and how they were able to make those "kill-films" so much more terrifying for audiences through the appropriation of sound.
When were you first approached about this project, and what drew you into it initially?
Yeah! Well, we had actually worked with Ciaran Foy, the director on his previous film, Citadel, and had a great experience, and had been keeping in touch. We knew he was coming to the states and getting connected to things. So we were aware of the possibility of Sinister for us pretty early. I don’t know exactly when we finally got the “go” call. I know there was some interest in trying to use Chris Young, because he did an amazing score for the first one. I think he was unavailable, so we got the call! It was really neat, actually, because in working on Citadel with Ciaran, it had been completely over phones and Skype and FedEx, because he was in Ireland and we were in New York, and the budget just wasn’t big enough for us to travel. It was really neat to be finally able to get together and work on something in the same room. It was really cool.
That’s fantastic. Going back on what you said earlier about Christopher Young doing the score for the first film, I feel like he kind of set the bar for any future sequels, because the music was so frickin’ terrifying, just with the way that it would accent each scene. From what I’ve heard though, I’d say that you guys were able to match that, if not exceed it.
Well thank you!
You’re very welcome! What would you say that you guys were able to bring to table when composing the score for this one, that was able to allow you to leave your own, I guess, fingerprint on the film, in terms of the music?
Well, first that’s awesome! I felt the same way you did about the Christopher Young score. I thought he did an amazing score. I had actually noticed that score before we even got this gig. Once we got the gig, Tom and I both spent a bunch of time going through it really carefully, because we had a lot of respect for it. It clearly worked really well. I thought it was really inventive, and I thought it had a voice that was really striking and clearly, if we were going to be doing a sequel, it somehow had to be informed by the first score. In fact, we went through the original score with Ciaran as well, looking for things that we felt could relate to the second film. We went so far as to license a small piece of that first score so that we could literally reuse it in the second, because it felt like it belonged! There was a color in that first score that we felt really needed to reappear, so that was really neat. I’m actually really proud of the connection between Chris Young’s score and what we’ve done on Sinister 2. We’ve tried to treat it with great respect, and I think we made a nice connection to it.
Where I think we’re different is in a couple of places. There’s a different sort of emotional arc in the sequel. Without giving anything away, I’ll just say that you come to care about some people in the sequel in a different way. There’s a family unit in the sequel that’s really interesting. The writing and the acting I find really compelling, and especially in the context of horror, where sometimes you don’t have the time for character development and time to get emotionally invested in everybody, there’s a little space for that here in the sequel. That allowed for use in the music to find a little heart, a little emotional core for the family that I think gives the sequel a slightly different color, and frankly makes the horror a lot more painful and a lot more horrific (laughs).
I mean, listen, I love horror. One of the things I love about horror is manipulating the audience and manipulating their emotions. If you can get people to really care about these characters and be invested in them, you’ve got your talons in the audience even more deeply, and I think we were able to do that in Sinister 2. I’m really proud of that.
That led us, actually, to using a bit more traditional orchestra than we originally thought, given where the Chris Young score was coming from, and given the cold and brutal nature of the material. There’s actually a little bit of living strings and warmth at the foundation of the Sinister 2 score. It’s of course covered in distortion, anxiety, and tension, but I think having that element in there gives it its own personality.
Man, I’m getting so excited about seeing this movie even more now. (laughs)
(laughs) Yeah me too! For me, it’s so much fun seeing it with a big audience. I just get all excited to see how people react in person, and see if the scares work, see if the people care about the characters. I’m really looking forward to it, it’s really exciting for me too.
I think one of the most iconic moments in the first film, and it looks like it’s going to be that way in the second one, is the Super-8 film screenings that go on in the attic. How did you create the ambience for those scenes? I know that in the first film, there were a lot of needle drops used within those scenes.
Absolutely. Well I have to say, that I’m totally with you on that. We call them “kill films”. Those kill films in the first movie are visually striking but also sonically. A lot of credit actually goes to Scott Derrikson, the director of the first film, because I believe the majority of those kill films are actually source music that he sourced from different, very obscure, fascinating, crazy, dark corners of death metal, musique concrete, and experimental electronic music. I think it’s part of what makes them so disturbing, that they’re so not score like. They’re so disjunct from each other. We did a very similar thing on Sinister 2!
Scott and Ciaran found a lot of amazing source music for these kill films. We worked to kind of weave them together in an ambient way, so that there was a frame around them that connected them to the film. As you pointed out, you’re right. Things like projector sounds that get distorted and twisted, electronic drones that are musical but also like sound effects; we use a lot of those material in those kill films. In the first film, they show them in the attic. In the second film, they have them in the basement. It’s even darker, and I think heavier. The air is heavy. It’s cold, and it’s a scary sound down there. We’ve worked to create a heavy frame so those kill films can really breathe on their own.
I guess after seeing the first movie and the trailer for this second film, I’d say that Bughull that I wouldn’t say could be up there with slasher-movie icons because he’s not necessarily a slasher, but because he’s horrifying on his own level. I feel like there’s a lot of subtlety in his presence whenever he appears or whenever he may be right there. How were you able to use the music to build up the moments where he was on screen, or hint that he was near?
It’s great that you noticed that. That’s something that I can definitely tell that Chris Young paid attention to in his score. We tried to take that baton and carry it on in the second score. In fact, the little piece that we licensed in the Chris Young score is this kind of groaning sound that doesn’t actually correspond with Bughuul so much, but with the chest in which the camera is contained. You do also sometimes hear it around Bughuul. It’s definitely a Bughuul sort of signature sound. We took that from the Chris Young score, and built in and around it, and extended it to some tortured, kind-of quasi-religious sounding, ancient vocal things that we developed for setting up the appearance Bughuul and when you are actually confronted with his face.
What we discovered in working through it is that if you can establish something that your brain remembers, that you can associate with Bughuul, (because) he’s so visually striking and disturbing…if you can lock into the head of the viewer the relationship between the disturbing image of his face and some musical phrase, and you hint at that musical phrase, then frankly it’s the old Jaws trick from the John Williams score. You can now use a little hint of that thing, that little musical texture. It can be very subtle, but you’re on edge, because you can sense that he’s probably going to appear again. Once we realized that we had a device like that, we made good use of it. (laughs)
I’m really glad that you’re totally into the score and the film as I am. I think this is making great conversation. (laughs)
(laughs) Well thank you for listening! You know in horror, it’s so easy to overlook the score because, you know, it’s in the foreground and there’s so much else that’s going on. It’s fun talking to someone that listens to it. It’s really neat!
This last question is one that ask to generally every artist, composer, and musician that I interview. I’ve started to reference it as my James Lipton question at this point. (laughs) What does music mean to you?
Oh boy. That’s a great question! That should be your James Lipton question (laughs). For me, music is an opportunity to communicate and manipulate, hopefully in a considered way, the emotional state of an audience. In particular, the thing that I’ve come to love about music, the way I make music and relate to it, is how it can compliment stories and visuals. It’s a funny thing, you know. It’s clear that the story and visual is occupying most of your grey matter, but the piece that music can contribute to your emotional state and the way you take in the story, I just find magical. It’s like alchemy. Every time we put music or sound to picture, and to me, it’s the most fun thing that I can do. It’s my favorite thing. So music to me is the opportunity to play with that.
Sinister 2 opens in theaters this Friday, August 21. For more ticketing information, visit www.fandango.com to find your nearest theater and showtime information.
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