As a film soundtrack addict, it was a complete thrill to work on CHRYSALIS with so many talented people. Director John Klein and his fantastic team pulled a rabbit out of the hat with this one -- a beautifully made horror film with character focus, tons of atmosphere, and one that pays off the requisite thrills and chills (and gore!) I'm proud to be part of it.
I must say, though: I bit off more than I could chew. This crazy thing took about twenty-four months of work. Between the fundraising trailers, the early concepts, the feature itself, the bonus material, and the ton o' stuff that got reworked, I wrote nearly two-and-a-half hours of music. This is very common for the film world, but when you're used to dashing off 45 min. of music for an average record, it was a marathon. I wanted to create a score like Howard Shore's SCANNERS, where every moment builds and evolves on the sound and every scene in the film has something new to say musically. This makes SCANNERS like a mini-symphony that you can hear apart from the movie. However, I had no idea how long it would take to create this min-symphony. Towards the end of the process, I saw (yet again) John Carpenter's ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13, where Carpenter reuses about 20 minutes of cues over and over and over (to great effect); I thought, "Jeez, that's what I should have done!"
John Klein was the producer of my film UNDER THE TABLE. When doing that one, we talked about the horror market and horror movies and our mutual love of zombies. I was very pleased when he announced his third feature as a horror flick (his previous two had been dramas). And I was doubly pleased when he asked me to be the composer. It was a nice vote of confidence that my combination of experimentation, pop, and noise could pay off in creating this world.
Unlike scores I might do for my own films, John wanted to avoid a pure synth soundtrack, one perhaps rooted in the apex of my favorite period -- the mid-1970s through the early 1980s. Films such as DAWN OF THE DEAD, HALLOWEEN, PHASE IV, DARK STAR, THE FOG, ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK, MANIAC, THE FUNHOUSE, SHOCK WAVES, etc. are similar to my usual analog notions. I was able to fit a few of those things in for stingers or subtle nods, but the majority of the influence is more modern scores such as DRIVE by Cliff Martinez, MONSTERS by Jon Hopkins, or THE SOCIAL NETWORK by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross .
Using a combination of piano, strings, synths, bass guitar, and electric guitar, I created a dense, atmospheric set. Usually, I write in isolation and then my music is used as library tracks through a project. For this, I scored to picture. (There's more about this process in the Blu-Ray documentaries that accompany the film.) John would give notes and I would adjust, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. But, it was a friendly back and forth, rooted in our agreed approach.
Three notions were very prevalent during the writing.
First, one of the unique things about CHRYSALIS's storyline is that it's set in the second generation after the zombie apocalypse. This world is totally destroyed and the surviving humans have literally grown up in this rubble. Therefore, they're not familiar with music or melody. The score, in many places, is a serious of dark drones laid over old public domain recordings and "found" material, as if the wind itself is blowing away the last of civilization. You can imagine the sound as if it were a blurry photograph, more faded each year. Creating that in a musical way, I eschewed melody in favor of a thick layer of cracking dust sprinkled on top of everything. Often, the recordings are bounced a few times or degraded; you quite frequently hear the tape hum or the digital remnants of bad transfers. For me, William Basinski's THE DISINTEGRATION LOOPS quadrilogy was an inspiration for how far we could push it. Because of this, I think the score for CHRYSALIS is simultaneously one of my best recordings and also one of the worst, depending on your perspective.
Secondly, breaking through this drone, there is a whole heap of memory. These characters have lived significant lives prior to the start of the film -- lives full of sorrow, and lost loved ones, and choices for survival. During early work, we hit on the notion of echoes. Like Jerry Goldsmith's score for ALIEN, there are tons of manually operated echo effects and delays. Nothing was created digitally -- all by hand (and, sometimes hard to reproduce, if John requested a change). All the stereo loveliness and bouncing, whether part of a shocking moment or a quiet one, was a hardware effect pedal plugged directly into the instrument. This is especially prevalent on the Yamaha CP70 piano, where you hear the flaws of the delay as I turn the nobs, to sometimes unintended (but beautiful!) results. We decided early on not to use any drums; however, we needed some rhythms, particularly for the zombie attack scenes, to up the suspense. These were created by using effects pedals and either a) hitting the top of the piano or b) hitting my bass guitar with a drum stick. This gave all the percussion a very cool uniqueness. The drums aren't even loops, but are exactly as the sound came across through the board.
Lastly, we did realize at a point, that the score was going to need some more beauty. It always had an aching quality to it, but over the course of a two-hour movie, we were concerned it might become monotonous. My original intention was to have tones for each character's theme, but when it came to the main theme of the two lovers, played by Cole Simon and Sara Gorsky, we wanted more. I was skeptical at first, but pulled out the ol' piano and started to create a more traditional theme out of the existing chords. I really hadn't intended to use piano at all. What came about was a big surprise. I wanted to make the notes sparse, but give them some pop among the ambience. So I threw a chorus pedal on there -- which I never do. Since the 1980s, I've hated the chorus effect -- overused, cheesy, sucky. But when I played the burgeoning love theme additions through the CP70 and that chorus pedal, not only was it perfect, it was totally... Vangelis. I have always adored Vangelis's scores for THE BOUNTY and BLADE RUNNER. And, I've always wondered how he got that amazing piano sound for things such as "Memories of Green." And, well, now I know. CP70 through a chorus pedal. Voila. Melodically, cues like "Never Leave You Behind" and "Happy Birthday" are similar to Vangelis without getting too close to theft. But that sound of the piano, totally lifted that.
One thing to note: my daughter Charlotte sings on this soundtrack. My son Liam was the big singer on previous records, such as the cool-ass 123. There was just a point in the process where I thought the score needed a more human quality. Charlotte's voice, though she's only 7 at the time, sounds much older, more like a teen. And she indulged me with twenty minutes of "oohs" and "ahhs" and a coupla melodies (again through effects pedals) that resulted in one of the more interesting elements of the soundtrack.
So, it's 75 minutes of music from the movie. Even if you've never seen the movie, even if you're just a fan of film scores, my music, or ambient music in general, it should provide an independent listening experience for the imagination. And thank you for reading all this. Since you're so cool and all, here's an exclusive bonus track.