The Sound Of Fear

Jaws – One of Horror's High Notes: Exploring The Sound of Fear

Jaws in Concert has just had its UK premiere and it’s Halloween, so what better way to celebrate the music of Jaws and horror film music in general than with horrors high notes: exploring the Sound of Fear?

The Daily Jaws (TDJ) Chief Writer, Dean Newman, does the musical monster mash with Jaws fan Charlie Brigden (CB), who writes the amazing Sound of Fear, a documentary style podcast chronicling the history of horror music from Frankenstein to Friday the 13th, by way of Jaws. Naturally.

For anyone who likes movies, film scores or horror, it really is a must-hear.

TDJ: The Sound of Fear opens with a great setting of the scene of the important part music plays in films with excerpts from Jaws and Friday the 13th, why those two film in particular?

CB: Well I wanted to start with Jaws for two reasons; firstly because it's the single strongest connection I could think of between a film score and a natural situation where the score changes us to a point that the situation suddenly feels like something threatening, and also because it's so instantly recognisable. Horror isn't everyone's favourite genre so I wanted to find an example that would immediately clue people in who weren't Horror fans - after all the show is meant for a very general audience. And Jaws was perfect. Friday the 13th was a result of looking for a partner for Jaws, and it's really down to the same qualities, being instantly recognisable and to instill a new emotional feeling into a formerly "normal" setting.

TDJ: What are your first memorable horror music moments when you were young?

CB: I guess Jaws is the obvious one, but mainly monster movies – Steiner’s King Kong, Ifukube’s Godzilla, those big lumbering tones, but also James Bernard’s sweeping Hammer scores for Dracula and Frankenstein and also things like Laurie Johnson’s Captain Kronos: Vampire Hunter. Hammer was pretty good because my mum would watch them with me as a kid as she thought they weren’t too bad for me (and she didn’t know I was also watching video nasties with my sisters).

TDJ: The Sound of Fear is a sumptuous musical horror family tree of how the sound of horror films have evolved over the decades, where did the idea come from to create the podcast and who is it for/aimed at?

CB: The idea really came from a few things. My love of horror is a big one clearly, but I was previously creating podcasts about scores I loved or felt were a bit underheard and trying to provide a sense of context. I mean, with streaming now you have movies at your fingertips 24/7 but there's little to no sense of when these movies were made and what was behind them. Certainly there's been a lack of this kind of thing for film music outside of books aside from Neil K. Brand's BBC documentary Sound of Cinema, so I wanted to do something like that and aim it at the general public, not necessarily horror geeks or even score fans. I've had some criticisms that it doesn't always go incredibly deep, but that was never the aim.

TDJ: Have you a favourite era of horror music that was covered by one of the episodes?

CB: I'd say the Universal Monsters era. Firstly those movies produced a ton of great music, but they were also trendsetting in terms of the use of music once movies had begun transitioning to sound, like The Mummy, which was an early movie with actual underscore instead of just main and end title music. It’s also been somewhat ignored, especially compared to a lot of movies from the 40’s and whatever that have had re-recordings – other than Bride of Frankenstein and a few others, the Universal Monsters have had little, which is disappointing considering their significance and the legion of merchandise already available. My favourite episode was the giallo/slasher one, just really for what we were able to cover in that episode and the sheer amount of information!

TDJ: The episodes must take an awful lot of research for the details and also the most suitable snippets of music. How long does it normally take to put an episode together from script to completion?

CB: It depends on how my kids are sleeping! I mean, usually about two to three weeks although recently it’s taken a month or so for each just because of mitigating circumstances. Really it depends on how much material is previously out there and how much real information, as to how much context we can provide as opposed to just analysis. Sourcing the music is similar – sadly there’s still a lot of stuff unreleased so a lot of the time it’s taken directly from the film soundtracks. I like to be able to play just the music as much as possible but that’s just not always possible, unfortunately.

TDJ: Your wife narrates the series, is she a horror music fan as well? Has she had much input into the series?

CB: She loves horror as a film genre more than the music, but she appreciates it and will suggest inclusions, as well as deciding what works where and how it’s interpreted for the audience. Because she has that unique objectivity, she’s able to help visualise what listeners will appreciate, and is willing to push back when I get too obtuse, which is often.

TDJ: What positive feedback have you had about the series?

CB: A lot of people have told me how it’s really helped their understanding of not only horror music but film music, and that it’s a good line between education and entertainment. Really that’s what I’m going for, to try and help people appreciate this music that has gone for so long without mainstream appreciation.

TDJ: Have you considered a Jaws Sound of Fear special? (Am sure would prove really popular anyway or post the event)

CB: It wasn’t under the Sound of Fear banner but when I was doing Moviedrone podcasts I did a Jaws special – I may go back to that and re-do it with Sound of Fear as it was great fun.

TDJ: Jaws recently played live at the Royal Albert Hall, did you get to go?

CB: Sadly not – I love all these live scores conceptually but London is a fair way away and I usually find it logistically impossible to make them, which is a massive shame.

TDJ: What makes the Jaws score – not just the main theme – such a classic?

CB: It’s an emotionally gripping score – it immediately gets in your head and your gut and stays there. Being eaten by something in the water is about as primal a fear as we can have as a species, and Williams plays on that in a genius way, and that theme just hits you psychologically. It’s like in the film – “You yell barracuda, everybody’s like huh, what? But you yell shark, and suddenly you have a chorus of swimmers with the same two notes reverberating in their head.” Williams also did great with the Orca scenes, the whole bonding of the crew and the shark chase, it’s all thrilling and just so incredibly tense and sticks in your mind.

Discover more about the Jaws score here:

TDJ: Have you a favourite musical moment or track?

CB: The Ben Gardner’s Boat scene as above, also ‘Man Vs Beast’ is just essential, the threat of the shark and the three guys working together to counteract it. And then there’s ‘Quint’s Tale’, which is just haunting.

TDJ: Are you a fan of any of the other Jaws scores? I think Jaws 2 is just as powerful as the first one and have a soft spot for Jaws 3D and enjoy the main them of Jaws the Revenge.

CB: I love them all – they all have different qualities they bring to the franchise that isn’t just based on using the shark theme. Jaws 2 is amazing and has more gorgeous themes, 3-D has a really stirring take on it all, and Jaws the Revenge is really eerie, especially with the use of synthesisers.

TDJ: The live movie score experience has really flourished of late, why do you think they are so popular?

CB: Not everyone loves rock and pop concerts, so it’s a great alternative of people who love these movies and their music, to hear them live with an orchestra but also with the film, so they can sing along with both the music and the dialogue. It’s also a great introduction to the classical side of things, which traditionally can be very intimidating to audiences.

TDJ: They can only be a good thing for film music, right?

CB: Definitely. More performances leads to more appreciation and hopefully more money coming in to show the potential of film music as its own genre.

TDJ: What live film scores have you seen live? (I’ve done BTTF, Aliens and Jaws at the RAH)

CB: Sadly none – see above!

TDJ: What would you like to see that hasn’t been performed love to see them do?  I’d love the see The Omen.

CB: The Omen would be amazing – that choir! I’d love to see Star Trek – The Motion Picture, but on a horror basis Bride of Frankenstein and Carrie, just because they’re such beautiful, potent scores. I’d also love to see people perform The Texas Chain Saw Massacre life – done right, that could be horrifying. In a good way.

TDJ: Have you a personal top five favourite horror score or tracks?

CB: Oh jesus, this’ll be a nightmare. OK, let me try five.

Bride of Frankenstein, Franz Waxman. ‘The Creation’ is just amazing, it’s a wild, wild piece with a wonderful musical heartbeat and amazing uses of the Bride’s theme, just incredible sumptuous sophisticated music.

Jaws, John Williams. ‘Ben Gardner’s Boat’ has always been an example to me of how that score is so much more than just those two notes, and it’s an evocative cue that shows how well Williams is able to build an atmosphere before slicing it in two and putting the audience on an absolute edge.

Carrie, Pino Donaggio. ‘The Coronation/Bucket of Blood’ is the score and the character’s world in a nutshell – the beauty of her at the prom and her moment in the sun finally coming, only to be spoiled by bullies and turned into a literal nightmare, masterfully turned on a knife edge by Donaggio.

The Fog, John Carpenter. ‘Ghost Story’ is the film’s opening track where the story is told that sets up the film’s revenge story, and Carpenter goes atmospheric and it works so well. Like the fog itself, there’s something lingering and dangerous inside it but you feel that it’s only scratching the surface, and it’s the perfect example of scoring a ghost story.

Alien, Jerry Goldsmith. The original main title cue is so beautiful and so evocative and yet so creepy – what he redid for the film was equally scary in a different way, but this has a sense of beauty that was lost in the approach Ridley Scott used with the score.

TDJ: Are you a fan of collecting horror film scores or film scores in general?

CB: Absolutely, I’m a rabid film score fan and I try to get as much as I can on whatever format possible.

TDJ: What horror films scare/scared you?

CB: The Exorcist. It’s always scared the hell out of me and I think it’s probably the greatest horror film ever.

TDJ: Do you think you can have a great horror score and a terrible film and vice versa – any examples?

CB: For the first case absolutely; there are tons of terrible horror movies with great scores – for example Jerry Goldsmith’s The Final Conflict, a pretty bad film but my god that score is brilliant and makes the film seem a hell of a lot better than it is. Ennio Morricone’s Orca is one where, I don’t agree with those that lambast the film, but I agree that the score does a lot for the impact of the film. On the flipside, it’s more difficult perhaps because if the score isn’t good it’s unlikely to be enjoyable away from the film either. I mean, there are a lot of scores recently that go for the blend of sound design and score that don’t really interest me, especially as many of them seem fairly obvious, stuff like The Conjuring.

TDJ: Who do you think is writing great horror scores today?

CB: There’s an interesting mix of old and new folk and it’s really allowing for a – not a renaissance maybe but a really good period. People like Chris Young are still scoring horror movies and doing it really well, and then you have Rich “Disasterpeace” Vreeland and It Follows, Mark Korven’s The Witch was spectacular, Benjamin Wallfish and A Cure For Wellness and Annabelle Creation, Jim Williams and Kill List and Raw. I’d really like to hear Nick Cave and Warren Ellis try a horror score, I think they could produce something really amazing. Frank Ilfman as well, a brilliant composer.

TDJ: Any up and coming names you think we should be listening out for?

CB: I think Ben Wallfisch – he’s not exactly up and coming but he’s really coming into his own and making horror a good place for him. He’s really a fantastic composer.

Catch up with the Sound of Fear podcast in the following ways: 

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By Dean Newman

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