(Introduction by LL
I like rules and guidelines, rules and guidelines are good. But the secret to eternal youth, assuming you don’t have access to some arcane and no doubt hideous ritual, is knowing when to ignore them. Not break them, just go on as if they aren’t there when a truly better option presents itself. Lovecraft Lives was conceived as a series about creators of Lovecraftian comics, which is kinda-sorta a rule. Technically, I broke it last week by presenting a prose author, but if I had to argue the case before my corporate boss, I think I could make a solid case for Sam’s relevance to the original idea. This week, I’d just have to do the jail time…but it’d be worth it.
I solicited all the other creators in this series, but long after I thought I’d finalized the line-up, I found an email in my spam filter (kind of a Lovecraftian idea for the modern age, don’t you think?) from someone named Mars. I’m always suspicious of people with just one name. Never liked Cher or Madonna, never liked the rhinestone cowboy outfits designed by Nudie, won’t watch a movie with The Rock. But the other half of the eternal youth equation is keeping an open mind, and as I read the email I was impressed by the man’s initiative. The last page of issue 2 had gone up just a day or so before, and Mars had composed a musical score and made a short video out of the last page, and put it up on You-Tube. If you wanted someone to do that, it would never happen. And I was further impressed by the fact that he also said he would take it down if I objected. That’s respect, not because I’m anything special, but of one professional to another. It’s also called common courtesy. So how could I not move the email to my inbox and watch the video?
Wow. I mean, seriously, WOW! Initiative aside, it was dog-gone GOOD! Not just the music, which I loved, but Mars knows his way around film-editing as well. So while this entry has nothing to do with Lovecraftian comics, I know you’ll enjoy the perspective of the only Lovecraftian composer I know of. His original video is below, and more links are at the end of the article.)
A LOVE AFFAIR WITH LOVECRAFT:
Scoring for Lovecraftian Cinema
My love affair with H.P. Lovecraft began in high school, as I was of “That” mindset to be a fully absorbent sponge for his dark, hopeless world view. Yep, I was a card-carrying goth kid. Y’know the type; lot’s of black, listens to anything with a skull in the logo, spends majority of time smoking clove cigarettes behind the campus art hall…
My circle of friends were all gamers, musicians, and artists. Not being particularly studious or sports-minded, it is fair to say we weren’t exactly tearing up the high school social scene. Few invites to beer-soaked keggers and the subsequent sweaty post prom grope-a-thons seemed to fill our appointment calendars. We had time on our hands. Time to read, watch genre movies (the cheezier the better) and roll dice.
My gaming group was always looking for something edgier, and we’d pretty much run out of every demon, devil, ghoul, vampire, zombie, and all other manner of night creatures to populate our weekend role-playing sessions with. I had read a book called The Mind Parasites by Colin Wilson, and it frankly scared the shit out of me. The premise was so plausible (well,to me anyway), about man’s millennium-long battle with creatures, psychic vampires that took hold of our brains forever ago. So long ago ,in fact, that most people live their lives quite blissfully unaware of their presence, while all the while the critters rob people of ambition, ideas, and achievement that would come naturally if they were not there. (DaVinci being a good example; no mind-parasites in his bonnet I can tell you.) The premise of the book is liberally Lovecraftian, though I didn’t know it at that point, and Lovecraft is mentioned by name many times throughout the narrative.
Who is this Lovecraft? I wondered…
A trip to the library put a copy of “The Shadow Out Of Time” in my eager mitts, and I was hooked. Fortunately, at this time Lovecraft was experiencing a resurgence in interest, and all his works were being re-issued in paperback collections which featured some brilliantly dark cover art by fantasy artist Michael Whehlan, whom I was familiar with thru his Elric-inspired artwork.
Six-sided dice degree of separation: The Elric role playing game led me to the Chaosium system, which led right smack dab onto the doorstep of one Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s own CALL OF CTHULHU.
Like many game masters, I would comp together “Atmosphere” music cassettes (ah, cassette tapes) to play in the background of my games, and COC was always a hard one to do. Horror/Halloween records were just too goofy, and this was pre-internet, so getting ahold of many soundtrack recordings that were available as expensive imports only on a student’s budget wasn’t really an option. My solution was to record them myself. I was a musician of some limited skill, and I had access to some simple home recording equipment, so it just seemed natural. Dripping faucets slowed way down in pitch, echoes of animal growls, tapping glasses filled with water and then running the audio in reverse…. all tricks in my primitive audio arsenal. It was like I was crafting my own, horror-themed Sgt. Pepper’s album. My friends loved the results, and often asked for dubs of the tapes just to listen to on their own.
Flash forward a few years: I’m submitting a demo cassette to Greg Stafford at Chaosium, my pitch being that most COC games I’ve ever played in went better with music in the background, and I probably wasn’t the only game master to find getting the right music to be a problem. To my surprise, he loved the idea, and asked me to do a professional level recording that he could pitch as an official Chaosium product to accompany the COC franchise.
I’m overjoyed, I’m ecstatic, I’m getting right to work, I’m staying up for 3 and 4 nights in a row working on it, I’m on drugs. Oops….
Long story short, it doesn’t work out, as by the time I’ve got something ready to give Greg, they’ve spent all their cash on a Hawkmoon game that goes nowhere. Allocating $ to an untested , and at the time. kinda revolutionary idea/product wasn’t gonna happen.
Flash forward a decade: I’m a musician who is burned out from the road and its distractions. Nothing sounds as good to me as settling down, but the prospect of a “Real” job sucks. Truthfully, aside form writing music, I’m qualified to flip burgers and that is about it. So I open DEAD HOUSE MUSIC, a soundtrack company dedicated to genre film, and providing indy films with quality original scores.
Did I mention that in the new millennium, Lovecraft is HUGE, and there are new film adaptations coming out yearly, and I’m gonna get in on that if it kills me. I earn my stripes on various bloodbath flicks, and bide my time. I have a thorough knowledge of symphonic composition at this point, and have sharpened my skills….waiting. I do an intro segment for a film called The Halfway House that has Yog Sothoth in the basement eating nubile naked nymphettes. I’m getting closer.
While promoting that film in LA at the 2005 Fangoria, I approach Lurker Films. Our tables are right next to each other and I hit it off well with its founder, Andrew Migliore. So well, in fact, he asks me to do some work for him on his line of very successful Lovecraft dvds. I’m thrilled, I’m ecstatic, I’m staying up late to work on them, but I’m NOT on drugs.
One thing leads to another and thru Andrew I meet Frank Woodward, a very talented chap who has logged 20 years in the film biz, and is doing a (Gasp!) LOVECRAFT DOCUMENTARY!!! We hit it off well, and he loves my music, plus he understands that I’m a fan from 20 years back….this is the film I was born to composer for. Guillermo DelTorro,Stuart Gordon,John Carpenter,Neil Gaiman,Peter Straub are in it…OH MY GOD!
The scope of the work must encompass 3 separate narratives:
1) The progress of Lovecraft’s life / time line
2) the Interviews
3) the excerpts from the Mythos stories themselves
It is actually a matter of weaving audio together that will seamlessly accompany all these separate items, and yet not distract from any of them. Not an easy prospect. Plus, I decide that I will approach the music as Lovecraft approached his flamboyant and often gratuitous use of descriptive adjectives; that is to say, more…NOT less…. is more. The score will be both creepy , and musical. Subtle and bombastic, tearful and horrible, as the story of Lovecraft’s life plays out over 90 minutes.
Instead of relying on cliches like droning pipe organs, and tired sound effects, I find myself going back to my roots with the early cassettes I made for my COC games. I set out to create an organic collage of sounds from real world items, and somehow warp them in subtle ways to represent our universe gone wrong. I set out to craft an Opera thru the perspective of the Ancient Gods, yet flirting with the musical limitations of our Earthly guise. Well, this all sounds pretty grandiose; but really what I’m attempting is to fuse sound effects into the actual music so seamlessly, so ethereally, that the end result will do justice to the works of a writer I’ve admired for 20 years.
I wander thru the nearby woods, collecting new sounds to bend to my eldritch purpose: trees creaking,winds whispering, water gurgling, birds screeching, rocks clacking….and many more all fill my portable recorder.
Then there is the music. Period music to use behind the segments that take place in Providence and New York of the 1920′s and 30′s, the “Themes” I write for different ‘characters’ in Lovecraft’s life : his wife Sonja, His Grandfather’s beloved library, Providence itself, the music of the dread Old Ones, sinister hymns to dark gods, and faint prayers in the woods of Dunwich. Cacophonous symphonic bombast to accompany the rise of Cthulhu, and the madness of Azathoth. Then there is the music I abandon, clever ideas that prove to be too clever, and distract from what the speakers are saying at certain moments. So my vamp on Richard Band’s very recognizable strings in Re-Animator go away during the interview with director Stuart Gordon. As do my tributes to Del Toro and Carpenter during their respective segments.
It is for the best, as knowing what is and just isn’t appropriate to help further the narrative is the nature of film scoring . Though I’d vowed to go a bit over the top, sometimes there is still much to be said for the art of subtlety.
After months of trial and error, I have a score that I’m proud of, and that the director loves. Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown goes on to win “Best Documentary” at the 2008 Comi-Con, draws standing ovations at the HP Lovecraft 2008 Film Festival, and is invited to play theatrically at the prestigious Cinema DuParc in Montreal, Canada.
I think we did something right.
So, it really only took me 3 months to write the score to the film of my dreams, but to be ready for it …took 20 years.
Info on the film is available here:
Lovecraft: Fear OF The Unknown:
Eye See Food: