Scoring Horror Presents: An Interview with JOSEPH BISHARA
Scoring Horror Presents:
AN INTERVIEW WITH JOSEPH BISHARA
By Barry Lee Dejasu
There’s a sound for everything, including fear. Not everyone can hear those sounds, but for musical composers such as Joseph Bishara, it’s the very realm of inspiration.
A veteran of genre films since the late 1990s, Mr. Bishara’s work includes the scores to The Gravedancers (2006), the Night of the Demons remake (2009), and Darren Lynn Bousman’s 11-11-11 (2011). He also served as producer on the soundtrack to REPO! The Genetic Opera (2008).
Mr. Bishara also made a bit of a splash in the horror scene with 2010’s Insidious, a tale of creeping menace from director James Wan (Saw, 2004 and Dead Silence, 2007). With appropriately eerie musical touches, Mr. Bishara’s presence was heard—but he also took on another responsibility, namely acting, on-screen, as a scarlet-faced demon lurking in the shadows.
Something unique for you amongst other composers is that you’ve appeared on-screen in the very movie you were scoring. How did that come about?
Basically, James just asked me to do it one day, hanging out on a friend’s film set. For some reason, he seemed to think it’d be a good thing. It was a good experience. It definitely was a fun thing to do.
Will you be involved in the recently-announced sequel to Insidous?
Yes, I’ll be involved.
What do you think was the most influential film upon your work?
The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari (1920) was an early influence on me; I first saw it on Super 8 film; I was probably eight years old. That really stuck in my head, that imagery always really got to me. The visual and sonic and whatever (other) creative stuff bleeds together into something that can affect things musically.
What was your first instance of noticing sound and music in movies?
Hmm. I don’t know if I can recall the first, but I can definitely think of some early instances where my mind was pretty blown. Some of the first sounds that really compelled me were the early synth sounds; Tangerine Dream, that kind of stuff. I remember seeing Liquid Sky (1982), and thinking that one really stood out as like, “Holy shit, this is different, this is…wow.” (laughs) It’s this kind of off-beat little… New-York-alien-drugs-synth-heroin movie. It’s worth a look (if you haven’t seen it). Some really interesting synth work in that. It’s a really unique electronic sound.
It’s probably more audible to others than myself; I don’t really think about it too much. It’s more of a feeling-response for these kinds of things. It’s not really a… I’m sure something comes up that someone else might be able to point to; you could probably tell that better than I could.
What are some older/classic movie scores you’re into, or were influenced by?
I love the Howard Shore score to David Cronenberg’s Videodrome (1983); I think it’s fantastic, I love that, and Scanners (1981). I loved that whole wave of Cronenberg films. It’s just such a rich collaboration.
When you’re watching a movie that you’re working on, how does the score come to you?
I think I’m fortunate enough to get started on projects pretty early. I’m usually thinking about projects from just talking about it or at script stage; it’s been pretty cool to work that way. It can start anywhere. Instrumentation is what seems to come to me first. It can come off of anything in there; even a frequency range or a pitch; maybe it’s a way of the light that everything’ll grow out of. The first exposure to the material you’ll get these splinters that stick (and) they grow into tumors, I guess, or something (laughs).
In a film like Insidious, so much silence is used to help set the mood or create tension. How much input do you have about using silence?
That does come up, and I voice my opinion there with James; but we’re on the same page when it comes to being okay with a lot of quiet. I like extreme dynamics; it sounds right to me. I kind of like hearing things that are barely there. It’s the kind of thing that the tendency is when something is quiet, (someone will want) to turn it up—but it’s like, “No-no-no, it’s quiet like that for a reason.” It’s the finding attention to these little things that— It’s part of the palette, I guess, having the full range from barely-there to extremely loud.
This year also sees the release of Dark Skies, from director Scott Stewart (Priest, 2011 & Legion, 2009). When you were watching the early cuts of Dark Skies, which musical/thematic approach did you have in mind, and what did you wind up creating?
From the script, one overall idea that stood out was that of a stripping away of familiar context. It became a fast process of getting into the energies and finding it, taking in the concepts and talking with Scott. He was looking for a motivic, rather than thematic, approach, and that informed the composition process.
Unrecognizable sets of sounds comprise the palette, along with crystal bowls and an ensemble of viola, cello, and bassoon.
For whatever reason, I was hearing a brass clustering pretty early in response to the stuff. Somehow, I just really wanted to hear this really quiet shimmering flutter-tongue brass effect. For some reason, that’s what I was hearing; it started with that, and kind of grew from that. It won’t be until (this) summer, but it’ll be out there soon.
What are some other projects in the works for you?
(I’ll be) starting up Chapter 2 of The Devil’s Carnival (2012). I’m not scoring, but I produce the music. I did REPO! The Genetic Opera, and The Devil’s Carnival, so now there’s the second part of that. I’m starting that very shortly here, so that’s going to probably (take up) the next little while.
What are some movies you’ve enjoyed recently?
Off the top of my head… There’s the Maniac remake (2012), A Serbian Film (2010), and Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present (2012).
With any number of movies in various stages of production, if you had dibs on them all, which ones would you “jump at” the most? For instance, there’s the new Star Wars movie…
I probably wouldn’t be a very good choice for that. (laughs) I would make time for anything Lars von Trier was involved with, same for Gaspar Noé. The Funhouse (1981) is a film I’ve always enjoyed, (and so) if a remake happens, I would be interested to see where it goes.
Would you use any unusual instruments or other approaches, if you had free range to do whatever you wanted, musically?
Probably. I don’t think about it (in terms of) unusual instruments; there’s nothing really unusual in there to me, it’s just kind of whatever it is. That said, I do enjoy experimenting with things, in finding the sounds that things make, whether (it’s their) intended purpose or not, or even with some more experimental art instruments. There are some pretty radical electronics engineers out there with pretty neat art instruments that generate some pretty neat sounds.
If you had full freedom to do so, what are some already-existing movies you would want to newly score?
Wow, um… Hmm. That’s such an exercise to even think about. As far as what I would bring to something, it would more be purely for enjoyment, I would think. It would be (less of) a creative thing, it would be more for fun.
I’ve been drawn to making a Cabinet of Dr. Caligari score; that wouldn’t really be replacing a score, since it was silent. That was something I always wanted to do one day.
Nosferatu (1922), that would be cool. Any of the striking-visual stuff, just because that’s fun stuff. Santa Sangre (1989) definitely. How could you look at something like that and not have something to throw out (musically)? Häxan (1922) I could get into. Tombs of the Blind Dead (1972) definitely.
What music is out there now, be it popular or underground, that you enjoy (and may or may not influence your work)?
I like constantly listening to new stuff. It really kind of comes and goes in waves. It can be an electronic wave, which’ll go into a black metal wave, which’ll go into…some other weird genre metal stuff wave, and then back into ambient, and there’ll be a lot of variety. These days, there’s a band called Crossover, they do some pretty cool stuff. This guy Daniel Knox, a singer-songwriter, amazing. I did just pick up this thing recently called Botanist; it’s basically black metal with a hammered dulcimer; pretty interesting sound.
What is it about horror, and genre films in general, that you’re so drawn to?
I don’t know if I can really answer that. It’s just kind of… It’s where I’m drawn, it’s what feels right. It holds my interest. I’m generally drawn to darker material. It’s what I like. I’ve always enjoyed horror and more extreme cinemas; that’s just what I like to watch. That’s kind of the world I like to live in.
Dark Skies opens February 22nd.
The Conjuring and Insidious: Chapter Two open this summer.
And to learn more about Joseph Bishara, go to his site.
Interview © Copyright 2013 by Barry Lee Dejasu