Composer Brian Reitzell mirrors the waking nightmare imagery of Hannibal, with ambient sound and almost nonstop music. Photo: Supplied Hugh Dancy as Will Graham and Mads Mikkelsen as Hannibal Lecter. Photo: Supplied
The waking nightmare imagery of Hannibal (pictured) is mirrored with ambient sound and almost nonstop music, care of composer Brian Reitzell. Photo: Seven Network
Hannibal has presented some of television’s most beautifully disturbing imagery. A totem pole made of corpses. A field of corpses harvested to grow mushrooms. A corpse sewn inside a horse.
But the music may be this drama series’ most frightening component. Based on Thomas Harris’ novels, which have already been made into five feature films – including the Oscar-winning Silence of the Lambs – Hannibal tells the story of the cannibal psychiatrist Hannibal Lecter (Mads Mikkelsen) and his friend-nemesis, FBI profiler Will Graham (Hugh Dancy).
Hannibal, whose second season began on Channel Seven during the week, eschews the lazy “jump scare” violins that so many horror movies and TV shows employ as a matter of course. Instead, composer Brian Reitzell mirrors the waking nightmare imagery of Bryan Fuller, the show’s creator, with ambient sound and almost nonstop music – turbulent drums on top of wood blocks on top of clanging cymbals. And he’s always looking for something new with which to produce unsettling noises.
During a recent recording session at his studio in California, Reitzell, 49, was holding a Newton’s cradle, the desk toy with the suspended clicking balls – just one of the dozens of objects turned music makers that he trotted out over the course of two hours. “This was my daughter’s but I broke it in the process,” says Reitzell, a former drummer for the punk band Redd Kross. “I used it in season three. It made really interesting rhythms. It was like instant Aphex Twin.”
The studio’s three rooms were filled to the brim with conventional instruments, too. (There was both a mallet drawer and a mallet bucket.) Between deliveries of even more instruments and gadgets, Reitzell walked through three steps for making TV’s most unsettling soundtrack.
#1 FINDING SOUNDS
In one stylised sequence, Hannibal rides a motorcycle through the streets of Paris at night. The scene is an example of the way Reitzell mixes instrumentation with manipulated and exaggerated sounds. As the motorcycle starts up, the soundtrack narrows in on the click of the key in the ignition, the roar of the engine’s fire, the hiss of exhaust. Underneath it all is a turbulent percussive score.
In his studio, Reitzell played a snippet of music for a scene he was composing. On-screen, a character was being tattooed. Reitzell used an arpeggiator to isolate the tone made by the tattoo gun, which he would then layer with other sounds as part of the moment’s overall design. In this scene alone, Reitzell used more than 50 percussive elements, many of which have nothing to do with drums or any other classical instrument, to create an abrasive, insinuating sound.
#2 PSYCHOLOGICAL RESPONSES
“If I put the sound of the ocean on, that’s going to do something to you,” Reitzell says. “And I know what that is, because it does it to me, too.”
He says he follows the tenets of musique concrète, a genre whose practitioners use both natural sounds and distorted recordings to create musical compositions. “The older I get, the more I think birds are the best musicians on the planet.”
Reitzell has served as music supervisor on all but one of Sofia Coppola’s movies. But those were full of pop artists: New Order and Gang of Four in Marie Antoinette, Kanye West and Frank Ocean in The Bling Ring. His work on Hannibal, which shares the screen with the occasional classical piece, is something else entirely. The compositions are so discordant that even listening to them on their own, away from the context of the show, is disturbing.
Reitzell’s musical philosophy reaches back to his childhood. “When my parents got divorced, I wanted to spend my time laying in the garage listening to the washer and dryer,” he says of his five-year-old self. “Loud, immersive, changing. It was music to me.”
“All of these sounds,” he says, referring to the ocean, birds, the drone of insects, the rattle of the dryer, “they’re psychological – I just try to key into them.”
#3 HOMEMADE HORROR
“With every episode, I have to do something different,” Reitzell says. “I started in season one using found sounds, and now I’ve been getting a lot of mileage out of inexpensive things.”
To make his point, he demonstrated the surprising musicality of ping-pong balls in a bowl. As they skitter over the surface of the bowl, the balls create a kinetic, reedy sound, not unlike a crank winding up. Reitzell’s penchant for distortion can render them near unrecognisable with each iteration. There is something unnerving about his ability to take household items and manipulate their sounds into something frightening.
Unlike his movie work, he doesn’t read the Hannibal scripts ahead of time. “With horror, it’s a different process,” he says. “I need to be with the audience and not overthink it.” He prefers to watch the episode in full in his studio, taking notes, as it were, on an eight-voice analog synthesiser; its atonal drone underlies much of each episode.
“What they’re giving me with this show,” he says of the corpses, the cannibalism and the unrelenting darkness, “messes with me – I take this stuff home.”The New York Times
Hannibal is on Channel Seven (Mondays, 10.45pm), stan南京夜网419论坛 and Foxtel’s showcase.
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