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As the fifth season of Showtime’s hit pseudo-serial-killer-thriller-drama DEXTER begins to spill its DNA all over the airwaves, it’s important to analyze what makes the show tick. Of course, it’s chief asset is a dynamic, layered central performance from actor Michael C. Hall as everyone’s favorite bloodthirsty, half-mad vigilante murderer, a serial killer who only targets other killers. The supporting cast (led by Jennifer Carpenter, who plays his butch but still fragile sister) who—like everyone else in the show—are oblivious to the darkness in Dexter’s heart. And, of course, the music by composer Daniel Licht. What’s that? You've never stopped to think about how vital Licht’s experimental, organic sounds are to manipulating your emotions and eliciting a visceral response every week? Well, then…you just don’t know DEXTER well enough, do you?
FANGORIA plans to rectify that problem by providing the interview below, a transcription of a recent sit down we did with the talented musician (whose previous genre credits include HELLRAISER: BLOODLINE and THINNER) to get under the skin of the show that has viewers of every persuasion held in its alternately tender and terrifying grip.
Oh yes… and in case you didn’t know, the first two films Licht scored upon moving to LA were ’90s FANGORIA Films productions: CHILDREN OF THE NIGHT and SEVERED TIES.
See? It’s all connected kids. Here we go…
FANGORIA: Are you an experimental musician by trade? Would you cite the DEXTER music as such?
DANIEL LICHT: Yes, I would describe myself as an experimental musician, or at least an experimenting one. I lived in downtown NYC for years and was a part of the new music scene there, the only difference is now I get paid for making weird sounds.
FANG: With technology at your fingertips, it would be easy to fake it. Why use real found objects to scrape, poke and carve your sounds?
LICHT: I have always had an interest in finding out what bowing or knocking on different things would sound like. People do use samples or triggered recordings of sound effects all the time. I like to perform them live so it becomes less repetitive and more spontaneous and random sounding. I sample and manipulate sounds as well.
FANG: There is a delicate balance between terror, melancholy and mirth in DEXTER, much of that is driven by the music. Having sat in on this show for so long, do you need to be hand held to compose themes and cues for specific scenes anymore? Did you ever? Did you “get” the rhythm from day one?
LICHT: I wish there was someone there to hold my hand. The composer’s seat is a lonely one. You write your music and it will fly or get shot down by the producers or directors afterward. I spend much of my time second-guessing what someone might not like about a piece of music I write. I guess that’s a form of perfectionism, although a rather tortured variety.
FANG: Speaking of rhythm, there is a strong Latin sound in the music. Discuss.
LICHT: The producers were interested in including a Latin feel into the score for Dexter because of the Miami location. The score often needs to feel intimate, even the killings are private affairs, so I’ve used a lot of Spanish guitar because it has such an immediate presence, and can move easily between haunting emotional expression and percussive attack, like Dexter.
FANG: Do you have any influence on some of the existing music and songs that fill out the show?
LICHT: I may make suggestions here and there, but in general that is not my gig.
FANG: Do you “know” Dexter Morgan? Do you like him? Does the music “understand” him more than any of the characters he co-exists with?
LICHT: I try to know Dexter Morgan. The music frequently amplifies the emotional underpinning of the scenes with Dexter. Michael C. Hall is such a great actor that I am very careful not to step on his acting or push a scene any further than he has taken it. I just try to do what I can to help the audience get inside Dexter’s head.
FANG: The death of Julie Benz at the end of season four, was that sprung upon you? It was a major emotional turning point and climax for the show. Was it heavy on you to “make it count,” so to speak?
LICHT: It was kept from everybody on a need to know basis, so it was a surprise to me. The tricky part of scoring that episode was to let the audience think we were going to wrap up the season then surprising them. It’s always heavy on me to make it all count. That’s where my gray hair comes from.
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