Editor’s note: We were very taken with Daniel Isn’t Real on the fest circuit this year. When producer Daniel Noah of SpectreVision offered us an exclusive chat between himself and Clark, the film’s composer, it was an instant yes from us. Daniel Isn’t Real is available on VOD now.- PN
Daniel: What was your very first inclination to score movies?
Clark: Probably quite unconventional in that it wasn't necessarily composer-based. I've always integrated my leanings and influences from classical music into my albums. I've always seen electronic music as being something that you compose. I can't really put my finger on why but I thought of it as composition. Film is a funny one. Like watching The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and hearing incredible sound design that you probably wouldn't get away with on an album, but that you can get away with in film, like incredibly pretty source subversive textures. And this whole world of recording exquisite noises and bending them out of shape. So it's not so much like hearing the Star Wars theme and thinking, “I'd love to compose themes like that.” I think initially it was like a sound design fascination.
Daniel: So it was actually film scoring as an influence on your work as a studio musician that came first. Is that what you're saying?
Clark: I guess what I'm saying is, classical music like Bach, Debussy and Satie influences me more than music composed by film composers. Music influences for me in film are more musique concrète and sound design and incredible editing. I just remember having quite strong reactions to horror scores in that they're not conventional. They're atonal, exquisitely rendered noise. I hope that makes sense.
Daniel: Absolutely. Horror, for whatever reason, has always been a place where artists are able to get away with more experimentation.
Daniel: Living in the avant garde. So you're equating horror scores to classical music.
Clark: There's lots of classical music that touches on those spaces. We live in this postmodern time now where it is hard to see these things as separate entities. My influences are so disparate. I'm as influenced by Public Enemy as I am by Bach, and by really brutal rave music as I am by Nick Drake. I can't make heads or tails of it. It just all goes in somehow. There are the inputs in the output. Film is a perfect place to test that out because you're guided by the narrative of the film.
Daniel: I would argue - and I think you and I had this conversation really early in the process of Daniel Isn't Real - that electronic music is actually a close cousin to film scoring because it's so mathematical, which is really very much what the particular demand of scoring for film is. It's about hitting certain markers at certain points. Your decades of experience serving a mathematical master actually made the transition somewhat easy for you.
Clark: Yeah that's true for sure. It's definitely native to how I work in terms of tension and release, and responding to images comes very naturally. Response, tension, and release is the oldest thing in the game. It can be cliché, and I know that, like, EDM drops are also not very good examples of this, but it's been around since the Greeks. And film is a perfect balance of these sort of ebbs and flows of when to come in and when to drop. It feels very native to me.
Daniel: Were you a horror fan in particular before you got asked to score a horror movie?
Clark: I was, yeah. As a teenager and in my early 20s I was obsessed with horror. Now, probably not as much but it's still there for sure. It's just the most fun genre to compose for in a way. Especially with Daniel Isn't Real, because it wasn't just horror. There was lots of psychodrama in it as well, and lots of melancholy. It's a perfect storm of different emotions to transmit.
Daniel: That actually leads perfectly into my next question, which is how did you find the sound for the Daniel Isn't Real score?
Clark: Bernard Herrmann was mentioned, as you know. It was really fun getting to grips with how he made these incredibly visceral scores for horror. Recording real orchestra in that vein, and then going, “Yeah but that just sounds like Hermann, what am I going to do to make this my own?” And adding analog synths and noise and all of these modern techniques with a bit of musique concrète tape editing, and just kind of putting it all through the blender, and making it really feel like my own. That was the whole rush of it. And I don't think I would ever have done that on a solo record.
Clark: This is what the (music) producers that don't want to work on film don't get, is that you get these opportunities almost like scholarships. A film project is this chance to grow and develop your palette. And Hermann was definitely the springboard for that. I think for both me and you, the kind of euphoric, “eureka” moment was - “oh yes, you can you can put like an analog drone and loads of modern synths over these kind of Hermann-esque, dissonant textures, and it really, really works.” There's a few tracks on the score that have beats and kick drums, and it doesn't - to me it doesn't sound kitsch, it doesn't sound put together in a cold fusion. It sounds very hot and real and visceral, and that's great.
Daniel: Has this experience in any way impacted the way that you think about making albums?
Clark: For sure. I mean, especially with the Bach in Daniel Isn't Real. I think everyone's influenced by Bach whether they know it or not. If you're using melody in Western music in 2019, you've been influenced by Bach.
Daniel: [Laughs] Whether you like it or not?
Clark: Acknowledging it is the least you can do. It all influences. Everything is an influence. What you realize is, finding the sound and the tone of the film is as much about what you reject, what you don't do. And I think - the whale call. What did you call it again?
Daniel: We called them electric whale calls.
Clark: That whale call is the film, I think.
Daniel: Well that's very much a Clark sound which we appropriated for the movie.
Clark: That's nice of you to say. What's funny about that I've never used a cello like that before. So I think you're hearing that as a synth, which is another example of what I was saying about how it’s hard to tell where anything starts and ends, because what you've heard in my previous output that is that sound is probably a synth, And now it’s a cello. Who fucking knows what it is. It's just a sound. I think that's what I'm aiming for in my music, to kind of turn everything into this identity where the source is irrelevant, and it's more than the sum of its parts. If you give me something, I’ll make it sound like my music.
Daniel: I remember us talking a lot about Scott Walker and Thirty Century Man, and this constant search he was on for how to how to create these sounds that he had in his head but had no idea what tools were required to make those sounds. It's so interesting that, whether you're on a synth or you're processing a cello, you land at the same destination. Because that's you.
Clark: Yeah, exactly. That's the magic isn't it? Yeah. That's crazy. I think since composing and having to grapple with notes -- actual notes and not just textures it -- there is something about hearing harmony and melody in your head that is a bit lost on modern ears. And that's something that you can’t really train. Like, can you plan a five minute piece of music with four voices in it? Can you hear that from start to finish in your head without even a piano? That's like a crazy level of film composer skill that I'm still working on, and I haven't had that training. I was watching an interview with (Ennio) Morricone, and there's almost like a macho pride in that ability of those old school ‘60s composers. He didn't even use a piano. He had this pride that he could just hear the notes or the intervals, all of the scenes, and not even use a piano. Crazy to me.
Daniel: Well that's I think another reason why SpectreVision has often turned to composers who come from the world of electronic or neoclassical music. The kind of music that you guys make is music that I feel rewards active listening. Yeah sure, you can dance to it, and you can put the top down and drive to the beach. But you can also turn off all the lights and sit and listen to a Clark record with the attention you would give to a movie. And it does seem to be telling a story. It rewards that kind of close attention. And so, again, it doesn't feel like that great of a leap to me that you would apply your considerable experience in storytelling to, well, storytelling!
Clark: Absolutely. That's a nice kind of parallel because you're talking about that realm of electronic music that isn't necessarily dance music, that is pure liberating music, and that's something that's overlooked. I still get it now. People say, "What kind of music do you make?" And I say, “electronic music,” and they think I'm a techno DJ. I have to say, "No it's not just that."
Daniel: That's so funny. When I tell people out of the business, or sometimes even in the business, that I make horror films, often their first response is, "I hate horror films." What I often want to say to them is, "Well, yeah I mean most of them are pretty bad." It feels like that that's the equivalent to you "making techno." Like when I say horror, they assume we make slasher films. No ding on slasher films. But when you do live in that little five percent of artists who are in a specific genre trying to aspire to do something greater, you're constantly having to explain yourself. Because you're reaching out of a cultural ghetto to try and do something more. On that score, do you think that scoring for horror is different from scoring for other genres?
Clark: Yes I do. I think there are certain tropes like, "the hit on the frightening bit" that are really useful. It's such a great thing to have a shocking noise along with the action. But it's all how you build up towards that, and what the noise you use is. I'd like to always think that there are rules that can be broken. But what I found with Daniel Isn't Real is that you can put so much work into three seconds of stab sound, and it's so rewarding. You're hearing sort of hours of condensed work. I had this jam in my room with my friend. I had a synth by the microphone that has a speaker in it, and he was playing a viola. Actually, I wouldn't say he was playing it. He was crunching down on the strings, and I was shouting at the same time. And we captured it with about three mics. We just jammed for about an hour doing these, like, horrendous noises. Then I condensed it all into one bit for the final. I think it's reel four, you know the lengthy reel four that we did. I'm sorry I'm waffling but there are some things in horror you should honor, I guess is what I'm saying.
Daniel: Has scoring for film changed the way you watch films?
Clark: It has and, not necessarily in a good way. It's just more and more, like, if I if I see a good film with bad music, I just can't watch it. And it infuriates my wife. I can't stomach it. It must be the same for you. I think we've spoken about this, actually.
Daniel: Yeah, I mean, I get very angry. Less watching films and more rubbernecking the process of making films. I'm often so disappointed with the choices that filmmakers make. Sadly, there's a shockingly high percentage of people who are in a position to hire composers who don't seem to value music all that much.
Clark: Yeah. This is it.
Daniel: They come at it, I don't want to say “lazily,” but they don't seem to think that it matters much. It's almost like elevator music to them. As long as there's something there, it's fine. And I think one of the reasons that you and I bonded is that we share a desire to create sounds that people are hearing for the first time. Because it puts them into a state of mind that is more raw, so their antennas are up. They're awake, going "What's happening to me right now? I don't understand these feelings that I'm having." At the end of the day that should be the goal for a movie, to snap people out of a stupor.
Clark: Absolutely. We need to recalibrate people to be sensitive to music. It can happen. And it seems like, instead of making the effort to do that, it's "why bother recalibrating? Let's just kind of plaster people with what they're familiar with so that they don't feel too unsettled." And that's bizarre to me.
Daniel: Well, I guess we make art for the people that want to be challenged, and it's the trade-off that we make. It's why we're not in the multiplexes or on the top of the Billboard charts. But I would say on the flip side of the coin is that it’s the reason why what we do might withstand the test of time. Not to use that old excuse of "No one liked Blade Runner when it came out." You can excuse away any failure with that argument. [Laughs]
Clark: It is a stance that's worth having. I don't want to become too angry [laughs].
Daniel: Get off my lawn, you goddamn kids! [laughs].
Clark: It is good in a way because it means that a company like SpectreVision can shine, because there's so much to work against. I don't write music because I like lots of what I hear and I want to imitate. I write music because I'm really unsatisfied with what I hear, and I need to forge my own path, through my own identity. And that's just the truth of it. It's this eternal quest, like setting the world in order [laughs]. Working on films that have got that same ethos is the goal really. Even if only one percent or less of art in the world is good, that's still a hell of a lot.