Hell Hath No Fury: The Sound Of A WOUNDED FAWN

Composer VAAAL joins us to discuss creating a soundscape inspired by the deities of vengeance.

By Charlie Brigden · @filmsonwax · December 5, 2022, 2:08 PM PST
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Get ready for the next big thing in horror. Travis Stevens' A Wounded Fawn is a terrifying and intense vision of vengeance from beyond the grave, and it's now streaming on Shudder. The film stars Sarah Lind as Meredith, a single girl in the city who agrees to a date with Bruce (Josh Ruben) at his family's cabin. However, this only scratches the surface of what is essentially a modern retelling of the story of the Furies from Greek mythology, with the film bold and uncompromising in its depiction of the dangers women face from male violence.

Stevens gave the crucial task of scoring the film to the composer known as VAAAL (pronounced Vawwl). Hailing from Sweden, VAAAL took a keen interest in production and film music and subsequently moved to Los Angeles to bring his skills to another level. After working on film and video game trailers, Stevens connected with him on Instagram and invited him to score A Wounded Fawn.

"I was lucky to land a couple of bigger trailers fairly early once I got started in that world," VAAAL tells me through email, "with [trailer] projects like Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, A24's Saint Maud, Ad Astra, and Birds of Prey. A more personal and experimental ambition and interest started growing out of this, and I started putting out my own albums with my approach to cinematic music. I was basically making what I'd wanna hear in a contemporary film and leaning very much towards horror and sci-fi."

But how did VAAAL find himself on the 'gram? "I used it as a tool and platform to market myself as an artist and a film composer, but also as a way of expressing and testing out musical ideas with DIY hardware instruments and general experimentation. I reached out to Travis Stevens after watching his directorial debut, The Girl on The Third Floor. He was super cool and kind, and we became friends. I kept poking him with my music and made my intention clear that I'd love to work together in the future. Then they shot A Wounded Fawn, Travis reached out to me and asked if I wanted to make the music for it."

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When thinking about the score, Stevens was looking for a specific mood and atmosphere that recalled Japanese ghost tales, particularly Onibaba and Kuroneko, both directed by Kaneto Shindo and scored by Hikaru Hayashi. He also used existing cuts by VAAAL as a temporary music track to indicate the correct mood for the score in the composer's vocabulary. Stevens also kindly allowed a glimpse at the notes he had sent to VAAAL, emphasizing a sense of "jaggedness." Music "that feels unpredictable and occasionally discordant."

The percussion was another key element discussed, and some of the film's more powerful moments strongly feature percussive elements, used, as Stevens said, for "keeping the momentum going throughout." He also referred to a sense of the epic. Not necessarily the big Hollywood sound (although he namechecks Christopher Nolan at one point) but the way it matches "the exaggerated, surrealistic" quality of the film and specific scenes. "It is big and outrageous imagery, and we want the audience to understand that this is the language of the film."

A significant part of the film's language is female voices; they dominate the picture and are initially there as a warning for Meredith. VAAAL says, "One of the first things that I immediately knew I wanted to do with this score after reading the script was to use female vocals as one of the main ingredients. There have been many female voices and vocals in horror scores throughout the years, so I wanted to see what my version of that would sound like. I set up a recording session with my wife and two other female singer friends, and I put a stereo pair of microphones up in the middle of the room and had them physically circling them while singing. I would prompt certain notes or words to sing in a controlled, randomized manner. We'd do anything from subtle whispers to very aggressive screams, all in a very swirly fashion around the stereo mics. I'd label all these recordings accordingly and then play them back through various granular synthesizing and processing software on an iPad that I could perform. This became the basis of what I call 'The Fury Choir.'"

"I was breaking up the recordings into a million little micro pieces and then assembling them again in a new order. This can make for a very esoteric, textural, and ghost-like sound. Not quite human, not quite synthesizer. Something organic and spooky sounding in between, with tons of performance control, that became one of my main 'instruments' of the score. I would use this while composing the cues and later overdubbed parts with more singers or samples from that initial recording session. "

"One of my favorite moments in the score is a very big and aggressive cue ("The Erinyes") where the choir takes center stage in its biggest and angriest form. I started reaching out to friends, family, and artists I've worked with in the last decade. Any female with a voice and a recording setup, or even iPhone voice memos. I got over 20 people to record various notes for this one moment in the film, and it turned out HUGE. I kept telling them this moment should encapsulate centuries of female rage and frustration."

The female voice was one of many instruments VAAAL used. One of his most unique choices was his own design — the Evil Gurkha, which, according to him, is a "modified cigar box with various brass bands and hardware that can be bowed, tapped or scratched, with a contact microphone inside of it recording the vibrations of the wood."

The instrument is responsible for many of the film's screeching moments and warrants comparison to some of the work Mark Korven did on his score for Robert Eggers' The Witch.

The score also finds itself in the realm of retro electronica. It's been popular for several years due to musicians that grew up watching horror movies with scores by the likes of John Carpenter and Tangerine Dream, who have now come of age. These musicians hunt down vintage analog synthesizers to use in their music. The source for VAAAL's instruments is a surprising one. "I had been working on The Crystal Method's latest album over the past year, and Scott Kirkland has an amazing collection of old synths that he was kind enough to let me borrow for this film. I used a pretty wonky old Memorymoog, a massive polyphonic synthesizer from the early '80s, which is beautiful, deep, and organic sounding, but also a bit crazy and uncontrollable." Indeed, the score itself was a team effort of sorts.

"I'm so thankful to all the musicians that joined in on this project and recorded for credit only since the budget was very indie. Most of the instruments are eighty percent my own questionable playing, but it worked for the movie's vibe and became a very personal expression. Having musicians who know how to play layering stuff on top of that evens it out a bit and gives it its own unique, almost punk flavor. The movie is shot on 16mm film and has a very grainy '70s exploitation vibe, so it was appropriate to lean into the aesthetics of that musically.

"It's safe to say that it felt very much up my alley."

A Wounded Fawn is now streaming on Shudder. The soundtrack album is also now available digitally, check out more from VAAAL here.

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