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CINECITY: Savage Noises: Scoring for Horror

Updated: Mar 10

By Abbie Ritch

“It’s taking this sense of the very familiar and permeating it with something more unsettling”

Chaired by film producer Jennifer Handorf, Savage Noises brought together electronic music composer Elizabeth Bernholz and composer Sarah Angliss to discuss scoring for horror, as part of Cinecity, in collaboration with BFI’s In Dreams are Monsters series.

The trio considered a range of horror film scores including Jack Clayton’s The Innocents and Jonathon Miller’s 1968 BBC adaptation of Whistle and I’ll Come to You, as well as their own processes for composing music for film. Elizabeth’s choice of Whistle and I’ll come to you was notable in its complete absence of musical score, instead focusing on diegetic sound; the professors' petrified child-like moaning and the wind whistling through the stark bedroom, creating an evocative, eerie soundscape.

When it comes to composing their own music for films, both Sarah and Elizabeth take slightly different routes. Sarah often turns to real-life items, using something familiar like pans clashing together or plumbing noises to create a sense of the uncanny. Elizabeth, on the other hand, utilises her own voice, often distorting or layering this in a strange manner. She too reflects on the use of everyday items, stating that she recently used the squeak of a trolley to underlie an entire score. There’s something about the mundane being able to induce fear that is integral to horror films, and this is clearly the same in scoring for horror.

The event concluded with a hauntingly beautiful choral performance of Sarah Angliss’ Amulet score, where Sarah was joined by percussionist Stephen Hiscock and vocalists Sarah Gabriel and Melanie Pappenheim. The music captivated the audience and as Sarah earlier commented, it emphasised this ‘rot’ that is central to Amulet. Savage Noises was a wonderful addition to the Cinecity programme and hopefully, they’ll continue to run events like this next year. Most importantly, the music performance and the preceding talk firmly positioned horror as an art form that deserves as much attention as other film genres.

Photographs courtesy of Adriana Sabau

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