Friday, August 28, 2009

Interview with Horror Movie Soundtrack Composer Tyler Bates (Halloween II)

I REALLY enjoy interviewing film composers. It probably has something to do with the facts that they never really ever get a lot of press, and that I've spent the last 15 years interviewing rock/metal musicians. So it's definitely fun to crack the mold and venture where few dare to tread.

Today I interviewed Tyler Bates on the day of release of the film he just scored, HALLOWEEN II.

Here's a taste:

One of the things I really enjoy about your work is that you’re not a canned composer where all your work sounds identical. I mean, you can tell a Bates score when you hear one, but it doesn’t sound the same as another score in your filmography. And I don’t know if it is something you consciously do, but the music plays a different role in each film. In Watchmen, the music was part of the setting. In The Devil’s Rejects, it felt like another character. In 300, it took on the role of the emotions of everyone involved. With your work on Halloween II, the music seems to suck all of the oxygen out of the air and replaces the atmosphere with this really dense, palatable, metallic sensation.

(Laughs) Well each movie calls for something different. My musical tastes are very broad and are not really formed at all by film scores, although there are composers whose work I admire and get me fired up to do good work. But to be honest with you, I just look at the individual challenge. I don’t gauge a movie by something I’ve done before. Even this new Halloween movie, following the one Rob and I did couple years ago, the point really was to turn the page and approach this a little bit differently, while hopefully carrying forward some of the experience we had from doing the first one and dealing with the characters and taking John Carpenter’s pre-existing material into consideration.

On the first one, there were footprints you had to tread and, to a point, you had this built-in audience that was expecting to hear an homage to Carpenter’s work. But the new one has a very clean-slate feel to it, where it expands upon, like you said some of the character themes.

Actually, when I started the Halloween II score, I was thinking very minimalist. I wanted it to be really muddy and bassy with some gongs and random hitting of stuff that made it sound really tactile and identifiable with a room you just really didn’t want to be in as opposed to a traditional, thematic score. And it does become thematic at times, but not exactly in the traditional sense, and definitely not as much as the John Carpenter-era Halloween films. Even though that stuff can be limiting in terms of structure and that it was created for that first incarnation of Michael Myers (which is a totally different film style from what Rob is making), at the end of the day, when I’m dead, if I could have done one piece of music that is even remotely THAT identifiable, I’d be completely happy.

And like I said, this film is pretty much a clean slate in that it is not a sequel to Halloween II (1981), but it is in essence a brand new movie. So you are given a freer range of things you wanted to do and ideas you wanted to explore. That said, were there things in this Halloween II score ideas from the first film that you wanted to expand upon but couldn’t?

Yeah, I would say that it is a progression of ideas. In the first one, there was a sort of grappling with how much do we pay homage to the original Halloween and its characters and how much we employ the Carpenter themes. Really, that’s Rob’s battle. He will talk to me about what he feels is appropriate. But that said, any time I had to do a Carpenter theme, it was very difficult to drop it into the middle of what I was doing, so it pretty much negated a number of ideas I wanted to explore in the first movie.

So when Rob phoned me up and asked if I was up for it, he said, “I don’t think I want to work with the Halloween themes as integral aspects of the score. It would be kinda cool if it was somewhere in the film, but let’s do our own thing.” I thought that was an interesting opportunity or way to go back and make it our own complete destruction of a movie. (Laughs) So, yeah, sure there were different ideas and motifs that were explored, as if this were ‘Rob Zombie’s first Halloween movie'.

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