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Charlie Clouser

Charlie: "Playing onstage with Reznor
and Bowie was great".

Conducted by Phil Davies Brown
May 20th, 2005

In anticipation of the DVD release of SAW, I chatted to ex-NIN member turned composer Charlie Clouser, about his excellent score for the surprise hit of last Autumn. Due to our hiatus at the site, we were unable to post the interview until now, but it seemed only fitting considering the announcement made this week that Clouser is on scoring duties for SAW 2.

How did you first get into music?
My mother played piano, and my father loved to listen to Dixieland jazz, so my parents encouraged it, and I took music lessons since first grade. Being a kid in the seventies, I seem to remember lots of music and arts programs for the asking in school. I tried guitar, clarinet, and piano before settling on the drums, and eventually going back to piano and guitar in high school, all through school music programs. I was in marching band, drum line, jazz band, all of that stuff.

Out of everyone you have worked with who was your favourite and why?
Well, Reznor is about the most talent you'll find under one roof, in terms of creative versatility, so working with him so closely and for so long was a great experience, but nothing can top the moment when we all walked into rehearsal for our tour together and first heard Bowie and his band do their version of "HURT". The version of Trent's song by Bowie and backed by Alomar, Garson, and Gabrels was a singular moment. I was floored. Playing onstage with Reznor and Bowie was great. Very nourishing.

Is it true that Marilyn Manson nicknamed you Slugworth and if so why?
Definitely true, but I'm at a loss for the reason... I can't remember what Slugworth's character was like. I'm sure it wasn't complimentary. Probably Slugworth lived in the sewer or something....

Which artists have inspired and influenced your work?
For influences to my studio work I'd have to cite David Byrne with Brian Eno, Gyorgy Ligeti, Aphex Twin, Lalo Schifrin, Wendy Carlos, Autechre, Jerry Goldsmith, Louis and Bebe Barron, and who knows who else.

What are your thoughts on people who blame musicians and filmmakers for acts of violence like Columbine?
That's tricky, because I am a firm believer in the power of movies, art, and music to move people, in directions both good AND bad... so clearly there IS some kind of influence, it's silly to pretend that there isn't. Controversial, violent, or risky movies, videogames, and music basically put up the challenge for families to get on the same page and get their communications together, so that parents understand why their kids like that stuff, and kids understand that it all involves a huge element of fantasy. Remember what they used to talk about in the seventies, the "Generation Gap"? I think it was in full effect with those kids and their parents in Columbine. The parents were so out of touch with their kid's realities that they had no idea how distraught they were, how desperate they had become, and to what lengths they would go. Likewise, the kids were so out of touch with reality in general that they could see no future beyond being called zitface by the jocks and having no date for the prom. Nobody managed to get the message to these kids that there is life beyond high school.

Charlie: "The Shining" stands alone in the pantheon of heroes".

After some scoring duties for TV you have moved into film soundtracks and your first work was the SAW soundtrack. How did you get the gig?
Well, through the back channels of Hollywood the word got to me that this young director had this amazing film, and had used some of my remixes as well as other music I would love as a temporary score. Likewise, word got to the director that one of the guys from nine inch nails actually had lots of scoring experience, and was in a position to take on a project this big. James was already familiar with my work from NIN and so forth, and I guess the fact that I've been meeting weekly network TV deadlines for two years helped their confidence, since we had only five weeks to complete the score.

Did you work closely with James Wan to achieve the right sound for the movie?
James and Kevin, the editor, had tried out a lot of different ideas in their temporary score for the picture, and they had a pretty good idea of where the music would go and what its general tone would be. Once I got a few pieces written, James was right there, with very clear ideas of what the music needed to accomplish in this film. James has no fear when it comes to voicing his opinions about things like that. He's not the type of guy to search for the right words to gently tell you that he doesn't think a piece of music is working! James is fearless when it comes to realizing his ideas, and communicating his thoughts.

What composers did you turn to for inspiration?
Schifrin, Ligeti, Carlos, Goldsmith, Eno.

What are some of your favourite movie scores?
"THE SHINING" stands alone in the pantheon of heroes, a superlative work, but "CAPE FEAR" has my favorite four notes of all time, and the "PLANET OF THE APES" score defined sounds and approaches that I still learn from. Brad Fidel's "TERMINATOR" and "T2" scores were triumphs of minimalism that I still like, and recently I've liked Marco Beltrami's and John Powell's work.

Do you think that the horror and thriller genres are good because you can make darker scores that sound gritty or even industrial at times?
It's certainly true that heavier, more industrial musical elements sound less out-of-place in a movie like "SAW" than in, say, "American Beauty", but I think that our tolerance for "ugly" sounds has become very high over the years. Even many movies like "I Robot" and "The Bourne Identity", both of which were much more mainstream than "SAW", have a lot of electronic and industrial sounds in their scores. A definite factor is that the audience today for a movie like "SAW" has grown up on a diet heavy on music-videos and light on the Kubrick and the Welles, so a crashing deluge of harsh music will be less distracting to them. Since I'm comfortable working in that style, it's great to have subject matter that can withstand the full-strength music assault. As the filmmaker pushes for the extremes, so must the composer.

Charlie: "I cringe at a couple of the more
hastily executed moments in the score".

Were you pleased with the finished film?
Absolutely. Of course I cringe at a couple of the more hastily executed moments in the score, since I would have loved to spend more time developing themes, but I think it came out rather well, despite the five week schedule... And, of course, the filmmakers did much more, within much harsher limitations than I did. I think they shot it in eighteen days?

Your next score will be for Deepwater, what can you tell us about the project?
"Deepwater" is a psychological thriller starring Lucas Black (of "Friday Night Lights" and "Sling Blade"), and I guess you could say that Lucas' character has a few "issues" that need to be resolved. He's, uhh, a troubled lad, down on his luck, and he tries diligently to work out his problems throughout the film, with the "help" of some friendly folk who pick him up hitchhiking and give him a place to stay. Much to everyone's dismay, things do not work out for the best... And, watching Lucas' portrayal of a guy slowly coming apart is a treat. The score was fun, too, starting off with friendly acoustic guitar and pedal steel, dissolving into hypnotic electronic chaos by the end.

What will you be working on next?
I'm sniffing around a couple of thriller and sci-fi film projects, and certainly the success of "SAW" is opening a lot of doors, so we shall see. I am very anxious to see what James and Leigh come up with next, whether it's "SAW 2" or something different.

Is there any possibility that you would return to do the soundtrack for the just announced SAW 2?
I sure hope so. I would love to be able to take it to the next level, and develop it further.... I loved what Brad Fidel did on the first "Terminator" film, and I was very pleased that James Cameron called upon him to re-invent it for "Terminator 2". So, when it comes time for "SAW 2" James and Leigh have got me if they'll have me!

"Thank you ever so much for taking part in this interview Charlie.
And we wish you the very best of luck in the future."

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