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INT: Charlie Clouser

12.17.2004by: The Arrow

The Arrow interviews Charlie Clouser

To be honest after all the coverage I did on SAW, I promised myself I wouldn't address the film anymore where I've been eating and living it for the last 3 months. But when the opportunity arose to interview ex NINE INCH NAIL (great band!) member and musical genius CHARLIE CLOUSER, the man behind the infectious SAW score (buy it here), I couldn't pass it up. I tossed a couple of questions Chuck's way and here's what he answered

What’s your favorite horror movie?

I'd have to go with "The Shining", since I'm such a Kubrick addict.
That one fills most of my horror requirements superbly.

How did the “SAW” gig drop in your lap?

It might sound kind of "Hollywood cheesy", but I have the same lawyer as the producers, and when he heard that they were looking for a composer that understood bands like nine inch nails, Einsturzende Neubaten, Coil, and all that stuff, he suggested me. There was actually a few bits of my NIN remixes in the temp score for the movie, so when the director found out that I had played in NIN for many yearsand also had a lot of scoring experience, he decided to go for it.

What was it about the project that made you say “yes”?

Are you kidding? Have you seen it? I first saw a rough cut of the
movie at about 8:00am one morning, and almost sprayed Egg McMuffin all over the screening room. I wasn't leaving the building without saying yes to that one. It was a perfect fit! I knew I could really tear it up in the studio and that they would be up for that, sonically. The picture demanded it! It was my DUTY to score this film.

Can you give us some insight as to your artistic process when you composed the music for the film?

The first step was gathering insane noises and bits of sound and music to use in the film, and for that I went to two musicians I love to work with, Chas Smith and Peter Freeman. Chas makes metal
sculptures/instruments that create unheard-of sounds, and all
acoustically. Peter is an electronic musician and bass player with a
huge collection of weird-o gear and vintage crap. Both of those guys
gave me samples and sounds to use in the project. Between that, and the contact microphones on the huge metal sculpture in my living room that forms a railing for my stairs, and my 4 foot by 6 foot stainless steel sheet, we had an orchestra.

I basically mapped out the whole film in terms of where there needed to be separate cues, but I like to try to map out as much of the film as possible to feel like "one piece of music". On "SAW", I only was able to effectively do that in about four big chunks surrounded by about fifteen smaller ones. I like to make them as long as possible, so that there is more continuity throughout the film. After these pieces are mapped, I start to fill in the blanks, sprinkling melodic themes as needed among the chaos. Then we recorded strings.

What did you drink during that procedure?

Starbucks' Mocha Frappuccino in those tiny little pre-mixed bottles,
about thirty or forty a day, I'd estimate. I wish they'd make a
tankard-sized bottle.... or flagon-sized, or whatever...

In your opinion which combo of “a scene/your score” in the movie was the more powerful?

I like the first scene with Tapp in it, when Tapp and Sing are first
investigating the Jigsaw killings in the basement. That one, and the
mother/daughter hostage scene and ensuing fight between Tapp and Zepp in the apartment, I thought, came out pretty well. For a while my favorite part was the very end, but I'm not so sure anymore.... that piece of music bugs me now.... not quite right for the scene, but a cool piece of music.

The piece playing during the last frames of the picture reminded me of the Requiem for a Dream score. Any connection? Were you inspired by that said score or was it simply a coincidence?

Good call! Clint Mansell is actually a close friend, and I was of
course riveted by his score for "Requiem". I knew I needed a very
simple three-note motif that I could just hammer away on over and over, and I did wind up a little close to Requiem territory, but that was
just a quickie demo to see if something like that would work, and James (the director) and everyone wouldn't let me change it! They liked it that way. I did play it for Clint and we got a laugh out of it, but
since he never gave me back that synth module I lent him in New Orleans back in '97, we decided to call it even.

What’s next on your plate “soundtrack” wise?

Well, I've just finished a movie called "DeepWater", with Lucas Black
(of "Sling Blade" fame), which is a bit more of a head-case movie; more psychology and a lot less violent. The score for that one came out really cool, with lots of front-porch guitar and pedal steel in the
beginning, which devolves into industrial-tribal mayhem by the end.

Do you have any intention of going back to the “band life”? Maybe starting another one? Or have you already?

Hmmmm... I must confess to being a bit spoiled after working with
Trent. How do you work with another singer after that experience?
Guys like that aren't exactly thick on the ground. If I ever found a
vocal talent that could compare in any way to Reznor, I'd start a band
in a second. Know any singers tha
t want to step into those shoes? I
didn't think so.

What does Charlie Clouser put in his CD player when he wants to kick back and relax?

Kraftwerk. Like a little child's music box, so pure, so clean. Ahhhh. Or The Beach Boys. Those harmonies! Mmmmm.


I'd like to thank Charlie for dropping by and would like to encourage you to get the SAW score where it is a pretty badass piece of work. I actually play it while I tinker my screenplays and it works in terms of putting me in the right "kill-kill-kill" mood (the Rum also helps).




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