A Conversation With The Composer Of ‘THE WITCH’

A Conversation With The Composer Of ‘THE WITCH’

If you thought the images of The Witch were brutal… Do yourself a favor and listen to the Music.

The horror world was pleasantly surprised when Robert Eggers’ psychological dark tale, The Witch was released. Not knowing what to expect, we all went into those theaters curious and slightly hesitant. From what the trailer promised, we were in for the scare of a lifetime. With cheap thrills in mind, we glued our eyes to the screen and committed to the journey. Instead of getting jump scares or mounds of gore (nothing wrong with that), we ended up getting something different. Something genuinely terrifying, thought provoking, disturbing, original, and more importantly beautiful.
As I sat in that theater, in awe of the cinematography and the hardships that this family endured, I found myself always being taken away by the music. As these dark images rolled across my eyes, I was deeply affected by the score. Movements of music that embraced the spirit of The Witch and created a sinister bed for us to lie in, while witnessing our character’s demise. The anxious rhythm of the strings, the terrifying howls from the choir, combined with the raging percussion, created an immense, almost palpable, intensity.

Ever since those credits rolled, I haven’t put down the score and kept thinking: “What would I ask composer Mark Korven if I had the opportunity?” Well, opportunity knocked and we got a chance to submit some questions to the man himself, Mr. Korven, regarding his compelling score.

What follows are the intriguing answers which truly show the genius behind the music.

WAIH:How did you create the same hypnotic feeling the images were creating, with the music?

MK: I’m a very visual person. I don’t really write music unless I have images to inspire me. So it was really just a natural thing.

WAIH: What was your approach to beginning the process of creating The Witch‘s original score?

MK: Robert Eggers is a real visionary and he was really captain of the creative ship right down the line, from the costumes, production design, carpentry, locations and of course the music. So in the beginning I was just reacting to the temporary music that he wanted me to hear, then I just took it from there, and tried to expand on it, mostly by expanding the musical palette by adding things like a waterphone and a choir. There were several rules: No electronics, no drums, brass or woodwinds, and maximum dissonance. He didn’t want music that was particularly evocative of “softer” emotions. The music was always in the land of darkness.

WAIH: What are the steps in your creative process? What is your favorite piece of music you wrote for The Witch

MK: I mostly just absorb the film in the beginning, and most importantly absorb what the director is hearing in their head. Then I start feeding the director rough sketches and wait for the reaction, then steer it from there. I consider that I’m there not to express myself musically, but to help the director realize their creative vision for the film. My favorite piece would be the witch’s coven.

WAIH: What was your direction to your vocalists, to get them to produce those ghostly, eerie, howls and swells?

MK: It was very loose! The Element choir are an improv choir. That’s what they do. There was no written out music. It was just, “hold a cluster of notes for 10 seconds, then when I wave my arms around start swelling to a fatter chord, and end with a scream when I drop my handkerchief!”

WAIH: Your song progression is gorgeous: from the gradual buildup of tension, to the tribal slams of your percussion. What instruments did you use to create this?

MK: The instrumentation was quite restricted by design. The heart of the score was a medieval keyed violin called the nyckelharpa. It was originally from Sweden. Also the bass nyckelharpa which is twice the size. Then there was the waterphone which is a bowed experimental instrument, an ancient Finnish instrument called the Jouhiko, and almost all of the percussion sounds were done by banging on an old cello. I created a couple of videos on the music
for The Witch and you can see it here:

Well, there you have it everyone! A master of his craft and we here at WAIH cannot wait to see what amazing music he puts out next.

If you haven’t heard the soundtrack you can listen on iTunes. As a composer myself I can tell you right now, i’m going to try my darndest to find a Nyckelharpa.