16 July 2014
De Groot's soundtrack for Sororal becomes a cult hit
Christopher de Groot's score for the independent feature film Sororal is attracting attention from all corners of the world and has been described as 'some of the most refreshing and eclectic horror music to be heard in a contemporary film'. The composer explains how his distinctive sounds came to be.
Sororal is an independent feature film shot in Perth, Western Australia. The film is diverse and bizarre, mixing a heady whirlwind of genetic experimentation, mind control, and telekinetic power struggles with twisted artworks. Sororal's heroine, Cassie (Amanda Woodhams) is a troubled artist who tries to make sense of her vivid, violent dreams by committing her visions to canvas.
Inspired by lurid Italian horror films, Sororal lays claim to being Australia's first giallo film. When I began composing the score for this project I didn't really know what a giallo film was. But, as is quite often the case when I begin a film project, I undertook an intensive research period in which I discovered the strange and bizarre world of giallo, the music of Italian soundtrack band Goblin and the cult music of Ennio Morricone.
Since completing the project I have been very surprised at the reaction it has received internationally. People from all around the world have been tracking me down on social media, asking how they can get their hands on the soundtrack. I've had enquires from Italy, France, Brazil and the United States. I guess some people just go nuts over giallo! The soundtrack has been signed to prestigious soundtrack label Screamworks Records (Sweden) and is currently available for purchase. In addition to its overseas interest the score has received a nomination for Best Original Music in the 26th annual West Australian Screen Awards.
The score began in 2010 when I wrote a 15-minute work based on the dramaturgy of the script for the West Australian Symphony Orchestra's Echo Chamber Ensemble. This piece was part of a project that sought to give young composers the opportunity to compose for, and work with, a professional orchestra. This was a strange experience for me because the piece I had written (sections of which appear in the final Sororal score) did not get a very good reaction from the players of the orchestra. A number of the orchestra's musicians were openly hostile towards ideas in the piece and, as a result, the performance suffered.
Fast forward to 2011 and I am putting the finishing touches on the full Sororal score and am organising my own large ensemble for the recording sessions. The score features a 10-piece brass section, a 16-piece choir, a rhythm section comprising of two drum kits, electric cello, cimbalom, and electric guitar, and two analogue synthesisers.
One of the tropes of giallo films is their use of very expressive, sometimes outrageous musical scores. The instrumentation I chose for the score reflects the classic giallo sound but augments it and gives it a more modern, orchestral complexity.
Sororal uses highly expressionistic lighting, very much in the style of Dario Argento's films Suspira and Inferno, which influenced my decision to incorporate an electronic component - I thought it might be a good sonic match. I purchased some modular synthesisers from Germany specifically to use in Sororal's score just to get that classic Tangerine Dream sound. I discovered Bulgarian choir music during the early composition stages, particularly an album called Le Mystère des Voix Bulgares (The Mystery of Bulgarian Voices), which made an influence on the musical material in Sororal.
The choir permeates through the score at various points but is strongest around the Dr. Sosa character and her actions. The main character's terrifying visions are the result of Dr Sosa's experiments into the emotions of love. Her research stems back to Greek mythology - even though the choir music does not contain Greek influences, I was looking for a musical style that could reflect an idea with a long history, and had an ancient mythical quality to it.
Overall we wanted to play the emotional aspects of the film whilst also going to town on the thriller elements of the film's action, that's where a lot of the prog-rock elements can be found. There is a fairly deep emotional aspect to the film (love lost and then found, an artist tormented by her visions) and some of the ambient electronic pieces underscore that element of the film's plot.
The score was recorded in an atypical way - in four different layers. I recorded the synthesisers and guitar parts in my bedroom; the brass section was recorded at the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA), the choir at St Paul's Church in Manora, and the rhythm section at Soundfield Studio. It was then all mixed together by Stuart James at Soundfield Studio.
Sororal has been a very long but exciting and rewarding journey, the score took over a year to compose, and then several months to record and mix. The film then went into a very long visual effects post-production period. The film finished shooting over two years ago and it's only just ready now.
Sororal is currently making appearances at film festivals around the world, most recently at Fantaspoa in Brazil.
© Australian Music Centre (2014) — Permission must be obtained from the AMC if you wish to reproduce this article either online or in print.
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