‘Loop Track’ Composer Mike Newport on Using Nature As An Instrument

Loop Track

Sometimes the unknown can be more terrifying than reality, especially in the dark wilderness. In Dark Sky Films’ Loop Track, Ian, a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown, disappears from the world and takes a hike in the New Zealand wilderness. His efforts to avoid other hikers are futile and he is drawn into their worlds, but he can never shake the feeling that they are being stalked by someone, or something, sinister. As Ian’s paranoia grows, the other hikers become wary of him. He’s cagey about his past, he never sleeps, and his anxiety leads him to make concerning claims. Far from society, Ian starts to question his own sanity before plunging into a bloody battle for survival.

Helping add to the uneasiness of Loop Track is composer Mike Newport, who takes the film from a slow burn to a scorching fire when needed. Newport took an unconventional approach to the film’s score and created as many of the compositions as possible by sampling native bird and bush sounds and turning them into instruments.

Newport says, “The sound of wind and trees creaking turned into a deep ominous percussion theme that plays each time the protagonist Ian feels like he senses something watching him in the trees. A male kiwi call slowed down and processed through an effects chain of reverbs, echoes and distortion became this ghostly haunting tone throughout that feels real and organic but also very otherworldly”.

Newport goes into this topic and much more in the below Q&A.

Dread Central: What first attracted you to the Loop Track script?

Mike Newport: I’d been a fan of the director Tom Sainsbury’s work for a long time, so I was delighted to get sent a feature script he’d written. It was so well crafted; funny, and intriguing and to me, the most attractive prospect was it clearly had a lot more going on than initially meets the eye. Layers of metaphorical comments on mental health, asking for help, and unwanted social interactions. Without wanting to give away spoilers, I also read the twist in the third act and in all honesty just thought “This is so outrageous, how on earth are they going to pull this off?” Count me in!

DC: When beginning a new project, like Loop Track, what are some of the first things you do? How do you decide the film’s musical tone?

MN: The most important thing for me was to find a way to approach this score uniquely; to create a soundworld just for this film that ties into the setting, and the subject matter. I went away from my initial meeting with the filmmakers and came up with a score concept to create as much of the score as possible by sampling native bird and bush sounds, and turning them into instruments. So my way in was really with experiments around this idea, and to explore if it would even work!

A male kiwi call slowed down and processed through an effects chain of reverbs, echoes, and distortion became this ghostly haunting tone throughout that feels real and organic but also very otherworldly. The sound of wind and trees creaking turns into a deep ominous percussion theme that plays each time the protagonist Ian feels like he senses something watching him in the trees. The final part of my score concept at the outset was that I wanted the score to mirror the film’s structure, upping the ante hugely during the final act.

From here, I wanted to switch it up from subtle ominous soundscapes and score the film like Jurassic Park—huge orchestral themes, massive synths, epic percussion. I thought the mention of Jurassic Park came with the risk of being immediately fired, but fortunately for me the filmmakers were very excited about this concept and were totally on board!

DC: Loop Track has been dubbed as a horror/thriller with comedy sprinkled in. Musically, those genres sound very different. Was it difficult trying to blend horror and comedy music together? 

MN: For sure, but I think the key is staying true to the characters and what’s happening for them. A lot of times in a film like Loop Track, the comedy is all there on the screen and doesn’t need to be doubled down on in the score. So it’s more an art of staying out of the way and letting the actors with their great comedic timing be at the forefront. 

DC: Can you talk about the instrumentation you used for Loop Track?

MN: The basis of the score was creating as many usable instruments from the organic bush sounds as possible, so this was the starting point. I had a long post schedule on this film, far longer than a lot of films so I had the luxury of being able to experiment and keep playing with new ideas to bring as much character and nuance to the score as I could. My main concern was in wanting to craft a score that really immerses you in Ian’s world, but also wanting it to be musically interesting in character and texture.

One key moment for me was finding an amazing instrumentalist who makes her own Taonga pūoro instruments (traditional Māori musical instruments). She created some amazing sounds that I worked into the score, along with live vocals and eventually full live strings which brought so much to the score and really helped bring it to a new emotional level.

DC: Composers, especially ones that score horror projects, have been known to use “found objects” in their scores. Did you do anything like that for Loop Track?

MN: Absolutely! I don’t know how they’d feel about being classed as found objects, but the birds and trees I used in the Loop Track score were such an inspiring way to start the project, and find a ‘way in’ as to what the score could be.

DC: Did you have any challenges when creating the Loop Track score? If so, how did you overcome them?

MN: I think starting without sound design and a totally blank canvas was liberating but also a challenge. Will the scary moments work? Is the score pushing enough or too much? I definitely went through a period of being concerned the score may end up too subtle and ‘soundscapey’. But fortunately, with having the time available to keep playing with new ideas, and adding new layers I think it got to a great place and does the job of helping tell the story of Loop Track effectively.

The other challenge would be the fact my studio is nestled in native bush, so to try to not totally freak myself out by staring out of the window, wondering if something was staring back at me…

DC: In your opinion, what makes a horror film score effective?

MN: Not giving away jump scares, building tension subtly throughout to almost an unbearable sense of dread, avoiding cliches if possible so the audience doesn’t feel manipulated, or feel like they’ve experienced this film before. Intentionally misleading the audience at times, to keep them guessing as to what is really happening, keep them on the edge of their seats.

DC:  Because Loop Track takes place out in the woods, the film’s sound design is very present. Did you work very closely with the film’s sound designer?

MN: You’re so right. The sound design is such a key part of this film, and something myself and the filmmakers talked about a lot. We wanted to make sure we didn’t ‘over score’ it when there would be many scenes that would be filled out by sound design later. I started on the score a long time before the sound post though, so there wasn’t actually a lot of close work with the sound designer.

However Morten Gamst and Vedat Kiyici at Envy Studios are incredible, and long-standing collaborators of mine. So we were all on the same page very quickly. The work they did on the film is outstanding, they brought so much to it.

DC: Did you score Loop Track in chronological order? Or did you tackle the most important scenes first?

MN: I do usually prefer scoring chronologically, but I actually scored Loop Track in a way I never have with any other film. I wanted to demonstrate what I could do with the score up front, so I scored the opening scene, followed by the very end scene, and finally a random scene in the middle. Once these were approved, it was a case of filling in the gaps!

DC: What are some of your favorite horror film scores?

MN: I think Michael Abels does amazing work, like his score for Get Out. I love Colin Stetson’s groundbreaking Hereditary soundtrack. Marco Beltrami’s work on both A Quiet Place films, Abel Korzeniowski’s Nocturnal Animals soundtrack, and anything by Bernard Herrmann and Danny Elfman. 

Loop Track is now available on VOD. You can listen to the film’s score here

You can learn more about Mike Newport at http://www.mikenewport.com/



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