How Moth Recordings Became the Signature Sound of The ‘Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever’ Score

Very few film genres can trigger a reaction the way horror does. Why is this? In horror, there are no set rules or guidelines to be followed. Creatives in the genre are allowed more freedom to experiment, which, in turn, can manifest uneasiness and terror through unpredictability. This applies to not only what the viewer is seeing, but hearing also. Composer Ceiri Torjussen can speak on this subject, as most of his horror film scores incorporate original sounds from non-musical sources.

For Torjussen’s most recent project, Shudder’s Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever, he and the film’s director, Ole Bornedal, thought it would be fun to represent the creepy character of Bent with some kind of insect. Since moths make an appearance in both this and the original film, they decided to use moth wings and buzzes as the basis for a new, unique sound to represent Bent. Ceiri recorded some local moths near his house and was able to manipulate the source sound by pitching it down several octaves and varying the speed. He quickly learned that moth wings end up having a unique, sinister rhythm if pitched and slowed down intensely. This became one of the reoccurring sounds in the Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever score.

Ceiri goes more in-depth about using original sounds from non-musical sources in the below interview.

Dread Central: Can you talk about how you got connected with Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever?

Ceiri Torjussen: I’d co-scored Ole’s previous film, The Bombardment (Netflix) along with my friends Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders. The Bombardment is an excellent, Danish WW2-period film about an RAF raid on Copenhagen. Ole liked what I’d done on The Bombardment and so asked me to score Nightwatch: Demons are Forever. It was an exciting opportunity for me and I had a lot of fun working on it.

DC: Were there any musical inspirations that the director, Ole Bornedal, particularly wanted you to adhere to? 

CT: We went in a completely new direction. Ole didn’t want me to reference the original film in terms of themes or ‘sound’, so I had pretty much a blank slate from which to start. More than anything Ole wanted me to experiment and create a unique sound for the film.

I was brought onboard way into post, once they already had a rough cut of the film. Ole was very open-minded about how the score should sound. He did give me some notes as to where he thought music could come in/out, so these were some good guideposts to start from. Also, a cool thing about this film was that Ole and Anders Villadsen (his editor) had used almost no ‘temp music’ as they were editing. This was very refreshing for me since most of the films I score often come with a temp score from early in the edit. It’s nice not to feel influenced or creatively confined by a temp score so I’m thankful for that.

DC: In this film Ole wanted to largely avoid the clichés of the horror genre. Did that include the way your score sounded too?

CT: Yes. Ole was very cautious about the score not sounding clichéd at all, so I really had to think outside of the box as far as the sounds I used and also where the music came in and out.

DC: We heard you incorporated moth sounds into the score. Can you talk about this?

CT: For the creepy character of Bent, we thought it would be fun to represent him as some kind of insect. Since moths make an appearance in both this and the original film, I decided to use moth wings and buzzes as the basis for a new, unique sound to represent Bent. 

I recorded a local moth near our house in Topanga Canyon and was able to manipulate the source sound by pitching it down several octaves and varying the speed. It turns out that moth wings end up having a cool, sinister rhythm if pitched and slowed-down intensely. This became one of the signature sounds in the score.

DC: Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever is the third Nightwatch film behind the 1994 version and the 1997 version starring Ewan McGregor. Is there anything that connects all of the Nightwatch scores together?

CT: Frankly not really. As I said, Ole wanted my score to go in a completely new direction. While I had seen the previous films I didn’t re-watch them, since I didn’t want to be influenced by their sound. I guess though, like the previous films, my score also has a mixture of musical scares, high-pressure tension and some slower, melancholic cues.

DC: Do you have a favorite scene in the film, musically?

CT: I have a few. Without wanting to give away spoilers, one is over a scene featuring Martin (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) and the psychiatrist Gunver (Sonja Richter). Another one is a cue (called “Hej! Parade” on the album) for which I wrote a kids circus march using toy instruments. My 7 yr-old daughter Anwen helped me out on that one by recording some of the instruments. We (my daughter, my wife, and I) also contributed some ‘shouts’ on the track which was a real blast.

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

CT: I think it can be many things. I think one of the most important things is to use completely new sonic textures. Sounds that are a mystery in how they’re created often can be quite creepy and unnerving, even if they’re not particularly ‘nasty’ sounding. Music with unstable pitch or jittery sounds often work really well. If you’re talking about more traditional instruments (e.g. strings, piano, etc), then using them in unusual ways, and very closely-mic’d can be very effective and terrifying. I did this on Nightwatch and also on some previous scores such as The Canal, Jack Goes Home, and Primal Rage. Also, I can’t overstate how important using silence in horror music is. When a score drops out, it can be just as scary as when it comes back in. I think that the art of manipulating silences is crucial when scoring to picture.

DC: Early on in your career you did a lot of orchestrating and conducting for composer Marco Beltrami, who has scored a lot of horror classics such as Scream, Resident Evil and The Omen (2006). How did you get connected with Marco? Did he give you any advice that stuck with you?

CT: I needed a job when I finished my Masters at USC. I’d recently watched the first Scream movie and was very impressed with the score. I looked up the composer and realized that Marco had a similar background to me in that we’d both studied classical/concert, and we’d both written concert works for orchestra. I sent him a demo CD of my music and, lo-and behold, he responded! Eventually, I invited him to my final concert at USC and amazingly he turned up. Afterwards he asked if I might be interested in orchestrating for him on his upcoming film Dracula 2000. Two months later I was in front of a 90-piece orchestra at the Todd A-O stage, hearing my orchestrations of Marco’s music. What a trip! I think two crucial things I learnt from Marco are 1) always serve the picture and 2) always be original.

DC: You have also gotten to work with another horror aficionado, Eli Roth, on Eli Roth Presents: The Legion of Exorcists. Can you talk about working with him? Did he give insight on the score?

CT: I didn’t work with Eli at all. I worked with the producers Joel Freed and Allison Berkeley and the amazingly talented editors on that show. I actually just scored my fourth project for Joel and Allison —the show Horror’s Greatest, for which I wrote a main title theme and some original cues. It comes out on Shudder later this year. They’re a great team to work with and their shows have had a great reception.

DC: Are you a fan of the horror genre? What would you say are some of your favorite horror films?

CT: I am a fan though I can’t say I’m one of those encyclopedic über-fans like I’m sure many of your readers are. Some of my all-time favorites are Psycho, Night of the Living Dead, Rosemary’s Baby, Alien, The Shining, The Thing, Jaws, An American Werewolf in London, Audition, The Descent, Hereditary, Midsommar, Get Out.

Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever is out now on Shudder.


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