Exclusive Interview: Composer Corey Wallace Discusses the Upcoming Release of His ARTIK Score

Last week Notefornote Music announced that they are going to be releasing Corey Wallace’s score to the Dread Central Presents’ film Artik on May 29th, 2020. In case you aren’t familiar with the film, check out the trailer and synopsis below.

A comic book obsessed serial killer teaches his son how to get away with a series of brutal murders until the boy befriends a mysterious man who threatens to expose everything.

Related Article: Notefornote Music Releasing Corey Wallace’s ARTIK Score

The film was written and directed by Tom Botchii Skowronski and stars Chase Williamson, Jerry G. Angelo and Lauren Ashley Carter. In honor of the upcoming release, we did a Q&A with Corey and had him discuss how he created the film’s original score, for which he describes as “highly organic, feeling natural and alive”. Enjoy!

Dread Central: How would you describe your score to Artik?

Corey Wallace: I’d describe Artik as a brutal, primal score.  It’s not shy.  It hits hard and often, and I think it has a unique sense of ferocity. There is a notable absence of melody and harmony, and instead focuses on very raw gestures.  It’s a dirty score with lots of jagged edges. Even silence is used aggressively, as music and sound, at times, starkly cuts out without notice for dramatic effect.  It does not use traditional themes, but there are several recurring sounds and motifs that function in the same way, representing characters, emotions, and ideas.  The “Artik Drone” is the most notable one used in the film, a layered cello sound that opens track 02 The First Round. Tom, the director, described it as “nasty and mean”, perfect for the titular character, so we placed it heavily throughout the film.  Production-wise, the score is a culmination of all the techniques I’ve developed over the past decade, utilizing live musicians, custom sampling, analog and digital processing, and analog synthesizers when appropriate.  The score features cello and electric guitar sounds, but also includes plucked and bowed banjo, prepared piano, bowed dulcimer, metal hits and other processed field recordings.  Even with all its sonic manipulation, I’d still describe it as highly organic, feeling natural and alive, which not only is important to me stylistically, but was the right complement to the film. 

DC: What initially attracted you to this film?

CW: I was initially drawn to Tom’s first trailer.  It had a real slick sense of style, color, and movement that was captivating.  It looked gritty, dark, and aggressive, all things that I love to explore in horror music.  After my first conversation with Tom, I was even more excited because we had a great rapport and were immediately on the same page about the score’s sound.  His detailed descriptions of drastically detuned guitars and ugly, broken cello hits were really inspiring, and I told him stories of sounds I’d made on previous scores.  He was after something original, and it seemed like nothing would be out-of-bounds. That kind of wide-open potential is an exciting place to start.

DC: How involved was the film’s director, Tom Botchii Skowronski, with the whole scoring process?

CW: It was amazing to collaborate with Tom because he had such a clear vision for his film and the score, and he was actively engaged in every step of the scoring process from spotting through the music mix.  Tom has a musical background as a guitarist, so he was not only involved but literally hands-on.  He would come over to the studio, plug in my guitar, detune all the strings and jam.  I think we have close to three hours of improvised material that I combed through to find interesting sounds and riffs for the score, which is how I got the plucky motif in the Main Titles.  I then ask myself what it would sound like pitched down an octave, or two or three, what if it was filtered, delayed, distorted, in a heavy reverb, or all of the above, and I experiment running the sounds through my gear until something clicks.

DC: How does a horror score differ for you than one in another genre?

CW: In general, it doesn’t, but the most significant difference is the huge range of sounds that are possible.  Horror provides a great opportunity to explore sounds and textures outside the boundaries of typical music, to push limits and be extremely creative and inventive, to dial it up to 11.  My scoring process changes a bit because I spend a lot more time early on experimenting and trying to find those special sounds that will be unique to the story.  Even though this early exploratory phase is common to most scores, in horror, the journey feels amplified and can go to really unpredictable places.  The only limits are the parameters of the film and the tastes of the director, but usually a horror director is into some pretty wild stuff.  There’s almost always at least one scene where they’re really going for it, at which point there’s almost no limit to how out-there and crazy the score can be.  As a film composer, I want to be an active storyteller, and I love how the horror genre provides great opportunities for music to contribute in a meaningful way.

DC: You are releasing the score for Artik later this month. Do you have a favorite track on the album? Why?

CW: If forced to choose, I would say track 05 “The Forking”.  It’s a couple of cues fused together, and the first section goes with the type of scene that I just described, The scene in the film is brutal and bloody disgusting, and the music’s job is to rise to the same level of insanity as the picture.   I love how the track smacks you in throat right off the bat, and I love the way it moves and the shape of the sounds.  It has some of the best of what this score has to offer: brutal hits, aggressive, crazy cello sounds, and strange distorted FX.  The featured cello on the track’s opening is recorded with a professional, but many other cello sounds throughout were sampled by Tom and me on a cello I rented for the occasion, like the scratchy, distorted sounds and hits in the middle of the track.  We loosened and tightened the strings, bowed and struck it with various objects, anything we could do to extract weird sounds.  I warned the owner at Baxter Northrup Music what I planned on doing to this poor instrument, and he said as long as the neck didn’t come back broken in half I’d be ok.  Needless to say I still purchased the insurance.

DC: Did you go back and watch any other horror films before starting work on Artik, to get inspiration?

CW: Not directly for this one.  I have a lot of experience watching and listening to horror, so that history is always in the back of my mind, but nothing that I looked to for immediate inspiration. When I was at USC, I studied with horror icon Christopher Young, and my first job out of school was as his teaching assistant.  I spent a lot of years analyzing and writing about what makes the music in genre films so effective, and I’m always carrying that into every project.  Currently, I’m working on a slasher film called Unsheltered, and before starting I revisited Black Christmas and Halloween, but for Artik, Tom had a really clear concept for the score which was a great jumping-off point without needing to look elsewhere.  I’ll also sometimes look for inspiration as a warmup if I’m coming off of a film in another genre, but before Artik, I contributed to The First Purge score for composer Kevin Lax, doing sample development and writing additional music, so I was already in the right headspace.

You can learn more about Corey Wallace at https://www.coreywallace.com/

Are you a fan of Artik? Are you excited to pick up the soundtrack? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram! You can also carry on the convo with me personally on Twitter @josh_millican.



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