'The Witch' Composer Discusses the Unsettling Sounds Behind the Groundbreaking Horror
Composer Mark Korven is the man behind the eerie and tense sounds that elevate the, as others have noted, hauntingly unsettling film from Robert Eggers, The Witch.
The story focuses on a family of seven who are pulled apart by a malevolent force. It is being described as a folktale, with imagery that belongs in less innocent territory by the sounds of it (the title of folktale doesn't necessarily allude to something haunting).
Korven spoke with The Film Stage, to whom he admitted the positive response to the film took him off guard. "I initially thought the film was going to have a really rough time - being the dialogue was spoken in Jacobean English - and I really didn't consider it in the vein of a modern horror film, or something that would cater to typical hard fans."
"I came into this with Robert known very, very well what kind of score he wanted," Korven said of the soundtrack. "He's very much a hands-on director, and that goes right from what kind of buttons are on everyone's shirts, the art direction, the screenplay, the cinematography, direction, and everything else."
"Rob was very much in control, and that applied to the music as well, and there were some rules he set down in our very first meeting mainly that he didn't want any electronics. It all had to be instruments from the earth, made by people, because he wanted an organic nature to the sound. He didn't want the music to be traditional, in melody or harmony, or anything that brought it back to the 1930s. But he wanted the sound of the instruments to be old and archaic."
The Swedish Nyckelharpa is an instrument that dates back to around 1350, and it's that instrument that the composer offered to Eggers. Though the choir is something he had to convince the director to add.
"I told him, 'We have to have some vocals in here, and I know the perfect choir - the Element Choir out of Toronto - and they specialise in improvisation.' So we didn't write any notes for them at all."
"I really view this as less of a traditional horror film and more of a family drama, because that really is the heart of the film. You watch this family fall apart, and there are these great performances all around that. Regarding the idea of freedom and establishing what a film isn't, I always like to quote Srtavinsky who said that there is great freedom within structure."