Ben Lovett, composer of “The Night House” on using “Negative Harmony” for a disturbing horror score


As “The Night House” unfolds and viewers watch the widow of a suicide victim slowly unveil her dark past, it’s the chilling, atmospheric music from composer Ben Lovett that keeps us going – a score which began long before director David Bruckner started filming on a lake in upstate New York.

Lovett and Bruckner are former college buddies at the University of Georgia, and as soon as they finished working on “The Ritual” in 2017, Bruckner sent in a script that immediately inspired the composer.

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“The Night House” is no ordinary horror film. The film’s central character, Beth (Rebecca Hall) has visions that force her to delve into her late husband’s eerie obsessions, which involve mirror images, inverted architectural floor plans, relationships with women who look like him, etc.

“So you start to think about melody inversions and negative space, and the idea of ​​focusing on the sound between the notes instead of just the notes themselves,” Lovett explains. “There was so much in the script, it was just an interesting thing to explore, musically.”

Lovett began sending music to Bruckner while filming “Night House,” and eventually visited the set near Syracuse, NY, which served as further inspiration. “The idea that the water of the lake is this cloudy and unstable presence, then constantly agitated by external forces, which seemed to reflect this state of anxiety in which the character is constantly…. Even when a lake looks calm, it never quite is.

He translated this into an eerie soundscape that was part acoustic musicians, part synthesized sound. “Music was modulating with its various states of manic anxiety,” Lovett says, “and that led to synthesizers, but also to taking acoustic instruments and taking them apart and putting them through things that could transform them. in unrecognizable sounds. “

So while much of the score for “Night House” is textual rather than melodic, it is also partially rooted in a song that reappears throughout the film. Richard and Linda Thompson’s 1974 “Calvary Cross” first appears in the couple’s wedding video, then returns, discordantly, throughout the film.

Lovett took his three chords and converted them through a concept in music theory called “negative harmony” into “a phantom version” of the original. “This music defined her marriage, and the loss upset and reversed it in a darker context,” he says.

While many of the sounds were created by Lovett in his studio in 2019, prior to the film’s Sundance debut in 2020, he employed a 35-piece string orchestra and quirky percussion sounds from LA’s top percussionist, MB Gordy. . Seventy of the film’s 108 minutes are counted, and Lovett’s description of the film’s opening as “a cloud of dissonance” is apt.

Upcoming for the composer are “The Old Ways” (next week on Netflix), also a horror film but starring traditional Mexican folk instruments, and “Broadcast Signal Intrusion,” a 1970s-style conspiracy thriller. .

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