Candy Composer Ariel Marx Explains Why String Music Is Ideal For Horror [Interview]
In the beginning, you create the world, but in the final episode, you have a courtroom drama with a lot more story, dialogue, and exposition. How did you approach the final episode?
Yeah, so the fifth episode is a different format. It was a way for me to summarize my themes and ideas. Because of the location and exposure of it, as you said, the score had to live in a different way. There were a few more points in there to kind of help push these reveals forward. The trial was so bizarre that the music, in the spirit of the previous score, highlighted those moments of shock, horror, sadness.
I think in all respects we’re still in Candy’s world, but we’re not. [in] suburban homes established safely. Candy is under the gun in a courtroom. There is an oppressive fan and a questioning. It’s a different narrative approach, especially in this episode, so the music lived a little differently.
We’re in the same place and we don’t have Candy’s comfort with the things she distracts herself with, like her house, her to-do list, her shopping list and this and that. We are there with Candy without distraction. So somehow the score had to reflect that a bit differently.
How did you want to wrap up your themes and ideas for “Candy?”
Without spoilers, we end on the same cue we started the show with. It was a very intentional bookend, and it’s a very similar set of voiceovers. It’s a tinted and transformed version of this piece with a little more darkness, a little less pure than it was at the beginning.
Summarizing the themes, a lot of things come to a head in the fifth episode, narratively. There’s Betty’s material being wrapped, there’s Alan’s material being wrapped, there’s the town of Wiley, Texas material being wrapped, the horror is resolved. The horror is different in episode 5, because it’s Candy’s testimony. And so, the horror is also tinged with Candy’s perspective, in terms of melody, in terms of more dreamy colors on top of that. It was very designed to illustrate that this is largely a woman’s recollection and not definitively what happened.
Why do you think ropes are so effective in creating horror and unease?
I think, and especially how I approach writing strings for anxiety and internal moments of utter terror or horror, that they have no frets. Frets, say on a guitar, help with perfect intonation. In a stringed instrument, you can tune and detune very easily, and I think that’s very confusing to people. So that’s one aspect, the release of intonation on the strings. There are very violent techniques that you can apply to them simply because of the way they are constructed, the snapping of the strings, and sliding the bow up and down the string.
Especially on a cello there are these guttural human sounds. There’s a specific scene in Episode 5, where it’s a representation of Candy’s version of what happened in the laundry room, and those sounds are meant to be representative of the beast in all of us, of the animal in all of us, which might or might not snap when triggered in certain ways.
I really think it’s the flexibility of the intonation. The fact that you have two instruments, you have a bow and then you have the body of the instrument itself, and how these interact beautifully or very imprecisely, violently and erratically. It’s just a very versatile instrument, I think that’s why it’s so effective. I think when something is wrong, you sense it, you get uncomfortable, like certain alarms, ambulances, fire alarms, everything is set very precisely to unsettling tones. Why is a baby crying so alarming? I mean, we’re so tuned into the sound. I think when something is flawed, inconsistent, or out of tune, it triggers our fight or flight perception of that sound.
Was it this versatility of the instrument that made you fall in love with strings in the first place?
I would say that I later developed my preference for more tonal scores. I mean, obviously, I also love beautiful, well-played string music. I like the versatility of the instrument. I like classical. I like folk music. I love all the different ways he can live in these different genres, in jazz and more improvised forms. I just think they’re so versatile and it’s very exciting.
It sounds like contrasts and what’s internal defines your scores, but are you referential at all or are you just focusing on what’s on screen?
In initial conversations, it’s obviously helpful to have references and a conversation about music, because music is so objective and so subjective. What you think is scary, or what you think is enjoyable, or what you think is anxiety-provoking, et cetera, is not the same as I might think. Everyone has such different reactions to music.
I find it so helpful to be on the same page with, how does this iconic score make you feel? How does this instrumentation make you feel? With “Candy” there were a few references, which eventually we strayed very far from, but it was useful to have at first – at least I felt a desire for a strong sense of melody, but perhaps incomplete.
Other than that, I like to isolate myself. When I’m deep in something I try not to be referential in any way and just let the show speak for itself. I think in Candy’s case, the tongue instinct was so strong from the start that it worked. And what was exciting is that I started in pre-production.
It’s very rare.
Yes, it’s rare, but it’s something I’m trying to do more and more, because it’s so amazing to develop that language in advance and have it informed about the cut. If the actors are able to listen to it and take inspiration from it, it’s just world-building to a much higher degree.
“Candy” is now available to stream on Hulu.