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Scoring The Witch [2016-11-11]

In September 2016 horror fans where returned to Black Hills Forests & the legend of Blair Witch with Adam Wingard’s Blair Witch. As well as directing the film Mr Wingard also composed the films brooding dark ambient soundtrack, which was produced by US ambient legend Robert Rich. I caught up with Adam via an email interview - discussing how he got involved with project, his soundtrack work on this film & his other films.

M[m]: Firstly please tell us a little bit about how you became involved with Blair Witch?
Adam I was about to go into production on "The Guest" when Lionsgate approached Simon Barrett( my writing partner on each of my films) about doing a sequel to "The Blair Witch Project". This would have been around February 2013, and we were fresh off of doing another found footage film called "VHS 2" which had just premiered at Sundance. I've always been a "Blair Witch Project" fan — I even made my own spoof back in high school. And like many fans of the film, I was disappointed in the direction they took with the sequel, so it felt like a fun opportunity to right some wrongs, at least from our perspective. I was never happy with my entries in the "VHS" series, so this also appealed to me as a way to give one final hurrah to found footage.

M[m]: At what point in the film's production did you decide to do the soundtrack yourself?
Adam It wasn't something I initially planned on — as a matter of fact, I wasn't even sure I was going to have any kind of score at all. I always wanted to play true to the found footage rules, but as the edit started taking shape, I started experimenting with creating these ominous soundscapes that could fit subconsciously within the film. I never wanted the music to drive the scene — it was always intended to just accentuate the overarching evil and sense of dread that the characters were experiencing. I will say that right from the get go when I started creating atmospheres I was always thinking of Tony Cora's end credits piece he made for the original Blair Witch Project. Even though the original film didn't have a score that end credits piece really defined the sound of the Blair Witch world, maybe its because it was so well exploited in the marketing materials of the film as well.
M[m]: Tell us a little bit about the writing & production of the soundtrack? And how did American ambient legend Robert Rich become involved in the soundtracks production?
Adam The process of creating the score evolved very fluidly in the edit. When a scene wasn't playing as tense as it needed to, I would just start fucking around on my laptop with different types of sounds that I would alter in Ableton. As I mentioned above, I wanted to stay within the dark industrial realm that Tony established so it gave me a fun starting point. Most of the sounds in the score were either sourced from real wildlife sounds or from a conjuring ceremony that a sorcerer friend of mine actually conducted on the grounds where we would be filming — I made an audio recording at the time just to have but it proved invaluable when making the sounds for the score. I figured if we were going to make something sound evil, I might as well imbue it with actual dark supernatural material. As for Robert Rich he came on through Lakeshore records, which was a real honor. Even though I've been making music for my films for years, I've still been too self conscious to call myself a musician. Once I had Robert mix this soundtrack, weirdly enough I finally felt comfortable thinking of myself as a musician. 

M[m]: What equipment/set-up did you use to make the soundtrack?
Adam Mostly Ableton, with the pre-recorded sounds I mentioned before that were heavily altered. For the soundtrack release, I created two tracks — entitled "Rustin Parr" and "Blair Witch" — which were more synth-based. Those tracks were made with the same affected samples from the score, with the addition of dissonant vocals, my Moog Sub 37 and my Roland JD-XI. That Roland is a cheap little fucker that I bought in Vancouver just to have something to mess around with while I was making "Death Note," but its got some good strings and its very quick and flexible.
M[m]: The soundtrack very much plays homage to classic dark ambient music- do you have any favourite artists from within this genre? Or albums from this genre that inspired you?
Adam The Nurse With Wounds album "Salt Marie Celeste" and Biosphere's "Substrata" were always in the back of my head.  Lustmord's "Rising (06.06.06)" is also a great evil album. I love dark ambient and noise. I went through a phase where I listened to Merzbow in my car cranked up full blast all the time. I always felt like if I listened close enough I would discover hidden patterns and melodies. There is an honesty to really dark ominous music that feels more like reality to me than other types of music.
M[m]: Along with the soundtrack Blair Witch has an impressive sound design to it, which often heightens the films atmosphere. Could please talk a little about this key element of the film, and how long it took to both select the right sound/ textures to use, and  to come up with finished scenes?
Adam It all happened pretty quickly. I knew at a certain point that the film needed to have a sort of glitched-out evil aesthetic to it. I think once the underlying score was laid in, we had a pretty clear direction to the types of sounds that would work to enhance the visuals.
M[m]: Unlike the first Blair Witch film the soundtrack in your film is often key to feeling of atmosphere/ uneasy. Are there any horror film soundtracks that you admire that are also key to the effect of the film?
Adam I think the original "Texas Chainsaw Massacre" is still by far the best horror soundtrack ever created. There are no definable themes to that movie and I think the jarring and sinister overbearing sounds are what contribute to the films otherworldly atmosphere. It's something not many people have had the guts or knowhow to pull off since then.

M[m]: Often in your films music plays a big part in either build atmosphere or creating unease- for example in Your Next,  the  track Looking for the Magic( by The Dwight Twilley Band) is used in a disturbing looping fashion. Tell us a little bit about how & why the idea for this particular use of music came about?. And why did you pick this particular track?
Adam Well it was scary taking on a film like "Blair Witch" where I knew I couldn't use music as a crutch to stylistically elevate any of the situations, but that was also why I felt it was a worthwhile challenge to undertake. I never want to develop habits of any kind, and after "The Guest" — which is primarily musically driven — I knew I needed to step out of that comfort zone. For "You're Next" I wanted to twist something that felt positive on the surface into something ominous. Although honestly at the core of "Looking For The Magic" there is an underlying darkness anyways that the film ultimately exploits.
M[m]: For 2014’s The Guest you got Steve Moore, of retro synth-scaping/ Synthwave project Zombi, to compose the soundtrack. Could you tell us a little bit about how this came about?
Adam I felt Steve was a guy that wasn't imitating that '80s sound — he just lived and breathed it in a fresh, modern way. "The Guest" is a film that was about borrowing textures from the '80s and reconfiguring them into a wholly new experience. Steve gets that. Zombi actually scored my first film "Home Sick" back in the early 2000s, so it was cool to reunite with him after the both of us had collected lots of experiences over the years.

M[m]: Do you or have you created any music outside of your film- work?. And if so could you please discuss this?
Adam I'm always making music on my downtime, and I do a lot of temp scoring on my films that I'll usually replace with the composer's other works. I have a growing library that one day I'll organize and polish off for release.
Will there be another Blair Witch Film, and if so will you be involved in it?
Adam Who knows if there will be a sequel? The film has done well for the budget we made it with, but it wasn't a blockbuster. I think I'm done with found footage for awhile — probably forever — so if there is a sequel, you can count me out of it. I love the movie we made but I don't think I need to do another.

Thanks to Adam for his time & efforts with the interview. And also thanks to Beth from The Krakower Group for arranging & making the interview possible. Blair Witch OST is now available  on Lakeshore Records- in either CD or  digital form. Here’s the films official website is here

Roger Batty
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