The show has sci-fi, it’s a spy thriller and a family drama, so how was it scored for all these different genres but doing them all in one piece?
Gender change is nothing new to me. I’ve worked in a ton of different spaces and scored a lot of trailers, jumping all over the map. The thing with this show is, yes, there are a lot of different story points and a lot of different emotions, but the sound of the show generally remains, in my opinion, pretty cohesive.
Because this show has been delayed for so long – I was hired in March 2020 and we didn’t really start scoring until February 2021 – I’ve had a lot of time with the scripts and to think about the story. Our creator, Adam Glass, is such a music fan himself. He thinks that’s just as important as other aspects of the show, which not everyone does. We’re often brought to the end rather than the very beginning, so we created a sound and figured out early on what we wanted the show to sound like. This allowed me to use this sound to convey all the emotions of the show.
We often hear that composers have two or four weeks.
I had to do things in a week or two weeks. Trailers? 24 hours. It’s quite normal. So there was a luxury of — it’s not like we had a lot of time before it was rendered, but we had a lot of time to think about the themes beforehand.
The episodes contain a ton of music. These are 45 to 50 minute episodes. Basically they have wall to wall music. I wrote something like six or seven hours of music for this show, which is kind of crazy. While I was rendering a lot of music, the background work that was done beforehand is a luxury that I don’t usually have. I was sending them music tracks while they were on set and they were listening to stuff.
The problem with TV, especially if it’s network TV, is that you’re chasing the next episode. You get stuff every week or every two weeks versus streaming, I wasn’t necessarily chasing everything because everything is technically streaming at the same time. It had the luxury of exploring themes like you would in a movie, as opposed to sometimes what you don’t get on TV.
What about the scripts that influenced your score then?
Right off the bat when I read the script, I think the core of the show is that it’s a female-centric show, but not in a way that it’s trying to push an agenda . It’s not about trying to be feminine to appease anyone. It just shows strong female characters, and that’s something I relate to because I want to tell stories, and they don’t necessarily have to be my stories or stories related to me, just characters strong. I think Adam, he will tell you himself, wrote this almost as a love letter to the women in his life and to his family. He respects strong female characters. I just wanted to make sure our main character had themes that were as strong as the character.
Now our chef Jenny [played by Margarita Levieva], if you watch the show, we get two timelines: We go through the past and the present. We have Jenny in the present day, and then her former spy, Anya, in 90s Russia. We wanted to make sure we paid homage to 90s industrial music, but also stay present and have a sound that would transport us from back and forth. It was always the number one thing. Adam and I share a love for 90s music, so it was an easy sell on that.
How did you want to pay homage to the industrial music of the 90s?
The score is full of analogs. It has a ton of analog synths. I used my Eurorack a lot. Speaking of prep work for this show, I did these big sampling sessions where I just recorded my Eurorack for two, three hours at a time, and then I got myself, my assistant, and my husband, who was my additional composer on this project, we sat down and chopped up those samples early on. Basically, we created our own library of essential sounds to use in the show.
I knew it was going to be important early on to get that slightly authentic 90s sound back, which was the early days of Nine Inch Nails and How to Destroy Angels and people experimenting. For me, the score is very experimental. It contains very few organic instruments, which was decided very early on. Even our action scenes have very little organic percussion, if any. It’s fair in your face and aggressive. But then we have the voice as the main organic element, which is sung by myself. I keep saying it was a masterclass for me to learn how to produce my voice in a weird way so that we have that organic element, but it doesn’t stray too far from the electronic nature of the score .
How did you want your voice to complement this electronic nature of the score?
One of the reasons I was brought onto the project was the vocals. There is a vocal theme written in the script. Adam knew he wanted the vocals to be heavily involved. I think if someone was going to tackle this score that wasn’t a singer and had to bring someone in, it would have been difficult because there was so much back and forth and a lot of things that had to be played on the board. It’s possible, but I think it was just easier to have someone like me do all the vocals.
That being said, there was a lot of experimentation in the beginning. The lullaby theme, which you hear bits and pieces of in transitions from present to past, is also right at the opening of the show and is also a vehicle for one of our characters. We just knew from the start that this was the first piece of music and the theme we had to tackle. I was so inspired by the script and the idea of old Russian technology that I wanted to make the main theme sound like it was being sung through an old Russian spy radio. I did this by experimenting with different distortions and different filters, and I think the result is pretty cool.
And then the beginning of this voice, which is used in the transitions on our show, I use this granular plugin called Portal from a company called Output. Basically it allows my voice to change and echo in hypnotically weird ways and just a bunch of layering and playing. When I originally sent it to Adam, this theme has hardly changed from its original version. You hear it in a lot of different variations on the show, but like the theme, it was the first thing we did. It was the cornerstone of the show’s sound.