23 July 2024 The Irish Film & Television Network

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Features & Interviews

IFTA Q&A Series: Die Hexen on Composing
09 Apr 2024 : Luke Shanahan
Die Hexen
To mark the 21st anniversary of the IFTA awards, we are showcasing Irish talent who are blazing a trail across our industry, working in front of and behind the camera.

Hosted in association with IFTA, this Q&A Series connects with Irish talent who represent a range of disciplines across our industry.

We find out about their approach to craft, working on the projects they’ve been nominated for, and the best piece of advice they’ve been given in their career.

Die Hexen is IFTA-nominated for Best Original Music for Double Blind. This is their second IFTA nomination, following a Best Original Score nomination for You Are Not My Mother in 2022. Other recent composing credits include A Bump Along The Way and short film Lamb.

IFTN: At what point did you become involved in this project?

DIE: “Failsafe Films producer Simon Doyle and director Ian Hunt-Duffy reached out to me nearing the end of the editing process. Ian and I quickly bonded over our love of John Carpenter, which informed the electronic feel of the music. Ian wanted bold, confident themes that would thrill and entertain while reflecting his vibrant, meticulous filmmaking style.”

IFTN: How did you approach the score in regards to aiding the film’s storytelling?

DIE: “I approached Double Blind the same way I approach all of the films I score: first by finding a personal connection with the story and then using my own experiences to channel the music.”

“For this film, I identified with the main character Claire (played by Millie Brady), who is estranged from her ailing mother, as I was from mine. Having myself suffered a traumatic brain injury, I also identified with the characters’ insomnia and near-death experiences.”

“Another crucial approach is incorporating bespoke sound design elements that impressionistically emulate the sound world of the film. Double Blind is a film about human survival and the fear and paranoia around death, in which the characters are given a drug that causes them to die if they fall asleep. I wanted to create a bespoke auditory mind journey that evokes the psychology and building paranoia of the characters as they are forced to confront their biggest fears, unresolved trauma, and their own deaths as they desperately try to stay awake – and alive.”

“For example, the main motif is built on a coursing, foreboding bass synth that grows in intensity over the course of the film, representing the characters’ collective anxiety. It doubles as an evocation of the sound of blood coagulating – this is how I imagine the sound of a lethal drug reacting inside the human body. Ultimately I wanted to create the feeling of something synthetic and unnatural in the blood. Additionally, this motif represents the faceless pharmaceutical company behind it all, as it gradually takes possession of the participants' lives.”

“The score is mostly electronic, with added layers of organic textural sound. For example, in scenes where Claire is beginning to feel the effects of the drug, I added breathy, ethereal female vocals on top of a bed of hypnotic synth to evoke her inner panic and heightened fear of the unknown. The vocalesque synth melody represents the growing trancelike, hallucinatory effects of the drug as she teeters between life and death. I hope that my score provokes a feeling of empathy towards the subtext of the desperate circumstances that lead each of the characters to participate in the experimental drug trial.”

IFTN: What element of this score are you most proud of?

DIE: “I am super proud of the whole score but, if pushed, choose the Double Blind title theme. I love how it ties together the opening of the film, when the mouse is decapitated by the guillotine, and the closing scene, when Claire opens her vengeful eyes after being captured by the pharmaceutical company. In the opening scene, the music creates a sense of menace and foreboding. But in the closing scene, the same theme becomes empowering as Claire prepares to take back her autonomy. My other favourite moment is the audience’s overwhelming reaction to the film and my score at its Galway Film Fleadh premiere in 2023.”

IFTN: How did you first get into composing professionally, and what have you learned through your experiences that would be of use to aspiring composers?

DIE: “I started composing for film after being invited to rescore The Search For Inspiration Gone, the 2012 MOMA-winning experimental short film by Ashley Briggs, for an event called Video Jam as part of Fat Out Fest ten years ago. At that time, I was a performance artist working with light, sound, and dramatic costumes. Shortly after that, Belfast Film Festival commissioned me to rescore Kenneth Anger’s 1954 avant-garde film, Inauguration of the Pleasuredome. But things really took off after directing and scoring my own experimental short films, Am I Dead (2017) and El Hor (2018), the latter of which received multiple accolades including the Michael Dwyer Discovery Award at the 2019 Dublin International Film Festival, and an IFTA nomination in 2020. This helped to establish me as a formidable filmmaker and composer. From there, I started getting offers to work on female-led projects and films such as Kate Dolan’s 2021 horror You Are Not My Mother and Aislinn Clarke’s upcoming Fréwaka/Fréamhacha, which is the first Irish language horror film ever made.”

IFTN: Is there one thing about your craft that you would like the public to be more aware of?

DIE: “Up until now I have been predominantly a singular artist. I write, perform, record and produce all of my own work. It's not a fundamental rule, I am open to collaborating musically, but it's something I'd like people to know.”

IFTN: What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given in your career?

DIE: “Don't use a metronome.”

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