Interview with the composers of ‘Nosferatu Reimagined’ Tess Said So: The Indiependent
The Indiependent sits down with contemporary classical duo Rasa Daukus and Will Larsen, known as Tess Said So, to discuss their award-winning live musical score for the 1922 Gothic horror classic Nosferatu. Reimagined in the unique format of A double concerto for piano, percussion, prepared electronics and symphony orchestra, the complete film album includes 27 individual tracks synchronized with 27 chronological markers from the film.
The Indiependent: There are many silent films from the era where the score is missing, why did you choose Nosferatus? Was there a personal connection to the film, or did you just want to create music for something, and Nosferatus did it turn out to be appropriate?
Will: My brother had a poster of Nosferatus on his bedroom wall when we were kids, and I was intrigued by his images. I had also seen David Bowie and Queen use excerpts from the film in their video to Under pressure. When we had the idea of writing the music for a silent film, of course, Nosferatu was the first film I proposed.
Did your usual musical style fit well into the cinematic world of Nosferatusor did you have to adapt a lot?
Rasa: We were very happy to stay true to our style. The initial process involved watching and reviewing scenes, and choosing a musical theme that we felt worked well as an expressive arc or nuance with the mood or narrative.
Will be: Nosferatus lingers on his images, asking the audience to really soak up what they see. Where a modern horror film would rely on much faster editing, seeking to surprise and shock its audience, Nosferatus rather rests on the relentless construction of tensions. A lot of the music we write is about the space between notes, so it was a good fit.
Nosferatus is obviously a silent horror movie, so the horror can’t be created through the sounds of big shows. Instead, it was atmospheric, and the musical score helps a lot with that. How did you manage to create a “scary” atmosphere to match the horror of the film?
Rasa: To be honest, I don’t think I would have enjoyed working with big shows so much. With the film already atmospheric and the black and white cinematography playing a vital visual role, I preferred the music to provide a subtle and nuanced backdrop to the imagery, which I think adds to the suspense of the fear rather than inside. in the face of shock and horror.
Will: One of my favorite scenes in the film is when one of the characters chooses to commit suicide rather than be eaten by the vampire. A traditional score would mimic the fear of this character, but instead we chose to write about the loss and tragedy of his fate. Film music should always reveal more than what is already on screen. If you can see that a character is scared, it’s not very interesting if the music also tells the audience to be scared. It reveals nothing more than what is already there. Music can add another layer of story to the mix by expressing what is not said and/or shown to the audience. For example, we play a childish lullaby almost every time Nosferatu is on screen. You can see that the characters around him are scared, but the lullaby makes it scarier when added to the visuals, as it gives you the vampire’s perspective instead of the victim’s.
Nosferatus of course celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. The film and its original music were created in a completely different, almost unrecognizable time. Did you want to try and stick to a more traditional 1920s musical style, or were you excited to bring Nosferatu into the 21st century?
Rasa: What we wanted to stay true to above all else was our original live score – for piano, percussion and electronics – which we performed at various festivals a few years ago. It was Will, who has a lot of orchestral experience, who launched the idea of reinventing the score into a double concerto for piano and percussion, with symphony orchestra and electronics. As we initially took a contemporary approach, it was very important to keep the style modern. Instrumentally, there are many extended techniques, as well as graphic notation, indetermination, and other non-traditional techniques. So yeah, we were excited to bring Nosferatu to the 21st century!
Normally, when a film score is created, the musician(s) work closely with the director to ensure that the score matches the director’s vision. Of course, FW Murnau is dead. Did you find it liberating or difficult to have no one to answer to, so to speak?
Rasa: Liberator. But also, sometimes nerve-wracking, because we only got each other’s feedback, so we really had to trust our instincts.
Will: When we work with a director, our priority is to compose in a way that corresponds to his vision for his film. Almost inevitably, at some point the director will request changes or even a complete rewrite of a piece or two of music. And that’s okay, but it’s a good day when the director doesn’t ask for changes. We had a lot of great days working on Nosferatu!
Have you listened to the scores of previous musicians for Nosferatus and get inspired by it, or did you want to take a totally new and fresh approach?
Rasa: I had listened to parts of the original by Hans Erdmann for reference, but we really wanted a completely new approach. Out of curiosity, I’ve also since listened to excerpts from other recent live scores, all of which have taken a more improvisational approach than our version, which is fully scored. It’s exciting that such an iconic piece of cinematic history can be given new life – or lives! – in contemporary contexts.
Did you feel any pressure writing the music for such an important, iconic and beloved film as Nosferatus?
Rasa: The pressure was really the task of orchestrating the film, rather than the fact that it was for Nosferatus. Writing for a full symphony orchestra is always a big undertaking, and 84 minutes of continuous music is huge! So it was sometimes very stressful just because the work was so huge. I am indebted to Will for his patience, attention to detail and orchestral expertise. He is responsible for most of the orchestration.
Will: I always look forward to collaborating with artists better than me. I perform better in the company of good musicians; that’s one of the reasons playing live with Rasa is so much fun! Likewise, composing the music for a great film and/or a great director makes writing easier. It’s much harder to write for a project I’m not cut out for, and inevitably I’ll write something I’m not happy with. So it would be a mistake to be intimidated by great artists, musicians, directors or even an iconic movie – they lift me up and transport me to places I can’t even think of for myself. This is the reason why I like collaborating much more than working alone.
I loved your score for the film so far, do you think you will do more film scores?
Rasa: Thank you! Yes!
Will: We are currently discussing with a director to do the music for a feature film which will go into production next year. As for other silent films, the most obvious would be Metropolisbut I will discuss with Rasa about The Office of Dr. Caligari. It’s another one of my favorites.
The full album, Nosferatu: A Reimagined Symphony of Horror by Tess Said So, will be released on September 30, 2022.
Lyrics by Lewis Royle
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