Arts / Duo compose music to scare

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Writer and director Tony D’Aquino, working on the music score for The Furies with Kenneth Lampl
COMPOSER-partners Kirsten Axelholm and Ken Lampl make a pretty nifty team as they prepare the music score for Tony D’Aquino’s horror film recently shot in Bywong called “The Furies”. 

It’s the first production by Canberra film studio, The Film Distillery, working with Screen Canberra, the ACT government, SilverSun Pictures and the Academy of Interactive Entertainment as part of a move to build a film and TV production industry in Canberra.

Written and directed by D’Aquino, the feature shows a young woman (Airlie Dodds) facing her darkest fears with seven other girls in a deadly game of survival, revenge and redemption. Initially called “Killer Instinct”, it’s a female-driven survival thriller, with the film’s eventual name inspired by the ancient Greek deities who exact vengeance on men who have wronged women.

Head of the ANU School of Music Lampl is a much-awarded American composer with a strong track record in film scoring whose stated aim is to turn it into a “21st century music school”.

He’s a former student of “Star Wars” composer, John Williams, and “The Furies” will be the 85th film for which he has composed. Over his career Lampl has also composed films such as crime drama “Winter of Frozen Dreams”, psychological thriller “Royal Kill” and horror film “Kandisha”, starring David Carradine.

Kirsten Axelholm and Kenneth Lampl. Photo by Samara Purnell
“Composing together is very far from what most people imagine composers do – sit alone in a room”, Axelholm tells “CityNews”, while we wait for Lampl to arrive at the School of Music.

“We both compose sitting together, Ken does most of the mixing, and he’s has just been in France studying mixing with Alan Meyerson, who long-worked with composer Hans Zimmer,” she says.

Axelholm, by contrast, uses organic sounds and has made an extensive sound sample library on which they can both draw in a score that relies heavily on classical strings and synthesisers.

She’s particularly happy that the female characters in the movie are to the fore, indeed in a “hunter and becomes the hunted” scenario, the girls turn the tables on the men.

Their involvement started when approached by producer Lisa Shaunessy and they met D’Aquino in Canberra, who told them he wanted the music “to capture the essence of the sound of the great horror films from 70s’ and 80s’ movies such as “Halloween”, “The Thing” and “Texas Chainsaw Massacre”, which all had “fantastic and disturbing soundtracks”.

“SilverSun Pictures are doing the sound design, so it’s not just us,” Axelholm says, “it’s a whole team, and as we speak the film is being edited at the National Film and Sound Archive.”

The procedure, she explains, is for the producer to provide them with cues then say where they want music and what its “temperature” should be.

Having original composers work on your film, is advantageous, she believes, as not only does it raise the quality of the film, but it also gets around license fees. While it is true that some directors have peculiar ideas about music, D’Aquino has been easy to work with.

“Both Ken and I have been studying psychology and philosophy, they’re so important,” she says, as Lampl walks in on cue to explain.

“The score,” he says, “represents the unconscious part of the film and composers see what nobody else sees, like John Williams… It’s not a matter of making happy music when the scene is happy or sad music when it’s sad, underneath the characters is a very deep process, but also the music tells what the messages the film is, gives it cultural context.”

“There are infinite choices as to what this score could be,” he continues, “there is reference to horror films of the 70s’, but it’s a contemporary film so it has to reflect contemporary music too, that’s where Kirsten’s sounds come in, she does the field work and in this case it’s good having a female composer around.”

Their joint composing process is simple enough.

“I’ll listen to her thoughts, I’ll put the notes on paper and ask, ‘how about this sound?’ We sit together at the computer and it’s much better to have a second head,” he says.

But, Axelholm, says: “It’s not like sitting down to write the great novel… Even the big Hollywood composers like Zimmer have whole teams some mixing, some doing arrangements, it’s an illusion to think about the composer being in isolation.“

The music is not finished, but after asking, “Are you ready to be scared?” they play a snippet from the trailer—driving pulsating rhythms suggesting impending doom.

It’s scary.

“The Furies” is due for release in December. Information at









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