James approached me back in April 2015 to see if I would be interested in coming on board as composer for PANIC. We had just finished an entry for the 48 hour London Sci-Fi film festival – watch here. In that project I sent James the stems before I saw the film. I designed them to work as stand-alone cues each evoking a different texture and setting whilst also structuring them so that they could be layered with one another simultaneously. I started to use this method in creating concept cues for PANIC.
We collated a few reference tracks ranging from subtle cues found in the Interstellar soundtrack, to the type of moody guitar atmospheres present in some of Nick Cave’s work. I unpicked each of these tracks musically, which enabled me to create a suite of cues without having seen the film. I knew I wanted to work with acoustic instruments alongside an array of synthetic pads and distorted soundscapes to create an intimate yet contemporary hybrid-orchestral score.
For the final cue I struck gold with the team: whilst writing away from the picture I had words in my head such as ‘alone’ and ‘escape’, referencing Dylan’s emotion and sense of panic. I kept things simple using an altered piano performing a wistful melodic line whilst a sub-bass atmospheric grew behind it. It felt great to see it fit so well with the picture; it was fantastic to be on the same page as the creative team from day 1! The rest of the film really started to grow from this final track and allowed me to start developing concepts.
We were keen to develop short concepts that would act almost like cells within the score that could be revisited and anchor the audience with particular emotions. One of these was the use of a distorted and augmented sound of a train. It seemed apparent to me that Dylan was allowing the obsessions and sense of panic to run away with him. With this came the idea of isolation and I drew inspiration of the isolation you feel under water; the piano lines throughout allow for an eerie space and reverb to paint the picture of Dylan being alone. The top frequencies on the piano were cut to create a loss of clarity, distancing Dylan from the others.
James asked me to experiment with a variety of drones to create an alienating and possessive ‘buzz’ within the soundscape. I created a pallet of drones that could be used on their own or as part of a layered cue that covered a variety of pitch and timbres. I always had in mind that these drones were to take the audience inside the traumatised space occupying Dylan’s head, to create an all-encompassing sense of anxiety and pressure. Finally, Jenny, as the only source of happiness to Dylan, enabled me to create something subtle and uplifting within the score. She gets the use of a delicate 3-note piano motif alongside a warm textural swell based on the closing theme.
It has been an absolute pleasure working on this project. It has really made it clear to me that an effective creative process behind any musical idea can only form when there is a shared sense of concept between the filmmakers and composer. We got this in PANIC, it is one of the most rewarding aspects of writing for film.