The Sandman Composer David Buckley Breaks Down Highlights From Season 1 [Spoiler Interview]

With what instruments did you want to create, as you put it, those “minuscule imperceptible” tones in episode 5?

For me, it’s all about negative space. I mean, it’s a tried and tested formula that you leave just sometimes the smallest whiff and hint of some unsettling sound, [and that] can do way more psychological harm, or leave a psychological impression, than having a big growl.

There’s another show that I’ve scored called, “Evil,” which is quite a fun show on CBS. It’s very, very different to this and it’s got a humorous thread running all the way through it, but there are moments of horror, as the name might suggest. Often I’ll write a piece of music for it, and then I start pulling it out and then I get to this sparse version of it. We all agree, “Oh, that’s the scariest version” when you’ve got rid of all the junk, when you get rid of all the stuff that you point at people and say, “Be scared. Be scared. Be scared,” and then you find just this hovering, whimpering, decaying sound. And that’s the one that makes you feel queasy. That’s the one that makes you want to find your cushion to hide behind.

For me, episode 5 was a study in psychology, musical psychology, how to play with things. Real subtle manipulations of sounds, to make people feel increasingly on edge. It’s not about writing a tune. It’s not about being clever with harmony. It’s about trying to mess with people, but in the most subtle way.

Again, when it comes to scoring different tones, you’re clearly having a lot of fun with the cereal convention in episode 9. The strings are hilarious when Stephen Fry puts it all together.

Yeah. Well, again, we didn’t want to play the serial killers, as we didn’t want it to be a grim cue. We just didn’t want grim music there. At the same time, there is definitely a playfulness in the music. That’s one of my favorite tracks called, I think, “God Tells Me to Do It.”

It’s comically upbeat.

Yeah, it’s got pep to it. In fact, I had to rewrite that, because the first time I wrote it, I got a note back saying that I’m making the serial killers feel like serial killers, that they’re all sort of evil guys. They don’t want to do that. There is also a mundanity to that convention. They could just as well be cleaning products.

When the Corinthian sits down and gets the applause, it almost sounds like a company commercial for a retreat or something.

That’s an interesting one. Perhaps there, my instincts weren’t necessarily quite right, because I went more serious on my first version of that cue. And I was, “No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no. We want to celebrate this guy. We want to like him. He’s a good guy. He has a smile and a wink.”

When you’re doing a show which is off-kilter, it’s like you do need some help, sometimes, to be told, “We want to approach this more this way than that way.” Sometimes, unfortunately, the only way to actually have that conversation is to present a piece of music and be told, “No.”

You can talk about stuff endlessly, and you can say, “Yeah, I’ll do this.” And then of course, when it actually becomes flesh, then there’s a difference like, “Oh, that’s what you meant by the color red.” Ultimately, when you put a piece of music there, then you’ve got something tangible to either love or dissect.

What mood did you want to help strike with The Corinthian?

Yes, he has an awful lot of charm and he’d love to know what it’s like to feel human. He’s the villain there, but not in any stock or conventional sense. So this is quite a subtle sound, actually. It’s two elements to his, I wouldn’t really call it a theme, it’s more a vibe for him, which is an electric trumpet, which is a moody, slightly washy, trumpet-y thing. It almost doesn’t sound like a trumpet. And then there’s this very low, what I call Dr. Dre bass, just a very slow moving bass with glissando in it. Like, “Duhn-brr-rrr.” I don’t even know on TV how well it translates, but it’s got a little bit of sexiness within it, without it being a saxophone solo, which would be horrible.

When the Corinthian and Sandman crossed paths, musically, did you want to bring them together?

Yeah, if they do happen concurrently, I can’t recall. It’s quite a while now since I’ve actually worked on the show, because obviously, we put it in the can a number of months ago. So I can’t recall a detail like that. I can recall another detail with Desire, which they have only a couple of moments within the show, but they are a very cool character.

So there’s a theme, but then there’s a moment within that theme. It’s this weird vocal thing, but there’s a moment within that, where they’re talking back about Dream. And so, Dream’s theme then reappears over Desire’s theme. So the two things coexist. I mean, I think that’s happening all over the place.

It’s going back to my point about letting the audience enjoy it and not feel that I’m telling them what to do. I’m not desperate all the time to say just because a character comes on screen, that they have to have their theme playing the minute they come on screen, because that’d be pretty grim. I mean, it’d be pretty infantile. I mean, a standard kind of scoring procedure, characters have got musical identities and what feels best at any given moment, is my approach.

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