The cult electronic musician and composer, also known as The Haxan Cloak, shares his cinematic inspirations
Bobby Krlic’s soundtrack to Midsommar begins with beauty before quickly descending into chaos. The LA-based British producer, who records as The Haxan Cloak, is known for his bold and unsettling sound drawn out through electronic arrangements and deteriorating strings, which is probably the reason Hereditary director Ari Aster chose him to score the soundtrack to his new pagan horror film about a once-in-a-lifetime midsummer festival in a remote Swedish village, out tomorrow.
“My agent went to me back in January 2017 and said, ‘oh you know there’s this guy I asked for and he really loves the music and he’s written this film and he really wants you to score it and we think you should meet him. She gave a link to his films and I just thought he was a genius,” says Krlic, whose 2013 breakthrough album Excavation formed the backdrop to Aster’s scriptwriting process. “It means that we had a shared vision from the get go,” he explains. “He made it very clear how intrinsic he wanted the music to be in this film and how intertwined and really moulded into the fabric of the story and the world that we were cracking.”
When developing the ambitious soundtrack for Midsommar, Krlic and Aster would spend lunch breaks talking about film scores and playing records. “He came over to my house and we immediately hit it off and spent three or four hours together in my studio, listening to music and talking about films. Ari’s such a graceful person in that sense. I felt like I was really deeply entrenched in the film from the start of the movie, I got to be a part of how everything grew and progressed,” explains Krlic.
The soundtrack itself sounds like a panic attack, but I guess that’s the point. It draws on familiar horror movie tropes (after all, this is an Ari Aster film we’re talking about) such as the sudden escalation of (queasy) strings in ‘Harga Collapsing’ that fall into deadly into silence. There’s a strong sense of deterioration to the score, like sanity slowly unravelling, expressed through ominous, drawn-out synths that progress into guttural, primal screams (“A Language Of Sex” and “Gassed”). But Krlic is anything but predictable, instead juxtaposing sudden bouts of bottomless bass and cultish chanting and stomping noises with brief moments of relief through with ethereal intervals that feel like the sun peeking through a wall of thick cloud, leaving the listener perpetually on the edge.
It’s a technique that Krlic attributes to his childhood watching films like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and Martin Scorsese’s Taxi Driver, which he’d record on an old VCR player in his bedroom and play over and over again to truly feel the “music between (the) image”. Below, we asked the cult electronic musician to pick his five favourite film soundtracks.
BERNARD HERMANN, TAXI DRIVER
Bobby Krlic: Again, it was one of those films I watched when I was a kid. I was so obsessed with film in general. I would get the Time Out film guide for Christmas every year and read film reviews. Pretty unknown to my parents, I had a VCR/TV combo in my room – I was probably about ten at this point in the early 90s – and if you remember, Channel 4 and BBC2 would always have really incredible film programmes where they’d show pretty weird stuff in the early hours of the morning, and Taxi Driver was one of them. I figured out how to use the timer system on the video player so I’d press record and wake up before school to try and watch them when nobody was up.
Then watching it as an older person and knowing the history of Bernard Hermann, it’s such a unique score for him. It’s such a thick and cloudy sound that feels like the smoke you see coming from the taxi. You feel the intensity of Robert De Niro’s character and the minute he’s driving through town and he sees there’s a shepherd, it gives way to this melding jazz thing. It’s almost a little cheesy, but it’s one of those things where the reason the score is acceptable is because the composer really knew how to meld a sound between image. I think that’s why it stuck with me.
WENDY CARLOS, KRZYSZTOF PENDERECKI, AND MORE, THE SHINING
Bobby Krlic: Working with Ari is kind of what I imagine what it might have been like to work with Stanley Kubrick, because Ari doesn’t operate on the same level of anybody else that I’ve ever met creatively. I mean, even before he started filming Midsommar, he had every single shot lined up in his head, so I can see parallels with Kubrick. Also, he’s such an encyclopedia of classical music, and certainly at that point, I don’t think anybody had used Penderecki and Ligeti in film. It was even controversial music at that time, and to put the music against those images, it’s a double whammy really.
I was too young to even know where to get his soundtrack at that point, I was probably 12. So I remember rewinding that bit over and over again, and I had a casette player that I would link to the output of the telly so I could record the music and listen to it away from the film. I just rewinded it again and again because I loved that sequence of music. It really had a massive effect on me.
KRZYSZTOF KOMEDA, ROSEMARY’S BABY
Bobby Krlic: I saw this film when I was a bit older. I was really getting into this orchestra music at the time, and I was definitely into horror. I would find it really interesting the way Komeda took a lot from Italian horror movies – this sound that’s somewhere between romance, a kind of 60s swing music, and a demonic lullaby. The score is unsettling because it lulls you into this false sense of security, and then flips completely. I like scores that are very self-aware in that sense, where they establish themselves as being one thing, and then sooner or later, all of that kind of gets twisted, in a sense.
It’s complex, and I like that feeling of not really knowing where you are, feeling displaced, and there’s this sense of the composer knowing more than you as a viewer and you’re just putty in their hands.
JONNY GREENWOOD, THERE WILL BE BLOOD
Bobby Krlic: Radiohead was a benchmark for me in terms of what a band can do and what kind of studio innovation is possible in that realm of music, and Jonny (Greenwood) – I mean, obviously the band’s incredible, but I remember seeing Jonny play guitar when I was younger and thinking there was something really unique, special, and strange about the way that he held the instrument. I connected with it in a way that I’ve not really seen anybody do before.
When I saw the trailer for this film and that he scored it, I literally marked it on my calendar to count down the days. I went to see it on the first day (of its release) and was completely gobsmacked. And I think it’s a testament to Jonny and a testament to the way that Paul Thomas Anderson uses music in the film. It’s similar to Kubrick in that sense, as in, if there’s music there, it’s completely there.
Also, I could hear a lot of classicial music in it that I was a fan of at the time. At the time, no-one was doing orchestral scores like that for film, and he really blew open the doors again. A lot of younger composers and music fans had maybe never been exposed to that kind of music. I was working on my first film and I was already into that turn of the century, American desert kind of imagery. Everything I’d been thinking of for the past five years aligned into this one perfect film, so it was a really big one for me. It actually gave me faith that I was on the right lines with what I wanted to achieve with my music.
GEINOH YAMASHIROGUMI, AKIRA
Bobby Krlic: I remember seeing Akira when I was a kid. I would have been around nine or ten years old, and I didn’t understand a nick of it, to be honest. Everything about it really destroyed me as a kid – like, the colours and the animation was so incredible. I’d never seen anything like that, and then that huge opening, with those huge drums and the way that they acquire that riff, the Japanese theatre music. It was an invitation to a world that I could have never imagined existing.
I remember the symbiosis of image and sound. I think it was one of the first times I became obsessed with the idea of film music, and really thought about music and image together.
Ari Aster’s Midsommar is out in UK cinemas on July 5