13 CHILLS 2011

Thirteen Memorable Moments In Horror Film Music

8. ..INSIDIOUS (2010) by Joseph Bishara


James Wan’s Insidious is the perfect example of how poverty can breed invention. Modestly budgeted ($1.5 million) but well-cast and confidently directed, Insidious eschews graphic bloodshed in favor of good, old-fashioned bumps in the night. Leigh Whannell’s script is a jolly gumbo of haunted houses, demonic possession and astral projection that plays it just straight enough to work, thankfully without wall-to-wall violence, and audiences seemed to agree – to date, Insidious has grossed nearly $100 million, its costs-to-gross ratio making it 2011’s biggest financial success.

Wrapping all together is an extraordinarily effective musical score by Joseph Bishara. A dense, bristling effort jam-packed with invention and energy, Bishara’s Insidious is one of the most striking horror scores to come along in many a year, bringing modern atonal classical techniques back to the forefront with a vengeance. Easy listening it is most certainly not – at its most frenzied, it’s every bit as assaultive as Carl Zittrer’s scores for Deathdream and Black Christmas, as well as the nerve-rattling concert works of Kryzstof Penderecki and George Crumb – but it has a freaky style all its own, and an admirable unwillingness to resort to the usual bag of musical tricks.

The multitalented Bishara has a wide range of credits under his belt, from sound design for John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars to music production and supervision for Repo! The Genetic Opera, as well as scores for a number of genre titles including The Gravedancers, Unearthed and Night of the Demons; he even appeared on-camera in Insidious, as the malevolent “lipstick demon” that figures prominently in the film’s finale. I spoke to Bishara in October 2011, hoping to get more insight into the unique sonic world he created for the film.

Howlin' Wolf Records EXCLUSIVE

Jason Comerford Interview with Joseph Bishara

Jason Comerford: What was your starting point?

Joseph Bishara: We kinda talked about styles – you know, atonal modern classical kind of stuff – I was sending him Xenakis, all kinds of stuff to listen to. And that wasn’t really talking directly to the score – that was more just establishing a tone, just sending music back and forth. For me, the starting point was really when I first read the script – from there, I just did some sketches out of ideas in the script, just on paper. Some musical ideas, some verbal notes – just the first thoughts that came out of reading the script.

JC: As far as how the sounds were actually put together, when it came time to actually perform the music, what kind of techniques did you use?

JB: A friend of mine who has this studio I work with, he found this rusted piano shell out in the alley behind his studio. So he’d had this thing for some time, and I’d been meaning to use it when the time was right. And I hadn’t seem Deathdream before recording on that piano, actually – we actually started talking about it just after. But yeah, it was really just one night of recording on that thing, with everything from hammers, a whole set of differently-shaped files – it was a hardware store raid, pretty much.

JC: When you actually performed, how many musicians did you use?

JB: The bulk of it was a quartet – 2 violins, viola, cello – and piano. That was the crux of the live instrumentation, and then around that was the rust piano setup, and then the rest was various stuff that I built and put together here on various instruments.

JC: Did you have any moments where you improvised anything?

JB: Quite a bit, yes. Within a structure. The way some of these things were written out, the structured figure is on the paper, but within those figures on paper, while recording we’d explore with the musicians, like, let’s try switching these notes, and you move down to that one, or you take that one, do that one four times, slow down and fade away – whatever it was, there was a whole lot of exploring the musical systems on paper without having it printed, ready to go, start to finish, note one to note ends, go! There were some like that. But the first session with the quartet was before shooting even happened.

JC: When you were spotting the movie, did you ever have the discussion about when to use silence as opposed to when to use music?

JB: It did come up. It wasn’t something we had a discussion about – it seemed that we were very much on the same page about having a lot of quiet moments. And it wasn’t really put together in the straight-ahead spotting-and-scoring way that seems to happen. I guess the first spotting would be James editing, because I was sending him score while he was cutting, so he was structuring where he wanted it. He had original score pieces that I had sent him, so he’d started placing original score while he was cutting the film.

JC: Makes for a much more fluid process that way.

JB: I think so. It feels much more free.

JC: Most of it does sound acoustic, but did you use any electronics or manipulation after it was recorded?

JB: Yes, I do a lot of manipulation, from plugins to running through odd instruments – lots of experimental instruments also thrown in there as well, and then manipulated and twisted up.

JC: One of the thoughts I had when I was watching the movie again was that, the score starts out big and strong, with those percussive hits on the piano – did you worry about going too far too fast, and running out of effects to use, or did you find yourself trying to structure it so you didn’t repeat yourself over and over in the same cues?

JB: That never really came to be a thing. I was kind of building it as I went – if I needed more material, it didn’t seem like a problem to go and record more if I needed it. And I did – I did come back and record at certain times, as need be. But I wasn’t really thinking about doing too much, too soon.

JC: From what I can tell from the film, the sections that involved the first house tended to involve more of the percussive hits on the piano strings, whereas the second house tended to bring in the strings a little bit more.

JB: That actually does sound about right, now that I think about it. That is the way it ended up being written but it wasn’t necessarily a conscious choice to separate those two houses that way. Unless it came from James. Because he did place a lot of those piano stings. He has a good ear for that stuff, he really does – he’s really good about being confident about musical choices.

End of Interview

Bishara’s score starts out with a blast of Schoenberg-esque string clusters then subsides to an eerie whisper, finding numerous ways to vary its assault as the film unfolds. “Voices in the Static” is an early highlight of the score, beginning with eerily twirling string figures which seem to chill the air; as protagonist Rose Byrne is startled by a demonic face in the window of her child’s room, Bishara unloads the first of his percussive piano assaults, a booming tangle of scraping, plucked sounds.

A key moment in the score and film comes later, as medium Lin Shaye describes an unseen demon to an assistant with a sketchpad (screenwriter Whannell). “Hooves for Feet” begins with hollow, sawing figures for cello; as Whannell’s eerie sketch takes shape, the cue segues into lines for violin which curl eerily upward and rise to a nervous crescendo, accompanying a hair-raising push-in on a dark corner of the room’s ceiling. In these and other moments throughout the film, Bishara walks the fine line between uneasy suggestiveness to outright terror, and always manages to keep the tension at fever pitch.

The soundtrack for Insidious is currently available exclusively from Void Recordings in multiple download and physical options; a deluxe vinyl edition is forthcoming as well.



The Moments in Question:

Click below to listen to a sample of
"Voices In The Static," composed by
Joseph Bishara. [clip]
Click below to listen to a sample of
"Hooves For Feet," composed by
Joseph Bishara.

Joseph Bishara portrait
.....Joseph Bishara

Installment Prize!

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for this installment.

Relevant Links

Joseph Bishara Composer site

INSIDIOUS Score CD (Void Recordings)

INSIDIOUS on Blu-ray (Amazon)

Next Installment:

Roy Webb breaks down and confesses.

Jason Comerford Bio

Howlin' Wolf  
The contest period for this installment will run until noon on Sunday, October 23. Prize information for the Week 3 installments is coming soon!
Howlin' Wolf
Congratuations to the Week 2 Installment winner Jonathan! Thanks of course to everyone who has participated so far in 13 CHILLS. Don't forget, we still have 5 more installments to go and two weeks of prizes ...and of course a GRAND PRIZE.

Information on the prize selection for the Week 3 Installments coming soon.

We are also working on trying to line up a special prize drawing just for participants of this installment - Joseph Bishara's score for Insidious.
Okay, that was cool! Impressive interview and information to the success to the film, it is a great thing to be attached to a powerhouse that the film is. It hopefully insures the re-hire for the next project or the sequel... cause all films have sequels nowadays. Great entry and congrats to the last winner.

Howlin' Wolf
Special Drawing: Only for film score fans participating in this installment!

We will draw one name at the end of this installment to give away a copy of the score CD for Insidious, personalized to the winner by composer Joseph Bishara! Many thanks to Mr. Bishara for making this possible for one lucky horror film score fan. All participating in this installment from Tuesday, October 18 at midnight until Thursday, October 20 at midnight (EST) will be automatically entered in this special drawing.
David Kessler   Holy Smoke :) getting back from the States today and finding out that I won the first 13 Chills is a blast ...thanks Wall and Howlin' Wolf for making horror shine out there :)

is one of the last decade's creepiest movies and much to that is because of the music. This movie and CD must be seen or played loud, and i promise you will have nightmares for the rest of your lives ...Yes, it's that good and to finally see it being released (well May was a long long time ago and I have waited for this since then)
Sean T.
Oh man... I can not pass up this opportunity to win a signed copy of the Insidious Score on CD.

I have to say, the scariest thing about this movie is what happened to me while watching it. During the scene when the red-demon faced entity appears suddenly behind Josh (Patrick Wilson), my fiance' nearly jumped through the roof - reached towards me and accidentally clawed my face with her nails. OUCH! Needless to say, every time I hear about this film, I cower.

Bishara's music compliments the film perfectly.

Love these contests! Keep up the GREAT work Wall!
Wow, thank you for this great interview. It's awesome to read about that kinda stuff: Behind the scenes. I wish more interviews and insightful facts would surface and be published. So: Thank you!
Howlin' Wolf  
Thanks to everyone who has participated in this installment. Thanks also to Jason and composer Joseph Bishara for the great Q&A! We will be drawing the winner for the autographed Inisidious score CD shortly.
Howlin' Wolf   Friday, October 21 - 12:05am (EST)

The entry period for winning an autographed copy of the Insidious score CD is now closed. We will draw a winning name soon and will notify the winner by email and post the results here. Look for more on this soon and thanks again for participating in 13 CHILLS!
Howlin' Wolf   This marks the end of the third week prize period - We will post the prize list for week 3 and hold the official drawing soon - stay tuned!

All comments from this point forward will automatically be entered in the fourth and final week's drawing.  Please continue commenting on all of the installments - the more comments, the more interesting the commentary and analysis! 
Howlin' Wolf   !!!WINNERS ANNOUNCED!!!

Thanks to all who participated in this special installment of 13 CHILLS - Insidious by composer Joseph Bishara.

We are pleased to inform the participants (Jeremy, David Kessler, Sean T, and Jonathan) who submitted comments for this special installment that you will all receive autographed copies of Insidious compliments of Howlin' Wolf Records, Jason Comerford, and composer Joseph Bishara.

We will be in contact with you soon to obtain shipping information and the name you would like the autograph personalized to. A very big thanks again to both Jason and composer Joseph Bishara for making this possible!
Jeremy   woo-hoo... i just re-read this interview again and the comments... very, very cool, thank you.
Howlin' Wolf   Thanks for the awesome participation Jeremy!