This week, we caught up with composers Trey Toy and Matthew Wang. They composed the music for the film Centigrade. We discussed using Eventide reverbs to provide the ambience for tense, close settings.
Matt and Trey, you two collaborated on the soundtrack for the new film, Centigrade. What kind of sounds were you going for?
Trey Toy: One of the primary differences between producing an album and composing music for a film is that filmmaking is an inherently collaborative process, and, as such, the sound world of the score should be indelibly linked to the story that the director is trying to tell. Centigrade is about a married couple who find themselves trapped in their frozen vehicle after a blizzard and struggle to survive amid plunging temperatures and unforeseen obstacles. We intended the music to heighten the frigidity and claustrophobia of the environment, all the while serving as a constant reminder of the characters’ fragile psychological states. Rather than spring for the orchestra, which is a tried and true palette in film music, we opted instead for close-miked solo instruments and icy synth textures.
Matt Wang: One old guideline of film scoring that Trey turned me on to is the idea that the ensemble should be able to fit within the setting on screen. Considering the majority of the film takes place in a car, we focused primarily on using two solo string players, Jordi Nus on violin and Jake K. Leckie on double bass.
The contradiction of instruments on such disparate ends of the tonal spectrum creates an inherent tension that underlines the physical confines of the scene. There were also moments when we asked Jake to play high notes off the fingerboard, which is uncommon on the double bass, especially in film scores. Playing in this register, on the verge of intonation falling apart, the notes were almost crying, infusing an intimacy to the score that renewed our confidence in the importance of hiring real musicians and not fully relying on the plentiful sample libraries available today.
What tools did you use to achieve those sounds?
A powerful trifecta.
One of my favorite tricks I picked up from Alan Meyerson is to take the default Stereo Room preset and use it as an insert with the mix 100% wet and the position between 0-8% to add depth to soloists.
I like to keep my tech as minimal as possible so I spend less time tweaking knobs on hardware and more time writing. As we started this project right when I moved to LA, I didn’t have all my favorite pieces of gear which are mostly in NY. I used a cheap Tascam DR-40 to record Jake’s bass and worked mostly on my laptop with Logic Pro X and a pair of Westone UM Pro 50’s. You don’t need to spend a ton of money on software or gear nowadays, and I love the portability of my rig.
TT: I typically work with a very large template in Cubase Pro 10; it has all of my favorite sample libraries, VST synths and plugins dialed in, pre-routed and ready to go. However, given the subtleties of this score, we decided that each instrument should have an entirely unique character, and sound design ultimately became an integral part of the composing process. For example, we needed a piano that could run the gamut from tender emotion to psychological unraveling. My good friend Logan Stahley, who is a terrific composer, sampled the piano that he grew up playing as a kid, and it provided the perfect mix of fragility and quirkiness that we needed. On top of his raw samples, which are fantastic, I used H3000 Factory to give the piano a vintage, out of tune character, as well as MangledVerb for an ethereal ambience with some grit. For the synth textures, I relied heavily on my eurorack modular, both as a sound generator and sound mangler. Once those sounds made it in the box, I turned to favorite plugins like Octavox to generate weird harmonies and Physion to add movement and shape.
H3000 Factory, Octavox, and Physion
Why did you choose Eventide reverbs over other reverb plugins?
TT: Nothing says dreamy piano like Blackhole! I know for a fact that it’s a staple for many film composers, myself included. Additionally, I am routinely blown away by MangledVerb and its seemingly endless applications; I feel like I learn something new about this plugin every time I open it. From subtle ambiences to all-out industrial mayhem, it can really do it all.
MW: Honestly, Blackhole is just bigger than any other reverb plugin! I love all of the Eventide verbs and MangledVerb holds a special place in my heart as I made some of the stock factory presets for it. Captain Crunchy was fun to make and I use it a lot, but the Echoes from the Upside Down preset is really something special.
Did the H9 play a role in the music for this film?
MW: When I was playing in bands in NY, I used my H9 quite frequently. I recently discovered you can export H9 presets from Blackhole and MangledVerb to the plugin versions, so I used those a ton. Additionally, I made some custom sampler instruments using a guitar and my H9 when I first moved out to LA. Here are a couple of them if you want to try them out!
TT: I am embarrassed to admit that I am one of the only guitar players on the planet who does not yet have an H9, but it is on the wish list for sure!
What are you working on individually?
TT: In addition to scoring work on my own and with Matt, I am also a member of Trevor Morris’s writing team. I worked as Trevor’s assistant when I first moved to LA in 2016, but he has since become a terrific mentor and friend. Learning from and collaborating with him has been a dream come true! I am currently in the middle of helping him with his score for the last season of Vikings on the History Channel, and we are gearing up for the third season of Castlevania, a Netflix original show based on the popular video game series.
MW: Right now I’m working with composer Craig Wedren on the music for NBC’s New Amsterdam and an upcoming HULU original show called Shrill. I’m also doing the music for a meditation app and just wrapped on the music for the amazing Joseph Juhn’s film, Jeronimo, which is a feature-length documentary that highlights the history and current state of Koreans living in Cuba.
Together, we are also signed on to do the music for a documentary feature that we can’t talk too much about yet…