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‘It Needs to Sound Like a Warm Bath’: Saint Maud Composer on Scoring the Year’s Most Unsettling Horror Movie

A year of pandemic has stolen countless experiences from us—and one of them was seeing Saint Maud, the year’s most quietly unsettling horror film, on the big screen. After a planned theatrical rollout was waylaid last spring for obvious reasons, director Rose Glass’s profoundly creepy and compelling portrait of possession, religious fanaticism, and psychosis recently made its way to streaming platforms in the U.S. 

The film centers around a devout catholic hospice nurse, Maud (Morfydd Clark), whose obsession with saving the soul of a terminally ill patient and ridding her of demons drives her to terrifying lengths. Impressively, the film isn’t just the debut feature from first-time director Glass—it’s also the first film score from Adam Janota Bzowski, a London composer whose groaning synths and mangled percussion helps set the mood of impending catastrophe. Bzowski’s Saint Maud music slots right in with notable recent horror scores such as Colin Stetson’s Hereditary score and the Haxan Cloak’s Midsommar soundtrack, so we Zoomed him up to talk about it. 

(Warning: This interview contains some significant Saint Maud spoilers.) 


‘It Needs to Sound Like a Warm Bath’: <i>
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<p><strong>This is your first-ever film score. How’d you land the job?</strong><br />
<strong>Adam Janota Bzowski:</strong> It was relatively serendipitous. I was at my best friend’s birthday party. I bumped into Oliver Kassman, who was the film’s producer, and he mentioned he was working on something. So I basically hassled him until he sent me the treatment for the film, which is just a synopsis of what was going to happen and a bunch of images. Then I created a demo. And from that, I got a call.</p>
<p><strong>How would you describe the demo you created?</strong><br />
Well, half of it ended up in the score. The other half was a lot more traditional-sounding. I was trying to use strings in an unorthodox and quite abrasive way, because I’d been listening to <em>You Were Never Really Here</em> by Jonny Greenwood. So I was building these very dense, atonal string things. But Rose [Glass] didn’t want any traditional string stuff.</p>
<p><strong>What sort of direction did Rose give you?</strong><br />
I came in and they’d already shot everything. Then she was like, “Here’s the whole film. And here’s where I want you to score. Do it.” She then got an idea of what I was thinking. The main note was that she wanted it to be a lot weirder. I’d made something quite melodic and handsome and beautiful-sounding. Once we decided that she wanted it to be a lot weirder, I just went full “weird” as much as I could. A lot of her direction was very metaphorical, but quite loose. She was like, “Oh, it needs to sound like a warm bath.” Or this kind of imagery rather than anything specific.</p>
<p><strong>What were the primary instruments you used to create the score?</strong><br />
I was living with a flautist called Katie Bans when I did the demo. We sat for about an hour and made a lot of weird noises with the flute—trying to blow a lot of air, atonal squeaks and squonks and stuff. I processed a lot of that through a cassette tape, because I’ve got a four-track cassette. When you slow the tape down, when you stretch and lower the note, it creates a very bizarre, unearthly but strangely familiar noise. A lot of the sounds are from that session. And just a lot of recording of strange, percussive instruments that I would then pitch down and manipulate.</p>
<p>There are moments in the film where Maud is having these visions and we don’t quite know what’s in her head and what’s real. For instance, the scene in which she becomes ill. Your music seems to represent this malevolent force that’s overtaking her.</p>
<p>I just knew there needed to be a density, a very thick weight that filled the screen, because in that moment, there’s no dialogue. And I felt like this film, although it features a Judeo-Christian aspect to it, it’s not really about God. The God aspect can’t sound too traditionally ecclesiastic. It can’t really sound like a choir singing hymns. It’s all about internalizing her demon. But at the same time, at this particular moment, it’s like an exorcism; that vomiting is like a purging of all of her sin. So the only way I could do that was making incredibly abrasive sounds.</p>
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