The award-winning psychological thriller Martha Marcy May Marlene is unsettling theater audiences across America as we speak, but its surround-sound string swells are actually as homegrown as any Brooklyn band’s loft demos. The soundtrack was helmed by Daniel Bensi and Saunder Jurriaans—both members of left-leaning fuzz-metal band Priestbird—and was recorded in their Brooklyn apartment. Unlike Priestbird’s psyched-out lurch, “Collage” is a pile-up of three phased and competing string patterns colliding and competing in an unnerving friction, in the vein of Jonny Greenwood’s There Will Be Blood Soundtrack, Arvo Pärt or Györgi Ligeti. The effect of these battling strings is so anxious and troubled, that they ended up using it for the Martha Marcy May Marlene trailer. Some sections play dead-eyed and unmoving, others squeak with life and imperfections, others beautiful and deliberate–but a true nailbiter is made when they all try to talk at once.
What is “Collage” about?
We initially composed this piece based on the scene when Martha jumps off the cliff into the water—in our opinion, a moment when the audience starts to feel Martha’s difficulty with living between the past and present. There are different repetitive melodic fragments evoking the main characters and emotions at this point in the story. Firstly, there are two cellos playing different dark rhythmic repetitive beds to set the looming suspense and unease as well as two or three high ethereal melodic fragments which enter one by one in the violins. These sounds evoke Martha’s beauty and her softness as her character develops and we begin to feel for her. Thirdly some deep cellos and basses play a longer more sinister melody capturing the feeling of the cult and its leader. We ended up using this piece for the trailer as it captures so much of the feel of the movie.
What inspired it musically?
We had been working with some similar smaller string arrangements for other projects so we were already quite comfortable coming up with the instrumentation–listening to some Arvo Pärt and Steve Reich, etc., as references for repetitive rhythmic writing. Also, we talked with Sean about the There Will Be Blood soundtrack, which everyone loves because it uses the orchestra in different ways and is written so subtly without “leading” the audience too much, which was our main concern.
What film soundtracks do you aspire to?
Well, we love huge epic sweeping orchestral soundtracks like Hans Zimmer’s “Chevaliers de Sangreal” from Da Vinci Code or Alexandre Desplat’s Tree of Life score or the Birth soundtrack. There Will Be Blood, of course, or the minimalist and transcendental Eyes Wide Shut soundtrack. Just to name a few.
What was the compositional process like?
Procrastination, whiskey, improvisation, recording… in any order. Recording in an apartment means that creaks, radiator hisses, outside noise, and supernatural noises creep into the recordings, but we usually welcome them all.
What’s your favorite place to eat in New York?
Well, it changes, but we love Roberta’s in Bushwick. And any place that serves pork belly in some form or another.
The Martha Marcy May Marlene soundtrack is out now via Fox Music. The film is playing at AMC Empire 25, Clearview’s Chelsea and AMC Loews Lincoln Square 13.