Radiohead's Thom Yorke On Scoring The New 'Suspiria' "Horror music can fall into a trap of trying to be dark for the sake of it," the Radiohead frontman says. "There's lots of different ways to make something terrifying."
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Thom Yorke On Scoring The New 'Suspiria'

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Thom Yorke On Scoring The New 'Suspiria'

Thom Yorke On Scoring The New 'Suspiria'

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

The new film "Suspiria" is a remake of a cult 1977 Italian horror film. An elite dance company in Berlin might just be a front for a coven of witches. For the film's score, the director, Luca Guadagnino, reached out to one of the high priests of modern rock 'n' roll - not B.J. Leiderman, who writes our theme music. Tim Greiving has the story.

TIM GREIVING, BYLINE: The original "Suspiria," directed by Dario Argento, had a striking score written and performed by the prog rock band Goblin.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUSPIRIA")

GOBLIN: La, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la, la.

GREIVING: Claudio Simonetti, co-founder and keyboardist of Goblin, still remembers Argento's instruction.

CLAUDIO SIMONETTI: OK. This is a mystic film with witches. The audience - they always have to feel that the witches are there, even if nothing happen on the screen. That's why we start with a lullaby. It's a kind of a loop of keyboards. And after, I decide, also, to put my voice over. Know, like, (whispering) la, la, la, la, la. This is just more creepy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUSPIRIA")

GOBLIN: Witch, witch.

GREIVING: Italian director Luca Guadagnino was utterly bewitched by "Suspiria" when he saw it as a 14-year-old, and the music was a huge part of its spell.

LUCA GUADAGNINO: The music by Goblin was so unexpected for me when I saw it for the first time. It was like an electric shock that was renewed every time I was listening to it.

GREIVING: But rather than reuse that music or commission a new score from Goblin, Guadagnino turned to the musician he calls the voice of his generation, Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PARANOID ANDROID")

THOM YORKE: (Singing) Please, could you stop the noise? I'm trying to get some rest.

GUADAGNINO: He brings with his voice, his musical voice, a sense of melancholy, darkness, unexpected twisted joy that I found was absolutely perfect for the movie. I actually thought only of him. I didn't thought of anybody else.

GREIVING: Of course, Yorke had never actually scored a movie before. He's been asked, notably back in 1999 for "Fight Club," and his Radiohead bandmate, Jonny Greenwood, has become quite the acclaimed film composer. So Yorke was a little intimidated.

YORKE: But there was something about the way Luca asked me and the confidence he had that I could actually do it, which sort of surprised me and made me think.

GREIVING: Yorke's first big challenge was composing the central dance piece. Tilda Swinton's enigmatic choreographer rehearses it with her all-female dance company throughout the film, and it serves double duty as an incantation.

(SOUNDBITE OF THOM YORKE'S "VOLK")

GREIVING: The only problem - the dance had already been filmed.

YORKE: One's instinct in that sort of situation is to respond to the movements of the dance. I had, like, four or five aborted attempts at doing that before I realized that I had to sort of disconnect myself from the dance, go somewhere in my mind and then come back. It was a weird process.

(SOUNDBITE OF THOM YORKE'S "VOLK")

GREIVING: Director Luca Guadagnino was delighted.

GUADAGNINO: He made a soundtrack for the sequence as if the witches had commissioned that soundtrack back in the '40s. Amazing.

(SOUNDBITE OF THOM YORKE'S "VOLK")

GREIVING: Composer Thom Yorke wrote much of the score in the same way, thanks to some advice from his bandmate, Jonny Greenwood.

YORKE: Don't work to picture. If you can avoid it, try and do as much as you can off-picture just with your impressions of what's needed, which was really helpful. If I'd been sitting there, watching the dancer throwing itself against the mirror, dismembering herself and breaking her bones into pieces and screaming and tried to write something directly to that, I would've gone mad.

(SOUNDBITE OF THOM YORKE'S "VOLK")

GREIVING: The centerpiece of the score is a Thom Yorke song...

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUSPIRIUM")

YORKE: (Singing) This is a waltz thinking about our bodies, what they mean for our salvation.

GREIVING: ...One he wrote before seeing a frame of footage.

YORKE: I had the idea for "Suspirium" just from reading the script, really. This idea of a troupe of witches, in a weird form of sadness, trying to cheat death and sort of simple piano melodies, which ended up then permeating the whole film. I had the feeling that the more stuff I generated at the beginning, before I really understood what they were shooting, the more there would be that sense of it not being literal.

GREIVING: Which is how director Luca Guadagnino prefers it.

GUADAGNINO: What I don't like absolutely is the idea of working with professionals, you know, a professional soundtrack composer. I much rather want to work with artists. A great artist can do anything he or she wants to do.

GREIVING: Even though the music began as a work-for-hire for someone else's story, Thom Yorke says it became, in a strange way, a form of personal expression.

YORKE: My emotional response to it, even though I'd never done it before, was very odd because you're constantly fighting this feeling that you're so out of your depth, you want to run screaming from the studio. But, at the same time, you're kind of getting off on it.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing in foreign language).

YORKE: I'd sort of describe it as, like, being pushed into a series of rooms I'd never normally go into and then discovering I could create stuff that I found interesting.

GREIVING: Some pretty dark rooms.

YORKE: Every single one of them, every single one of them increasingly dark.

GREIVING: For NPR News, I'm Tim Greiving.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED CHOIR: (Singing in foreign language).

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