A MARTINEZ, HOST:
The creator of the score of the new "Candyman" movie is not your typical film composer. But that's precisely what made him the right choice for the assignment.
Tim Greiving has the story.
TIM GREIVING, BYLINE: Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe sings the body electric. The avant-garde musician relies on electronics and his voice to make music that's mostly live and improvised.
ROBERT AIKI AUBREY LOWE: Yeah. It was really interesting for me to be able to create a work in real time for an audience or for someone to witness - and in a space - and basically also the concept of making a space within a space.
(SOUNDBITE OF LICHENS LIVE PERFORMANCE)
LOWE: So being able to transform that space into something different for a finite period of time.
GREIVING: Growing up in Kansas City, Mo., Lowe loved music and movies, especially the Clive Barker stories that were turned into films, like "Hellraiser" and "Candyman."
(SOUNDBITE OF PHILIP GLASS' "MUSIC BOX")
GREIVING: The original 1992 film, with music by Philip Glass, was about a tragic, violent boogeyman with a giant hook in one arm summoned whenever you say his name five times into a mirror. It takes place in the Cabrini-Green housing project, four blocks from where Lowe lived when he moved to Chicago in 1995 and started playing with bands like the 90 Day Men.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I’VE GOT DESIGNS ON YOU")
90 DAY MEN: (Singing) Set down - meant decide.
GREIVING: Lowe sang and performed in various underground bands in Chicago and then Brooklyn, all while developing his own unique sound. Under the stage name Lichens, he uses modular synthesizers and the full spectrum of his voice.
(SOUNDBITE OF JOHANN JOHANNSSON'S "ARRIVAL")
GREIVING: Johann Johannsson, the late Icelandic film composer, showcased Lowe's voice in his scores for "Sicario" and "Arrival." Also in their cohort was Hildur Gudnadottir, the Oscar-winning composer of "Joker." She describes Lowe as a wizard.
HILDUR GUDNADOTTIR: The way he approaches singing and creating, it's both, like, very thoughtful, but also very elemental. Like, what he sings and what he produces is coming, like, very much from the gut. And you can just, like, feel it in the way he sings. It's like - it's very magical.
GREIVING: All of this came together on the new "Candyman," says Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe.
LOWE: I wanted to play around with illusion. The story deals with mirrors. And I wanted to be able to utilize certain instrumentation in a way that it might trick the ear.
(SOUNDBITE OF JOHANN JOHANNSSON'S "ARRIVAL")
GREIVING: Typically, film composers come on board after a film is shot and apply a notated professionally performed score like a fresh coat of musical paint. Lowe had no interest in that tradition.
LOWE: It was very important for me to have the opportunity to be on location while they were shooting the score. For - one reason being that I wanted to have field recordings of the location, recording of the space, recording of the air and use those as textural elements within the body of the score.
GREIVING: So he hung around the actual streets of Cabrini-Green and the film's laundromat set and captured everything from insects buzzing...
(SOUNDBITE OF INSECTS BUZZING)
GREIVING: ...To the hum of local electrical boxes...
(SOUNDBITE OF ELECTRICAL BOXES CRACKLING)
GREIVING: ...And wove them into music. But the most important sound was the human voice. Lowe's own voice makes up the bulk of the score - manipulated, improvised, using different vocal techniques and stacking up a one-man choir.
(SOUNDBITE OF ROBERT AIKI AUBREY LOWE'S "BRIANNA'S MIRROR DREAM")
GREIVING: At times, his voice is joined by Hildur Gudnadottir's - sometimes, even the film's cast.
LOWE: Taking the human voice saying a word - like, for example, saying the word Candyman. While I was on location and they were shooting scenes, I would take some of the lead actors to the side, and I would prompt them with a word or a phrase and record them saying it.
(SOUNDBITE OF ROBERT AIKI AUBREY LOWE'S "ROWS AND TOWERS")
LOWE: I wanted to be able to maintain the energy of that word without it being recognizable. So you sort of have this psychic energy that pushes through inside of the score and carries that body.
GREIVING: It's a score that could have only come from the voice of one composer. So say his name five times, if you like - Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe.
For NPR News, I'm Tim Greiving.
(SOUNDBITE OF ROBERT AIKI AUBREY LOWE'S "MUSIC BOX (REPRISED)")
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