The composer speaks about emotionally connecting to the characters of TNT’s limited series.
An original musical score can make or break a suspenseful film or television series. If a chord of music strikes too soon it can ruin the tension that a scene establishes and if it’s too obvious it can overpower the show entirely and become distracting. With I Am the Night, David Lang strikes a skillful balance between scoring its character’s emotions and pulling us to the edge of our seats.
If you are just coming around to the TNT limited series, close your eyes when the opening credits sequence begins. Lang’s music is grand, sexy, and dangerous. If this was a noir made in the 1940’s or 1950’s, the music would fit right in, and that’s because Lang has capture the essence of the genre so well.
I Am the Night is so different because it has such an important, emotional core to it. Lang mentioned that he connected with both Chris Pine’s Jay Singletary and India Eisley’s Fauna Hodel, and that comes through in the music. Jay is a tough character to connect with because he’s so tragic and self-destructive and Fauna is easy to embrace because we are on the journey with her every step of the way. Not only is the size and scope of the series massive, but the emotional pools are deep and wide.
This is the first time you’ve scored a television series. What was your first reaction to the material?
I did this project because Patty Jenkins asked me to. She is really hard to refuse! I didn’t think I would be able to do it – I do mostly concert music and a little film music, and television music seems really different to me. A lot of television music deals with following the subtle details of a story really closely, whereas in film you can take longer and paint broader pictures, or in concert music, in which I can invent my own musical problems to solve. You have to watch closely to write music for television. When I saw the first edits I realized that I was already watching closely – the action was so dramatic and the characters were so interesting, I got immediately drawn in, deep. So then I figured I could do it.
I love the opening credits sequence–the music is very bold and enticing. Did you want to give the series a grand entrance?
One thing I really like about the show is that it starts with what could be a very intimate story – it’s a girl searching for her identity. It could have just been that. But her search ultimately leads her into some very big and scary and dramatic social and political situations, so I thought it really needed a theme that was big and scary and dramatic, to prepare us for what was coming.
Did you listen to any noir film scores, or did you want to create something completely different?
I didn’t do that much research into other scores. I know all that Hitchcock music really well – Bernard Herrmann, Miklos Rosza. And at one moment I binged on Perry Mason episodes, which may or may not have helped.
Two of your last film credits, Wildlife and Youth, deal with strife between parents and their children, and I Am the Night certainly shares those themes. Do you find that those kinds of stories tend to have the deepest well to pull from because they’re so emotional?
I like to get emotionally involved with the characters – that really can help me understand what all the characters are going through, and how music can help us help them get through it. But it can be confusing sometimes to get too emotional. In Youth it really helped me that I could identify so much with the Michael Caine character – I am not as old as he is but I can see it from where I am. In Wildlife, however, the story was really about a boy dealing with the instability of his parents’ relationship. As a parent myself I had way too much empathy for the parents! I found that sometimes I had to stop myself from trying to tell the story from Jake Gyllenhaal’s or Carey Mulligan’s perspective. That was an interesting problem for me in I Am The Night also – I really identified with the Chris Pine character, and his redemptive arc, and I probably spent more time worrying about him than I should have.
How do you keep a balance between the over-the-top theatricality of Hollywood with something so intimate like Fauna’s story?
Something I learned from all my years writing classical music is that music can really be an avenue for me to understand how I feel. If I can really put myself in a character’s emotional mindset, like Fauna’s, if I can feel the world from her perspective, then I can write about it.
One of my favorite pieces of music comes from the pilot when Fauna is on the phone with Corinna. We get to hear an almost tribal sound as we see what kind of people George Hodel surrounds himself with. What was the inspiration for that?
What’s it like to chart Fauna’s story through the score?
Because Fauna’s world expands as the story goes on, the music is not only about what she feels but about what she sees. As she sees darker things and more terrifying things the music helps to show how her universe is opening up, as she learns more about the world, right in front of us, while we watch.
Other than film noir, did you do a lot of research of music from the 1960’s? If so, did anything surprise you in your research?
To be honest, I had Bear McCreary’s music for The Walking Dead on heavy rotation. My music doesn’t sound anything like that but it was constantly reassuring just to hear a score that really works.
You’re currently ready to open an opera–something that’s completely different from a limited series on television. Do you like the variety between the size and scale from one project to the next?
I like projects that push me in different directions. That really broadens my universe and it keeps me fresh, and growing. I feel like I have only one tool I can use to understand the world, which is writing music. So if I want to understand everything around me I am going to have to write a lot more music. But opera is not so far from television or film – for them to work they all need to tell a good story. And the music has to help them tell it.
I Am the Night is streaming now and you can listen to David Lang’s work on his personal site here.