“You’re looking for Narnia, but you ended up here,” jokes Holly Amber Church, the composer behind the hypnotic music nominated for Main Title Theme for Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities. The theme mixes classical orchestrations with propulsive movement so well that you feel like you have stumbled into the wrong place, but you can’t find the exit.
The mournful sound of the violin begins our careful and curious quest into the cabinet, and Church knew that it would add a sophisticated flair to the ghastly, strange images we see as we stumble through the space. The strings hit sustained high notes that feel like they are dancing on the edge of the violin’s neck and about to tip off. It hints to the extremity that some of these tales will include.
“It’s all about the visuals,” Church says. “The best way to to describe is is a macabre Masterpiece Theater. I got that vibe from the images immediately, and I thought it needed to be a fancy, for a lack of a better word. It can be bloody and dark, but this is a sophisticated level. It evoked a classical feel to me, so that’s why the violin duet came to my mind. Those visuals helped a lot. I didn’t the entire thing but I had storyboarded animation, and it changed as it went along.”
With such a diverse lineup of directors, it’s amazing how Church’s music transports every time a new episode begins. She only went on the visuals from the title design.
“I actually didn’t know what any of the stories were going into scoring it,” she admits. “I had to go entirely on what I was getting from the main title design. I know Guillermo del Toro loves to find the beauty in the darkness. I knew it has to be haunting and I knew it had to be scary, but I knew it had to be gorgeous at the same time. That’s harder to do than you might think.”
Main Title Theme and Main Title Design are two of the most unique Primetime Emmy categories because of their specificity. Theme music can amp us up before we see our favorite characters again, and Church agreed that that Skip Intro button on a lot of streaming shows is hostile. For me, a title theme can remind us of tone, theme, and character, and she was pleased that the production team was willing to make the theme the best it could possibly be.
“I knew it was about to be about a minute. To that extent, the really cool thing is that the post-production supervisor, Julie Lawrence, asked me if I needed more time. Or if I needed more black at the beginning to let it breathe more. It’s rare to give that much room. Main title theme can be so many things. It can be a note or a song or a sound effect, but I love an old school theme with a catchy melody. I wanted to make something where you are excited for your show to start.”
What begins as a ravishing violin duet transforms into something entirely scary when a propulsive percussive beat starts as we get caught in a tornado of bones. The drums sound like our heartbeat as we wonder if we will ever escape our strange new surroundings.
“That’s my favorite visual of the entire sequence,” Church says. “I thought we needed a burst of energy, and I thought there should be a change there. It’s kind of mysterious and we are going down the hallway and seeing all these weird exhibits, and when we open up that other door, it goes crazy. I brought in more of the full orchestra there with a lot of low, heavy strings with low brass. There is some percussion and timpani to make it aggressive all of a sudden. Originally in my demo, that theme was my B theme and there was a different A theme. Guillermo pulled that out and said, ‘This is it.’ So, thank you, Guillermo.”
Guillermo del Toro’s Cabinet of Curiosities is streaming now in Netflix.