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Static, Ambient Noise Permeates Marc Streitenfeld’s Score for ‘Poltergeist’

Composer Marc Streitenfeld, vacationing in a villa in Florence, Italy, felt guilty about not working on “Poltergeist,” his latest assignment.

So he pulled out his laptop, plugged in the keyboard, and heard “this weird static interference,” he says. “It scared the crap out of me.” But, ever on a quest for new sounds, he quickly pulled out his iPhone, recorded the sound — and it’s in the score for MGM’s remake of the 1982 classic, out May 22.

As director Gil Kenan explains: “There’s a subtheme in the film: the way that electricity permeates our lives, and that’s part of the way the haunting is able to express itself. Marc picked up on that idea, brought in these electronic signals and weaved them, sometimes melodically, sometimes in more discordant or troubling ways, in scenes of suspense or drama.”

Both Streitenfeld and Kenan acknowledge that the original “Poltergeist” casts a big shadow. And that includes Jerry Goldsmith’s Oscar-nominated score.

Streitenfeld still has vivid memories of seeing the original on TV as a child: “It was one of those moments when I realized how important music and sound is. I was at my neighbor’s house, hiding behind a staircase, switching the TV to silent so that I could actually get through it, it was so scary.”

Says Kenan about the remake: “You have to approach it with as much of a blank slate as possible.” The bulk of the score is orchestral — an 80-piece London orchestra — but with offbeat additions. Kenan wanted to avoid voices (a key element in Goldsmith’s score for the original), so choral elements were filtered through a 1970s-era Mellotron that still sits in Streitenfeld’s Venice studio.

And because it’s still basically a haunted-house story, the composer used “house sounds” instead of the traditional drums or percussion. “Kitchen elements,” he says. “My 1950s oven, doing weird rhythmic things, door slams or knocks or kitchen scrapes, all those kinds of sounds.”

Adds Kenan: “I got really excited by Marc’s enthusiasm to experiment with the score.”

Kenan has a 7-year-old girl, Streitenfeld a 6-year-old son. The director says that helped: “I think he was able to tap into the curiosity and mystery of what it’s like to live in a house with access to the world of the dead. That curiosity permeates the score and gives it a sense of wonder and life.”

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