“Candyman,” a surprise inclusion on Oscar’s music shortlist, features an electro-acoustic score by New York composer Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe that contributes to the eerie and ultimately terrifying atmosphere of Nia DaCosta’s update of the 1992 horror classic.
“Candyman” was co-written and produced by Jordan Peele and wound up among the year’s top 20 grossing films. Lowe spent more than nine months composing and recording the music.
“To be able to enhance the story by way of creating a score that exists as a character within the landscape of the film, that’s most important to me,” says Lowe.
The appeal? “The racial overtones of the film, the history of brutality and trauma for Black bodies, concepts of ancestry, folklore, mythology, stories that are handed down orally.”
Lowe actually lived within a few blocks of Chicago’s Cabrini-Green housing project while in his 20s, and he returned to those now-abandoned row houses that are the focus of the film to capture the sounds of the place. He recorded “the wind rushing through the buildings, the creaking of doors, [sounds inside] old electrical boxes, insects around. Also, I prompted some of the actors to say certain words or phrases into the recorder. Then I took those words and phrases and granularly processed them down to where they were no longer understandable as a word or voice, and used those as textural elements within the score.”
In fact, most of the vaguely recognizable voice sounds are those of either Lowe himself or his friend, Oscar-winning Icelandic composer Hildur Guðnadóttir (“Joker”); she also plays cello on the score.
“I also had [actor] Colman Domingo say ‘Candyman’ and really crushed it, made it into a buzzing, skittering sound. … I was treating a lot of the voices, and sounds in general, as apparitions. It’s almost like you have all of these ghosts weaving in and out of the story, or imparting their own particular story, in different moments throughout the film.”
Lowe used a variety of modern techniques to create a mood of unease, an atmosphere of dread — but, he notes, “without providing any emotional bias. If you lay it on too thick it becomes coy. I like the idea of playing with illusion, something that factors quite heavily into this film — this concept of reflection, illusion, reality versus fantasy.
“Technically, ‘Candyman’ is a horror film, but it works on other levels. There are whimsical moments within the score.” He also placed fleeting references to Philip Glass’s music from the 1992 film.