Exclusive: ‘Dark’ Composer Ben Frost On Crafting The Sound Of Winden, Working With Baran bo Odar, And More
Nothing seems the same after the final cycle of Dark came to an end. Exactly one month ago from today, teary-eyed and all, I watched the concluding moments of the German TV series. And since then I haven’t been able to truly watch anything else. I do sit in front of the laptop looking at something, but it doesn’t register. Why? Because every nook and cranny of my small brain is filled with the show’s brilliant writing, direction, editing, cinematography, production design, acting, and music. Oh yes! Especially the background score by Ben Frost.
Dark is undoubtedly a well-oiled machine where every single part works perfectly and Frost’s score plays an immensely integral role. Because even when you’re done questioning the science, the family tree of the Kahnwalds, Nielsens, Tiedemanns, Dopplers, and whatnot, the intense, brooding, and melancholic music by the Australian composer stays with you. It reminds you of what you felt while watching a particular scene and imprints a piece of the soul of a character in your brain. So, I reached out to the man himself to truly understand how it’s done. And thankfully he reached back!
What was the pitch given to you by Baran bo Odar for the score of Dark? How much of plot details did that involve?
“I suppose it was important to know where the story is heading in a broad sense, but mostly everything was quite reflexive and instinctual, from both sides I think. Bo and Jantje reached out to me because they’d heard my work before and I think felt it was coming from the right place for the story they wanted to tell and I was invited in to watch an early cut of Ep 1. I could hear immediately what I felt it needed to be, and just told them id like to go home and start working- the first thing I wrote was the main Winden theme.”
The whole show is located in one place i.e. Winden. So, how did you manage to capture its vibe that changed with each timeline? Did it involve a lot of set visits?
“I visited the set a couple of times over the years but a film set is not really an inspirational environment and with Dark, it is mostly a very familiar and normal space to me. My partner is from Berlin and I spend a lot of time in the areas where it was shot, so I always tried to stop by when I was around. On a more practical level, [Baran] bo was always shooting so if I really wanted to connect with him, a quick lunch break on set was often the only way. The last time I was onset they were shooting inside the caravan where Elizabeth is smashing the rapists head in with a fire extinguisher- that was fun.”
Out of all the pieces of score you’ve created for Dark which one is your favourite?
“I think the music I am most connected to is what I wrote for Claudia, it has this plastic flexing shape to it which I really loved working on with the orchestra. I didn’t write it for her originally, but once we attached that melody to her it became quickly inseparable from the character.”
What were some of the top sources of inspiration for you while you were creating the score of Dark?
“That has varied a lot over the seasons. On this last cycle, my head was really in this diffuse, Feldman/Eno/Harold Budd kind of space which for reasons I can’t explain felt right to me. One of the earliest sources of inspiration I remember was actually this vocalist from Ireland called Radie Peat, and specifically this acapella performance of a Liam Weldon song called Dark horse On The Wind – which I became quite obsessed with for a while. In the final cycle, the music suite that follows Silja and Bartosz´s love story really has its roots in that idea.”
From Season 1 to Season 3, how did your approach towards composing the score change i.e. in terms of communicating with Baran or interpreting the text and the subtext?
“We try not to talk about anything in great detail. Every time we start trying to dissect anything we end up fighting and it just makes it worse. In the first cycle, strings felt right to me, in the second cycle I was really moved more to percussion and a lot of synthetic shapes and more distortion and when it came to the final season I took the original sheets and assembled a brass and woodwind ensemble- that kind of muted, breath driven colour was a very clear direction I needed to take. In the end, though, [Baran] bo does his thing, and I do mine and we smash it all together in the edit and it either works, or it doesn’t.”
The ending of Season 3 is quite open to interpretation? So, I’d love to know your take on it.
“People don’t change no matter what dimension they are in. Fuck Hannah.”
What project of yours should we look forward to next?
“I just finished a new opera, called The Murder of Halit Yozgat which is yet to premiere because of the virus and I wrote a score for Ridley Scott’s Raised By Wolves which I guess will come out later this year sometime. I’m looking forward to getting back to writing some new music, but right now I just want to stare at the ceiling for a while.”
I think this virtual chat with Ben Frost has given me some form of closure. I mean it’s great to talk about Dark and spread the word by yourself. It’s cathartic to dedicate all your time to watching such an intricately made piece of art and then dissecting it so that others are influenced to watch it as well. But in my opinion, what is more satisfying is hearing from the artists who have actually made the said piece of art. I seriously cannot wait to witness the next project that Frost elevates with his music and until it arrives I will probably go watch Dark again just for his score.
Cover artwork by Bhavya Poonia/Mashable India; Ben Frost/Rupert Reid/Instagram