AND LOTS OF BOWED STRINGS
Making music for a journey trough visually striking landscapes, dark family secrets, crime and love, was a demanding and rewarding task.
As I write this, Black Sands, or Svörtu Sandar as the original title goes in Icelandic - an eight part dark Icelandic thriller series - is starting its rollout for worldwide distribution. The album is mastered and everything is ready for release to the world, so I decided to sit down and write a couple of lines about the music in the series, which I composed and recorded from January 2020 to December 2021 - so, a score almost 2 years in the making from conception to final mix.
My work on the series started way back in the early scriptwriting stages. From the initial rough scripts and story outlines, I wrote 7 main themes that encompassed most of the emotional range of the music we thought we needed, a musical DNA of sorts — that I left with longtime collaborator and director of the series, Baldvin Z, for him to digest and try on with the mood of the series in his mind. After getting his initial feedback we were decided on which way to go and what to focus on sonically, what was good for the story and what not, and I could start writing, receiving updated scripts as they were completed.
When principal photography of the series started, most main themes were already written and recorded, meaning that editor Úlfur Teitur Traustason could start assembling footage using the actual soundtrack of the series. Of course, having written themes and done all the broad strokes, the real handiwork came later on, in adapting the cues and editing them to the locked episodes. Which means that even though we started very early, there was still a lot to do all the way into sound mixing, but in a calm fashion and without stress. The process I've described here is my absolute favourite way to work soundtracks for series. This way, the music gets to be an integral part of the storytelling from the beginning to the end, and we have time to do things as well as we can.
The music itself is predominantly dark and very multilayered. It should evoke a dark foreboding feeling, even when nothing bad is happening. Not to tell the viewer how to feel, but to enhance the overall mood of the characters and their dark story. Black sands is also deliberately very music heavy. All in all we delivered 247 minutes of music to the eight part series. Each of the main characters has a set of thematic melodies and soundscapes, carefully placed around storylines. The amazing landscapes of the south coast of Iceland play an important role in the series, giving size and drama to the mood, while the story itself is quite intimate.
As for the process of making the music itself, there was lots of bowing. Bowed guitars, baritone guitars, basses and electric cellos. Felted pianos, slammed pianos, and a myriad of both analogue and software synths. Percussion was mostly recorded slamming things around in the studio as can be seen here. A considerable part of the soundtrack work in the Black Sands soundtrack was actually to make uncomfortable sounds, off beat percussion and atonal pads. Sine waves that are out of tune, noise and lots of tonal sound design in layers, made from just about everything available. These layers are not always easy to hear or seperate from the ambience, but they are there, adding to the mood.
The album itself follows the story arc of the series, and is mostly sequential from the beginning to the end. I sometimes get asked why we release albums of music that is predominately dark and uncomfortable. And that's a valid question, this soundtrack is perhaps not something you put on to relax after a hard day's work. But not only are these soundtracks the business cards of composers, but the amount of people who enjoy listening to all kinds of atmospheric film and cinematic music surprises even us who make it. Writers write to it, and film afeccionados listen to it. People that connected to strong scenes in films or series want to relive them focusing on only the music. The list goes on. Anyway, now that it's out there, I hope you enjoy it.
Black Sands was produced by Glassriver for Channel 2 Iceland, All3Media, VRT and YLE. The soundtrack album was mixed and mastered by Addi 800, and album artwork was designed by Sævar Jóhannesson at Digimax.
Hopefully it will be available to you, wherever you live, soon. In the meantime, here is a trailer: