REVIEWS & INTERVIEWS
Review by Sybren van der Schoot from FILM MUSIC SITE:
After great critical acclaim for Hess’ music on the movie Carnival Of Sorrows, wich earned the movie an Award for best feature film and best musical score at the LA Film Festival in 2018, Hess now returns for another, even richer score to the 2019- slasherfilm CLOWNFACE wich just recently won its 3rd(!) Award at the Latitude Film Awards
This time around Hess goes even bigger with instrumentation and multi layers of sound and ambiance. For this slasherflick Hess composed a beautiful and melancholic theme for its lead character ‘Zoe’: with accoustic guitar he approaches the start of the movie with a warm and tender feel to it. The theme returns two or three times, but always with a little twist.
For the theme of the antagonist and titulair character ‘Clownface’ we hear the dark and threatening low key arrangement that for any listener tells us all we need to know: a dark, twisted and above all deadly presense is hovering over the teenagers that all too soon start to dissappear in the old fashioned 80’s slasher-way. Hess uses both acoustic and electronic instruments, that colour every track with a kind of freshness and surprise. At times you feel like you’re recognising little pieces of music that remind of Steve Jablonsky’s Texas Chainsaw Massacre (2003) Marco Beltrami’s Scream (1996) or even John Carpenter, when it comes to ‘Zoe’s Theme’, that of being a simple but recognisable piece of music.
The score to CLOWNFACE consists of 30 short tracks, but with one longer piece to build tension and really getting into the vibe of the scene, wich happens to be a complete group of party people getting offed by the psycho: ‘Party Massacre’ has synth strings, cello, pizzicato, percussion all blend into a 6:06 min. sequence. The shortest track, ‘Game On’, with a total of only “0.23 seconds has to be the ultimate nodge to the 80’s. With its old school-style synth/percussion it’s like a brief moment of joy throughout the dooming vibe the album depicts. All hell breakes loose on ‘Failed Attempt’ like a big cluster of whaling strings, heavy drums and sizzling sharp sounds that build up to a climax.
Hans Michael Anselmo Hess mentioned in an interview once, how much he enjoys composing multi layered pieces of music that can bring every listener their own experience on what could happen in that particulair piece of music and even making music that is strong enough to stand on its own.
My overall conclusion to CLOWNFACE: the composer seems to have been given more carte blanche in choosing the instrumantation, wich results in a bigger than life power-score, with this time more accoustic instruments like cello, guitar flute and a rich full soundscape that keeps you on edge throughout the whole album. There were a few moments where Hess’ score almost sounds too grand for the images of the movie it was composed for. But it also gives the movie some extra cache ( who remembers Christopher Young’s contribution to ‘Hellraiser’ (1987) and ‘Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988) that provided more impact then it would have had without his beautiful and iconic score) That same class and energy, Hess brings to CLOWNFACE. 09/10
Review by Steven A. Kennedy from FILM SCORE MONTHLY:
Clownface, actor-director Alex Bourne’s second horror feature, focuses on a serial killer terrorizing a small town. The movie has garnered some attention at its showings in horror film festivals in anticipation of a wider release next year. Composer Hans Michael Hess is based in Leeds, where he also lectures on film music composition. He has composed several feature scores, some television music, and works as a library music composer with several companies. His music for Clownface, which has already won a “best score” nod from the Los Angeles Film Awards, was made available this month on digital platforms.
The album opens with the dark “He’s Coming,” which features a four-note motive in low strings, assisted by rhythmic accents. Three thematic ideas are then laid out, the first of which is for Zoe, a relatively simple, folk-flavored tune set on solo guitar. “Clownface’s Theme” is the ultimate contrast, built out of a collage of intense sounds and violent punches. Driven by a John Carpenter-like motif, the “theme” is mostly about creating an atmosphere, alluding to the character’s vicious side. The opening motif established here returns throughout the album to further cement itself as a connection to Clownface. The last of the score’s main components is “Owen’s Theme,” a more reflective, yet troubled idea for piano, with a static feel.
“Misfortunes of the Past” throws us into the underscore proper, with allusions to the Clownface theme. Some tracks provide little more than atmosphere or connective tissue, but others deliver rich colors and integrated thematic writing, as in the effective “The Lair.” “Hostage,” meanwhile, opens with a dense mass of unsettled sounds before integrating Clownface’s theme against tremolo strings.
Pitched percussion adds quirky contrast in “Pretty Face,” which offers a variant on the Clownface theme courtesy of piano and strings. “Zoe and Rick” provides a respite from all the intensity, with her guitar theme being the focus.
“Game On” introduces some 8-bit arcade stylings before “Those Eyes” returns us to Zoe’s music. “Strangling” ups the ante with intense textures, while “Skinning” delivers unsettling sounds and audio manipulation. This kind of sinister, crawling material figures into healthy stretches of the album, dominating tracks like “New Mask,” “Slitting, Stamping, Gutting” and “Axe and Knife.”
“Party Massacre” is a six-minute cue in which Hess gets to unload a kitchen sink-full of ideas, as most of the score’s key thematic threads come together to create one of the standout pieces on the album. “In the Tunnels” builds on “Party Massacre,” as we head into the final stretch of the playlist, which includes some exciting action music, as in “Hide and Seek.” We eventually come out the other side with the reflective “Zoe and Jenna,” but the tranquility is short-lived as “I Only Hurt You If You Struggle” brings back the score’s dominant, horrific aspects.
Clownface proves to be an effective work that amounts to more than the ambient electronics and diffuse sounds common to low-budget horror scoring today. There are nods to some of the classic slasher films in the Carpenter cannon, and Hess’ thematic dexterity holds things together as an album experience. Fans of this type of score will likely find it to be a worthwhile listen, and a welcome introduction to a new voice in film music.
Review by Bruno Roberti from FILM MUSIC SITE:
Clownface is an independent low budget slasher movie about some kind of weird mask-wearing psychopath called Clownface. The film itself is not the best I’ve ever seen in the genre but far from the worst eiter. Let’s face it, the actors are not very convincing, despite some exceptions like Zoe, one of the main characters for example and the story has a few plot holes here and there but it still is worth watching, albeit for its rather surprising end. I won’t tell the whole story of the movie, because the subject of my review is Hess’s music which is the best element of this movie.
Let me start by saying that I already was surprised by this composer’s first score, Carnival of Sorrows. As you might have read in my review I quite liked it but the only thing that bothered me was the ‘plastic’ sound, I missed some real instruments. Perhaps, Hess did listen to my opinion. This score sounds a lot more real than its predecessor thanks to the use of real instruments instead of keyboards and synths only. Not that it’s a symphonic and without any electronic sounds, not at all. It is more a successful combination of both worlds. And that’s what makes this score so great. It’s got all it needs to be a good score: like in ‘CARNIVAL OF SORROWS’, there is a strong thematic approach, some real instruments in combination with keyboards & synths, variation, terrifying creepy sounds and effects which are a must in a horror movie score.
The overall mood of this soundtrack is very dark, tenebrous, aggressive but still with some moments of rest to give the opportunity to the listeners to take a deep breath before diving again in the Clownface’s world of madness.
After a short dark introduction ‘’He’s Coming’’ we get our first theme, ‘‘Zoe’s Theme’’ followed by ‘Clownface’s Theme’. Later on, we even get a 3rd one, ‘’Owen’s Theme’’. The first two themes couldn’t be more different. ‘Zoe’s theme’ is beautifully played by the composer himself on classical guitar and is some sort of intimate melody, it stays in your head for a while when you hear it for the first time. It gets back in several other tracks like: “Zoe & Rick”, “Those Eyes” and “You Kept Me Alive”.
“Clownface’s theme” is much more creepy and frightening ofcourse. It even reminds me a tiny bit of those old classic monster movies: heavy, dark, bombastic, in a dark abyss of madness. This theme also gets back and even more frequently than “Zoe’s Theme” and in a bunch of very different variations. There’s even a music box version in “Pretty Face”, some hints of it in “Encounter”. In fact our main character’s theme is all over the album, if you listen carefully though. If you want to hear him in full glory, you should listen to rightaway to “Party Massacre”. It’s truly creepy. The theme gets back and it’s a nice long track with weird effects, banging orchestral hits and Hess did some experimentation with traditional instruments and that’s really something I’m very keen of, when you hear some kind of instrument without having a clue which instrument has been used to get that sound. You could get really surprised what you can get out of a normal piano or traditional violin, etc...
“Owen’s Theme” on the other hand doesn’t get as much attention, but the same goes for the character. He’s only a small piece of the story, but nevertheless pretty important. It starts with soft, mysterious piano notes accompanied by woodwinds in the background. It sounds pretty mysterious and you really don’t know what to expect yet. It’s also a bit more simple than both other themes, which are really well elaborated.
There is also non-thematic material that sounds truly terrifying and creepy, like some chilling sound effects, a distorted piano, a lot of low strings, heavy banging percussion, and so on. Enough material to keep the listener focused.
So, to conclude this review:
Clownface is one hell of a trip (almost litteraly) and I mean it in a good way, obviously! It has everything such a movie should have. Is it easy to listen? Hell no! And it shouldn’t be! As no other horror movie should be easy to listen either. It is frightening, at moments even terrifying, it creeps under your skin and drags you into a world of madness. The world of Clownface!
Thank you Hans for this blood-curdling score!
A well deserved 85/100!
Review by The Film Scorer from The Film Scorer:
Sometimes looks can be deceiving. The film title ‘Clownface,’ for instance, did not inspire much optimism. Yet, I was pleasantly surprised as Hans Hess’ score proved to be more interesting and dynamic than the film’s name let on.
Hess hits all the beats found in most modern horror films: low, crushing rumbles announce the presence of the killer, made all the creepier by vibrating, unnatural percussion; slow, fragmented piano melodies mesh with airy, droning synth to create a haunted atmosphere; and high-pitched noises crescendo into piercing climaxes. These elements, on their own, do not create anything exceptionally new, which would be fitting for what ends up being a rather standard slasher. However, Hess adds a few unique elements.
The most striking of these comes in the first few minutes: the unaccompanied classical guitar of “Zoe’s Theme.” Among the most underutilized instruments in all of film music, the classical guitar lends a certain elegance, a longing nostalgia for a time long gone and long lost. The theme arises intermittently throughout the movie, perfectly accompanying the flashbacks of the broken and haunted protagonist. It has a surprising gentleness and emotional honestly largely absent from the film, making it stand out all the more.
While it may be a long wait for classical guitar to find its way into mainstream film music, Hess’s ‘Clownface’ serves to tide listeners over till that day comes. Hopefully he can help lead the way as his film music career progresses.
INTERVIEW WITH THE FILM SCORER:
Hans Hess is a relatively new film composer, born in Brazil and currently living in England. His latest score, Clownface, just released and has already notched wins at the London Independent Film Awards, the Los Angeles Film Awards, and the Latitude Film Awards. I recently had a chance to “talk” with Hans about our shared interest in classical guitar in film music, his inspirations, and his upcoming projects.Classical Guitar in Clownface and Film Music
The Film Scorer: Your use of classical guitar in Clownface caught me off guard and was rather refreshing, particularly since it’s so rarely used in film music. What inspired your use of classical guitar and what do you think its role could be in film music?
Hans Hess: Actually, the idea of using classical guitar came from director Alex Bourne. He listened to my guitar pieces and he thought that a theme for solo guitar would be perfect for the character Zoe. I loved the idea as I was looking for an opportunity to use the guitar again in a soundtrack. I have done it before, but sometimes, some filmmakers would make associations of the guitar sound to ‘Latin music,’ and would ask me not to use it in the projects. For instance, I would play a big open E major chord and they would say: “that’s flamenco!”
I believe that one of the reasons that this happens is because some filmmakers, and a good number of people, are not aware of the vast repertoire that the classical guitar has consolidated (especially in Western music). When you go to watch recitals of world top classical guitar performers you’ll be always impressed by the expressiveness, timbres, and versatility that you hear in guitar music. It’s a complex polyphonic instrument just like the piano.
Therefore, and after this score for Clownface, I want to push a bit more the use of the classical guitar in film music. There’s so much that this instrument can offer that I think it can find its space. Perhaps it would be able to create the same space in film music like the piano, which is an instrument we almost hear in any soundtrack. Ennio Morricone, in his score for Cinema Paradiso, for instance, makes a great use of the guitar along with the orchestra, proving the suitability of the instrument in the world of film music. To make this happen, we need film composers using this instrument in film scores more often. I think I can bring a great contribution. Nevertheless, the usage of this instrument needs to be relevant to the needs of the film narrative.
TFS: You’ve studied and talked about the use of samba in Brazilian film – both in articles and in your PhD. Have you considered using samba or other Brazilian musical styles in your own work?
HH: The only time I used Brazilian styles in my work was in library music, in album themes relevant to Brazil and Latin America. In terms of films, forcing these elements can be a disaster. The reason is because using musical genres will, most of the time, transport us to a location. For instance, I don’t think that using samba would necessarily fit to an alien sci-fi epic film situated in the USA. But, if the movie would have its place in Brazil and involve Brazilian culture, I could see a potential use for it blended with orchestral sounds, synths, and sound design.
TFS: I know that a lot of 80s and 90s scores, like Braveheart andThe Mission, initially inspired you to work on film music. What has inspired you more recently?
HH: Nowadays, composers such as Bear McCreary and Alexandre Desplat are great sources of inspiration. I think they (and specially Bear McCreary) are very underrated.
The Search for Projects and What’s Next
TFS: When deciding whether to work on a film, what elements do you look for?
HH: The first and most important element for me in a film is the story. I’m very fond of certain styles such as sci-fi, horror, epic adventure, and drama. So, I’ll look at stories that appeal to me. I also like to know who the director is. Hence, it’s important to know what films they’ve done and if they are good to work with. I believe that working with filmmakers you really get along well helps a lot to accomplish my work. This is important because the synergy of two creative minds (director and composer) will together create something that will best serve the story of the movie.
TFS: What would be your dream film to compose for?
HH: It would be great to score a movie that is not related to a franchise. The main reason is because I would like to avoid having to use themes from a movie whose soundtrack is already very well known. Hence, I would like to have the opportunity to come up with something that is more unique. If I could get a great paranormal horror or epic sci-fi that would make me super excited.
TFS: What projects are up next?
HH: I do have a great variety of projects at the moment. Recently, I finished the score for a crime/thriller/drama feature film Sustain. Other projects that are about to start are: Snarl (a werewolf short movie), You Are My Sunshine (an LGBT feature film), Theosight (a TV Series), and Dilemma (a crime/thriller feature film). Along with these film projects, I’m also writing for library music. My other recent projects include: a full album of solo classical guitar for BMG Production Music, a full album of guitar and small orchestral for Velvet Green Music, and an epic trailer album (pitching for a big label TBC).
Review by Bruno Roberti from FILM MUSIC SITE:
When I received an email by beginning composer Hans Michael Anselmo Hess, asking me if I was willing to write a review of his latest project Carnival of Sorrows, I felt very honoured. I was also surprised when I asked to get a signed physical copy of it, that he immediately agreed. Very generous of him.
I must admit I never heard of him, neither of his musical career so far, so I looked it up a bit. I found a rather interesting short auto-biography on Mr. Hess’s own website, which I will put here if I may.
“I became a musician because I have always loved the magical power of communication that music is capable of. But it was the communication between music and moving image that added for me a very special excitement and power.
When I first heard the soundtracks of composers such as James Horner, James Howard, David Arnold, Jerry Goldsmith, Thomas Newman, Inon Zur, Jesper Kyd, Ennio Morricone, Alan Silvestri and Hans Zimmer I knew that music composition for films, TV multiple media was the medium I wanted to use to communicate.
I love creating a music narrative that blends beautifully not only with the images, but that can also communicate something about characters, about the story, about a culture, or about the world, real or fantasised.
My latest projects include short film Once An Old Lady Sat On My Chest (2017), and feature films Carnival of Sorrows (2018) and Clownface (2018).
Apart from my activity in the industry I also work as senior lecturer in film music composition at Leeds College of Music.”
The movie itself won 2 prestigious Los Angeles Film awards in 2018 for best thriller and best score.
I’m not familiar with this movie and I have to say it’s quite difficult to write about it without having seen the images that were meant to be accompanying the music. It’s obvious we’re talking about some kind of horror thriller with probably here and there a few comedy elements. There’s a short description of the movie’s story in the cd’s booklet:
When Gabriel Cushing gets a call from an old friend of his father’s, Dr. Albert Parker, he and his student Melanie head off to investigate. But when they arrive, Dr. Parker is missing and something is preying on the unsuspecting town.
Jenny Marwick is struggling to get by after the loss of her mother. It’s hard enough coping with college and losing touch with her friends but now she’s hearing creepy Music and having unsettling dreams.
As they delve deeper they reveal the Carnival’s disturbing past and frightening portnents of its future. With each step they fall further into a World inhabited by demonic clowns, freakish living dolls and other twisted creatures. And Gabriel learns, the hardest demons to face are your own.
The whole score sounds creepy, eerie, and at times even funny. It opens with the track ‘The Carnival is in Town’. The track introduces us to the main theme, starting with a musicbox melody in ¾ waltz mode, reprised later in a more bombastic arrangement with accordion, harpsichord, organ and orchestra.
The following track ‘Jenny’s Torment’ starts the same way with that music box but a bit shorter, although staying in that waltz form but with percussions and big pounding orchestra making a kind of a big, frightening ‘grotesque’ waltz.
I’m definitely not going to describe the whole album, because this would get way to boring for you readers and because it would take forever, since there are 43 tracks.
The overall soundscape reminds me a tiny bit of Elfman’s Batman (in the carnivalesque parts), with some echoes of Zimmer’s Davy Jones theme from Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest. It has a strong main theme, brought in a lot of different variations. There are a bunch of other themes as well, like the one we can hear in track 9 ‘Tenebris Auditorum’. It’s a very obscure sounding straight forward march-like track. This theme also returns more than once and in different styles, as all themes does on this score.
This score has potential. It has a very strong thematical approach, which we don’t hear that much anymore and I think it’s a regrettable fact. Personally, I love a thematical approach and can’t shout it out enough to encourage composers (and directors/producers) to work that way and I think most film music fans feels the same way.
So far, I have been only positive about this score. Isn’t there any bad thing about it? Yes, ofcourse but only 2: I find it deplorable that the composer didn’t (or didn’t get the opportunity to) use a real orchestra and that’s a bit of a missed chance. Even with only a few real instruments, like for example a real piano, some real percussion, a small amount of real strings, etc… would have make it more enjoyable to listen to. The thing is: it sounds a bit too artificial and you can’t look away from it. Every single note comes out of the synthesizers of Mr. Hess and that’s too perceptible.
Second tiny point of negativity is the total length of this album: 79min! It’s quite a job to keep hooked while listening. Maybe it could have been shortened a tiny bit and the listening experience would have been more satisfying. I feel that the first of both negative things of this album is the reason because there is a second one. The lack of real instruments makes listening the whole score in a row very difficult.
Nevertheless, a great attempt from the composer to keep the listener interested. I said it before, there are a lot of different themes and in very different variations. There are not 2 tracks sounding the same. Hans Michael Anselmo Hess put a lot of effort in his work to sound not boring at all. We get tension, action, mystery, drama, fun, fear, love, etc… Enough to keep interested.
I can only hope we hear more of him in the future and who knows, with a real symphonic orchestra some day near? 07/10
Review by Randall D. Larson’s from BUYSOUNDTRAX.COM
Hans Michael Anselmo Hess is an award-winning Brazilian-born British film composer based in Bristol, UK. Since 2014, Hans has been commissioned to work as a film composer for different media productions on a regular basis. He recently completed scoring Alex Bourne’s feature horror film CLOWNFACE, about a deranged serial killer who terrorizes the residents of a small town. CARNIVAL OF SORROWS is a new horror film directed by Mark Adams involving fictional demonologist and supernatural investigator Gabriel Cushing in a tale drawn from classic British horror, ‘80s macabre fantasy, and contemporary supernatural investigation narratives. As Cushing and his partner delve deeper into the disturbing past of a supernatural Carnival they “find frightening portents of its future while with each step they fall further into a world inhabited by demonic clowns, freakish living dolls, and other twisted creatures”.
Hess’s score opens with a carnivalesque lullaby that is given a slightly eerie tinge; growling horns and heavy drums at high volume soon replace the delicate tinkling at the cue’s start, surely a sign that this is no friendly carnival visit we are about to undertake. The motif continues into the next track, “Jenny’s Torment,” and reappears as a recurring motive throughout the score in a variety of arrangements that are often used to set up spookier dissonances that follow – “Welcome to My Carnival,” for example, adds a hefty chorus and ultra-low and reverbed piano arpeggios to the lullaby mix, while “The Clown” emerges out of the lullaby music to describe the demonic clowns in a heart-pounding progression of wicked melodies and rhythms that quite potently exude an tonality of inherent malevolence. A powerful forewarning of violence is conveyed in “Tenebris Auditorium,” using deep, growling synth chords combined with heavy low brass, giving the moment a tremendous sense of apprehension. “These two pallets of sounds play the theme of the demon’s name,” Hess explained. A similar motif, created from slowed-down and enhanced cello figures, gives “Let Them In” its surrealistically dangerous authority; “Seven Sacrifices” is an immense cloud of sound design, rising synths and low bass rumbles, eerie voicings, pounding drum beats and more, which morphs into a web of disconsolate string lines before being driven by those recurring drums into sonic oblivion.
There’s a lot going on in this score, and the music grants the listener a disturbingly anxious journey through its hellishly fearsome festivals. There are 43 mostly short tracks on the album, totaling 1 hour 40 minutes of music. It’s quite a compelling score which fits together well. Hess is quite adept at conveying the sound of symphonic instruments via a virtual orchestra, and his sound design is enhanced by a variety of synths, pads, and sonic effects.
This just in, CARNIVAL OF SORROWS won “Best Score” at the 2018 Los Angeles Film Awards.