Will Larsen and Rasa Daukus make up the musical act Tess Said So, who this year are performing their live score of Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror as the film plays. The Student got to ask them a few questions about the show and what they might like to try next.
How long have you been playing music together?
Will: Rasa and I met when we were music students at university. We were both interested in the same music, the same artists, the same composers. I played in her performance recitals and she in mine, but we very quickly ran out of repertoire to play for piano and percussion. There’s not that much to play beyond Béla Bartók and George Crumb, so once we left university we thought why not write our own music to play?
You have worked with a variety of different creative people from filmmakers to street artists. Do any collaborations stand out as especially memorable?
Rasa: I love working with dance artists – partly because I’m captivated by the physicality of dance, but also because in my experience working with dancers and choreographers, the collaborative process is so immersive and engaging. [It involves] being in the moment to completely let go to listen and react with one another.
What drew you to Nosferatu? It is one of the most iconic silent films ever made – was that part of the attraction?
Will: My oldest brother had a Nosferatu poster on his bedroom wall when we were kids. Even then I was drawn to the dark, gothic imagery. For me, it’s not a film made simply to scare an audience; it’s much more than that. Nosferatu looks at the potential in all of us to behave in questionable ways, or at least be tempted by them. The heroine in the film is petrified by – and yet at the same time falls under the spell of – the vampire, despite her better nature and despite having a partner. That dichotomy of fear and attraction coexisting is a really interesting allegory for all sorts of things.
Is it a bit eerie live-scoring a film live which is about horror and death?
Rasa: There’s a haunting and eerie quality to the film, but our approach to scoring Nosferatu was more about the identity and journey of the characters – rather than the subject of horror and death. In getting to know the characters, instead of being spooked, we’ve ultimately found them quite lovable!
Will: Our job is to create empathy for all the characters. If an audience doesn’t have empathy for any of the characters and their story arc, they get bored.
How long have you been scoring Nosferatu and why is it something which you like to do?
Will: Rasa and I have been playing Nosferatu since October last year and it hasn’t got old on us yet! Because we don’t have a click track when we perform, we both have to remain engaged with the film for the full hour and 20 minutes, so that we don’t fall behind or get ahead. Every action and gesture onscreen is a cue for where we should be in our score. It’s an intimidating, scary, thrilling ride for us each and every performance. It’s so much fun!
Why have you decided to come to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe this year?
Rasa: Edinburgh Fringe is the biggest arts festival in the world, and it’s exciting to be part of such a massive showcase.
Will: The festival has such an incredible reputation around the world. We had to be part of it.
You were awarded Best Interactive, Film or Digital at the 2017 Adelaide Fringe Festival. Is this success something you are aiming to repeat in Edinburgh?
Rasa: No doubt, accolades are wonderful and affirming. But our aim is to present a quality show that we’ve worked hard to produce and we thoroughly believe in – and, we hope, captures the imagination of our audience.
What kind of preparation goes into a show like this?
Will: Writing the score was actually a surprisingly quick process. Rasa and I sat down over a weekend to draw up an outline and decide who would write which cue. This is known in film scoring as ‘spotting’ where not much more than a sketch of abstract ideas is expected. We had expected to take two days to just talk about an overarching sketch for the film and maybe come up with a leitmotif for each of the two main characters. By the end of the Saturday, we had actually written the entire score in under five hours! The film was that easy to write music for. What followed, though, was six months of rehearsals and watching the film up to three times a day. Because we had decided from the beginning that we were not going to use a click track, we had to know every film edit, every gesture onscreen and every nuance of the film inside out, to ensure that an hour and twenty minutes of music synchs perfectly with the film when we play it live.
Other than Nosferatu, what are your favourite films? Are there any others you would like to score?
Rasa: Too many to list! I often fall for films that have scores or soundtracks that I like, such as Amelie with music by Yann Tiersen, [and] recently Lion with music by Dustin O’Halloran and Hauschka. The Mission with music by Ennio Morricone has one of the most beautiful scores of all time. Quentin Tarantino’s music direction, especially Pulp Fiction, is brilliant. I could go on… I’d be happy to score for any film that lets us into the lives of its characters.
Will: Tough question! North By Northwest by Alfred Hitchcock makes me laugh no matter how many times I see it and it has a brilliant score by Bernard Hermann. Kar-Wai Wong’s In The Mood For Love, music by Michael Galasso and Shigeru Umebayashi, and Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, [with] music by Fumio Hayasaka). [They] have simply stunning film scores too. Oh, and Luc Besson’s La Femme Nikita. And… too many to mention. We are keen to score a new film next and collaborate with a director to realise her/his vision. If we were to do another silent movie, the films we might consider would be The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Battleship Potemkin and, of course, Metropolis.
In three words, how would you NOT describe your show?
Rasa: Glitzy, raucous, nude
Will: Elvis tribute show
Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror
St. Vincent’s Chapel (Venue 197)
Photo credit: Tess Said So