Daniel LICHT - Well, I studied composition and performance. Not in a conservatory but in a little art school in Massachusetts called the Hampshire College, and I specialized in World Music and Jazz. My background is pretty eclectic. I’ve studied gamelan music in Indonesia. I was part of the new music scene in New York City when I was living there doing new music gamelan and found instruments. And also I was playing jazz at the time. So, it’s very eclectic and I think that’s what drew me to film scoring: the fact that I could use all this background, my knowing of a bunch of different forms of music.
How did you come on Dexter and why did you accept?
I was actually recommended by the music supervisor on Dexter. I had done a lot of projects that were in the same dark/horror/thriller genre and then, overtime I had moved into some other more dramatic and actually ended up working on comedy, doing some comedy series. I was interested in Dexter because that was sort going back to something I had started with. But it’s also black humor; there is a kind of an ironic tone to it. So I could use the work I had done in comedy, too, and tie them together. It’s a really good project that could have some really interesting musical possibilities.
Morally speaking, the subject is very hard to defend, since it’s about a serial killer that ultimately comes to kill his own brother. Was it an issue to you?
Basically, Dexter is a monster who is trying to reform himself. So, you can see him as an allegory of anybody growing. He’s just growing from a really, really bad place! So, in a sense, it’s a positive show because it is about trying to better oneself, to become a better person. The only problem I have with this show is about vigilantism, the fact that he’s taking justice into his own hands.
What is the musical concept of Dexter?
It’s funny because the musical universe for the series really came out of the first opening cue that I wrote for the show, when Dexter’s driving his car in the streets of Miami. There is a piano melody that is shadowed by wine glasses, which gives kind of an eerie quality to it. There are also harps, kind of running harps which I use a lot. And I also have world percussions and breathy women voices. Those were all the elements I used in the score in different ways. All in one cue. That’s kind of how I took the territory. I didn’t want the drama to be too big, like with full orchestra. I wanted it to be a small group sound but with a haunting quality to it. The idea of the percussion was sort of the animal urge through that kind of tribal sounding.
Were you concerned by the fact the show takes place in Florida, with all its Cuban influences?
In general, the Cuban reference is more for the source. Although sometimes it has influenced the score in terms of its percussive feeling, yes. That was part of what influenced my using of the percussions. It’s definitely part of the mix. And I’ve done some of the Latin stuff as well. Sometimes it’s me, sometimes it’s licensed Cuban stuff. I think that’s one of the reasons why they hired me in the first place: because I had some Latin music on my reel and I had also some thriller music. I don’t think there is anyone else presenting both things to them.
Now, can you tell me about the thematic aspect of your score?
Thematically, there is kind of a set number of themes that keep coming back in different variations. There is what I called his “blood theme”, with dark low strings and a piano melody. In the series, most of the melodies are on piano. More precisely, I would say the Blood Theme is violin harmonic kind of sound. I also have a lot of waltzes that are ironic sounding. They’re in minor, generally played by small groups : bass, harp, pizzicato, piano playing the melody, light winds : bassoon, oboe. There is also the ice truck killer theme, which is not gonna be used in the second season… With him, I used a lot of gamelan sounds, and didgeridoo sounds. It is more of a percussive theme, with some vocal clusters, very tight clusters. You know, tv shows are created by writers. So, they are all about dialogue, whereas films are generally visual. So, I have to be very careful. I’m very conscious of writing themes that are very simple but effective so that they can’t be too busy and can’t work against dialogue. That’s why I pick very simple themes like a minor triad writing. The simplest themes, the least intrusive but the most effective.
Did you use the main title created by Rolfe Kent for the opening credits?
I actually haven’t. There really was only one opportunity to use it, that was at the end of season one and I basically used his recording. I didn’t rearrange it. I sure have my own light themes for the series that seemed to work. His theme is a lot lighter than mine. I think it’s more of a statement than something to be spanned out through the show. It’s there to call people, basically that’s what the main title does. It prepares them for the show. It’s not the same as in a movie. In a movie main title, you present to the people the territory of what they’re going to see and what’s gonna happen. In a television show, people know what they’re gonna see because they’re generally already fans of the show. It’s not necessary related to the exact drama of the show. It’s more “go get your popcorn and sit!”.
In your score, what is the relation between electronic music and live instruments?
Whatever I use, I always try to make it sound organic. For Dexter, I wanted to have a complex movie quality to it. So I pretty mixed live percussion parts and sampled percussion parts, going at the same time. I always have my piano open and I’m always playing stuff inside the piano, with the pedal down, doing some pizzicato stuff using the strings, or using the hammers like a hammer-dulcimer a little bit. So I’m always trying to add as much live things as I can. It makes the music richer. I also play a lot of the guitars and some really fundamental cello and bass. Sometimes, when I have a string part, I synthesize the parts and I add a life part just to have the right articulation or portamento…
What requests or suggestions did you get from the creator of the series?
There are numerous creators for the series. Michael Quest is one of them. He was very minimalist. He wanted to keep music economical and reserved. And that definitely influenced my score. There weren’t really big themes. For a show that’s about a serial killer, you don’t set up a lot of big scares like something jumping out of a closet. So, that was one request. Other than that, many people often have requests influenced by a tempted piece that they love. It’s the composer’s curse. That’s the form most requests come in these days. People don’t go: “I’d really love that you do something in ¾”. They don’t know what ¾ is. They rather say : “I just love this cue. Can you do something like this?” The main influence they gave me was what music they chose to put in and how they felt about it. Then I tried to use that as a guide and I come up with my own sound. Hopefully I did that. But I have to say that the producers are such great people and they didn’t temp any other music generally other than mine. I don’t have to worry about imitating, you know. I think it does help to keep the show its unique sounding. That’s something else great about the producers of the show : they let me work on it.
How long does it take to score one episode?
One episode usually takes a couple of weeks. One season having twelve episodes, that makes about three months. During that period of time, I’ve got not time to do anything else. But I’ve already something in the work for after that.
What would be your main influence in matter of film music?
I’ve always been influenced by Jerry Goldsmith and Bernard Herrmann. I would say, for this show, more than anybody Bernard Herrmann. I’m also influenced by my friend Chris Young, who helped me get into this business of film scoring. I would say Alex North, too. You know, the usual greats. John Williams of course…
Can you tell me a little about the second season of the show?
As we speak, I’m working on it! I can’t give away any secrets but I can just say that the music scale is really bigger. Just as the story. The sound of the show is still intimate and internal. I mean: so much of it is what Dexter’s thinking and how he’s dealing with the outside world. But some of the scenes are much bigger than in the first season. Another funny thing is that I’m writing some songs for the show with my nephew, Jon Licht, and we’re integrating some of the songs into the score. It’s interesting and fun. Hopefully, we’re gonna do longer verses of the songs and put them on some kind of cd release. My nephew is a very talented songwriter and he’s writing and producing songs for a while, now. We did a rap together for the album made out of the first season, Die This Way. We took the Blood Theme and looped it, and on the beat of that, we did a rap. That was kind of fun!
Do you already know if there will be a third season?
That I don’t know. But I don’t see why not, though. What I’ve just seen of the second season was better than the first, so I’m sure people are gonna love it!
If you had the choice of any genre and any director, what would be you dream film?
Oh my, that’s a tough one. What’s fun about my work is that you’re working on something different all the time. But I love working with the orchestra, I love big action-adventure, for the fun of it, and some kind of a dramatic film. And my favorite director would be Stanley Kubrick… But that wouldn’t be possible, now!
What would you like to say to your fans?
I’d like to say “thank you” more than anything. People like you have got in touch with me, who seem to have been affected by the music of Dexter. So I just want to thank everybody for giving me any kind of appreciation.
Merci à Mathilde DUBOIS, Milan Music