Like a magic ointment that is able to cure all plagiarism, the phrase “Nothing Is Original” is often used almost as an excuse in reference to work that vaguely resembles art that has come before. Total originality is equated with perfection and anything less than that is considered a shortfall.
However, I personally love artists who make blatant reference to other work. Using sounds or images that already have resonance with an audience is a great way to then invest them in something new (by using familiar tunes with new lyrics, this is something folk music has been doing for centuries). Plus, my inner completest loves to explore work that inspired my favourite films, shows and music. A new layer is added to Tarantino’s recent The Hateful Eight when you can compare it’s setup and major plot beats to John Carpenter’s horror classic The Thing. Adrian Sutton’s sweeping orchestral score for War Horse is only enhanced by familiarity with the English country songs it riffs on.
Or maybe I’m just a nerd.
And that’s all setup to a nauseatingly self-indulgent blog post about The House of Edgar, and a few bits of music that inspired the score.
The Haunted Palace
Towards the beginning of development, I considered performing the whole show on analogue synths to give a twangy 80s vibe. The idea was to emulate the music of classic horror films such as Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street and in particular Halloween; the godfather of slasher films with an iconic theme tune by the aforementioned John Carpenter. Whilst this dated idea soon gave way to the English folk feel we’ve now settled on, our opening song The Haunted Palace still includes remnants of it. The fast semiquaver piano part was intended to infer the relentless themes of the films of this era, particularly Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells from The Exorcist. I love the momentum of these tunes, which give the impression of a subtle yet totally unstoppable force.
While most of the music in Edgar took its cues from English folk music, it felt wrong to not also recognise an American influence in The Raven. Whilst the instrumental sections have a slight Latin feel, the verses are intended to mimic very early American folk and blues in its repetitive nature and heavy emphasis on storytelling. One such song is the anonymously written St James Infirmary Blues which through the years has been covered by the likes of Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway and (more recently) Hugh Laurie. The tragic story it tells feels like it could have been written by Poe himself and its steady methodical tempo gives a sense of inevitability to its conclusion.
Better Than Now
Despite being American, many of Poe’s stories are rooted in English medieval setting. Songs such as The Masque of Red Death and Hop-Frog took the most influence from traditional English folk music. Better Than Now had to be slightly different. The song itself is a reflection on the Hop-Frog perspective from a more modern viewpoint and I wanted to imply this paradox in the music. I looked into a lot of new arrangements of traditional folk songs and found this beautiful 4 part a cappella arrangement of Lovely On The Water by Sally Davies. The melody itself is traditional, but Davies uses jazz-influenced chords and unusual shifts in metre to produce something quite new and special from it. These chord progressions and metric modulations formed the basis of Better Than Now.