‘WHISPER’ is inspired by prestige modern and classic horror films, and is a meditation on grief, as well as the lengths one will go for the chance to see their loved one again. Thus, the music is influenced by a variety of scores from different time periods, including the haunting melodic quality of “Rosemary’s Baby” or “The Shining”, as well as the non-traditional and modern soundscapes of films like “Hereditary,” and even film scores using instruments from different parts of the world. Rather than creating a score that plays up the traditional horror jump scare, it would be great to use a variety of influences to create a slow sense of dread and disorientation that culminates in the horrifying final act, as the main character pays the ultimate price for his desire to change the past.
My journey of using non-traditional instruments first started with an album I co-wrote a few years back called NATURE OF ALL THINGS. The album was meant to ask the question about how to better integrate instruments from different parts of the world in a western context, and we chose the santoor (an ancient hammered dulcimer originating from Mesopotamia), as a section in the orchestra. I’ve slowly started integrating this approach in my film scoring as well, and have been particularly excited by pushing the boundary where those instruments can be used.
As the film is a drama with psychological horror elements that takes place in and around Cape Cod, I’m so grateful for and excited to use the Reel Change Grant as a springboard for exploring non-traditional sounds and instruments that will convey a sense of scale and accentuate the film’s unique world building, location and atmosphere. I recently purchased a Thai Khaen, and it’s pure tones have an ocean-like dreamy quality to it which is perfect for the Cape Cod setting. Through experimentation, it has been such a joy extracting more potential from this instrument, creating dizzying soundscapes and horrific stingers that can be peppered throughout the film and accentuate the film’s setting.
In this story, the main character Elliot is pursued by a demonic entity that thrives on his grief. This grant will allow me to hire live players to experiment with ancient or non-traditional instruments like the Concheridoo, Wheelharp, Carnyx, and percussive textures, while juxtaposing it against traditional horror score elements like piano, strings to create something that feels both primordial and modern. Some of these instruments have been played traditionally for hundreds of years, and the ability to mangle them slowly as Elliot loses his sense of time and sanity opens up a universe of sounds to play with.
Thematically, there is a strong melodic component to the music, in addition to the more avant garde and atonal music that occurs later in the film. Lately, I’ve been exploring how to make an instrument sound like something one can’t quite place, such as filtering the strings to sound almost like a horn, or say, a mallet rubbing across a drum head and processing that to sound almost like a vocalist. I’d also want to use vocalists to create some melodic / aleatoric custom sounds that I can incorporate in the score, as if to sound like voices that are being muffled / unheard, to play into the mythos of the whisperers Elliot meets on the mysterious Island.
This nebulous approach of sound designing the score, contrasted with a more grounded melodic component can only be done with real humans playing their instruments, and is a resource I couldn’t imagine tackling without the support of a program like the Reel Change Film Fund.
Nikhil Koparkar is a composer for Films, Television and Gaming. In 2023, he wrote the official main theme for Riot Games’ League Of Legends – Lunar New Year Campaign, which is featured in all their campaign videos, in-game, as well as the foundation for other composers’ music.
He currently works as an additional writer for composer Lorne Balfe at 14th Street Music, writing and/or arranging music across 10 TV series, including the acclaimed HBO fantasy series, His Dark Materials, the BBC drama, Sherwood and the Hulu docu-series, Victoria’s Secret: Angels & Demons.
In addition to scoring, Nikhil works with Joy Music House in score production, most notably on the Oscar-Nominated score to A24’s Minari and Amazon’s Homecoming for Emile Mosseri.
In 2020 he was commissioned by Cusco Futbol Club (a Peruvian national soccer team) to write an original anthem, which is played at stadium games and press events in Peru.
His specialty of combining instruments from different cultures with a modern western cinematic palette led to his being invited to give a Talks At Google in 2019.
Engelman Recital Hall at Baruch Performing Arts Center, New York, NY
Advent Lutheran Church, 2504 Broadway@93rd St.
David Brower Center, 2150 Allston Way, Berkeley, CA 94704