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I was raised by a novelist, Laura Kalpakian, who instilled in me a deep appreciation of the written word. As a toddler, I would frequently stumble into her office, my footsteps concealed by the relentless cadence of her fingers clacking on the typewriter, and try to get her attention by knocking over one of the many stacks of dusty, hardbound books that formed a labyrinth on her floor. Among those towers of tomes were many editions of the Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford was a part of my childhood in even more direct ways. I lived there as a child with my family, when my father was a researcher affiliated with Wolfson College. While we were there, my mom picked up the official Bodleian library board game, which would become a staple of our Sunday evenings for years to come.

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As a I grew up, I quickly realized that musical notes, not words, were my personal favorite form of self-expression. Three decades after living in Oxford, I learned that The Professor and the Madman, the film adaptation of Simon Winchester’s gripping book The Surgeon of Crowthorne, was looking for a composer, and my mom was the first person I called. Breathless with excitement, I struggled to finish my sentences. I felt as if this score were already bursting out of my mind. This week marks the culmination of that journey, as now the film has been released theatrically, and my score album is now available.

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Happy Death Day 2U

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2017’s inventive horror-comedy Happy Death Day told the story of a college girl named Tree who keeps reliving the same day in a perpetual time loop, only to be murdered each night by a baby-masked serial killer. This year’s sequel, Happy Death Day 2U, added even more genre influences to the mix, incorporating elements of science fiction, comedy, and heist films, while pumping up the action, comedy and drama. Returning to composing duties here, my challenge was to retain and adapt thematic material from the first film’s score, and to help support the film as it expands into even more disparate genres.

MILD SPOILERS AHEAD: My score to the first film was built on a foundation of solid orchestral horror techniques, with snarling brass screams, aggressive low string ostinatos, and creepy high string clusters. However, upon that framework were placed the musical components that made the score unique. I represented the main character, Tree, with poppy, upbeat synths, and I supported action scenes with marching band percussion evocative of the film’s collegiate setting. Perhaps the most iconic sound in the score was the theme for the baby-masked killer, built from manipulated audio samples of my daughter Sonatine! I chronicled that experience in this fun behind-the-scenes video:

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