The Dark Synths of Montauk Chronicles

When it comes to the best horror and sci-fi films, there's one thing that when done right can leave an unshakable imprint on the mind of an audience. Beyond a great story and groundbreaking F/X, it's really the score that sets viewers on the edge of their seats. This core truth of filmmaking goes all the way back to classics like Alfred Hitchcox's, Psycho. As an avid genre follower, I've noticed a strong resurgence in excellently crafted scores in the last few years. The most memorable succeed in assimilating the strength of moody 80's synths and modern textures and tones. The scores are starting to stand out again and appreciation for both new and old works seem to be at an all-time high. With companies like Mondo and Waxworks repressing classic soundtracks on amazing colored vinyl with new illustrated gatefolds, this is a great time to be a horror score junky. 

The indie breakout Montauk Chronicles, detailing the horrific and conspiratorial claims of Alfred Bielek, Preston Nichols, Stewart Swerdlow, and Duncan Cameron is certainly on my shortlist of recent exceptional soundtracks. It's bleak, dark and eerie. Like all great scores, it compels you to return to it as a stand-alone experience, completely separate from the film.   

Krystal Cordero in the studio

Brooklyn Composer, Krystal Cordero did a phenomenal job of capturing the gritty intensity of secret 
underground bases of torture, time travel and mind control. A movie that is unrelenting in its shocking revelations of kidnapping, alien encounters and abuse, requires not just a singular repetitive theme but a constantly evolving and emotionally specific bed of music. 

Cordero reflects here on her early musical influences, life experiences and her creative process as an artist. She may be a new name to most but one listen to her efforts shows a the promise of a very talented performer with quite an ear for the moribund. So, turn off the lights, lock the doors and let your skin crawl.

Do you have a first musical memory?
I remember being around 4 or 5 driving around Brooklyn in the back of my dads 1980's Pontiac hatchback he called Tina. He would play lots of old disco, funk and freestyle dance music from the NYC club scene at the time. In the spring & summer he'd take my older sister and I to get ice cream and we'd drive around singing along to our favorite tunes. He'd always ask us to sing for him. Those were pretty good times.
What prompted you to learn an instrument?  
I started off making noises and creating soundscapes with an Alesis Micron Analog synth and a few midi controllers I had at the time. After that it was a natural progression for me to start learning to play piano, enough to get the chords and melodies I wanted out of it.  I mean, I can't chop it up like Chopin, but I can get what I need. 
Did you have specific genres of music that made a big impression on you when you were young?
90's grunge and funk rock were my existence! Both are still a big part of my life. That music helped carry me through a lot of rough emotions I couldn't define on my own growing up. Throughout the 90's there were a lot of gang related violent crimes happening in my neighborhood in Brooklyn. I've personally witnessed some of those crimes and that was hard to deal with emotionally.  

What did you think of the Montauk Chronicles story and what aspect excited you as a musician?  

When I heard about the legends of Montauk, the first thing I thought to myself was "if any of this stuff is true we're all screwed!" The stories the three men in MC were claiming of the kidnapping and torture of human test subjects, psychic wars, time travel and aliens, made me feel like I was living out an episode of the Twilight Zone. 
As a musician it was really exciting! I knew because of the nature of the stories these men were telling that I'd be able to create soundscapes and music that was as far out and disjointed as their claims were. That was the point. 
Stills from Montauk Chronicles 
How did you get in the headspace to write music for Montauk Chronicles? 
Getting into the headspace for creating the sound effects and music for MC was different for each track. I got to play three monsters in MC! So that was one unique way I was able to connect with the score on a really personal level. Getting to embody those creatures and then write music about how it felt was really cool! 
Did you score to film footage or where you scoring against an idea and emotion in your imagination? 
Both, but the creation of the score was mainly based on emotional themes rather than me scoring to picture on a time code. Chris chose edit the film to the music most of the time. He would tell me what scenes were coming up and what the emotional tone was for a scene or interview footage. What does fear sound like? 
Stills from Montauk Chronicles 
Are visual images helpful for you to use? In this case there’s the idyllic beaches of Montauk but also the darkest of clandestine underground bases. 
Visual images were extremely helpful. When I wasn't checking out the film footage, I'd watch other movies or look at images of other alleged conspiracies. 
The sweeping, picturesque beaches of Montauk and summer fun was the easy part. It was hard to keep having to go back into the dark places during research like torture and mind control which are both very real. 
Still from Montauk Chronicles 
Was it important to capture a sense of space in the music?  
Creating a sense of space in the music was really important mostly for utilitarian purposes. It's tricky when you're scoring over dialogue or an interview scene. I needed to be mindful of that at all times. I created a lot of sweeping soundscapes that were meant to capture an emotional tone rather than tell a story. I didn't want to play anything too melodic rather, just imply the mood with sound. I left a lot of the storytelling to the subjects of the docudrama.
Krystal Cordero in the studio

Do you have any rituals that prepare you or open you up for writing music?
Depends on the day and what I'm writing. Nothing is set in stone. A lot of times I like meditating for 5-10 minutes on photographs of people I really admire. It keeps me feeling motivated and inspired. 
Are you a morning creative or a night owl?  
Definitely a night owl! In the morning I prefer to do all of my "left brain" work; make lists and organize everything and then at night I do the creative work, when it's generally quieter.  It's not set in stone. I hear bits and pieces of music in my head throughout the day so I'll sit and start playing chords to sketch out ideas any time. 
Stills from Montauk Chronicles 
The history of horror and sci-fi film has some incredible scores. Were you immersed in the iconic soundtracks going into your work? What scores hold space in your mind?  
I was inspired by so many fantastic film scores and also scores from TV shows. Too many to name but a few that stand out at the moment in no particular order: 
Tangerine Dream - Sorcerer, Delia Derbyshire's work in the BBC radio phonic work shop for Dr Who TV series, Wendy Carlos and Krzysztof Penderecki - The Shining, Louis and Bebe Barron - Forbidden Planet,  Full Circle - The Haunting of Julia by Colin Towns, John Carpenter - Christine, Riz Ortolani - Cannibal Holocaust, Fabio Frizzi & Giorgio Cascio - Zombie (1979)

Did you find yourself experimenting with audio effects you had never used in the past? 
That was the best part! The beauty of synth music is that there's a potential to create sounds that no one has ever heard before. There are a variety of effects and filters you can apply to a track. The possibilities are only limited by your skill and imagination. It's exciting! I did experiment with a lot of time-based effects like delay and reverb for the MC score to give it a dreamy sense of space.
Still from Montauk Chronicles 
One of the great things about having the entire soundtrack available is picking up on bits of it that I didn’t pick up on watching the film. Are you pleased to see it out there? 
Of course I'm pleased! It was a long and tough road to the end but I'm proud of Chris' work on the film and I think the score served its purpose. It's always stressful to put your art out there for the world to scrutinize under a microscope, but I'm really pleased with the finished product. The most important thing is that Chris' vision for the score was fulfilled.  
 How cool is it to have your music pressed on vinyl? 
It's pretty awesome! The director is a huge vinyl fan and so am I so, it was an easy decision to have it pressed. We wanted to give our audiophile fans that option. My favorite thing about vinyl besides the sound quality is the artwork. Sometimes I'll buy a vinyl solely for the amazing artwork. We're planning on having some limited edition printed artwork for MC vinyls coming soon. 
Music popularly exists to make people feel happy and uplifted. How important is it that we also have music that can bring us into dark and fearful places as well? Is there a psychological service music can provide in channeling our dark sides or the dark aspects of life?  
Absolutely there is! As humans we have the privilege of experiencing a wide range of emotions and I think it's important especially in relation to cinema and TV to highlight those darker points so that people have a way of dealing with feelings they might not be able to express or want to. They can safely experience all the danger and terror they can handle without having to leave their seat.  It also helps tell a story in much greater emotional detail. 
Krystal Cordero in the studio
Will your future musical projects sound anything like the MC work or is that sound purely in service to the dark nature of the film? 
The score for MC will always be its own unique creature. I made some of those tracks years ago so I have grown and changed as a songwriter and composer since then, but I do plan on using synths in many of my future projects. 
What are you working on these days, or have coming up in the future? 
Right now I'm writing music for a demo I'm presenting to a major cable TV network. The 2 hr special is in pre-production right now. I'm also working on an EP I'll be putting out of experimental pop tracks in Spring 2017 (the release will be depending on if I'm working on a show or not). Beyond that we'll see what pops up. 
- Download the entire Montauk Chronicles soundtrack at Bandcamp
- If you haven't already, check out this feature interview with the creator/director, Christopher Garetano

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