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Interview With Poor Things Composer Jerskin Fendrix

Had a chance to interview musician and composer Jerskin Fendrix, who scored Yorgos Lanthimos' critically acclaimed film, Poor Things. The soundtrack is currently nominated for an Oscar for Best Original Score! He talks about composing the music for Poor Things, his personal favorite film scores and more.

Without further ado...

Poor Things S

Synth History: How did you meet Yorgos?

Jerskin: We met in the rain during a lockdown. He’d emailed earlier to say he had listened to my album, Winterreise, and wanted to talk about a project.

Synth History: What was the process like working together?

Jerskin: Extraordinarily free. Yorgos gave me space to research and contemplate and interpret, and I ultimately spent the foundational part of the process doing a lot of mise en place - researching at the Wellcome Collection, trying to condense a musical identity for the film from the textures and colors of the artwork, and think about the emotion of the script, how best to communicate that.

Synth History: As a musician, did you always know you wanted to compose music?

Jerskin: I’ve written music since I was reasonably young - I’ve also never been good at anything else so overall an uncomplicated decision.

Jerskin Fendrix courtesy of untitled (recs).
Jerskin Fendrix courtesy of untitled (recs).

Synth History: Can you tell me about some of the instruments and gear you used on the score?

Jerskin: A lot of solo instruments recorded separately and very unforgivingly. I did a lot of violin playing - also woodwinds played a large role. I wanted the sonic presentation to not have any big lush mattresses of reverb to fall back on, it needed to have the equivalent of extremely close unbroken eye contact. I worked with Johnnie Burn, the sound designer, on making the mix placement of the music disarmingly present, inescapable and bare.

There are some amounts of synth, I am not a gear collecting man particularly and I do not really dabble very far past the bounty of possibilities bundled in Logic Pro X. I find the expensive software synths can feel a little too easy, you don’t have to wrangle them and dig inside the circuitry… it feels a little like losing authorship to me. I will no doubt change this opinion soon.

I use quite a wide array of digital pitch-shifting and pitch-bending techniques, from the very elegant to the very rough.

Uilleann Pipes were a really exciting and novel instrument to use in this score. I worked with a great player called Grace Lemon, who was able to sort of reconstruct the instrument to create some really intense effects. Also, they record extremely easy, something about the acoustic nature of the instrument means its distribution in a space is very even and it captures great.

I also love using MIDI acoustic instruments a lot, I think they convey something very singular.

Synth History: What elements of the film and characters inspired you the most?

Jerskin: I am a sensitive person, and all of the romance and death and longing really hit me, the childishness and naivety of it all too - I love Tony McNamara’s treatment of everything with a degree of humor, and it honestly conveys the more complex realities of these emotions.

Bella is the lens through which you see everything that happens in the film, and her total lack of experience means you can hyper concentrate any of the emotional events - trying to recall what falling in love or having a pet die was like when you were fourteen; how searing, how indivisible.

Synth History: What are some of your personal favorite film scores?

Jerskin: I love 90s Disney. Mulan and the Lion King, I think, have phenomenal incidental music on top of the songs. Adventure Time - TV technically - has one of the most innovative and moving scores I’ve ever heard. Watching it you mainly hear the songs and the slightly more twee drum machine bits, but if you listen to the full score in isolation it has some really astounding ideas. Contemporary greats like Joe Hisaishi, Mica Levi and Jonny Greenwood go without saying. Also Toru Takemitsu’s score for Ran by Akira Kurosawa. Institute Benjamenta - Lech Jankowski. All of Mihaly Vig’s scores for Bela Tarr. Antonio Sanchez’s solo drum score for Birdman is incredible. Jon Brion’s Synecdoche, New York score is pretty singular, completely heart wrenching. Black Orpheus is just an incredible musical experience top to bottom. Brian Easdale’s score for The Red Shoes and so on…

Synth History: What’s a tip for musicians just getting into composing?

Jerskin: I’ve seen a lot of people making things they seem to think they’re supposed to make - a lot of pastiche and mimicry, which seems rather sad to me. I think - write only what you feel actually moved to write, regardless of precedent, and it’s more likely that its organic authenticity will resonate. It takes a surprising amount of mental gymnastics to make what you actually want to make. Courage.

Pick up the limited edition soundtrack on vinyl here.

Synth History Exclusive.

Interview conducted by Danz.


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