Hannibal is without a doubt one of the best dramas on TV and one of the best genre offerings in recent memory. Classy, thoughtful, terrifying and intense, the Bryan Fuller adaptation of Thomas Harris’s infamous character has breathed new life into a failing franchise and gained a reputation for collecting some of the best talent working in the world of entertainment.
However, one of the most crucial and absorbing narrative devices in Hannibal continues to be its eerie and compelling soundtrack. In advance of Hannibal‘s season two DVD and Blu-ray release, we caught up with with the show’s renowned composer and music supervisor Brian Reitzell to discuss his working relationship with director David Slade, how scoring Hannibal is different than his previous work on Lost In Translation, and a few tidbits about season three of the NBC drama.
“Hannibal is a monster of a score so there’s four CD’s and six vinyl double records,” says Reitzell. “I mean, it’s really ridiculous. It’s wonderful but it’s unique in a way. I’ve put a lot of records out and a lot of soundtracks and Hannibal is kind of a special one.”
How did Reitzell, who is probably best known for working on Sofia Coppola’s Lost In Translation and the Kelsey Grammer series Boss, get involved with a genre project like Hannibal in the first place?
Retizell explains, “[W]hen David [Slade] brought me into do Hannibal we kind of picked up where we left off in a way from 30 Days of Night which is unique because if I’m working on a movie like Lost In Translation, it’s a completely different process, With Hannibal, it’s like reactive scoring so I don’t get ahead. I don’t read a script, I don’t want to know what’s going to happen until its happening in front of me and I’m able to have an instrument in my hands that I’m playing to make some kind of a map, some sort of tonal map, that I can then build on. So with Hannibal, I sit down and for the first time that I’m seeing the episode or even knowing the story for the most part because I’m not reading the scripts and then get my gut reaction recorded. And that’s unique, I don’t do other projects like that.”
Reitzell continues, “With films you always read the scripts because you want to make sure it’s something you want to do and then you also have a lot of time to reflect and figure out what to do and I did do that with the first episode of Hannibal, but once it starts to roll, it’s now just getting that reaction. And you can really tell if you just look at the opening fight scene from this season, I literally just sat at a drum set and I played it once and it wasn’t edited. I was just sort of right there with them and in doing that, you’re a little bit behind the action a little bit, but just slightly, and that to me feels like a very human response to it, so I’m with the audience and I think in being with the audience, I think it makes the whole thing kind of nervy and quite textual too because I’m not trying to be all that heavy handed with the music really, I’m just trying to be in the room. With Hannibal, it’s almost like the music is part of the furniture so as a character goes from one room to another room, or we go from one place to another or whatever, the music is just going with it the whole time the same way that the audience is sort of tracking it and following along.”
While a lot of the composing is impromptu, Reitzell calrifies that some of the music and sound is also premeditated, of course.
“For the record, there is plenty of stuff that I do have to do [in advance]. I’ve had to record pieces of music for Hannibal Lecter to play on the harpsichord or I had to do an opera. I do all of the music supervision, too, so I’m wearing that hat in a different way and, yeah, there are themes and traditional scoring techniques, but when it comes to horror and it comes to action, I’d just rather get rid of all the clichés and try to be in the moment. I just think it makes it scarier. If your brain is constantly aware, even your subconscious is aware, of a piece of music that has baggage or association to it like an orchestra can have, or familiar sounds can have baggage to them, so for me, I’m often trying to disguise the sounds and create a sound that is new, that you haven’t heard before. I think for a horror experience to be really scary, something has to be a bit of a shock and a surprise. It’s like something you’ve never experienced before. If someone’s chasing you with a knife, that’s probably a pretty new experience for you and it’s really scary and you’re not going to hear a piece of Mozart, you’re going to hear some ‘What the f— is THAT?!’ The adrenaline and the sound of adrenaline is just so ferocious for me. I use the whole physical world as an instrument.”
When Reitzell isn’t working on Hannibal, what is he up to? While trips abroad can be relaxing and fun, he tells us that they also provide musical research, as well, and hinted this about the upcoming season three:
“I will say that I’ve just returned from traveling and what I try to do between jobs is to travel–as much for work as for pleasure. What it allows me to do is go and buy some new instruments and soak up a bit of a different culture that always somehow fuses its way into the music. I went to Japan before I started working on [Hannibal] and brought back some great instruments from Japan and then I went to China and brought back some symbols from China and these things ended up having a pretty prominent role in Hannibal. I recently just returned from Morocco where I bought some pretty instruments. Season three is going to take place in Europe, right? And I think all of the episodes will be titled after Italian food courses, so somehow I’m going to infuse a bit of the North African and European flair into it.”
Brian Reitzell’s score for Hannibal is available now and Hannibal season two on DVD and Blu-ray will be available September 16. Reitzell also released an excellent debut album, Auto Music, which you can order here.