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For her directorial debut, The Lost Daughter, Maggie Gyllenhaal explained to composer Dickon Hinchliffe that she wanted a score that sounded like a vintage vinyl record from the ’50s or ’60s. It was a challenge he happily took on, crafting a textured composition with the help of some recording equipment used by The Beatles.
The movie is based on Elena Ferrante’s 2006 novella of the same name. The story follows Leda, played onscreen by Olivia Coleman, a literature professor from the U.K. on a summer holiday who, after befriending a young mother (played by Dakota Johnson), grapples with her fraught memories of the parenting of her own daughters. The Lost Daughter, which first premiered at the Venice Film Festival, has been earmarked for awards attention, already winning big at this week’s Gotham Awards, where it took the top prize for best feature film.
What were your early conversations with director Maggie Gyllenhaal?
The first thing she said is that she wanted the music to have a character of its own. She didn’t want it to play a supporting role; she wanted it to engage with what’s going on and get in the mix with the characters. And then stylistically she described it as being like a vinyl record playing in the background, and it just happened to magically be the score, which is a really lovely idea and that is what set me off writing.
How did you achieve that vintage sound?
In terms of instruments, there is nothing digital, it was all real instruments. There is a small string section, an upright bass, drums, piano and then a Hammond organ. It’s a sound you would recognize instantly from old records — it’s an organ but you can get it to sound really creepy and it’s got this cabinet on it that creates this amazing throbbing sound. For the recording of them, I used old microphones. We did the strings at Abbey Road and we used old ribbon mics and mixed them through a very old EMI mixing desk The Beatles used to use, so it has a lovely, rich sound that has a warmth and a bit of bite.
Did you have a favorite scene or sequence to score?
There were a few. [One was] writing for when [Leda] is having flashbacks to her younger self with her kids. I wanted to have a melody that had a childlike simplicity and naivety to it on the piano. I mixed that with darker more disturbing tones to combine the joys she had as a mother with the depression that she felt.
The movie could be described as part family melodrama and a psychological thriller, among other genres. Was the film’s tonal shifts something you were thinking about for the score?
That was the biggest challenge, in a way. The way we did it is I wrote a few main themes. The theme for Olivia Coleman’s Leda started the movie off and then I would do variations of it depending on those shifts [in tone]. By the end of the film, there is a distorted version that is very fragmented. The film asks a lot of questions that aren’t really answered, so a lot of the music doesn’t settle on anything. I tried to write in an open way rather than telling people how to feel.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
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