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Tuned In Exclusive: Composer Dominic Lewis Talks The Man in the High Castle 

Tuned In Exclusive: Composer Dominic Lewis Talks The Man in the High Castle
Photo Credit: Amazon Studios
Photo Credit: Amazon Studios
Photo Credit: Amazon Studios

I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to start watching this show. I could blame it on the fact that there’s so much good TV out there that I couldn’t make time. I might blame it on the fact that there’s only so many hours in the day and I need to sleep for some of them. But now that I’m on board, those just seem like lame excuses.

I didn’t get a chance to watch all 10 episodes before I spoke to composer Dominic Lewis, so there were a few things he refused to spoil — which I can respect. So if you haven’t yet started The Man in the High Castle, I think this interview will convince you to sample it. For anyone anxiously awaiting Season 2, there’s plenty here for you as well.

Dominic Lewis_Headshot

TV GOODNESS: How did you hear about the series and what made you want to get involved?

Dominic Lewis: “I was having lunch in the kitchen here at Remote Control and Henry Jackman came up and sat next to me. He basically said he’s been offered this TV show. He’s really busy and needs help and offered me a co-credit. It was Ridley Scott and Scott Free and Frank Spotnitz adapting Philip K. Dick The Man in the High Castle and I was like, ‘Yeah. Of course.’ [Laughs]. Why would anyone say no to that? So I jumped on it.”

TV GOODNESS: Can you talk a little bit about your creative process? Does it start as early as when you get a copy of the script? How do you go about starting to compose or put music together for a project?

Dominic: “With this show, we saw the pilot without the script. It was just, ‘We’ve finished the pilot. Here it is.’ So from that point we had to come up with the beginnings of the sound world, which we wanted to be very intimate and be able to introduce the characters before they embark on this crazy alternate history journey.

Photo Credit: Amazon Studios
Photo Credit: Amazon Studios

I sat down in a room with Henry. He’s on the piano and I was on the cello and we hashed out some things and then we’d swap. I’d go over to the piano and say, ‘How ‘bout this?’ and we came to the realization that we were gonna have 4 or 5 Western traditional orchestral instruments as our tent poles. They were the clarinet, the cello, the horn, the piano and various other lower woodwind instruments that come later on in the series. From that we could expand either with sections or we could set it slightly off kilter to make this creepy, alternate world with more sound design elements that tilt things to be more weird — so you don’t really know where you are. But that came later on.

Initially we wanted to set up the characters, we wanted to keep it small, we wanted to keep it intimate. Then when Episode 2 happened, this was before I was reading scripts. After episode 2 I would get the scripts before I saw anything, which really, really helps with maintaining the arc of the whole season. But Episode 2 is much, much bigger. It feels more cinematic and more epic. I didn’t want to go huge, but it was clear the music needed to evolve so there’s a lot more unison sections as opposed to solo instruments which is very much the focus of the pilot.

In terms of my process as the season went on, it was really awesome that every week I got to come up with new stuff. A lot of the time with TV — I’ve done a couple of things now — it’s quite formulaic and you sort of have to do the same thing while not being repetitive. You have to tick the same boxes each week whereas with this, it was like a 10-hour movie and I had to constantly keep changing it up and coming up with new things.

The thing that helped me actually was the title sequence, Edelweiss, done in that weird way. So I tried to emulate that when I came up with new scenes. They’d be quite pleasing in a way, in a major tonality which one would normally think of being happy or something positive, but then I would twist that with those strange, ambient sound design-y things that we agreed to come up with.

We had a lot of bells in the pilot and we’d take that, stretch it with a program called Pull Stretcher. It becomes all stretched and weird and creepy and then when you put that underneath this essentially happy theme, it’s really off-putting and tilts it in a way that you really don’t know who you are as you’ll find out as you carry on watching,. You’re never really sure whose side these people are on or what we should be thinking or if they’re good or they’re bad. I really wanted to emulate that in the music.”

TV GOODNESS: I think you did a great job with that. That music is familiar but not, which I really liked.

Dominic: “Great. I’m glad you said that ‘cause that was the idea. You’re in this alternate history where everything looks pretty bleak and pretty dire. It sort of looks familiar other than you’ve got massive swastikas in Times Square, but the period feels like it could be in the ‘60s but there’s all this strange stuff going on there. That was the idea of the music.”

Photo Credit: Amazon Studios
Photo Credit: Amazon Studios

TV GOODNESS: Let’s talk about that a little bit more. When you were thinking about the music and taking into consideration that this was a period piece and also an alternative history, was there anything that you wanted to make sure to include or stay away from in terms of music?

Dominic: “Yeah, a few things. There was conversations every week about what the music would be in this alternate history. That got narrowed down to what the source material would be, the songs that were chosen. The score became the sound of the show as opposed to really thinking about, ‘Well, if it was being scored in an alternate world, what would it sound like?’ I think that would’ve been too deep and it didn’t need it ‘cause the show’s so strong anyway.

So we wanted to create that strange feeling as opposed to creating music that was made in a different world. The West Coast is Imperial Japan and we wanted to stay away from being overtly Japanese. We use Japanese instruments mainly in the percussion side of things. We use taikos and small Japanese drums, but not in a traditional way other than when it needed to be. There are certain moments where there are traditional Japanese ceremonies and that needed to be overtly Japanese because that’s what was happening. But we didn’t want to go down that road. The west coast is occupied by Japan so we should be Japanese — that wasn’t the idea. It would’ve been too on the nose and weird, not in a good way.

As far as staying away from things, that was the only thing we wanted to stay away from. Other than that we just let the picture dictate what it needed to be. As you’ve seen it’s so beautifully shot and wonderfully presented and it dictated what needs to happen, which is always lovely. It means you don’t have to work too hard.” [Laughs]

TV GOODNESS: Do you have a favorite cue or musical moment from Season 1?

Dominic: “Oh, wow. I’m so…I mean, I poured my life into this. I’m so proud of all of it, really. But I think when anyone comes in and I have to show what I’ve been working on, I show them the scene- you haven’t watched it yet, so I don’t want to spoil anything.

There’s a scene at the end of Episode 7 and the cue, which is on Amazon music streaming, is called ‘A Grave Situation.’ I got to play a lot of cello and it’s a really long arc over lots of things happening. Without going into too much detail, it’s extremely emotional and quite harrowing and it was actually quite difficult to get through it at first because you’re like, ‘Oh my God.’”

TV GOODNESS: I think I know what you’re talking about because I did some research on the show before our call. Is it [redacted]?

Dominic: “It doesn’t involve family. It’s extremely emotional and I got to get really deep with it with the cello and I think it really works. There’s a really cool ending to where- it’s really hard not spoiling things. Someone shows up on the west coast that shouldn’t be on the west coat and things are about to happen.

It’s like what I talked about earlier with the Edelweiss thing. On the surface it sounds major and things are positive, but it’s this really strange offset. It’s actually my favorite way of doing that in the whole series and it comes back in Episode 9 and 10 as well.”

TV GOODNESS: And now I’ve got speed through all those episodes to know what you’re talking about, but that’s fine. I’m into it, as I said.

Dominic: “Yeah. The binge. The binge is good.”

Photo Credit: Amazon Studios
Photo Credit: Amazon Studios

TV GOODNESS: Exactly. We like the binge. I know that the series has been picked up for Season 2, which is great. Have you started working on that yet?

Dominic: “No. Not yet.”

TV GOODNESS: Do you know when you’re going to start?

Dominic: “It’s been Christmas and New Years and stuff so no one’s really been working, so I would imagine in the next week or so I’ll hear what the plan is for that. I’m sure they’ve got the wheels turning on it. But unlike the first season, Frank’s gotta come up with stuff that doesn’t exist in the book so it might take a little bit longer to get going.”

TV GOODNESS: What else are you working on? Anything you’re allowed to talk about?

Dominic: “I haven’t got any TV in the pipeline yet. Not sure if Kevin from Work are gonna do a second season. I haven’t heard anything yet. The only thing I have heard is they haven’t taken the set down at the studio, so maybe.

I’m doing a film later on the year called Henchmen, which is this really, really cool little, not new way of doing animation, but it’s fresh, kinda 3D but 2D. It’s about the henchmen of bad guys in a world where we have superheroes. So it’s pretty cool. It shows the other side of the superhero movie. These guys that will never be, you know the henchmen with the guns and whatever, they’re the guys that clean the loos and do all the crappy jobs. It’s very sweet and it’s got James Marsden, Craig Robinson, Rosario Dawson, Will Sasso.”

TV GOODNESS: That sounds great.

Dominic: “Yeah, it’s really cool. I’m really excited to get started on that.”

TV GOODNESS: I always like to ask composers what your dream job would be to hear about what kind of music you’d like to work on if you haven’t had a chance to yet. What’s yours?

Dominic: “I’d love to do, obviously they’re finished, but I’d love to do something in the realm of the Harry Potter world, something that’s fantasy that’s also got that dark element and you can be really expressive with the orchestra. I would say that orchestral stuff is probably my go-to. I’ve done loads of other stuff, electronic, whatever, but just love orchestral music so much.

Stuff like the Harry Potter world where you can be really flamboyant, but in a grown up way as opposed to doing animation, which you have to cater for children so you can’t get too dark. So, I’d love to do something like that in that fantasy/magic world with a little bit of darkness. I know [Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them] is coming out that J.K. Rowling did. If they keep doing those spin-off[s], I’d love to be involved in that. That would be amazing.”

Edited for space and content.

Season 1 is streaming now on Amazon Prime. Season 2 is set to debut in late 2016.

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