The Dark Adventures of Composer Reber Clark

May 20, 2023

Lovecraftian and Other Film Scores of Reber Clark

Interview by Randall D. Larson. Photos of Reber Clark courtesy of the composer.

Composer Reber Clark and one of his Dark Adventure Radio Theatre soundtracks

Chicago-based film composer Reber Clark (BMI) composes music for movies, live ensembles, and more. His works for concert bands and wind ensembles are published and distributed worldwide by C. Alan Publications. He has many projects in active development.

Q: What was your start in composing film music – and what initially set you on that path?

Reber Clark: I’ve loved movies since I was a kid. My mom loved movies, and that’s how it all started, I’m convinced. She had many soundtrack LPs and would always play them, especially musicals. We also had a movie theatre, The Heights, within walking distance, and it was only 25 cents to ride the bus downtown to the other theatres, so I would spend my allowance on movies and Tom Swift books.

H.P. Lovecraft, June 1934

Q: How did you get your first scoring opportunities? I see you’ve done several short films beginning in 1989 and going through the 2000s.

Reber Clark: No one was hiring me to do movies. I was writing for concert bands (being published by Southern Music, Studio P/R, Warner Brothers, Columbia Pictures, Wingert/Jones, and now C. Alan Publications) and various small recording jobs but nothing I was really interested in. So, I made my own movie, LOVECRAFT PARAGRAPHS (you can find it on YouTube), and scored it myself. I submitted it to the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, Oregon, and it was accepted. I have met all sorts of great people there, and some were interested in me making music for their movies.

Q: You’ve composed a number of low-budget/independent films and shorts, including film projects for the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society’s Dark Adventure Radio Theatre. Would you define your musical treatment for some of these projects? 

H. P. Lovecraft & and Zealia Bishop’s “Curse of Yig” from Dark Adventure Radio Theatre, scored by Reber Clark.

Reber Clark: The majority of projects for the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society are radio-style plays offered on CD and as downloads. They’ve also been performed live, which is fun to do. One thing I like about Lovecraft is his cosmic point of view and the wider import of things around us – vast spaces, unplumbed depths, etc. For me, the appropriate ensemble is a large symphony orchestra, allowing me to get those big ideas across.

Listen to a sample of Clark’s music for The Dark Adventure Radio Theatre via the composer’s YouTube page here:

Q: What’s been your instrumental/digital palette for these early scores, and how have you developed that across the years?

Reber Clark: I like large ensembles like a symphony orchestra. However, whatever helps what is on the screen is what I should be doing. I did one for Joshua Kennedy’s Brey Studios, and the ensemble was a 70’s horn band with wakka-wakka guitars and brass with a rhythm section. That was a blast to do.

Q: Your recurring affection for the stories of H. P. Lovecraft found a kinship with the short 2016 film, THE ORDEAL OF RANDOLPH CARTER, based on a “Lovecraft short story. How did this come about? 

Reber Clark: THE ORDEAL OF RANDOLPH CARTER, as well as BEYOND THE BEYOND and PICKMAN’S GUEST, are made by the hilarious team of Greig Johnson and Chris Lackey in Yorkshire, England. I knew of Chris through his work with the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society and met Greig at a film festival in Providence, Rhode Island. These shorts are available on YouTube, and I love them. They crack me up every time I see them.

Reber Clarke and Joshua Kennedy at the HOUSE OF THE GORGON, Premiere 2019

Q: How did you begin your association with filmmaker Joshua Kennedy, for whom you’ve composed several films starting in 2019? 

Reber Clark: Through the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival, I got to know sculptor Bryan Moore, who produced one of the most faithful Lovecraft adaptations, entitled “Cool Air,” starring Jack Donner. Bryan has placed busts that he has sculpted of various authors in many places around the globe, including Providence, Rhode Island (of Lovecraft the Athenaeum Library), Dublin, Ireland (Bram Stoker at The Writers Museum), and Edgar Allan Poe (at the Boston Public Library). He needed music for his Poe bust fundraiser, and I was lucky enough to do it. My wife and I traveled to Boston for the unveiling, and there I was introduced to Mark Redfield, a producer, I believe, from Maryland. Mark got me in touch with Joshua, who he had known for years in association with Monster Bash – which is a great “expo” all about everything monsters – especially classic monsters. Josh needed a score for his movie THE HOUSE OF THE GORGON, starring Caroline Munro, Martine Beswicke, Christopher Neame, and Veronica Carlson. I scored it in a James Bernard “Hammer film” style, and we’ve worked together ever since.

Reber Clark with actress Martine Beswicke at the HOUSE OF GORGON Premiere in London

Q: How do the two of you work together in developing a film score for Joshua’s movies? 

Reber Clark: I’m in the Chicago area, and Josh is in South Texas, so the internet is our friend. He sends me the footage, we go through it and spot where the music should go, and maybe some ideas about it. Then I break the scenes down and score to what we’ve decided. Sometimes there’s tweaking to be done, but that’s it.

Q: HOUSE OF THE GORGON was your first feature-length score for Kennedy. How would you describe your musical approach to this picture – its thematic architecture and your treatment of the horrific elements within this project?

Reber Clark: After seeing it, I knew it should be a Hammer film approach. I researched the great James Bernard (by the way, there’s a fine book by David Huckvale about him and Hammer entitled James Bernard: Composer to Count Dracula, which sits next to your Musique Fantastique Volume One on my shelf). Mr. Bernard scored the famous HORROR OF DRACULA and used the rhythm of Dracula’s name for the main motif of his theme, “Dra!…cu – laaa.” I thought I’d do something similar with HOUSE OF THE GORGON, so my motive was the rhythm of the title. Again I used a large orchestra but with a Hammer slant. Lots of dissonances, jump scare hits, and creepy atmosphere things but with a more traditional spin.

Reber Clark with actress Caroline Munro at the HOUSE OF GORGON premiere in London

Q: You’ve been scoring films/shorts for ten years. Looking back, how did HOUSE OF GORGON reflect your creative growth in composing this full-length horror film project?

Reber Clark: God, has it been that long? Each project is its own kind of fun, so I lose track of the time! I consider HOUSE OF THE GORGON my first actual feature film score. I established most of my current scoring process with it. It premiered first in London at the Regent Street Cinema. The stars, Caroline Munro, Veronica Carlson, Christopher Neame, and Martine Beswicke, were all in attendance, so I had to be there! I flew to London via Iceland through a horrendous ice storm and arrived safely, but my suitcase with my tuxedo and everything was lost. However, the extreme efficiency of the British airport luggage people was such that it was delivered the next day to my hotel (next door to the BBC, which is quite an edifice). The premiere was lovely, meeting everybody was lovely, there were pictures all around and an afterparty that I stumbled through – amazed that these actors I’d grown up with were chatting with me. I probably mumbled some incoherent nonsense but got through the evening in one piece.

See my review of Clark’s COWGIRLS VS PTERODACTYLS in my February 2021 Soundtrax column here –

Q: With the 2021 film COWGIRLS VS PTERODACTYLS, we have a delightful mix of a Western movie merging with the horror of angry flying dinosaurs. What can you tell me about creating the music for this project, your palette, and your score’s thematic structure?

Reber Clark: There’s a movie entitled THE VALLEY OF GWANGI, about the survival of a tyrannosaur, among other dinosaurs, in an isolated canyon in Mexico. It immediately came to mind when I was approached about doing CGvsPT, so I did some research and rented the GWANGI movie. The music was by Jerome Moross, who I had noted also scored THE BIG COUNTRY, having just watched it. A nice coincidence. The music for THE BIG COUNTRY got me thinking about how he came up with those violin lines, and I finally realized they were country fiddle lines scored for symphony orchestra! So that’s how I started my score for CGvsPT. I covered a few styles of music for Westerns in that movie – a little Ennio Morricone, some Elmer Bernstein, and all sorts of things. Those old scores are as fresh now as they were when they came out in the 60s. I tried to unify everything by sticking to certain motives and melodies, but overall I just went with what I thought sounded right. Since it was an “us versus the monster” situation, I could go for violent weirdness when the monsters showed up!

Q: Your next project with Joshua Kennedy was for the more science fiction-esque SATURNALIA: CAVE GIRL FROM OUTER SPACE. How did you discuss with Kennedy the kind of music he wanted, and how did you develop that score from your meetings with him?

Reber Clark: At first, I think he wanted to go in the direction of “Barbarella,” but when I tried a more 70s porno-style approach, he was happy with it. There were lots of wakka-wakka guitars, brass and sax solos, and big and brassy swing band stuff with a solid core of disco and funk. It was a blast to do because that was the era I grew up in. Not a big fan of disco, but it was fun to score it.

Q: Your most recent score for Kennedy was THE INNSMOUTH SCHOOL FOR GIRLS, an out-of-the-way girl’s academy where there’s something fishy about the staff and the town’s residents, based on the celebrated Lovecraft tale. What were your steps in developing this score from concept to the dramatic contagion of the film’s final moments?

Reber Clark: Being a huge Lovecraft fan, I had to see it first. Josh was new to Lovecraft then, and HPL’s stuff is notoriously unadaptable to film. Once I saw what he was doing with it and that great ending, I was on board doing whatever he wanted for the score. I had some new software at the time, and we tried experimenting with it and how we were “spotting” the film. Success with that was not quite up to expectations, so we dropped it and proceeded. It works fairly well.

Q: How would you describe your thematic orientation for your INNSMOUTH score? How have you given your music its Lovecraftian cohesion in a way that fits the Lovecraft story while giving Joshua what he needed for his cinematic treatment of this film in a more modern setting?

Reber Clark: I was going more for overall atmosphere with this one than out-and-out melodic development or variation. The orchestration gives cohesion, but this one was an experiment in a different direction. Did we succeed? I’ll leave that up to the viewer.

Q: What’s been most challenging – and more rewarding – about these films we’ve been discussing?

Reber Clark: The process is the most rewarding. I feel entirely at home scoring movies. It’s the place I belong, and I love it. What’s challenging is the technology. I was trained as a musician, not a recording engineer, so dealing with that part of the process has been a struggle at times —lots of catching up. Recently I changed my recording and mixing process for the umpteenth time, trying to get a clearer sound. Meeting the actors and crew is also one of the rewarding things about this. Some of the finest people I know are movie people. There are bastards here and there, but they are few and far between.

Q: What can you tell me briefly about your concert works and other musical endeavors outside of these cinematic projects we’ve discussed?

Reber Clark: My original focus was music for wind ensemble. Growing up in Arkansas, there were not that many opportunities for movie work, so I did what was available – scoring for beauty pageants, rock bands, Bar Association galas, Big Bands, commercials, that sort of thing. I taught for three years and was also writing and got published by Southern Music Company. I stopped teaching and pursued writing full-time with mixed but steady success. I am now mainly published by C. Alan Publications in Greensboro, North Carolina. The amount of royalties I receive each year from publishing pays for lunch now and then. You have to love it because it doesn’t pay much on the back end.

Reber Clark, 2022 concert photograph

Q: What is coming up next for you, musically, that you can talk about?

Reber Clark: Joshua and I have several movie projects in the works. I am adapting some of my concert band (wind ensemble) works for symphony orchestra and hope to submit them fairly soon. The most recent is THE HOUR OF SHADOWS, a gothic romance-style piece. I have several opportunities for this and am looking forward to it.

Many thanks to Reber Clark for taking the time to talk with me about his music and his musically eldritch appreciation!

Listen to or purchase Reber Clark soundtracks digitally or via CD from his Bandcamp page

See also his website here, and read more about Clark from the H. P. Lovecraft Film Festival website here.  

And take a moment to watch Chris Lackey’s film, PICKMAN’S GUEST, based on the Lovecraft story and scored by Reber Clark, available to watch on YouTube here.

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