Cinematic Synths: Espectrostatic’s Alex Cuervo

A great number of micro labels have popped up parallel to the soundtrack resurgence. While Death Waltz, One Way Static, and Giallo Disco do a lot of soundtrack reissues and releases, they’ve also been at work to present new artists working in the the ‘genre.’ Acts – like Videogram, Antoni Maiovvi, Metavari, and Espectrostatic – all inspired, in one way or another, by synth-laden horror and thriller scores. These labels and artists are the next step for those who’ve gotten into soundtracks, but want something that works more as a musical experience, rather than one tied directly to a film.

In order to understand how one takes those retro sounds and turn them into something new (and whether they feel that there’s the possibility of moving beyond those basic ideas), I’ve been speaking with prominent musicians in the field for a series of interviews about the reinvigorated genre.

For our third outing, we spoke with Espectrostatic‘s Alex Cuervo.

Espectrostatic is the instrumental transmissions by Alex Cuervo of the Hex Dispensers (a known ectoplasm wrangler). Cuervo is a hopelessly incurable genre film and television addict, who loves science fiction and horror most of all – and is especially drawn to works where they intersect with arthouse sensibilities and aesthetics.

What was your initial attraction to movie scores?

I think Onibaba (60s Japanese period horror film) might have been the first time a score really grabbed me and made me consider making that kind of music. I first saw/heard that back in the 80s. Angelo Badalamenti’s Twin Peaks was another one that really sticks out for me. Danny Elfman’s Beetlejuice score also made an impact on my perception of film music.

How have you branched out from there?

Since the ’80s, in addition to my interest in punk/new wave/goth music, I’ve always been drawn to unusual and experimental stuff. Especially instrumental stuff. I’ve had a decades long fascination with artists like JG Thirlwell/Foetus – especially his instrumental project Steroid Maximus.

Are there particular artists which bridged the gap between film scores and more traditional electronic music?

Well, those are two of the artists I’d mention in that capacity. I’d add Wendy Carlos though.

Or, so many folks in the soundtrack scene seem to come from a punk or metal background, given how intertwined those worlds are with horror. Was that the case?

Very much so. For me at least. It all kind of went hand-in-hand.

How does one take those influences from horror and genre films, and move beyond them? Is there a point at which they need to be set aside?

I try to as much as possible. I sort of instinctively blend in aspects of other types of music I’m into. I really have no interest whatsoever in making period-accurate recreations – I take what I love from that stuff and put it in a blender with everything else I’m into. It bums me out when people gravitate towards the cheesier aspects of old film scores – (especially ’80s ones) out of some sense of irony (I presume). There’s so much timeless, kickass material to be mined from them, why keep rehashing the goofy/cheesy aspects?

What’s your opinion on “imaginary soundtracks” – scores for films which don’t exist?

There’s great ones and there’s mediocre ones – but as a concept, I’m fine with any motivation that drives people to create interesting music.

Was there a particular artist whom you admired most when you first started making music?

I first started playing music back in the ’80s – so it would have been mostly punk bands back then. As far as modern artists mining the horror synth styles – the first one that caught my attention was Umberto.

Do you have any professional training?

A little bit. I’ve taken piano lessons, studied music theory and taken some film composition and orchestration classes.

How has your music changed – is there a stylistic shift to which you can point?

Doing this for a living, it has to change from project to project depending on what’s needed. As far as my own personal stuff – I try to incorporate different stuff as much as possible, so ideally it’s always changing.

Where does making stand-alone music differ from a soundtrack proper?

Film scores are a completely different animal in that they are functional music. That is to say, they are composed in service to the picture or to the narrative of the film. A film cue is mapped exactly to the emotional contours and timing of a scene. And above all – it’s music written for a client, to their specifications – so you can’t be super precious about your need to self-express. That’s what standalone music is for.

Film music is about participating in a work of art much larger than just an album or a song – all being directed and steered by someone else – so your job is to help them effectively tell their story. Ideally, you’re chosen to do the music because a director likes your sensibilities or approach, but it’s ultimately their show and you’re just one of many creative elements that contribute to the finished product.

Espectrostatic’s latest, Silhouette, is out now from Burning Witches Records.

Nick Spacek

Nick Spacek

Nick Spacek writes about films scores in his monthly OST column for Starburst Magazine (http://www.starburstmagazine.com), and can be found talking about movie soundtracks via the From & Inspired By podcast (http:///www.fromandinspiredby.com). He was once a punk, but realized you can't be hardcore and use the word "adorable" as often as he does.
Nick Spacek
Liked it? Take a second to support us on Patreon!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.