Creating Tense Moods With Composer Gregory Tripi

Gregory Tripi’s sparse score created tension in “Dark Places”. Pictured: Charlize Theron . Photo credit: Exclusive Media Group.

Composer Gregory Tripi likes to let his music get under viewer’s skin. His credits include such psychological thrillers as “Contagion”, “Drag me to Hell”, “The Knick” and recent release “Dark Places”. Emerging from an orchestral background, Tripi feels just as comfortable crafting electronic scores and believes each type of instrument to be used in an entirely unique unexpected way.

“My intention is to find interesting sounds with common instruments,” said Tripi. “You can apply traditional instruments to electronic production technology – your guitar can then turn into a percussion instrument.”

Electronic altering of sounds is just one technique Tripi uses. He also works with custom-built instruments. Working this way, the sounds viewers are exposed to have a familiarity yet they are foreign and hard to define. He uses these sounds to great effect in establishing mood.

Prior to being hired as the composer for “Dark places”, Tripi created a demo that used sparse instrumentation to highlight the internal instincts of the main character. After the director heard the demo he called Tripi and told him he wanted him to “start tomorrow.”

“The director had been working on the movie for four years prior to my involvement, but was open to a new style and sound,” said Tripi.

Joining the production at a point where the film was nearly finished, Tripi focused in on his gut instinct after just one viewing of the film. He narrowed in on the internal torment of the main character and tone of the film, which he found to be tense yet not overly dark. He wanted to keep the music light in order to highlight the human side of the tale.

“’Dark Places” is a character study of how to cope as an adult after one child is murdered,” said Tripi. “It’s about dealing with these memories that have been pushed away.”

To bring forth the subtext of the film and emphasize the cathartic resolution, Tripi chose to forego utilizing a full orchestra. Instead, the score relies heavily on guitar, light percussion and a number of custom-made instruments, Including a metal drum that creates a more melodic tone rather than a percussive beat. Many electronically modified sounds also accent the sparse score.

“(The score) was sparse music that used sounds that aren’t easily identifiable,” said Tripi.

Returning to season two of “The Knick” Tripi was able to focus on a completely different style. Before reviewing the changes the new season would present, he had to jump back into the turn-of-the-century medical world setting.

It wasn’t a very long process to get back into it. After a couple of cups of coffee I was right there,” said Tripi.

On “The Knick” Tripi supports composer Cliff Martinez, and director Steven Soderbergh, who he’s collaborated with on a number of projects throughout the last nine years. The three men sit together and brainstormed ideas. The first season of “The Knick” was an introduction to the characters and their world. The second season delves into character development and the changing time. Amongst the contributions Tripi made included introducing classic science fiction elements to highlight the tech advancements entering the medical world. He also modified a honky-tonk piano and “stretched it to unimaginable limits.”

In between working on the film and television series, Tripi retains a connection to his roots: scoring commercials. Clients have included Adidas, Miramax Films, and Coca-Cola. Tripi found working on commercials to be a great education, particularly in defining a pitch musically and effectively in a very short time period.

“It was my first job in scoring, and I’ve done it on and off for ten years,” said Tripi. “You get in and get out quick in thirty seconds. There’s a strong pay off in the end.”articles