Soundtrack: <I>Hide and Seek</I> composer Timothy Stuart Jones
November 19, 2021

Soundtrack: Hide and Seek composer Timothy Stuart Jones

Hide and Seek is a new horror/ thriller that was released digitally and on-demand on November 19th. Directed by Joel David Moore and starring Joe Pantoliano, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and Jacinda Barrett, the film focuses on a wealthy businessman, who follows a lead to find his missing brother. The path leads him into a twisted New York underworld that threatens to tear apart his family, as he struggles to maintain his sanity.

Timothy Stuart Jones ( composed the film’s original soundtrack and recently spoke with Post about his work on the film.

How did you get involved composing music for Hide and Seek?

“I worked on a TV show called Chuck for five years on NBC. The director of Hide and Seek, Joel David Moore, is a close friend of Zach Levi, the series’ lead. Joel guest starred on an episode, and I have a vague memory of meeting him at a party. We had that connection of the show. It was a tight-knit crew.”

What were the film’s musical needs?

“The film is a thriller about people living in your walls, who eventually take your life and assume your identity. The lead character, played by Jonathan Rhys Meyers, thinks he is losing his mind, so the score sometimes sounds like scratchy noises in your walls, or music that is trapped inside the character’s head. It’s often claustrophobic and filtered, like it’s being heard underwater. It is also brass in big, bold statements.  Joel and I discussed a ‘Hitchcockian approach’ to the film at times — sharp angles in the score that jump out for scares or emphasis.”

Can you talk about your writing and recording process?

“I started by writing the lullaby that plays over the opening on the derelict building, where a lot of the film takes place. It’s simple and childlike, but with a dissonant edge. I designed it so the sound can be played more or less out of tune with itself using a MIDI controller. The lullaby comes back later in the film on the reveal of the killer. I also wanted something recognizable in a few notes to drop in several places as a musical breadcrumb. I then took material from that and wove it into a bigger theme for Jonathan Rhys Meyers’ character, Noah. The brother character, Jacob, has gone missing, and Noah goes looking for him in this foul building downtown. Some of the bigger brass plays on shots of the city as Noah is heading down there. These were some of the Hitchcock elements. It evokes a kind of dread. There is an antagonist we called Moto, who is always in a motorcycle helmet and never speaks. Moto didn’t have a theme as much as a menacing signature sound. I could use it very briefly to suggest the presence of the killer.”

What gear and instruments did you use?

“Speaking of those scratchy noises, I used an instrument called a hammered dulcimer. I didn’t use it in a traditional way though. I attached some contact microphones to the wood body of the instrument. I then ran those through an electronic-looping device called a Boomerang and into a tape echo. The echo uses a reel of old school magnetic tape to repeat the signals coming into it. As an example, I always think about the ending of Radiohead’s ‘Karma Police’ when I think of an analog tape echo building up on itself. I then played the dulcimer with a small violin bow. I bent the strings with one hand and bowed with the other while I built layer on layer of sound with the Boomerang. I was able to build up interesting textures and events to use in the score.

“As far as (some) instruments getting used more than others, I think I leaned towards things that weren’t instantly identifiable. Lots of sound design instruments that started life as acoustic sounds. They were then mangled into something different in the synth.”

What kind of feedback would you get from the director?

“Joel was a mensch of a director. He was onboard with trying to push the sound of the score to truly complement the dirty, vicious world Noah finds himself in. He really wanted it to be bold. We got some pushback about it. I had to reopen the film a year later and tame some things down. That was a little disappointing, but I have since discovered that filmmaking is a collaborative process. Who knew?”

Photo: Timothy Stuart Jones 

There must be a lot of pressure to create an entire score for a long-form project?

“This may sound strange, but I don’t really have the luxury of having traditional writer’s block. Things are moving so fast. I’ve always got a certain number of minutes per day to write. I’ve had to develop tools to keep me moving. By far, the most effective tool is terror. It is an excellent motivator. (laughs) After so many years of doing this, I rely on instinct in the moments when I’m not sure what to do. Pick a sound, pick a key and lay something down. If it’s serving the picture, I’m doing my job. I can almost always follow my nose to a spark that lights the fuse on a cue. Also, I never underestimate the value of a well-timed mistake. Those things can be solid gold. I always try to leave some room for friendly, musical chaos. It keeps the energy moving and my minutes per day in a happy place.”