<I>Poor Things</I> composer Jerskin Fendrix details his latest work
Marc Loftus
December 14, 2023

Poor Things composer Jerskin Fendrix details his latest work

Poor Things composer Jerskin Fendrix had never scored a feature before. Similarly, director Yorgos Lanthimos had never collaborated with a composer prior to this project. Instead, he always called upon pre-existing music for the soundtracks of his films.

Fendrix is a classically trained musician, who plays the violin and the piano, and has composed music across many different genres.

“I asked him to just start writing music based on our conversations and the script,” Lanthimos recalls. “We hadn't shot anything when we started – we just had some images from research, and some set designs or maybe costumes. I wanted to do this in a less conventional way.”

Fendrix recently took some time out to answer a few questions for Post about his work on the new release from Searchlight Pictures, which stars Emma Stone, Mark Ruffalo, Willem Dafoe and Ramy Youssef in a Frankenstein-like story that’s based on a novel by Alasdair Gray.

Jerskin: How would you describe the musical needs of Poor Things? 

Jerskin Fendrix: “I think the responsibility the music had, which was quite unique to the music, as well as unique to the film, is that it had to really grow with Bella and evoke what was happening to her psychologically. In order to do that, in such a bizarre journey that she went on, (it) had to be able to be totally vulnerable, honest and embarrassing, especially at the beginning of her story, when she's starting to develop. Then, of course, she matures and the music matures with her, but there's still the sense that the music's job was not to be something particularly elegant or polished. It really had to experience things basically with the same trueness as Bella would have experienced them herself. So when she falls in love, I had to fall in love with this kind of cute, naive way. And when something horrible happened to her, or she saw something horrible, I had to lurch or sob or scream. So remaining really true to Bella's feelings and Bella's journey at the expense of something more slick or something more sexy.”

Approximately how many cues did you create and what were their lengths? 

Jerskin Fendrix: “This is such a funny question. I believe there are 43 used. Four of them are diegetic, so 39 would have been part of the actual score. They range between about :40 to five minutes. There was an amount of material that was not used in the film, as usually happens. And I think that the early stages of trying to work out what was musically appropriate for the film and what wasn't involved throwing out the stuff that was, to some extent, interesting or musically good, but actually didn't really have that sense of emotional empathy or bombardment when necessary. The cues that remained, I think, we went with the emotions above function.”

Can you talk about instrumentation and your recording process, as well as some of the gear you rely on?

Jerskin Fendrix: “It's a really big pillar of this film. The score was how the instrumentation was conceived from the very beginning. Firstly, it needed to be a really unique set of sounds that was exclusive to this film, both to the aesthetic universe of the film, but also to this unique brain, with its unique set of feelings and emotions. Through a lot of research, I decided to record every instrument separately in the score. There was never more than one instrument in a room — never an ensemble, so I was able to have complete control over each recording of a person playing, so that I was able to manipulate it. We played with time stretching and pitch stretching, making instruments kind of talk more and bend, and basically doing various forms of surgery on every sound to put across this idea of something that was sort of familiar, and you could recognize it, but actually 50 percent of the time, if you tried to identify an instrument, the score would actually not be what it sounded like. And this has a lot to do with the kind of uncanniness of Bella's character, and also the themes in the film about taking something that has this cosmetic familiarity, but there is actually something quite dark and bizarre going on behind it.”

Is there a scene where you feel the soundtrack works particularly well?

Jerskin Fendrix: “I think, the most obvious soundtrack moment is in Alexandria. There was a very, very big piece of music, and this was one of the first ones I actually wrote for the film, and that Yorgos heard, based on reading this part of the script. Until this point, I was having a lot of fun writing a lot of kind of cute music in the film. There are some plots, which are a bit off or a bit unnerving. But overall, there's a kind of balance and there's a kind of sweetness and exploration. I think it's really fun to hear those sounds develop. And I think that some of them are quite adorable sounds. It's basically the first point within the timeline of the film where something so awful happens that Bella can't process it. She is insane with anguish. It's just too much. And this piece had to scream with her. If you listen to the bass specifically, it has this really deep sobbing quality to it. This is kind of when the score becomes torn open and the film kind of becomes torn open, and you really see what happens and what she's made of. So I think that's probably one of the more important musical moments.”