Having been a fan of director OH In-chun's short films for a number of years, I was deeply excited to watch and review his first feature-length project; horror genre film 'Mourning Grave'. On doing so, I was deeply impressed by the extent to which the musical score accentuated the emotion of each and every scene in which it appeared and as a result I contacted the film's Music Director, Clarice Eun-hae OK, and asked if she would be willing to be interviewed about both 'Mourning Grave' and her career to date.
Clarice Eun-hae OK graciously agreed to my request and the following is a transcription of that interview:
Hangul Celluloid: Prior to working as the Music Director of Oh In-chun’s <Mourning Grave>, you created the music for several of director Oh’s short films including <Metamorphoses> and <A Moment>. How did your career as a Music Director begin; was it always your intention to work on music in films (and do you also have other musical aspirations); and how did your work with Oh In-chun originally come about?
Clarice Eun-hae OK: Oh In-chun was a year behind me when we were studying at Korea National University of Arts. Back then I started taking charge as music director for student short films because I wanted to experience the field. Oh was one of the directors I worked with. We had the same taste in both film and music; eventually, I came to direct music for the majority of his films. And it led to his first feature film. When I started studying music, I was a flutist. However, I found studying humanities and musical composing more interesting. Precisely speaking, I was not really a music player type of person. I enjoyed working at my desk more than playing musical instruments. I wanted to become a music critique or music history scholar, but I felt a sense of accomplishment as I composed more and more film scores. I spend most of my time reading books or watching movies, which let me enjoy the process of reading scenarios and seeing filming. Enjoying working and sharing ideas with other people - the director, producer, and the people from the music department - makes me want to keep working as a music director in cinema. Once I get used to working on feature films, I also want to compose other kinds of media music (documentary films, etc.) and classical pieces.
Hangul Celluloid: At what point in the film-making process did you begin to create the music for <Mourning Grave>? Had scenes/rushes already been filmed or did you start to create themes and motifs at the script/storyboard stage?
Clarice Eun-hae OK: I was fixed as a music director at the state of pre-production. Since it was my first feature film experience, I had to go through some interviews. Three days after the crews started filming, I visited the filming location. Director Oh thought it was important for me to participate in some significant horror shoots (such as Nara chased by the ghost from the school toilet). Originally, the scene was taken with steady cam long-take; I got the filmed clip for the better music composition. Some of the drama sequence music scores were completed even before the director started filming. The piano score in the scene where In-su and Sae-hee riding a bicycle together; the guitar and cello score in the playback scene of their young days were composed on the process of working on the storyboard. The scores inserted in the horror scenes were completed in the stage of post-production; there were 3-4 scores in total; director and I chose the actual music for each scene.
Hangul Celluloid: How closely did you work with director Oh in the music-making process? Did he give you free reign or did he have specific ideas he wanted realized by the music?
Clarice Eun-hae OK: C47(editing, sound-mixing studio) is 10 minutes away by taxi from my place. Director Oh visited C47 2-3 times a week and suggested ideas after he came to my studio - we've been through a lot of meetings. Actually, he is a highly knowledgeable director in music, he brought up so many ideas from the stage of pre-production. At the same time, director Oh always granted me free reign as a music composer. For example, in the scene Sae-hee peeps at In-su sketching her face, director Oh wanted the score only with marimba. But when I suggested glokenspiel together, he was OK with that. He's really open-minded, and he knows exactly when to control and when someone else has to take charge.
Hangul Celluloid: What would you say are the main differences between music creation for a feature film and the process for a short? Does the brevity of a short film ultimately make music creation easier or does the extra length of a feature facilitate the creation of themes more easily?
Clarice Eun-hae OK: In short films, I concentrated on 'new challenge' or few main scores. The whole process was comparably less time-consuming because of its short time frame. In <A Moment>, I combined Korean and Chinese traditional instruments (the film is a collaboration project between Beijing Film Academy and Korea National University of Arts). When director Oh wanted some hard-boiled taste, I repeatedly used electronic sound. I attempted to be more artistic and unique.
<Mourning Grave>is a feature film; so my main concerns were to emphasise the horror as well as to add some tragedy in In-su and Sae-hee's romance. I also focused on giving a sense of speed to the audience. I believe the music of a feature film has to maintain the director's purpose and let the audience concentrate within the film.
I can't really tell which is harder or easier. However, I can say that feature film needs energy and long-time concentration. Simply, there is more to work on, and it was especially important in <Mourning Grave> because it's a multi-genre film.
Hangul Celluloid: The music in <Mourning Grave> largely features in the ‘romance’ sections (between characters Sae-hee and In-su) and in the horror scenes. What led to the decision of where the music would ultimately feature?
Clarice Eun-hae OK: The answer is communication. We had discussions many times about where the music has to be from the scenario. Director Oh wanted this film to be both horror and showing one boy's growth. Both of us thought the drama is really important for this film. That's why the director and I wanted the main score to be beautiful.
On the other hand, we thought there should be a strong, classic horror music in the scene that of consists classic horror values - the scene of the exploding bloody plastic bag is a good example. A director wants a horror scene not to be boring but speedy like an action movie. That's why he wanted music with speed throughout that sequence - and I agreed.
Hangul Celluloid: The music in <Mourning Grave> predominately consists of piano, strings and somewhat more percussive instruments such as wooden xylophone, rather than wind instruments. What dictated your choice of instruments used?
Clarice Eun-hae OK: As I answered in the first question, I am really fond of wind instruments because I was originally a flutist. However, I gave up on using woodwind because it has a warm sound. Because of the low budget of this movie, brass was only used in the last library scene.
I used more piano and percussive instruments for two reasons; the season of the film was winter and the main character was a highschool student. I believed piano and celesta (the instrument that is similar to xylophone) were perfectly fitted for the scenery of the snow-covered rural district, hopeless first love, and the main character's delicate feelings and scars.
Strings were for more emotional scenes; such as the scene of sad Sae-hee deciding to die after being bullied and In-su who faces his first love who has already died (the scene of he finds Sae-hee's body inside the cabinet). I wanted to give the feeling of vivid sadness and lugubriousness.
The speedy percussive instruments such as timpani and drum were for more tension and pace. Director Oh loves speedy beats. He wanted the horror scenes to be wide and fast; and the choice of percussive instruments satisfied both of us.
Hangul Celluloid: Was the use of a xylophone underlined by its appearance in classic horror films over the years (such as <The Shining> etc.) in order to give a feeling of horror familiarity, or did you just feel it fitted with the imagery/scenes and the fact that in a story about schoolchildren it sounds somewhat like a twisted child’s toy?
Clarice Eun-hae OK: I think this film has this tragic fairy-tale value. Xylophone was used to create a beautiful, eccentric sense that feels like the sound from a broken music box. I composed the scores not only for the music within the film, but also for the international trailer. There you can hear xylophone too. In-su is a highschool student, but he is still traumatized with the memory from his childhood. I wanted that to give the feeling of a child's nightmare to the audience. I love <The Shining>, but I did not come up with the movie when I was working on this. I concentrated on each scene of the film.
Hangul Celluloid: What are your thoughts on the use of real instruments in film music versus synthesised, emulated sounds? What general musical set-up did you use in <Mourning Grave>?
Clarice Eun-hae OK: Because <Mourning Grave> was a low budget movie, I had to use certain amount of synthesised, virtual instruments. The horror scenes quite depended on virtual instruments although most of the drama scenes used real instruments. I really enjoy the recording process with the real instruments. I showed the actual clips to the players to get the feelings I wanted from them, and I believe I got satisfying result. I played some piano scores because I wanted to have the sensitive performance.
The interesting thing is that director Oh really enjoys the use of synthesiser. He wanted me to listen to the OST of <Drive> in the pre-production stage. He also is a loyal fan of Nine Inch Nails, so he told me to use synthesiser without hesitation. Though I majored in classical music, I love the electronic sound, too. I really want to keep using both of them in the future.
Hangul Celluloid: The use of musical motifs in <Mourning Grave> is beautifully evocative giving an almost subconscious feeling overall to a scene, and though the individual horror and romance motifs are very different they nonetheless fit together perfectly. Was each created as a completely separate musical piece or did the composition of one lead to ideas for the other?
Clarice Eun-hae OK: In the horror scenes, I concentrated on each sequence separately. I believe each horror scene in <Mourning Grave> has unique concepts. The opening sequence (from the subway to In-su's place) is J-horror, the exploding plastic bag scene is classic horror like <Carrie>, the warehouse scene that Hyun-ji and Hae-chul are killed has a concept of a slasher movie like <The Texas Chain Saw Massacre>.
The music in the drama scenes are connected to each other. The romance of riding a bicycle together and the scenes of In-su sketching Sae-hee have the same romance theme because I thought those were the scenes for the first love. The bus stop scene where In-su and Sae-hee meet for the first time and the library scene that the two say their farewell have the same theme, arranged differently. I think following the narrative of the drama scene is really important. Therefore I believe those are all connected.
Hangul Celluloid: In creating a specific piece of music, was your starting point music theory/keys/scales or did you begin with melodic (or, in terms of the horror, dissonant) ideas without initial thoughts of major/minor etc.?
Clarice Eun-hae OK: Honestly, I play piano thoughtlessly for couple of hours after I get the rough cut. It's for my fingers to get used to the keys, and I also believe that's the process to feel the scene and to express the feelings. In the drama scenes, keys and melodies come out in that process.
It is quite different in the horror scenes. I watch the scene repeatedly and make the in-out points. And I get the concept, then choose the right instruments. Composing the music is the following process.
Hangul Celluloid: In the horror scenes of <Mourning Grave>, the music is gradually added to with sound effects (scraping/grinding/loud percussive sounds). Did you have a say in the creation of these and how they fitted with the music or was your music created subsequently, partly to compliment them; and how many of those sounds were created musically (long, high pitched tones etc)?
Clarice Eun-hae OK: Post-production for <Mourning Grave> was done in such a short time period and the editing was delayed. The sound and music department were pushed for time. We had several meetings, but we did not really have time to participate in each other's work. I worked on some high pitched sounds and loud hit sounds with a few percussive instruments and synthesisers. Then I gave the track with musical instruments and the track with musical effects separately to the sound department. In the final mixing process, the sound department tuned between their own effects and my musical effects. I, too, participated in the final mixing process. Everything was completed after discussion, and the final decision was made by the director.
Hangul Celluloid: For a long time Korean cinema was a largely male dominated industry. What are your thoughts on the current balance of males/females working in the industry and have you found that your femininity has helped your career; made it more difficult; or do you feel a person’s work speaks for itself, regardless of whether they are male or female?
Clarice Eun-hae OK: Actually, I experienced the real world of film industry via <Mourning Grave>. When I was working on short films, I did not really feel any sexual inequality; however, it's true that there were less female staff members in this film. I think it's too early for me to say about sexual inequality because I am a freshman in the film industry.
I think some people looked at me with a suspicious eye in working with the horror scenes because I'm a woman, although they believed in me with the drama, romance music. But it could have been hard just because I was a freshman, not because of my gender. In fact, there is a lot of paperwork to go through as a music director of a feature film. Every single experience in the feature film was new for me. I underwent trial and error, and that experience has taught me a great deal.
Hangul Celluloid: Director Oh In-chun’s work (both his short films and his feature <Mourning Grave>) is to my mind unquestionably superb. However, if you were (in the future) approached by another director to create music for a film you felt less empathy for, would that influence your decision on whether or not to accept the job? (i.e. Do you feel that you must empathize with a film’s story and characters to create emotive music or do you believe that a film’s emotion can be created, at least partly, by the music itself?)
Clarice Eun-hae OK: It was really convenient to work with director Oh In-chun because we've been really good friends since we were at school. We've talked a lot, too. He is a 'cool' director, really. But if it were other directors, honestly, I don't know. My current aim is to stably work in film; I want to keep challenging if I get any offers. The scenarios are as important as the director. Reading the scenario and feeling the urge to work on the project is the most important thing.
The ultimate purpose of film music is "for the film". I believe sympathising with the story and characters is the most significant. I think it's more accurate to say that adding music to the scene takes the film to completion rather than the music creating the emotion.
Hangul Celluloid: As a final question: <Mourning Grave> has already been sold to a number of countries for international release and has also won film festival awards. How would you describe <Mourning Grave> to anyone who has yet to see the film?
Clarice Eun-hae OK: This is an entertainment horror film like a roller coaster ride and a record of one boy's growing up with his own trauma. It also is the story of an unforgettable first love. I find the last scene of this film after the ending credit really meaningful. <Mourning Grave> is a memoir for the youth that never goes away from your heart. And of course, I will definitely emphasise once again that this film is a really interesting horror film.
Hangul Celluloid: Thank you so much for talking the time to answer my many questions.
(You can read the Hangul Celluloid review of 'Mourning Grave' at: http://www.hangulcelluloid.com/mourninggrave.html )
I'd sincerely like to thank Clarice Eun-hae OK for being so willing to take part in this interview and for answering my questions in such depth.