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Midnight Syndicate: Halloween ambiance on demand

The two gentlemen comprising Midnight Syndicate make what is possibly the scariest, most evocative music in the world.  I know this firsthand, ever since the night I was driving down a particularly lonely stretch of fog-shrouded highway and popped their 1998 album Born of the Night into the CD player.  Besides a world-class case of goosebumps, I ended up with a new favorite band.
Listen to a Midnight Syndicate album and you’ll quickly realize that it breaks all of the rules.  It’s a soundtrack, but not to any particular movie.  It’s ambient and spooky, but there’s no “Monster Mash” remake.  So what is it?

Flat-out cool.  So it’s a real treat to talk with Edward Douglas and Gavin Goszka about how they make their unique music.  Not to mention how it ended up at Hugh Hefner’s Halloween party…

SciFiBookshelf:  For those who haven’t listened to Midnight Syndicate before, how would you describe your music?

Edward Douglas:
  Gothic horror fantasy soundtracks to imaginary films.   Orchestral CDs that blend instrumental music with sound effects designed to transport the listener to a world or movie of their own creation.   Each disc explores a different theme (a haunted village by the sea, vampires, dragon’s lair, etc.)

Gavin Goszka:
We usually describe it as ‘soundtracks for the imagination.’ Dark, orchestral, instrumental music that’s perfect for setting a creepy mood, whether you’re hosting a Halloween party, running a role-playing game, or simply looking for something atmospheric to play in the background while writing, painting, sculpting, or anything else. We typically blend sound effects into the music as well, but in a way that’s designed to enhance it without being distracting.

SFB:  What’s your creative process like?

E:  Our first step is determining the type of world or setting we are going to create on a CD (like a haunted Victorian asylum for our CD “Gates of Delirium”) and then flesh out the details of that world (who are the inhabitants? what do we see? etc.).  Once we’ve done that, we head off our separate ways and begin writing the music.  We continually bounce songs and song ideas off each other throughout the process, but we really don’t work together in the studio until the final mix.   That’s usually when we integrate the sound effects, finalize the instrumentation, and craft the final sound of the CD.

G: We usually come up with a general theme or story behind a given album before starting to write, which serves as a guide for the direction we’ll take with the music. Then we’ll start sketching out ideas. I tend to use piano in the early stages, where Ed will bring in the strings and a few other instruments right away. Although both of us write independently, we stay in close contact to make sure that the material is on target for the theme we have in mind. After the initial sketches are done, we’ll start fleshing everything out with full arrangements — adding percussion, or sound effects, or whatever else we feel is needed. I think both of us are visual writers in that we tend to picture scenes or have images or situations in mind when we’re writing. We like to leave a lot of the specifics up to the individual listener’s imagination, but provide enough to draw them into the world of the album and spark their creativity.

SFB:  What do you suppose are your biggest musical influences?

E: Movie soundtrack composers like Danny Elfman, Hans Zimmer, James Horner, and John Carpenter a huge influences to name a few.   Heavy metal is another big influence, especially bands like Black Sabbath and King Diamond.

Definitely film composers like John Carpenter and Danny Elfman, but we also draw on musical influences as diverse as Dead Can Dance, Black Sabbath and King Diamond.

SFB:  What do you think is the strangest place you’ve heard of your music being played? (More to the point: Hugh Hefner’s Halloween party? Really? And did you get invites?)
E:  We have a really strong relationship with the haunted house and amusement park industries.  Before we came on to the scene, there were no good Halloween music CDs.  It was all recycled cheesy sound effects cassettes and Monster Mash compilations.   Professional attractions that wanted to set an authentically creepy haunting atmosphere had very little options.   We changed that with our discs and as a result we formed relationships with the top haunts and amusement park companies early on.   We have hundreds of attractions all around the world using our music every October (which is very cool).   When you’ve become a part of the sound of the season, cool opportunities naturally come your way.  Mr. Hefner loves Halloween and spares no expense for his parties, so it was a natural tie-in.   The Ellen Degeneres Show, Barbara Walter’s “10 Most Fascinating People” special, Monday Night Football, are all others that came about the same way.   I don’t know if I have a “strangest” place I’ve heard it because it pretty much is always being used to set the mood for something mysterious, creepy, or Halloween-oriented.    Two of the coolest places recently were a haunted house in Siberia and Carnival’s Halloween-themed cruises.

Siberia?  Seriously?  Tune in next week for more from Midnight Syndicate!  In the meantime, get more here:

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