Charlie Clouser, master of horror music

Charlie ClouserTo celebrate the Halloween season, I’m profiling a variety of musical takes on the holiday. Of the many composers who have scored soundtracks for horror films, Charlie Clouser is one of the masters of the genre. He produced scores for Resident Evil: Extinction and the four Saw movies, in addition to contributions outside the genre for The Matrix and Collateral. A former keyboardist with Nine Inch Niles, he has also worked with David Bowie, Rod Zombie, Marilyn Manson and Helmet.

Clouser cites his musical influences as David Byrne working with Brian Eno, Gyorgi Ligeti, Aphex Twin, Lalo Schifrin, Wendy Carlos, Autechre, Jerry Goldsmith, and Louis and Bebe Barron. Coming from a household where his mother played piano and his father listened to Dixieland jazz, Clouser took up piano, guitar, drums and clarinet. He attended a recording engineering school while working on a liberal arts degree in electronic music, then embarked on a career performing in bands, producing and remixing.

He had garnered some experience writing music for television before securing his first film work for the Saw soundtrack. In an interview with IGN Entertainment, Clouser was asked about his approach in scoring for the film.

Usually I don’t try to use sounds that will clash against the sound design — doors slamming, gunshots, things like that. But because of the character of the music that James [Wan] wanted it would involve a lot of metal screeching and banging types of sounds, which were going to get in the way of the sound effects, so it was the skillful mix that kept everything together. But also it was a conscious decision on my part to use sounds that… the drums sounds weren’t sort of big tom toms as much as there was a lot of industrial, clashy, clangy stuff that might sound like there’s more people trying to get at you from the other side of a wall, as opposed to “war drums.”

Clouser filmed a short video interview for SoundtrackNet to promote the release of Resident Evil: Extinction. Speaking fondly of his time playing keyboards with Nine Inch Nails, Clouser said, “When you did your thing, it was heavily featured… it was never just chomping out pads, it was always playing some really obscure and ugly sound, which I thought was great.”

You can listen to some of Clouser’s music at

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