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A Film Composer’s Life: Wojciech Golczewski and the Art of Synth Scores

In some ways, Wojciech Golczewski is an accidental horror and thriller composer. This is because the Poland-based man has crafted some compelling cues for scary or edge-of-your-seat pictures, and directors in those genres seem to want more of him. As synthesizer-heavy horror scores have gotten increasingly popular over the past couple of years, Golczewski too has become an object of interest among filmmakers.

Golczewski’s oeuvre includes the score for popular 2015 indie horror film We Are Still Here, a haunting mix of traditional and synth elements that complement well the chilling story of a house that demands a sacrifice every generation. Most recently, he’s scored the 2016 slasher Tonight She Comes — making its way around the festival circuit — and the 2016 adventure-horror Beyond the Gates. The latter music is essentially pure synth. He also just finished music for Shadows of the Dead, a horror flick that debuted on Oct. 22 on the SyFy Channel.

“I managed to secure these kind of projects and I guess with every next horror you get more and more labelled,” the Poznań-based composer said in an email exchange with Vehlinggo recently. “I haven’t done that many horror films, though. I’ve scored like 15 or 16 features and half is horror, I think.”

“I started to write synth scores just recently,” he continued. “Before, it was always a mix of different styles: A classical approach mixed with some electronic elements, but not ‘synth’ scores as we think of them now. I think the only synth scores of mine are for Beyond The Gates and Tonight She Comes. The rest is a mix of this and that, more like electronic scores but not this retro/Carpenterish/Tangerine Dream type of thing everyone is talking about these days.”

It’s true. His catalogue also includes Icelandic crime flicks, Australian sci-fi films, and last year’s space-centered psychological thriller 400 Days, many of which aren’t so synthy. But there’s something about the way Golczewski tackles a synthesizer. Just listen to his non-film work, including End of Transmission, which came out last month on Lakeshore Records and will soon see cassette and vinyl releases on Data Airlines.

Made with both a Minimoog and a software emulator of one, End of Transmission manages to come across as both complex and minimalist. It’s a project that often exudes some gorgeous segments, tapping into the occasional Carpenter vibe along with some major Vangelis and Philip Glass sentiments. I’ve been listening to it a lot on the subway recently.

End of Transmission just popped up by accident,” Golczewski says. “I was able to play with a Minimoog for a few days… [and then] recorded and then put it on hold for a bit. After a couple of months, I started to listen to the rough demos and thought it’s pretty OK, why not make a small thing from it?”

“So I spent five to six days finishing it and that’s how End of Transmission was born,” he said. “It was kind of an impulse. I didn’t think that much about it. I just had some time in between film work and decided to spend it on EOT. I’m really glad people like it. I’ve heard some really cool comments about it.”

Interestingly, it’s this kind of music that Golczewski says resonates most with him.

“I’m pretty happy with it,” he said. “There are plenty of little things in these cues that I like. It’s kind of a thing for myself, to be honest: The kind of music I like to listen to personally.”

His Reality Check LP, released earlier this year by Death Waltz and Data Airlines, is similar in spirit to EOT, albeit with more elaborate compositions.

From ‘Demoscenester’ to Composer

Golczewski’s love for music goes way back to his youth and the idea of his writing music is similarly aged. In 1991, his mother bought the 11-year-old Golczewski and his brother their first computer. It was a Commodore 64, which kicked off his interest in trying to tackle the sacred art of creating music on computers.

A few years later the Golczewskis got a PC and Golczewski subsequently dove head-first into the demoscene realm of music-making. It was a scene that employed software like Scream Tracker and visual graphics in a tightly-knit, programmed package — typically in the form of .exe files.

Golczewski used music programs like ProTracker and Fast Tracker, but by around age 15 the visual side had fully grabbed him.

“… My interest switched to graphics and classic art,” he says.

He took five or six years off from music for the most part, other than playing guitar in a couple of small bands. By around 2002, Golczewski got the itch. 

“… I started to discover it’s music that’s more important to me,” he said, “so I got back into composing.”

Music has led him down a path in which he’s written scores for PlayStation 3 titles like Linger in Shadows and Datura; and provided the score for at least 15 films produced in nations around the world.

His first film score was in 2009 for an Australian sci-fi film called Eraser Children. He’s since made his way across the spectrum of European and American productions, most recently enrapturing audiences with his progressively more synth-driven scores and independent releases.

Working on Scores: It’s Different with Each Project

Art for 'We Are Still Here.' Photo Credit: Ted Geoghegan.
Art for ‘We Are Still Here.’ Photo Credit: Snowfort Pictures.

There’s no one surefire way to work on a film score. Golczewski says it’s different with each project.

“It all depends on how the director/producers want to approach the music,” he says. “My general route is to see the cut and discuss it with whomever is in charge of the process.”

“We share ideas and then I do some demos, or tackle the first scene I — or we — feel is crucial and can set the tone for the film,” he continues. “From there, I try to tackle the crucial scenes and then spread the music all over the film. This way the film is coherent in terms of its musical aesthetics.”

The particular process behind the creation of the score for We Are Still Here was filled with a great atmosphere and great people, all sharing ideas without drama, Golczewski says. He speaks particularly highly of director and writer Ted Geoghegan.

“It was one of the best working experiences from my point of view,” he says. “I think it shows. The film is crafted with love and passion. Hopefully, it’s just the first of many. I would love to work with Ted again.”

Even if any given project varies from another, there is at least one truth to nailing a score, according to Golczewski.

“I think from the film’s point of view, to nail the score means the director/producer is happy with it,” he said. “I’m happy if the director is happy. The best reward is when I hear I did something exactly how the director wanted it.”

Music Outside of Film: It’s Personal

'Reality Check' cover art. Photo Credit: Wojciech Golczewski
‘Reality Check’ cover art. Photo Credit: Wojciech Golczewski

When it comes to Golczewski’s solo, personal work, the creation process varies from film, even if there are some familiarities.

“Usually, I come up with some kind of concept — a little storyline I try to write the music for,” he says. “So you may say it’s a bit the same as my film work.”

“The big difference is that my personal work is usually just making a lot of demos over a certain period of time,” he continues. “I’m then usually taking a break for a couple of weeks or even more and then picking the best demos of given sessions to finish up for one to two weeks — depending on how big I’m planning the LP or EP to be.”

Creating the material that formed the basis of EOT or Reality Check, which will ultimately be a trilogy, serves as a sort of catharsis for the busy musician.

“I started to write my own personal stuff again mostly due to the pressure of making other people happy,” he says. “So my own music is a bit of therapy for myself, as every film project is really exhausting. Even if it’s a super cool atmosphere and fun, it’s still a very intense workload for your brain. That’s why I wanted to do my own stuff again. “

‘What More to Ask of Life?’

Even though Golczewski has landed film and TV gigs, and has been able to secure releases with popular labels like Death Waltz/MONDO and Lakeshore, that doesn’t mean any of this is easy. Being a full-time composer is rewarding, to be sure, but it ain’t easy.

“It’s very difficult,” he says. “You have to be really strong psychologically. You never know if more work is coming, and this is really difficult to handle sometimes. The fear of being left without any work can be really devastating.”

“That’s why I try to focus more and more on my own stuff,” Golczewski says. “Luckily, things have worked out pretty nicely for me recently.”

But he’s doing it. He’s living the dream — his dream and perhaps yours. It’s not glamorous or outlandish. It’s just damn good and the life he wants.

“I’m not making big money, but it’s enough to be able to live from it,” Golczewski says. “I don’t need much in my life to be happy. In fact, I have everything I need already: a great family, wife, and kid, and I can do music for a living. What more to ask of life?”

A Lot More Music Where That Came From

End of Transmission cover art. Photo Credit: Wojciech Golczewski.
End of Transmission cover art. Photo Credit: Wojciech Golczewski.

When I caught up with Golczewski, he was finishing up the music for the SyFy project. He doesn’t have any film work planned at the moment, but that doesn’t mean he’s idle.

He’s planning a prequel to Reality Check called The Signal, which he says has been done for six months and should be released in early 2017. He’s also got an unnamed EP he plans to release at some point, and is working on a vinyl and cassette release of his score for Dark Souls, a film he scored in 2010. That should come out before year’s end.

Then of course there’s the vinyl and cassette releases for End of Transmission. You can pre-order these on Golczewski’s Bandcamp page.

'End of Transmission,' vinyl version.
‘End of Transmission,’ vinyl version.

Even with all of that, he’s still basking in the positive response he’s received to Reality Check since it came out in May.

“I’m literally overwhelmed with how good the response to this album has been,” Golczewski says. “I can only say thanks to all the people who got a copy.”

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