How ‘Candyman’ score pulls you in — and gets under your skin

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"Candyman" composer Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe
“Candyman” composer Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe specializes in creating live concerts that defy description using only his versatile voice and some electronic wizardry.
(Andrea Fiumana)

The new “Candyman” score creeps and curdles in noxious vapors of sound, creating a pervasive tone of what director Nia DaCosta described as “sneaking dread.” It’s under-the-skin music.

Most of it was also made from under the skin — with a human voice. Under the stage name Lichens, composer Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe specializes in creating live concerts that defy description using only his versatile voice and some electronic wizardry.

“I’ve seen him perform, and it’s so intense,” said DaCosta. ”I’m like: Dude, this guy’s on another level.”


DaCosta wanted to distinguish her film from the 1992 “Candyman” directed by Bernard Rose and wanted the score to feel different from, but “just as unique and surprising,” as Philip Glass’ soundtrack to that film. She was keen to look outside the Hollywood mainstream and work with an unconventional composer like Lowe — particularly because of his voice.

In their early conversations, DaCosta talked about capturing the idea of a “multiplicity of voices,” she said, “because our ‘Candyman’ was about this not being one singular person, but being a continuity of people. We wanted to make sure that we feel that in the score as well. So there are many, many people inside of the soundscape.”

The majority of those voices are actually Lowe himself. In the recurring theme “Rows and Towers,” he stacked layers of his own vocals on top of each other. It’s essentially his theme for Cabrini-Green, the former public housing project in Chicago where the Candyman legend was born.

Lowe wrote it “not even thinking about the city in a broader context,” he said, “but really honing it into the multitude of humans and their histories inside of this particular location. I think that was, for me, what was most representational, and having that piece as all voices. You get these different qualities of voices, different registers of voices inside, because you do have that multiplicity there.”
As in his Lichens concerts, Lowe treats his voice like a physical instrument: singing from very low to very high, from his diaphragm or the inside of his throat or his nasal cavity in order to produce different timbres. For a scene where the main character, Anthony (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), sees his reflection in a mirror as the hook-handed, bee-swarmed Candyman, Lowe did something like 18 passes of different vocal tracks.

He recalled “sitting in an isolation booth at a studio, doing one insane pass and then doing another one, and sometimes not listening to the one before.”

“I really like having a cacophony, especially in that moment,” he said, “because there are so many voices coming into Anthony’s head. I thought it was very important to have this cluster of sound, where you had all of this multiphonic play and multitimbral play inside of his head.”


The only other voice on the score belongs to Lowe’s friend, “Joker” composer Hildur Guðnadóttir, who also performed on cello.

Composer Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe
Director Nia DaCosta was looking for something unique and surprising, maybe even a little creepy. She found it in Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe’s work.
(Andrea Fiumana)

Lowe gathered many of the score’s nonvocal sounds on location as the film was being shot, recording the buzzing of electrical boxes and insects around Chicago — which he then sampled and turned into unnerving atmospheres. He also taped some of the cast speaking, including the charged word “Candyman,” and then stretched and manipulated that into an unrecognizable, freakishly skittering sound that haunts the score.

“The sonic elements are a little off-putting or jarring,” said Lowe, who realized along with DaCosta that “even though you would assume that would repel, it’s something that would actually bring the viewer a little closer into what’s happening, and give them a little more attention to be paid in those moments — because it is bizarre, and it is maybe a little confusing, but you want to know why.”

It’s a deceptively simple score that seems to leak out of the story’s laundromat and high-rises, blurring with the sound design. Yet Lowe’s concept was anything but simple, and he layered in musical representations of some of the big narrative themes such as illusion versus reality and the slave trade line.

His main title theme is a brief nod to Glass — a glassy minimalistic cycle — but with a twist.


“The four main notes that are happening are happening in a tempo that is unchanging, but there’s a pseudo-random movement of the notes,” said Lowe, who also sneaked in an homage to the broader “cinematic universe” of original “Candyman” author Clive Barker. Like the booming foghorn sound that represents the hell beast in “Hellbound,” Lowe dropped a deep contrabass note in his front title.

Beyond wanting a unique score, DaCosta said she knew “the biggest thing was that it needed to match the psychological journey that Anthony was going through. We really needed to get under the skin and disturb, aurally, but also be like a siren’s call. That’s why it’s kind of hypnotic and repetitive in certain ways. And there are all these sounds and voices — all of that was to pull people in while also getting under the skin.”