Vacant Possession

Feature film


Along the way I remembered how spooky flutes can be, and by combining a particular breathy flute with slowed down vibes and processing this slightly, I found a harrowing tone that I could manipulate musically.

It is similar to instrumentation used in thrillers of the 1960s and fits the time frame of Tessa’s traumatic childhood.

Margot and I decided early on that the cello, with its emotional range, strength and dignity, would feature in the score and it reached full flower in the emotional connection between Tessa and the memories of her late mother that she draws on during desolate moments.

Played beautifully by Nathan Waks, the cello is given a contemporary blues setting by the piano and a haunting urban companion in the trumpet of Paul Thorne.

The trumpet and cello return at the end when the theme that appeared earlier as a trigger for flashbacks of childhood resolves into something more  triumphant. Tess McKenna came up from Melbourne to add the warm, free-style vocals.

The music for Vacant Possession  received more specific favorable comment than any of my other scores and it remains a personal favourite. DVD available from Wintertime Films.

Margot Nash's first feature is in the auteur tradition, mining big issues with emotional depth from a domestic situation set on the shores of Botany Bay, birthplace of a nation. Her inventive direction, commanding performances from Pamela Rabe as Tessa and John Stanton as her unhinged father, moody camerawork from Dion Bebe and crisp editing by Veronica Jenet created an atmospheric canvass that was both challenging and absorbing to score. And there's enough psychological disfunction to allow the music some creepy moments, always enjoyable for a composer.

The main theme began as an experiment inspired by a sound Angelo Badalamenti used in his Twin Peaks score, but with a melodic structure of my own. I put it into 6/8 time to give it a forward momentum and the fretless bass allows it to swerve and slide a little like a giant snake. Layers of opaque strings add the dimension of a mist rolling in from the sea to envelop the land, a connection that’s picked up by the Aboriginal percussion, which gives resonance to one of the main narrative strands.

The dream sequences began with sound fragments of varying intensities collaged to fit the images, which I then shaped into compositions.