Rhode Island-based composer Peter Scartabello began writing music and playing drums at the age of 9, working his scores out on his older brother’s four-track player. He used an old Macintosh computer to translate the sounds in his head to traditional notation. When in high school, he wrote songs for and played in a doom metal band, and between 1990 and 1991 went on to study composition and music theory at Manhattanville College in New York, as well as playing percussion with the Manhattanville Symphony Orchestra. After returning home he attended one year at Rhode Island College, then finished off his bachelor’s degree in classical composition at State University of New York’s Purchase College. His first major work was entitled Drochthamion Demonica, written for synthesizer and orchestra. In 1991, he completed Two Symphonic Poems for orchestra. In that same year, he studied percussion with George Goneconto at Rhode Island College.
Scartabello has written scores and soundtracks in many different modes and genres, but seems to inevitably find his way back to the weird and horrific. To stay clear of the cliches that bedevil horror soundtracks, and to avoid an obvious match of music to onscreen action (called”Mickey Mouse-ing” in the industry), Scartabello dabbles with nonstandard instrumentation. For example, he used the sounds of different metals scraping together for the Bunnyman films by Carl Lindberg, about a chainsaw murderer who dresses in a bunny costume.
Scartabello currently lives in North Kingstown, Rhode Island and teaches percussion, piano and composition at the Knapp School of Music in Peace Dale, Rhode Island.
Alex S. Johnson: You’ve scored the Bunnyman movie series and set pieces by such authors as Lord Dunsany, H.P. Lovecraft and Clark Ashton Smith to music. How long have you been a fan of weird fiction and horror tales?
Clark Ashton Smith
Peter Scartabello: I discovered Lovecraft when I was about 14 or 15, so for about 30 years.
ASJ: What considerations do you make when creating sound settings for weird poetry or tales?
PS: I think the main consideration, and what I’ve gleaned from HPL, Machen, CAS, Poe, et al., is how vitally important atmosphere is. So my main objective is to always try and capture the atmosphere; then everything else kind of falls into place.
ASJ: What elements make a piece of music scary? Are there certain tones, modes, scales or intervals that are especially good for evoking dread?
PS: I don’t always go for scary. I prefer more of an other-worldly, cosmic horror kind of feeling. What I love most about weird fiction is when I am transported to a place that is strange and beautiful. Scary is boring to me. Without getting too technical, in my music I often set up a scaffolding based on a scale, so indeed as you said, the intervals are important to creating a certain sound. But music is so subjective, and over the years I’ve realized that what people feel from my music is so different than what I feel. That is not a bad thing to me, but exciting and interesting. The music I write is often very complex and I feel that sometimes the only way people can grasp it is to hone in on one aspect of it and run w it, but it is my hope that they will delve deeper and become more active in their listening. Because I really think the point of art is to share your experiences.
ASJ: Who are your influences as a composer?
PS: My influences as a composer are so voluminous and varied. But if I had to narrow it down to few that changed the trajectory of my work I would say, the Polish composer Andrzej Panufnik, the Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi, Finnish composer Aarre Merikanto, Xenakis, Roger Reynolds and the early composers, Gesualdo, Marenzio, De Lassus etc….
ASJ: You work in both heavy metal and classical modes. What do you see as the connection points between these two genres?
PS: That’s a difficult question. Heavy Metal is more of a nostalgic thing for me. It represents perhaps why I got into music in the first place. I love the early NWOBHM bands like Maiden especially, but now I am drawn to the more progressive bands like Deathspell Omega and Gorguts. But I think perhaps the essence of the metal connection is it is very Romantic in its over-the-top expression. I’ve always been a Fantasy and Science-fiction fan, so those elements have always found their home in heavy metal. There is also the aspect of non-commercial consideration that I love. When I grew up w MTV and pop music Heavy Metal was breath of fresh air. Hearing bands like Maiden, Slayer, Queensryche, Morbid Angel, Death was so refreshing in many ways.
ASJ: Who are your favorite horror authors/directors, and why?
PS: Favorite horror authors is another tough question, but of course HPL, Poe, Machen, Le Fanu, M R James, for the atmosphere as I said before. For directors, I like [Dario] Argento because of his stylized approach. I like a lot of the 70s Italian directors. But horror movies are a completely different animal for me, and I have yet to see a director capture what the horror writers that I mentioned have done. I go for the fun campy stuff mostly, like [Don] Coscarelli’s Phantasm and [John] Carpenter’s great work. Movies are more visceral in nature, disturbing in a different way.
ASJ: What sides of your work do you think aren’t paid enough attention to?
I think in general people are more visually oriented so I would say the music in general. It’s a strange climate right now in the music world, exciting in that artists have the freedom to a lot on their own without a record label; but it’s also a double edged sword, because how do you market yourself and how do you prevent people from stealing your music or just getting it for free? I don’t care all that much that I end up on torrent sites, I think it’s cool when I see my album on a Russian doom metal torrent site, because ultimately I want my music to be heard, but that’s why I got into film music, I can make money and survive with that.
ASJ: What are your current projects, and what can we look for soon from you?
Currently I am finishing up a single song Sky Shadow Obelisk EP and am scoring the 3rd Bunnyman film, Bunnyman: Suffer the Children. And over the Summer I will be recording a guitar and electronics piece I wrote for the Guitarist Phil Mazza called “Traversing Aggripa’s Magic Square.” So, lots of irons in the fire, so to speak.
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