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Interview with Daniel Licht (Dexter)

Multi-instrumentalist Daniel Licht began his career studying world music and jazz, eventually finding himself performing in New York alongside jazz legend Don Cherry. After performing around Europe and Asia, Licht was lured to Hollywood by Christopher Young, the acclaimed composer of Clive Barker’s Hellraiser, and upon arriving Licht soon found work in the horror genre on 1994’s Hellraiser: Bloodline and an adaptation of Stephen King’s 1984 novel Thinner. As the decade drew to a close to found himself gravitating towards the small screen, scoring a host of made-for-TV movies that included Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and and a biopic of guitar icon Jimi Hendrix.

Following Kitchen Confidential in 2005, Licht gained wider exposure through his work on the popular series Dexter, the story of a blood-spatter expert who lives the double life of a serial killer, earning the show Golden Globes, Primetime Emmy Awards Screen Actors Guild Awards during its eight-season run. In 2011, Licht scored another TV thriller, Body of Proof, which stars Dana Delany as a medical examiner solving an array of violent crimes.

Daniel Licht talks about his most recent work on Body of Proof.

Your time at college included studying world music; what impact has that had on your style and how you approach scoring soundtracks?

World music has had a tremendous impact on my style. I have travelled the world studying music and collecting instruments and I always try to find new acoustic sounds to enrich my soundtracks.

Although your earlier work included an Amityville sequel and the low budget horror Soul Survivors, over recent years you have contributed to several television shows. How did you make this transition to the small screen?

I don’t really treat the small screen any differently. People’s televisions are not so small anymore and their sound systems are probably pretty good as well, but really I am thinking about the drama when I score. The real difference is that television is a dialogue-driven medium, whereas film is more visual. There is greater opportunity for the music to take command in film. That said, I like to work with small ensembles and odd instrumental collections and TV can call for a more intimate sound.

What is the basic premise to Body of Proof and how did you approach deciding what kind of music would best suit the show?

Body of Proof is about a medical examiner, Dana Delaney, who solves crimes by uncovering evidence by autopsy. The show is a procedural; that’s a show which introduces and then solves a crime in every episode. Generally, the crime is a crime of passion so much of the music can be very emotional, as well as highlighting the mystery, action and comedy. The sets are very high tech in the morgue, so I have used some almost sci-fi sounding sounds, reverse pianos, eerie pads, etc. and I have featured emotional string writing with solo piano or guitar.

Daniel Licht

Daniel Licht

Having worked on both feature films and television shows, how would you compare the two experiences and do you prefer to work on movies or for television?

I prefer to do both. They both have different things to offer. Television offers a chance to work with a group of people over (hopefully) a long period of time and to develop a body of work based on your themes. It’s nice to not have to start from ground zero every episode. Film is more ‘wham, bam thank you ma’am,’ but I find the most challenging and exciting part of the process to be defining the sound and thematic material for a film then to stand back at look at your work after you’re done and say, ‘Wow, that didn’t exist four weeks ago when I started!’

How many episodes in total are there and did you work on the entire season?

There are thirteen episodes of Body of Proof and I scored them all.

Are you conscious of not overdoing the score and do you find that you sometimes have to restrain yourself?

I am always very conscious of working behind the scenes on film and television. I am especially conscious of being sensitive to dialogue. I find that if I score around the dialogue then mixers will be able to play my music louder and it will be more effective dramatically. I am probably guilty of over orchestrating. Frequently, directors and producers will have me pull out tracks to simplify things a bit, and I am not precious about it. I always have the full mix for the CD release.

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