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Collapse (Vincent Gillioz)

December 13, 2014


Vincent Gillioz, 2014, Howlin’ Wolf Records
22 tracks, 52:48

Not too many people will have heard of “Collapse”. Or of Vincent Gillioz for that matter. I think it’s time to get acquainted!

Review by Pete Simons

What is it?

“Collapse” finds Chris Mulkey (“Captain Philips”, “Twin Peaks”) as everyman Robert Morgan in a modern fable of psychological horror, pushed to the edge in order to protect himself and his family from a zombie apocalypse. The film was written by Insane Mike Saunders; and was directed by him and Jason Bolinger. The duo have a history of making horror films together. For the score to this zombiepocalypse they turned to Swiss composer Vincent Gillioz, who studied at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and who had a few other horror scores under his belt.

What does it sound like?

Let’s face it – this is no picnic in the park. This is a full-blown horror score, so expect bangs and clashes at any time. Well, maybe not during “Family Dinner” – some things are sacred after all! It shares a ‘family’ theme that’s introduced earlier in “My Son is Sick”. In these two cues it features on piano and is quite pleasant, though still uneasy. That is where any pleasantries stop though.

Composer Vincent Gillioz told Synchrotones: “This is not a theme and variations kind of score. The idea is really to wrap the movie in a cold, mad, violent and alienating atmosphere. I tried to create it with the use of tweaked custom sounds, electronics, dissonant orchestra, and metallic percussion. It’s like abstract painting where the texture is key. I tried to stay away from any pathos by having “gestures” tying the score together instead of themes and variations.

One such gesture is a stomping, marching sound created by the double basses slapping the strings against the fingerboard (called Bartok pizz, which sounds similar to col legno, but is created in a different manner). It can be heard around the 1 minute mark in “Storming the Town”. Another recurring motif is a bending brass motif, which can first be heard in “My Son is Sick” and in many cues afterwards (such as “Contaminated”, “Into Darkness” and “Disturbing Intruder”). The pitch bends downwards, reflecting the lead character’s descent into madness. It’s particularly neat when the pitch-shift is combined with staccato performances.

It is hard to single out specific cues as highlights. The score is meticulously put together, with each cue being as good as the next. One’s appreciation for this score will depend entirely on one’s appreciation for horror music. Gillioz has created a multi-layered soundscape that is uneasy yet fascinating. Probably best to listen with headphones, as Gillioz suggests in the album’s booklet. At times it seems to owe a fair bit to James Horner’s “Aliens”. The opening cue “The Zombie Dance” contains harsh brass clusters and (something Horner-fans will see as) a variation on that evil 4-note motif. It’s got a strong rhythmic drive; and as a whole reminds of “Futile Escape”.

Processed sounds, synths and electric guitars (possibly synthesised) add a raw, aggressive edge to the music. “Playing with the Heard in the Sink” is a good example. Bass- and electric guitar remind of John Murphy (who scored the famous zombie flick “28 Days Later”… what is it with zombies and fuzzy guitars?) The composer also paid particular attention to the stereo image – deliberately placing certain sounds out of centre, or move them around during the performance. “Like a Bad Dream” is a good example where Gillioz plays with your senses by moving sounds from one end to the other. That said, there are times when the orchestral elements sound fake. “Zombies in the House” contains some exciting action material, but the staccato strings and sustained horns sound distractingly sampled. There are several other cues where this is the case. Considering the majority of the score sounds live and organic (even many of the synths have an organic quality to them), those moments where it doesn’t are quite distracting.

Is it any good?

It’s not the most pleasant listening experience, but then it’s not meant to be. It is meant to be violent and alienating. Yet it is a very interesting work – dare I say “surprisingly so”? I don’t often expect much from a horror score, so it is quite surprising how this one caught (and held!) my attention. The reason is quite simple – Vincent Gillioz has applied lots of interesting techniques and sounds in his work. He probably could have got away with something simpler, something less demanding; but he didn’t. When I mentioned to him that his score reminds me of “Aliens”, he replied that it reminded him of “Alien 3” in how it experiments with sounds and atmospheres. I can’t disagree with that (some of the synth pads and brass clusters do remind of Goldenthal); though I don’t think it reaches the same musical heights as either of those two classic horror scores. At times I feel the sound quality is letting the score down a little. Some orchestral elements sound sampled; though most don’t. Maybe this is a deliberate juxtaposition, but I find it distracting. I also struggle a little with the overall flow of the music. It rarely seems to gain any real momentum. The nature of horror films is such that the music often has to hit specific on-screen events, which can hinder any musical fluidity. That aside, Vincent Gillioz’ “Collapse” is an aural landscape worth exploring. Clearly a lot of thought and work went into this score. It shows! And it is good fun trying to pick up on the numerous recurring motifs.

Rating [3/5]


01. The Zombie Dance (2:10)
02. Tormented (0:55)
03. My Son is Sick (1:47)
04. Playing with the Head in the Sink (4:16)
05. Storming the Town (1:24)
06. Contaminated (2:00)
07. Police Charge (3:58)
08. Post-Apocalyptic Landscape (3:38)
09. Family Dinner (3:07)
10. Into Darkness (1:36)
11. Sneaking in the Plagued Town (3:46)
12. Listening to the CB Radio (1:34)
13. Aftershock (1:50)
14. Disturbing Intruder (1:33)
15. Zombies in the House (3:11)
16. Like a Bad Dream (2:17)
17. Assailed (2:08)
18. Inauspicious (3:34)
19. Going Out Alone (2:57)
20. Cold House (2:05)
21. Hostile Ride (1:32)
22. Pandemic (1:37)


For more information and audio samples, visit the Howlin’ Wolf Records website.
Find out more about Vincent Gillioz on his website.

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