Interview: Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever (2023) composer Ceiri Torjussen

composer Ceiri Torjussen - CR: David Ash
composer Ceiri Torjussen - CR: David Ash /

Ceiri Torjussen, an acclaimed composer whose work has graced major films like I, Robot and The Day After Tomorrow, sits down with 1428 Elm to discuss his journey into the world of music composition, and his work on the recent film Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever, directed by Ole Bornedal and starring Fanny Leander Bornedal, Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, and Alex Høgh Andersen. Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever is currently streaming on Shudder (as of May 31, 2024).

1428 ELM: What inspired you to become a composer, and how did your upbringing in Cardiff influence your musical journey?

CEIRI TORJUSSEN: I inherited a love of music from both my parents. My mother played piano (and my grandmother was a methodist chapel organist), so the practical music-making came from her side. My dad on the other hand was a wide music lover and had a very eclectic record collection – everything from Pink Floyd to Penderecki. As a result, I began devouring music (on vinyl!) from a pretty early age.

I started playing trumpet and piano at around 8 years old and was soon playing in the local youth ensembles (brass bands, orchestras and jazz bands). I also picked up the saxophone along the way and started really getting into jazz on sax and trumpet. Since piano practice was harder work for me, I soon began improvising at the piano and composing my own pieces. This developed into writing a string quartet (based on Kafka’s Metamorphosis), which was the first piece of mine I ever heard performed. I knew from then on that I wanted to be a professional composer.

My dad worked for the Welsh regional TV station as a director/producer. I developed an interest in music technology as a teenager and thought it might be fun to try my hand at composing for the screen. Amazingly my dad let me score one of his projects, which was my first foray into writing for the media, and was very exciting for me. I knew that I wanted to study music at University (theory, composition, history, analysis), so I went to the University of York, UK to do my undergrad in music. I then came to LA to do a masters in composition at USC. I never formally studied film music, but instead learnt on the job.

1428 ELM: You've worked on major films like I, Robot and The Day After Tomorrow. Can you share a memorable experience from working on these blockbusters?

CEIRI TORJUSSEN: Actually, a more memorable experience was working on Guillermo del Toro’s Blade 2 and Hellboy. My film-scoring mentor, (and first employer), Marco Beltrami was the composer and we recorded both scores at the FOX scoring stage with an 80-piece orchestra. Marco would be on the stand conducting and Guillermo would be sitting in the booth, swearing and cracking jokes the whole time. It was a hoot. As an orchestrator, I was there to serve Marco’s needs. It was Marco who would have to interface with Guillermo and try to interpret the Mexican maestro’s notes. It was quite a learning experience!

The creative process for scoring Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever and other films

NIGHTWATCH: DEMONS ARE FOREVER - Poster - Courtesy Shudder /

1428 ELM: Can you describe your creative process when composing for a film? How do you approach creating a score that enhances the story and emotions on screen?

CEIRI TORJUSSEN: It all starts with story. What is the film saying, what are its narrative themes, who are the characters, what are the rhythms of its editing? The director is my conduit into this, and my role as composer is to help him/her get across their creative vision of the film. That said, sometimes during the process that creative vision can alter or evolve as production and post progresses, so things are always in flux. Also, while I am there to serve the needs of the director, the magic for me is when I come up with something musically that nobody had anticipated. A sound, or a theme or a cue that sheds new light on a scene, or enhances it in such a way that it elevates it beyond what the picture, dialog and sound are capable of.

Sometime enhancing a scene with music works by just pushing the emotions a little higher. Sometimes score is able to tell us something that the characters are not saying, or even more interestingly, not even feeling…yet. We’re able to telescope plot points, emotional arcs, character themes and link different parts of a story together using unique themes or sounds (i.e. leitmotifs). We’re able to move a scene along that feels dragging by using more propulsive or ‘busy’ music. Contrarily we can slow a scene down or make a violent or scary scene seem beautiful or poetic. Such is the power of a good film score, and it’s something I strive to do in all my projects: bring something to the table that the filmmakers might not have thought of.

1428 ELM: How do you collaborate with directors and other key members of a film's production team to ensure the music aligns with their vision?

CEIRI TORJUSSEN: Aside from what I discussed above, on the practical side it’s all about communication. My ideal scenario is to start on a project early: either while they’re in production (before the edit even starts), or even better, in pre-production. It’s amazing how liberating it can be to write music with no picture, but with just an ‘idea’ in your head about what the film is like, having just read the script and discussed at length with the director. Of course, this music may be way off tonally once I actually see picture, but it may not be. And if some of this music comes close, then for the editors to use this as they start to cut picture is invaluable.

Once a cut of the film is ready (be it a rough cut, or a locked picture) I meet with the director and often the editor for a music spotting session. That’s when we discuss where each music cue should (or could) go, for how long, and perhaps what kind of music is needed. From then on the ball’s completely in my court as I start to create the final score for the film. I’ll send cues to the filmmakers and we’ll discuss any notes or issues that might arise. It’s very much a collaborative, back-and-forth process. By the end (hopefully!), I produce a completed score that everyone is happy with.

Coming up with original composition ideas

1428 ELM: What drew you to the sequel of Nightwatch, and how did you approach scoring for this film compared to other projects?

CEIRI TORJUSSEN: I’d co-scored Ole Bornedal’s previous film, The Bombardment (Netflix) along with my friends Marco Beltrami and Buck Sanders. The Bombardment is an excellent, Danish WW2-period film about an RAF raid on Copenhagen. Ole liked what I’d done on The Bombardment and so asked me to score Nightwatch: Demons are Forever. It was an exciting opportunity for me.

Compared to the original (1994) film we went in a completely new direction. Ole didn't want me to reference the original film in terms of themes or sound, so I had pretty much a blank slate from which to start. More than anything Ole wanted me to experiment and create a unique sound for the film.

I was brought onboard way into post, once they already had a rough cut of the film. Ole was very open-minded about how the score should sound. He did give me some notes as to where he thought music could come in/out, so these were some good guideposts to start from. Also, a cool thing about this film was that Ole and Anders Villadsen (his editor) had used almost no 'temp music' as they were editing. This was very refreshing for me since most of the films I score often come with a temp score from early in the edit. It's nice not to feel influenced or creatively confined by a temp score so I'm thankful for that.

1428 ELM: Emma is a central character in Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever. Did you create specific musical themes for her and other main characters? If so, could you elaborate on them?

CEIRI TORJUSSEN: Yes, I did. Emma has a rather lyrical theme, first heard on piano. However, other characters’ themes are quite abstract. For example, the arch-villain, Wörmer, has a slowly undulating texture of low bassoons, bass clarinets and dark analog synths. Kind of a sinister wheezing which I thought was befitting this old, evil character.

For the creepy character of Bent, we thought it would be fun to represent him as some kind of insect. Since moths make an appearance in both this and the original (Nightwatch) film from 1994, I decided to use moth wings and buzzes as the basis for a new, unique sound to represent Bent.

I recorded a local moth near our house in Topanga Canyon and was able to manipulate the source sound by pitching it down several octaves and varying the speed. It turns out that moth wings end up having a cool, sinister rhythm if pitched and slowed-down intensely. This became one of the signature sounds in the score.

I also made use of “infinite glissandos”. The idea is to have a pitch that sounds like it’s constantly ascending or descending ad infinitum. I did this using Shepard/Risset tones – superimposed sine waves that continuously slide up/down and seem to go on forever. Doubling these synthesized sounds with strings created a creepy effect that continuously built tension.

Overcoming challenges

NIGHTWATCH: DEMONS ARE FOREVER - Still 9 - Courtesy Shudder /

1428 ELM: What were the biggest challenges you faced while composing for Nightwatch: Demons Are Forever, and how did you overcome them?

CEIRI TORJUSSEN: Ole was very cautious about the score not sounding clichéd at all, so I really had to think outside of the box as far as the sounds I used and also where the music came in and out. It took a lot of experimenting, and some ‘trial and error’ but I got there in the end!

1428 ELM: How has the landscape of film music changed since you started your career, and what trends or developments excite you the most?

CEIRI TORJUSSEN: Gosh that’s a big question. I guess it’s a twofold answer:

I think increasingly, especially in more ‘genre’ films like horror, action, sci-fi, etc, I’ve noticed how a lot of film scores have almost become like just another part of the film’s soundtrack – i.e. a very much ‘supportive’ role, not drawing too much attention to itself, no big melodies or bold statements. More like ‘visceral support’ to the film’s action, as opposed to an artistic statement in itself.
While being ‘supportive’ has always been a crucial part of what film music needs to do, I think it’s a shame that (for whatever reason) strong melodies and bold musical statements are often shied away from these days. I always aim to serve the picture but also to enhance it in a novel, creative and bold way.

Technology has come on leaps and bounds in the last 25 years. When I first started out, creating a ‘real’ sounding orchestra in a composer’s studio was a herculean struggle, requiring several computers and hours and hours of tedious programming. Even then the result was barely passable, and always recognizable as digital samples, suitable only as a mockup (or, due to necessity, being the ‘final product’ on countless low-budget films).

These days though, samples are so good that many times not only filmmakers but even other musicians cannot tell the difference between sampled and real instruments. Also, synths and novel methods of creating new sounds have come on leaps and bounds. You can manipulate any sound in so many ways that any sound can now be considered an ‘instrument’ to be played with – stretched, bent, granulated, and thrown into the blender.

Of course, even today nothing can replace real musicians or a full live symphony orchestra and (I hope!) nothing ever will. But the ease with which we’re now able to both ‘mockup’ orchestras and also create new, unique sounds out of anything makes our craft very exciting.

Key advice

1428 ELM: What advice would you give to aspiring composers who want to break into the film industry?

CEIRI TORJUSSEN: 1. Have an independent source of income for as long as you’re able because, chances are, you won’t earn a living wage for a good while when you’re starting out (unless you get very lucky or are best friends with a top director/showrunner).
2. Spend as much time learning your technology as you spend learning your craft. Both are essential to do the job.
3. Don’t do it unless you love it and are willing to spend every waking (and sleeping) moment in your studio for a very long time.

1428 ELM: Are there any upcoming projects or collaborations you’re particularly excited about?

CEIRI TORJUSSEN: I’ll be scoring season 3 of the hit Netflix show Delhi Crime in the near future. I scored season 2 in 2022 and it was great fun. Season 3 promises to be bigger, better, and even more fun.

[WARNING: This trailer contains adult language and dustirbing images]

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