Interview with 'The First Omen' composer Mark Korven

In this interview with 1428 Elm, Mark Korven delves into the eerie realm of composing for the macabre film "The First Omen."
Mark Korven - Courtesy White Bear PR
Mark Korven - Courtesy White Bear PR /

In the dimly lit corridors of horror cinema, the spine-chilling sounds of Mark Korven echo, evoking a sense of dread and unease. In this nterview with 1428 Elm, Korven delves into the eerie realm of composing for the macabre, offering insights into his creative process and the haunting score of the critically approved The First Omen, directed by Arkasha Stevenson, and starring Nell Tiger Free, Tawfeek Barhom, Sônia Braga, Ralph Ineson, and Bill Nighy.

The film, known already for its birthing scene and body horror elements, should also be known for its memorable score. Embracing uncertainty and dissonance, Korven shares how he aimed to create an atmosphere of unpredictability, weaving together atonal elements and unconventional sound design to immerse viewers in a world of terror.

Interview with The First Omen composer Mark Korven

1428 ELM: What inspired you to pursue a career in composing, particularly in the realm of horror films?

MARK KORVEN: It was accidental. The first movie I ever scored just fell into my lap. Same thing with my first horror film. It just happened. Not that I didn’t struggle. I was an overnight success after 35 years in the business.

1428 ELM: Could you walk us through your creative process when scoring a horror film like The First Omen?

MARK KORVEN: It was very unusual. Typically the process starts with “spotting”, which is deciding where a music cue begins and ends, together with the emotional architecture of it. Does it have a pulse? How tense, mysterious, dark, joyful it is, etc., and any changes that happen within that cue, and where.

Because of covid, and the SAG strike, and reshoots, all of that went out the window, and spotting came very late in the game, well after I’d written a ton of music. So then it became the process of piecing things together and seeing what worked. Like every other composer, I’ll sketch ideas out using electronics. These days, it’s all very detailed, and today’s sketches can sound pretty close to the completed score. Then once I have approvals from the director, it’s transcribed, orchestrated and prepared for the orchestra.

1428 ELM: You mentioned aiming to create an atmosphere of uncertainty and unpredictability with your score. How do you achieve this effect musically?

MARK KORVEN: I achieve it through my own uncertainty. I am not a traditional composer at all. I’m very improvisatory, and I let my fingers be my guide, always looking for unusual harmony, or melodies that are unfamiliar.

Scoring The First Omen was like fingerpainting

1428 ELM: Could you elaborate on the decision to use atonal and aleatoric elements in your score for The First Omen?

MARK KORVEN: That was pretty much driven by Arkasha Stevenson, the director. She loved what I composed for The Witch, and she wanted a very dissonant, aleatoric score. I agreed with this approach, since the movie itself was quite strange, and a more traditional score would’ve felt inappropriate. Also, it’s something I love doing.

It’s in my wheelhouse, and the Jerry Goldsmith approach is completely not in my wheelhouse. (As much as I did love the score for the original Omen).

1428 ELM: How did you approach integrating unconventional sound design elements, such as the samples of opening an old ironing board, into the orchestration?

MARK KORVEN: It’s like finger painting really. You just combine textures until it pleases the eye, or in this case, freaks you out. It’s easier when the more traditional instruments, like strings and choir are doing very strange things. Then the blend of my personal homemade weirdness is much easier.

Monsters are easier to write motifs for than normal people

THE FIRST OMEN - © 2024 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.
THE FIRST OMEN. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2024 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved. /

1428 ELM: Can you discuss the motifs you created for specific characters and themes in the film, such as the jackal and the church? How did you develop and weave these motifs into the score?

MARK KORVEN: The jackal had the most easily identifiable motifs I think, such as the very low bass voices, and the ancient Roman brass. Monsters are easier to write motifs for than normal people. Sister Anjelica (Ishtar Currie-Wilson) also had her own motif, which was the woodblocks. A little kooky and unhinged, just like she was (God rest her soul). The church was mostly Gregorian voices and choir, but always twisted. A mix of traditional with imbalance.

1428 ELM: Director Arkasha Stevenson wanted something special and original from the music while paying homage to the original Jerry Goldsmith score. How did you balance these two objectives in your composition?

MARK KORVEN: Well, again, Arkasha wasn’t looking to do anything Goldsmithian for this. She was really sold on a very uncompromising dissonant score. I was pushing a little bit to insert a bit more melody into the score. So there was some give and take there.

There’s always some push and pull between the director and composer in a film score. It’s healthy to have your convictions challenged a little, I think. Regardless, we wound up with a final score that we’re both very pleased with.

1428 ELM: What challenges did you face when working on The First Omen compared to your previous projects in the horror genre?

MARK KORVEN: The main challenge really was finding that balance between the dissonant and consonant. When is going aleatoric appropriate, and when is it a better fit to be a little more melodic. The orchestral part of it was very new for me, being that it was orchestral score. Usually my approach is much more home studio workshop, not a huge studio like AIR in London. It was a wonderful experience recording there.

Nell Tiger Free as Margaret in 20th Century Studios' THE FIRST OMEN. Photo by Moris Puccio. © 2024 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved. /

1428 ELM: Could you share any memorable moments or anecdotes from the scoring sessions for this film?

MARK KORVEN: The playback of the mixed score was the best moment. We played Arkasha one of the cues, and I could tell that she was very emotionally moved by it. That was a golden moment.

1428 ELM: How do you see the role of music in enhancing the overall cinematic experience, particularly in horror films like The First Omen?

MARK KORVEN: It’s all subtext. Often I write what isn’t on screen. In the case of horror, it’s the evil that’s lurking that we can’t actually see. Or, what’s going on behind a character’s eyes, or perhaps the world of their imagination that isn’t actually real.

The First Omen is still playing in most theaters (as of this publishing April 11, 2024).

Next. Soundtrack for The First Omen releasing on vinyl. The soundtrack for The First Omen is available on vinyl. dark