'Don't Breathe' Composer on Turning Household Appliances Into Scary Instruments

Courtesy of Roque Banos 
Roque Banos plays with experimental musical instruments made by Alex Ferris, used for the score for Don’t Breathe. 

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. Or in the case of Roque Banos, a musical treasure trove.

To score the horror movie, Don’t Breathe, opening Aug. 26, the Spanish composer turned to instruments made out of household appliances and items collected from cars, grills, farming equipment and other gadgets, many of them salvaged from junk yards. The idea was to create a musical level of dread from seemingly innocent, inanimate objects. 

The film, which stars Jane Levy and Stephen Lang, is about three young adults trapped in a blind man’s house after they break in to rob him. They mistakenly seek refuge in the basement, which turns out to be even creepier -- and deadly -- than they could possibly imagine. Each sound, from a creaking floor board to an appliance’s hum becomes a potential harbinger of disaster.

“Anything you could find in a house that could make a noise, that noise makes music," Banos says. “The house, in a way, becomes alive, saying, ‘You are not going to escape from here.’”  

Banos, who recently scored Ron Howard’s In The Heart Of The Sea,  collaborated with Tucson, Arizona-based musician/inventor Alex Ferris, founder of Anarchestra, who has designed and built nearly 100 instruments from unlikely materials, to find just the right sounds.

For example, one of the instruments Banos used in the score is called the Reroar, a creation Ferris built from a sheep tank used for watering flocks on ranches as a base below suspended bells of varying sizes cut from propane tanks and air compressor tanks. The bells change pitch, becoming lower as they are immersed in the water tank. The result is a sound unlike any other score.

“Some of the instruments are stringed, others make their noise from being hit. Others make sounds from scratching the metal,”  says Banos, who studied at Boston’s Berklee School of Music. “We have a bunch of new instruments that have never been used in a movie.”

Ferris was already familiar with Banos from his score for, appropriately enough, The Machinist, which he greatly admired. Working with him on Don’t Breathe increased his respect.

“He has a curiosity, enthusiasm, intensity, and imagination about sound that's at once childlike in its intuitiveness and deeply analytical in its professionalism,” Ferris says. “He’s very quick to grasp the sonic possibilities and applications of any instrument, no matter how unfamiliar it might be. There are musicians who execute well but don't really listen and there are musicians who listen well but don't really hear and then there are musicians like Roque who are always engaged on all of those planes.”  

Banos, who won a 2015 Gaudi -- the Spanish equivalent of the Oscar -- for best original score for 2014’s El Nino, previously worked with Don’t Breathe director Fede Alvarez on his 2013 remake of Evil Dead.  The key to scoring a horror movie, Banos says, is creating a sense of empathy.

“You have to always be with the person that is in there. You have to feel what he or she feels. So whatever you use -- whatever sound, whatever melody, instrument -- the main purpose of the music is to make the audience feel what they character feels. Sometimes you don’t have to say, 'Oh, this is really scary!' if you just put the sound to what that character feels, you feel like that too.”

Lakeshore will release the score for Don’t Breathe later this year.