Baker's Dozen

Artists discuss the 13 records that shaped their lives

Absorbing The Light Of The African American Avant-Garde: Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe’s Baker’s Dozen

In an epic Baker’s Dozen, Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe lets Stewart Smith into the secrets of his Candyman soundtrack, and celebrates Black excellence from Don Cherry to Moor Mother, Olly W. Wilson to Pamela Z

Photo by Chloe Alexandra Thompson

When Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe performs as Lichens or under his own name, he is concerned with transforming a space. That carries over to his film work. On his soundtrack to Nia DaCosta’s reimagining of the Candyman mythos, Lowe creates an atmosphere of terrible beauty by manipulating his vocals into demonic choirs, shadow orchestras and claustrophobic drones, augmented by hypnotic keyboard motifs and bone-chilling percussion. Hugely effective in the context of the film, it also stands up as a superb piece of music in its own right. If there’s any justice, he’ll follow his friend Hildur Guðnadóttir, who plays cello on the soundtrack, to Oscars glory.

Lowe was approached by producers Jordan Peele and Win Rosenfeld for the score. “I love the original [1992] film and I’m also a big fan of Clive Barker’s work in general. It was nice for me because I always like to be as involved as I possibly can be with a film project. Obviously, the film has a legacy. And that’s something that that we wanted to breach in some way, but also keep it separate enough so that this Candyman lived in the universe, but was not necessarily tethered artistically to the original film.”

In addition to using his own voice, Lowe made field recordings in Cabrini Green, the Chicago project where the film is set. “I thought that it would be a really interesting idea to take recordings of the location while the film was shooting to somehow transfer some of that psychic energy into the score. To have it live as a textural element inside of the score. It was all about this idea I had of world building, creating this very specific landscape for the story and the imagery that you were ingesting.”

Lowe also sampled the voices of the actors, morphing them so they were no longer recognisable as human voices or intelligible as words. “I would prompt them with different words or phrases, maybe take a line out of the script and have them recite that in a few different ways.” He describes the results as an incantation. “Say you had a moment where there was a character summoning the Candyman in a mirror, and you would have the sound underneath it. Subliminally you would be getting this apparition underneath that’s carried through the mirror.”

Throughout the soundtrack, Lowe deliberately transforms his sources, so that they never sound entirely human or electronic. “I wanted to blur the lines. It’s something that I find that is very common in my day-to-day practice, this idea of moving sounds around and playing with the concept of illusion, which I think fits very well into the construct of this film. Ideas of reality versus fantasy and actuality versus hypnogogic states, or even playing with these ideas of hypnosis. There were certain moments in the score where you have this sort of humming or whirring sound that was almost lulling. And in certain ways, I use the voice as a siren-like element, this concept of being able to draw you in. I was using processing elements like delays or reverbs, in which I would have them feedback on themselves. And it brought forth this lulling, hypnotic sound. There was nothing harsh or abrasive about it.

“There are other moments where you couldn’t necessarily discern what the sound was or where it was coming from. There’s a scene where Anthony is exploring the row houses at Cabrini Green. He goes into this abandoned building that’s completely graffitied on the inside and he takes a photograph of a spray-painted version of Candyman with a flash. And all the while there’s this sort of rumbling, guttural sound that’s swirling and bubbling up around him. It’s almost like he was awakening the demon. It being a genre film, there are tropes that you can lean into. The age old jumpscares, what have you. I wanted to be able to take sounds and bring that unease or that dread without it being too obvious. I wanted it to be able to seep into your bones. I wanted to play with sound in a psycho acoustic manner, so it was exciting the ear in these different ways, like high pitches for your nerve endings, or low rumbles for the physical force of it.”

For his Baker’s Dozen, Lowe has chosen the theme, “Absorbing The Light Of The African-American Avant Garde.” Each of the selections has a strong emotional resonance for him, and reflect his desire to have the achievements of black artists properly recognised. “Often when people think of the avant-garde, it seems almost homogenous and very white,” he observes. “And there were so many African-American artists at the time that were doing things that were just as valid and should have have found their place in the canon that haven’t necessarily, or at least, they’re not talked about in the way that their white contemporaries were. So that’s where it comes from, just being able to give light to these artists who were doing things that were on a level playing field with any of these white artists or composers at the time, and then also reaching into contemporary work, like the Honourable Elizabeth A. Baker or Moor Mother. There’s so much out there.”

Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe’s Candyman OST is released in March via Waxworld Records. He has also provided music for Rashaad Newsome’s new installation at the Armory in New York, which runs from Feb 18 to March 6. To begin reading his Baker’s Dozen, click the picture of him below

First Record

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