Black Mirror composer Ben Salisbury is the go-to-guy for dystopia
Ben Salisbury must know a thing or two about dystopia by now.
He was recently tapped to work on the soundtrack for Charlie Brooker’s lauded tech-horror series Black Mirror alongside his friend, and longtime collaborator, Geoff Barrow. The pair have previously worked together on Alex Garland’s award-winning tale of robots-gone-awry Ex-Machina and are currently scoring his upcoming sci-fi flick Annihilation. Their blend of lush instrumentation and looming drones seems to have landed them the role of go-to-guys for a new breed of unsettling, dystopian nightmares.
I caught up with Ben to find out what it was like to work with Charlie Brooker, what we can expect from the episode of Black Mirror he scored and whether or not he’s ready to be typecast as Mr Dystopia.
How did you get to work on Black Mirror?
Me and Geoff have always been fans of Black Mirror, it’s always been on our radar. I think, one day Geoff was speaking to Clint Mansell and he said he was scoring an episode of Black Mirror and we thought we’d like a piece of that so we just literally got in touch with them and said “Would you be up for us doing one?” And they jumped on it. I think Charlie Brooker and Annabel [Jones], the producer, they were into us and the director of the episode we did, Jakob [Verbruggen], he loved Ex-Machina and our work on Ex-Machina. We had a short amount of time to do it but it was only a single episode rather than, you know, doing a whole massive TV series or feature film so it worked out perfectly.
So did you get to work closely with Charlie Brooker?
It was mainly the director, Jakob, but Charlie was there at the beginning and he sort of set out a style for it so he would hear everything definitely. We just most of the directing came from the director himself and in the final mix Charlie had the final say but they were so, it doesn’t always work out like this but they love everything we did so it wasn’t problematic. Sometimes directors and producers want to stick their oar in or there’ll be a difference of opinion between the director and execs but there was none of that working on this. Everyone made it a real pleasure to work on and it was really interesting.
Did you get a chance to see the episode before you started work?
We got sent the scripts actually. We knew we’d only have time to do one. They’d already got some great composers on the others ones including Clint Mansell, Max Richter and more but they sent us a few scripts that were sort of left without composers on them and we thought this one was really good so we went to see it and worked from there. It was a great team to work with, they knew exactly what they wanted and we had a very clear idea from the very beginning after our first viewing of it so it all went fairly smoothly to be honest.
Your episode is called Men Against Fire. What’s it about?
It’s very difficult to talk about without giving too much away. it’s sort of a zombie movie but actually it’s really about the military and dehumanisation and how the military dehumanise. There are lots of ties to things that are happening today and things that are likely to happen in the future.
Black Mirror has almost become part of the zeitgeist. I so often find myself saying “Oh that’s a bit Black Mirror.”
You’re right, it has taken on that mantel.
Almost like it’s swapped round from Black Mirror being a crystal ball to people using the show’s title as a synonym for scary stuff that’s already happening.
He’s very clever like that Charlie Brooker. Many of the thing things you see in the new series have relevance to things that are happening right now and what’s unfolding right now. That’s what’s so clever about the episode we worked on. You’ll immediately recognise what’s relevant to the things that are going on in the news today and also how believable the technology incorporated is. It’s frightening. Thats the way of the century I suppose, how frightening our technology can be and man’s application of that. It’s sort of what Ex-Machina was about as well. Maybe we’re getting typecast.
I’ve thought about that before actually. You’re becoming the go-to-guys for dystopian drama… I know you’re about to do Annihilation too. Does that fit in?
Yeah we have been working alongside Alex Garland on Annihilation which is actually, you know, it’s fairly different and actually with the nature of our music we’re naturally going to be drawn towards that kind of thing but they are all very different. Even though the Black Mirror guys loved our work on Ex-Machina and it does have some musical similarities. The Black Mirror soundtrack needed a much more human feel to it though so we’ve got lots of strings in there, lots of cello. They come from the same sort of thick, wall of instrumentation and a similar musical palette but they’re actually very different. It’s the same with Annihilation it’s very different from anything we’ve done at the moment. It’s all great opportunities to do different things.
Are you worried about being typecast?
If we get typecast as people who wanna work on interesting films, whatever they may be, and provide a soundtrack that’s slightly less standard than your average Hollywood film then that’s not a bad tag to be typecast with.