Michael Abels is the composer for Jordan Peele’s Get Out. At the 2018 Sundance Film Festival we sat down with Michael Abels inside the ASCAP Music Cafe to discuss his craft and working with Jordan Peele.
Michael Abels: Well, I have been primarily been known as a composer of concert music. Music for live performance. I write a lot of orchestral music because I just enjoy the challenge of doing that. I think it is extraordinary when groups of musicians who are so well trained all play music together.
So anyway, Jordan Peele saw some of my orchestral music live performances on Youtube and he had the producers of Get Out hunt me down and give me a call. After I returned their call after I looked them up to make sure I wasn’t being punked (laughs) I gave them a call and they asked if I wanted to read the script and I said “Hell yeah!”
The script I read is about 90% of what you see in the finished film. It was just the most remarkable script that I had ever read. So I met Jordan and he is also just about the greatest guy you could ever meet. And so I thought between those two things it is a no-brainer, I would love to participate in this. And I was just doing it because I thought it was such a great, important script to see executed and because I wanted it out there in the world with a really well told story. I had no idea it would be received so well by people. So all this year after the film has been released has just been amazing and gratifying and remarkable.
Jordan, as now everyone knows but back then nobody knew is that he is a huge fan of suspense and horror and he has seen every film in the genre and is also a student of all the music. He is very much aware of what makes music effective in a film. And so we were able to sit down right away in our first meeting just over a hamburger and really have a great conversation about the power of music and what makes scary music. And so he started out saying “I just want it to be scary as shit.” And then the next thing he said is “I really want the African American voice to be present both literally and figuratively in this film.” And so we talked about that and we kind of came up with this concept of what I call gospel horror. Meaning a style of music where you can clearly tell it is the African American voice and African American singing yet at the same time just really scary without any hope of uplift to it.