Causeway Composer on How Cellos and a Princess Piano Tell a Story of Postwar PTSD

In Lila Neugebauer’s film “Causeway,” Jennifer Lawrence and Brian Tyree-Henry play two people adrift in their lives who develop a relationship. The score, which relies heavily on slowed cello music, helps to capture the emotional lives of these people dealing with their trauma. At IndieWire’s Consider This FYC Brunch in Los Angeles, the film’s composer Alex Somers described the cellos as the key to unlocking the sound of the film.

“We started recording layer after layer of cellos and building masses of cellos,” Somers told IndieWire Crafts and Animation Editor Bill Desowitz at IndieWire’s Consider This FYC Brunch. “And then I slowed it all down, and that’s when Lila felt the lightbulb go on, and she was like, ‘This is the sound.’ So it was just exploring and experimenting with cool musicians and friends of mine.”

At the brunch, Somers talked about the other important musical elements that made their way into the film. Several key moments of the score use what he called a “princess piano,” a “comically” small piano from Japan. In general, Somers said that once he had the actual music recorded, that only constituted half of what the score sounded like. He then used samplers and computers to slow and reverse many moments in the score to work best for each scene.

“Fifty percent of the sound is how it is when it’s recorded, and then kind of the rest of it is what you do with it,” Somers said. “Slowing things down, or reversing them, or processing them, or changing their sonic fingerprints. That’s a big part of what I do.”

One element missing from the film’s score? Percussion, which appears very sparsely. According to Somers, that decision was made because he wanted the score to have an airier, more light quality that percussion would have taken away from.

“I’m always deemphasizing percussion,” Somers said. “I love percussion, and I have percussionists I work with who I adore. But in general, I love to see what can happen when we strip away things like heavy drums and see what can happen when we get floaty.”

“Causeway” is currently streaming on Apple TV+.

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