I am a composer originally from Perth, now based in Melbourne. I hold a Masters degree in composition from the West Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) where I studied for 10 years. Primarily a pianist with a background in jazz, classical composition and orchestration, I have worked extensively in the film and theatre field since 2008. I have an interest in new music, electronics, sound design, recording techniques and cult soundtracks and have incorporated this into my composition practice.
As a film composer I have composed music for several independent feature films and was nominated for a West Australian Screen Award four times [2009, 2010, 2011, 2014], winning in 2009 for my work on the independent horror/comedy The Director’s Cut.
My score for Australian independent feature film Sororal  has been labelled “some of the most refreshing and eclectic horror music to be heard in a contemporary film” (Mikael Carlsson – MovieScore Media). The soundtrack gained international interest, being released by acclaimed soundtrack label Screamworks Records (Sweden). It was also nominated for Feature Film Score of The Year at the 2014 APRA Screen Music Awards alongside David Hirschfelder's The Railway Man and Christopher Gordon's Adoration.
My credits include 15 short films, four feature films (most recently The Burning Kiss [2014, currently in postproduction]), and five Melbourne theatre productions. Recently I received a Green Room Award for Best Music & Sound for my work on Dream Home.
Currently I’m working on a one-voice opera based on the 18-hour video diaries of Björk Stalker Ricardo Lopez.
As a side project I lead Melbourne’s only 7-piece exotica band SLIDE NIGHT, who perform kitsch exotica music from the 1950s and 60s. Since 2013 SLIDE NIGHT have gained a strong reputation for their unique blend of armchair travel music, quirky covers and dark original material. We released our debut EP Quiet Village – Savage Sounds in February 2016.
Film Projects & Collaboration
I have been fortunate so far in my career to have worked on some very unique independent film projects. Several of these projects have called for my involvement early in the pre-production phase, which is my preference. This has been a huge advantage in that the dialogue and camaraderie between the director and myself is fine tuned by the time I begin to compose the score.
In Sororal director Sam Barrett and I began working shortly after the script was finalised. From there we began sharing different genres of music to listen to and I watched a long list of films that Sam had prepared for me. Sororal is Australia’s first giallo film. Giallo is a style of Italian thriller popular in the 1960s and 70s and has a loosely definably set of characteristics – one of which is a fondness for unique, sometimes outrageous music that often mixes groovy lounge music and nerve-jangling discord, with soothing lyricism. It was important that we had a set of shared references (both filmic and purely musical) that we could draw upon when working together on the score.
Having a long gestation period before composing helped to create a very unique score that mixes progressive rock, kraut-rock, Bulgarian choir music, 20th Century avant-garde classical works and classic giallo scores. The result, as scriptwriter for Wolf Creek 2 Aaron Sterns states is “haunting, eerie and yet discordantly beautiful… a masterpiece in re-imagined giallo.”
For the summer noir film The Burning Kiss Director Robbie Studsor approached me as early as 2012. He had a very specific musical genre in mind to underscore his film – exotica music of the 1950s and 60s. At that stage I was very unfamiliar with that genre of American music and therefore had to spend a large amount of time researching.
Although the resulting score has strong ties to the exotica music of Les Baxter and Martin Denny it also drew influence from Delia Derbyshire’s radiophonic work, classic Bernard Herrmann and some of John Zorn’s more pulp influenced work. The best way to describe the end result is Tropical noir-nightmare! This melting pot of influences was the result of early collaboration and the sharing of musical material over an extended period.
The generosity of time given by some of the directors I’ve worked with and their foresight to include me early in the production has resulted in fruitful collaborations and more importantly interesting and well-crafted film scores. The fluid sharing of filmic and musical references, at times as early as the script stage, has resulted in shared experiences. These experiences become tools that can be used during discussions that relate to the specific film score at hand. I believe this way of working has been the key to some of Hollywood’s greatest director/composer collaborators, such as Alfred Hitchcock and Bernard Herrmann, David Cronenberg and Howard Shore, Sergio Leone and Ennio Morricone to name a few.
Theatre & Sound design
With a few exceptions, my theatre work has combined music and sound design to create emotive and immersive live experiences. I’m very excited by the possibilities of sound in live theatre – sound can be an amazing tool that can be used to augment the physical world and suggest a larger physical reality. Where as sets are costly and fairly time consuming to construct sound design can suggest time and place just as effectively (if not more so) and at a fraction of the effort and cost.
When real world sounds are required, I endeavour to capture sounds on location for use in the theatre. During my work on Dream Home I spent some time recording very close perspective recordings of beehives. These sounds were incorporated very subtly into the overall texture of the soundtrack and were necessary to suggest a strange presence inside the wall of the suburban house where the story is set.
The music in Dream Home features four electric guitars, two harps, percussion and a solo bass flute. The music at times creates feelings of nostalgic sadness and at others existential horror with an undercurrent of extreme suppressed violence.
In Persona space was very limited as the play took place inside a shipping container. Persona featured only two onstage actors; through sound we were able to include two other characters by prerecording spoken text. The Matron overseeing Alma’s work at the hospital was prerecorded in my studio and triggered live as the play unfolded. Elizabeth’s husband was also prerecorded and then manipulated to sound as though his voice was coming from an onstage radio, with tuning sounds interjecting between phrases. This was a great way to creatively augment the world of the play without resorting to cumbersome stage changeovers, which, given the limited space at our disposal, was not practical.
Other sounds used to augment the physical space of the show were ocean/beach sounds, outside atmos, hospital ward recordings and rain to name a few.
I believe sound design and composition can be combined in interesting ways to not only suggest time and place but also extend and augment the emotional aspects of a story. I’m excited by these possibilities and look forward to further projects combining the two roles in the future.
“The Sororal soundtrack is haunting, eerie and yet discordantly beautiful. Goblin, Tangerine Dream and Morricone can be creepy; this is mind-bending. It’s as if de Groot is channeling Goblin, yet elevating their sound into a modern, more orchestral complexity. ‘Diana Rolls into Town’, for instance, is a masterpiece in re-imagined giallo: histrionic and yet assured and gripping. It makes my head hurt.”
Aaron Sterns – Scriptwriter, Wolf Creek 2