The Weird, Unsettling Music of ‘Loki’: Composer Natalie Holt Breaks Down the Marvel Series’ Score

·4-min read

How do you score a show that tinkers with time, features a Norse god who is neither hero nor villain, and continually confounds the viewer with new mysteries?

That was the challenge facing English composer Natalie Holt, who with her music for “Loki” becomes only the second woman to compose the dramatic score for a Marvel Cinematic Universe film or TV series (after Pinar Toprak, who scored 2019’s “Captain Marvel”).

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The music of “Loki” is a bold combination of a traditional orchestra with vintage analog synthesizers, Scandinavian folk instruments and the weird, unsettling electronic sounds of the theremin, once associated with ’50s sci-fi movies.

“He’s a kind of grand, Machiavellian character,” Holt tells Variety from her London studio. “And Tom Hiddleston’s performance has a touch of Shakespeare to it. So I wanted to give him some gravitas and classical weight to his theme, but also have this space-age sound as well.”

<img class="size-full wp-image-1235009502" src="https://variety.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/NatalieHolt-e1625100820531.jpg&quot; alt=" - Credit: Natalie Holt" width="1000" height="669" srcset="https://variety.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/NatalieHolt-e1625100820531.jpg 1000w, https://variety.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/NatalieHolt-e1625100820531.jpg?resize=150,100 150w, https://variety.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/06/NatalieHolt-e1625100820531.jpg?resize=300,201 300w" sizes="(min-width: 87.5rem) 1000px, (min-width: 78.75rem) 681px, (min-width: 48rem) 450px, (max-width: 48rem) 250px" />Natalie Holt

Holt had been listening to 1950s theremin virtuoso Clara Rockmore and had one day hoped to utilize it in a score. So she was surprised to learn that “Loki” director Kate Herron was also “keen to involve the theremin in the soundtrack.”

The unusual instrument was heard in such Hollywood classics as “Spellbound” and “The Day the Earth Stood Still” and, more recently, in the Apollo 11 movie “First Man.” “The character of it just seemed to suit the score,” Holt says.

In addition, Holt and Herron saw similarities between the Norse god of mischief and the character of Alex, famously played by Malcolm McDowell in the 1971 Stanley Kubrick film “A Clockwork Orange.” She says, “He does these horrific things, yet you feel this empathy for him, you can almost forgive him, and his redemption feels painful.”

Wendy Carlos’ Moog synthesizer sounds for the Kubrick classic became another key influence on the score as a result.

Holt began, last August, by creating a “suite” of themes that represented the antihero Loki, his new nemesis/partner Mobius (Owen Wilson), the mysterious Time Variance Authority (TVA) and variant Sylvie (Sophia Di Martino). This became the blueprint for much of what she would write for the series over the next six months.

The concept of time, and the possibility of altering a timeline, is central to the series premise, and so the sounds of a ticking clock (actually samples of different clocks, notes the composer) appear in the TVA theme.

Holt’s research into Norse mythology also led to the use of two Norwegian instruments, the hardanger fiddle and stringed nyckelharpa, to suggest Loki’s Asgardian home and his late mother Frigga.

The entire score was created remotely, with Holt working in her studio; other musicians contributing theremin, synthesizer, guitar and drum sounds from various locations; and the Budapest Film Orchestra supplying a traditional symphonic foundation.

“I love those really powerful forces coming together, giving something like the weight of [opera composer Richard] Wagner, but with this unusual twisty edge,” says Holt.

Classically trained as a violinist at the Royal Academy of Music and in composition at the National Film and Television School, Holt confesses that she prefers to sketch her musical ideas on paper. “I’m so old school,” she says with a laugh.

That enabled her to design a score that started with the finale and worked backwards from there. “I had the theme for the end very early on,” she says. The final two episodes, due July 7 and 14, also feature a 32-voice choir, she reveals.

Holt was a 2017 Emmy nominee for music in the PBS series “Victoria,” and has completed work on a Netflix film, “Fever Dream,” slated for release later this year.

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