Shedding the skin of Dominik Scherrer’s score for “The Serpent”

Dominik Scherrer "The Serpent" composer Dominik Scherrer.

Welcome back to the Spool’s weekly interview podcast, More of a Comment, Really…, where editor-in-chief Clint Worthington talks to actors, filmmakers, composers and other figures from the realm of film and television.

From 1963 to 1976, famed French serial killer Charles Sobhraj traveled the so-called Hippie Trail, the path counterculture enthusiasts took through Southeast Asia in the 1970s to escape the conformity of Western life and seek transcendence and culture in the Far East. There, he killed at least twelve people, gaining their trust with his good looks and charm before drugging them and eventually killing them after taking their valuables — often with the help of accomplice Ajay Choudhury and lover/partner Marie-Andrée Leclerc.

Sobhraj’s story has been dramatized in many forms, the most recent being the Netflix/BBC co-production The Serpent, starring The Mauritanian‘s Tahar Rahim as Sobhraj and Doctor Who veteran Jenna Coleman as Leclerc. There, directors Tom Shankland and Hans Herbots chart Sobhraj’s crime spree in sumptuous period detail, right down to the wide-collared costumes and groovy ’70s needle drops.

Dominik Scherrer The Serpent
Photographer: Roland Neveu

The show’s got its flaws — it’s structured in an admittedly frustrating series of fragmented timelines that jump back and forth so often it’s hard for its characters to cohere, and Coleman’s performance is as affecting as her French accent is muddled. But one element that grips is Dominik Scherrer‘s eerie, period-warping score. The Swiss-born British composer is a regular collaborator with Shankland (he scored previous Shankland series Ripper Street and The Missing), and his score for The Serpent slithers appropriately between period grooviness and nail-biting suspense.

Not only that, it’s a score steeped in the Southeast Asian locations in which the show is set; he composed much of the score while shooting in Bangkok, and recorded a good portion of it in Thailand with Thai instruments and performers, leading to a sound that blends the slick ’70s cool that Sobhraj exudes with the exotic locales in which he does his dirty deeds.

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For the podcast, I sat down with Scherrer to discuss the unique challenges of the project, that line between being period-appropriate and too on-the-nose, and working with some of the most interesting instruments and period synthesizers of the day to craft the haunting, tension-laden score for The Serpent. (He also talks — and plays — us through the winding tension of the series’ title theme.)

Listen to the podcast, and hear the score on Spotify below.

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