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06 DECEMBER 2021 (TORONTO, ON) – The Nightmare Alley Original Motion Picture Soundtrack with music by celebrated composer Nathan Johnson, and already receiving Oscar buzz, is now available via all digital platforms.   Known for his innovative film scores (Knives Out, Looper, Brick) and short films (videos for San Lux, Lucius) Johnson is a multidisciplinary artist, bringing a unique approach to composing and recording that blurs the lines between stage, screen and audio-visual narrative. 


Nightmare Alley, in theatres on December 17, tells the story of charismatic but down-on-his-luck Stanton Carlisle (Bradley Cooper) who endears himself to clairvoyant Zeena (Toni Collette) and her has-been mentalist husband Pete (David Strathairn) at a traveling carnival and crafts a golden ticket to success using this newly acquired knowledge to grift the wealthy elite of  1940’s New York Society. With the virtuous Molly (Rooney Mara) loyally by his side, Stanton plots to con a dangerous tycoon (Richard Jenkins) with the aid of a mysterious psychiatrist (Cate Blanchett) who might be his most formidable opponent yet. 


Collaborating with the film’s director, Guillermo del Toro, Johnson has created a strongly thematic score for Nightmare Alley, beginning with a single, repeating piano motif for Stan. As the film moves from carnival to the big city, Johnson adds layers and textures to develop a rich, period-specific orchestral score augmented with thoroughly modern techniques. From thick aleatoric string dissonances ("Grindle’s Ghost") to jagged internal lurches (“Lilith’s Room”), the score occupies a space that, like the film, is at once darkly beautiful and ominous. “It’s a thematic score that is exclusively based on character motifs,” notes Johnson. “From the dissonance of Stan’s piano motif to the unsettling strings underneath Lilith’s oboe, every part of the score was written in response to these amazing performances.” As the story twists, the score bends and expands, culminating in the dark duet between Lilith and Stanton, as he spirals toward his inevitable fate. Johnson adds, “Over the course of the film, Stan puts on a variety of masks, and we layer in new melodies and textures – sometimes consonant, sometimes incredibly dissonant, – until we ultimately strip everything away and we’re left with the single note we started with.”


Known as a “director’s composer,” Johnson has an incessant commitment to storytelling, and his collaboration with Guillermo del Toro continues this tradition. Joined by del Toro for weekly studio visits, the two meticulously shaped the score using Johnson’s memorable themes and wide-open harmonies to create a haunting story about con artists and the lies they tell.


Talking about the score, Guillermo del Toro noted, “When we were trying out temp music we noticed that one of the things the movie did, the movie rejected score.  Whenever we put in temp music, the movie expelled it.”  After a meeting with del Toro, Johnson sent a piece he had composed for the character Lilith that instantly clicked. According to del Toro, he and Johnson worked tirelessly in LA.  Del Toro recalls “We had four weeks to spot, score, compose and arrange the movie, then record it.” Recording took place in London with a sixty-five piece orchestra and one unusual instrument – a large air-conditioning grate was used to replicate the sound of a guiro.



He is best known for his unconventional work in film music (Knives Out, Looper, Brick), Johnson favors modified, organic instrumentation combined with unique approaches to recording and performing.


Beginning with his acclaimed work on the neo-noir film Brick, Johnson made a practice of combining unorthodox audio sources such as filing cabinets, kitchen utensils, and tuned wine glasses with traditional instrumentation. A similar approach has underpinned all of his work, from the angular strings and extended techniques of Knives Out to the vast sonic palettes of Looper, which he constructed using field recordings of industrial detritus to create a hybrid, found-sound orchestra. Nathan Johnson’s avant-garde and original voice has received critical recognition, including being named “Breakthrough Composer of the Year” by the International Film Critics’ Association.


Along with composing for film, Johnson is a founding member of The Echo Society, a Los Angeles-based collective of artists and musicians. He has also directed a number of music videos for bands including Lucius and Son Lux. His video “Change Is Everything” won Best Alternative Video at the UK Music Video Awards. As a filmmaker, Nathan Johnson has given talks at universities around the world, and his work has been featured at the Hammer Museum, Adobe MAX, TED, and Apple.