By Doug Kaufman, Composer/Sound Designer
Creating the soundtrack for FACING DARKNESS has been a huge honor … helping tell the story of the Liberian people and the amazing team that risked their lives to help them during the Ebola crisis.
The process of developing the music and sound design of the film took a few unconventional turns. Rather than following the usual process of waiting to write the score until the editing of the film was close to complete, the film’s editor, Jacob Snyder, and I decided to develop a palette of instrumental scores and vocal songs for him to choose from and build with as he edited the story.
The vision for the instrumental portions of the soundtrack was to combine traditional Liberian instrumentation with the traditional music of the Southeast U.S. where Samaritan’s Purse is headquartered. Some of the Liberian instrumentation was recorded on-site in Liberia, and the American instruments were recorded in a small country church in the mountains of North Carolina.
I’ve been friends for a long time with Tony Reece, a truly amazing dobro player. He created the signature riffs that you hear punctuated throughout the entire score. One of our producers at Samaritan’s Purse, Bryan Siceloff, is also a talented multi-instrumentalist. He introduced me to the bouzouki, a Greek instrument resembling a giant mandolin. We recorded a lot with that instrument, and also incorporated more traditional acoustic guitar sounds.
I took an acoustic bass and modified it to allow it to play like a baritone guitar. It has a raspy, sort of ominous tone, and you’ll hear it used in a lot of heavier passages of the film. I also recorded on an old upright piano, sampled a lot of abstract percussion, and played a custom-made oil can guitar modeled after the guitars played on the streets of Monrovia.
I brought all these layers back into the studio and combined them with deep electronic pulses, percussion, electric guitar, and ambient sounds to create the final soundtrack for the film.
For the vocal songs, I wanted to find organic, authentic recordings that would complement the instrumental score and reflect the character of the story. I’ve followed Dustin Kensrue’s work for a long time, and after listening to hundreds of songs, finding Oh God ended up being the perfect fit to end the film.
Dillon Hodges recorded a special version of Take These Hands for the film; my wife Laura recorded a beautiful version of It is Well; Jadon Lavik contributed Be Still My Soul; and Swing Low Sweet Chariot by Anya Rose drives a montage toward the end of the film. The hymns are a testament to God’s faithfulness with previous generations, and the newer songs help tell the story of that same faithfulness to the team in Liberia.