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Chesley / Albini / Midyett


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On May 1, 2020, Touch and Go will be releasing a double LP of Music from the film Girl on the Third Floor; "creepy instrumental music" as described by co-creator Steve Albini.

When director Travis Stevens called about composing music for his new horror film, Steve Albini (Shellac) found himself with a new creative challenge. After meeting with Stevens and Greg Newman from Queensbury Pictures, Steve signed on and recruited Tim Midyett (Mint Mile, Silkworm) and Alison Chesley (Helen Money) to complete the ensemble that would compose and record the soundtrack.

Discussions with Stevens, the director, led to a sense that the music should react to the story on screen and, where possible, participate as a character. Initial recordings were song-form ideas the trio composed via email since there were no cuts of the film to reference. Some tracks were written by Albini, some by Chesley, and the rest were a collaboration of the whole ensemble. Once the demos of the basic song structures were in place, the three recorded the songs as an ensemble with a lot of extemporaneous variation and a small number of overdubbed accents (percussion, Vibrachime keyboard and counterpoint lines). The resultant recordings are the compositions identified by conventional song titles on the album.

The first piece the ensemble worked on was the song "Irish." Initially over 30 minutes long, they cut it down again and again, telescoping the dynamics. Playing the baritone, Midyett used an echo pedal as a kind of third arm, creating a sonic effect that extends and reiterates fragmentary parts of his line as needed. In describing Midyett's playing on "Irish," Albini wrote, "There's a feature in "Irish" where he's making use of it in an abstract way that I find arresting, and I honestly can't think of anybody else who does precisely that thing he does." When Albini contemplated adding vocals to "Irish," only one voice came to mind - folk singer and violinist Gaelynn Lea. Captivated by Lea's voice after seeing her performance on NPR's Tiny Desk concert series, Albini contacted her with the help of a mutual friend, Alan Sparhawk. Lea graciously agreed to sing for the project. Although Albini himself ended up contributing vocals to "Irish" as well, it is Lea's spellbinding vocals that add the perfect finishing touch to the track.

Having used what songs he could from those initial compositions, Stevens (director) sent the trio a list of additional cues on a spreadsheet, synchronized with key moments in the film. For those cues, the group was able to watch the film segments and, in most instances, perform to the film - resulting in accents and dynamics that correlate to what is happening on the screen. Those later pieces are identified on the album by their line number, which corresponds to the line numbers on the spreadsheet that Stevens had supplied.

Upon completion of the soundtrack, Albini reflected, "Tim and Alison are a joy to work with, very open-minded and eager, and master musicians. Just great. That whole part of it, writing and playing with them, was fucking fantastic and effortless, and I wish I could do it all the time."

The film Girl on the Third Floor (Dark Sky Films) was released on October 25, 2019. It currently has an 82% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes, with positive reviews in the LA Times, Variety, and RogerEbert.Com. As well as featuring the Chesley / Albini / Midyett score, the film also includes the Big Black song "Bad Penny" from their Songs About Fucking album.