Reber Clark is a freelance composer who has written and arranged music for hundreds of jazz charts, theater works, variety shows and studio projects. He was a speaker at the United States national ASBDA convention on procedures for commissioning a new work, and he has fulfilled numerous commissions for college, university, high school, and middle school bands. His latest project is entitled Lovecraft Paragraphs. We asked Mr. Clark to tell us the details.

LNN: First off, tell us a little about yourself in general.

RC: I am a composer working in wind ensemble music for almost thirty years. I am a long time Lovecraft reader and he holds a very special place in my life. Because of my music, I've traveled to many places worldwide and have had many fantastic experiences - especially throughout Europe (France and Ireland in particular). I have been married for thirty years and have two daughters and two cats. I was born in Des Moines, Iowa and grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas. I have resided in Oklahoma and now Illinois. I work from home in suburban Chicago and can usually be found there when not somewhere far afield.

LNN: How did you discover Lovecraft, and how does he now influence and inform the composition work that you do?

RC: Like many Lovecraft readers I discovered him in high school. Where the first book came from I can't recall specifically. I trolled the bookshops regularly and probably picked up one of the Ballantine editions, probably “The Tomb” - the one with the head bulging with red bats - and got hooked. That was 1971 or so, and my interest and love of his work has never waned. I was extremely excited when Arkham House re-published his complete works and quickly snagged a complete set as they were released. I have been a lifelong fan of his stories, but not so much a fan of what people have done with (and to) them. I am consistently disappointed with the movies "based" on his work.

As far as influencing my music - he doesn't influence it much, apart from a world-view (cosmos-view) that I can draw on from time to time.

LNN: Tell us about The Lovecraft Paragraphs? What can we expect at its premier, and what is your intent with the project?

RC: Well, the title is just Lovecraft Paragraphs (no "the"). It really is a
"fan" piece. Most of the references, visual, audio etc, will be familiar to
Lovecraft readers and not so much to non-aficionados. I hope people enjoy it
and that it helps these paragraphs stick in the mind. The movie opens with
the Joyce Carol Oates quote:

"There is a melancholy, operatic grandeur in Lovecraft's most passionate
work. . . a curious elegiac poetry of unspeakable loss, of adolescent despair,
and an existential loneliness so pervasive that it lingers in the reader's
memory, like a dream, long after the rudiments of Lovecraftian plot have

and that is really what the movie is about - how those paragraphs stick with
you even after the plot details have become hazy.

LNN: Who else is involved in this and how did you come up with the idea?

RC: This is from the press blurb for the movie:

" ‘for in its cryptical arabesques there may stand symbolised all the aims
and mysteries of a blindly impersonal cosmos.'
- Howard Phillips Lovecraft, The Silver Key

With this statement the project which became Lovecraft Paragraphs was
launched. Searching for a way to make Lovecraft's prose accessible by ear,
yet remaining somewhat internal and eerily impersonal, was the first hurdle.
The problem, it seems to me, with most Lovecraft readings is that the reader
inevitably (however unintentionally) inserts their own personality into the
material. There are very few voice artists who can pull it off convincingly.
This usually renders Lovecraft's unique inner voice impotent and creates an
unintended atmosphere of intimacy which saps the cold stark strength from
Lovecraft's work.

'I like a tale to be told as directly and impersonally as possible, from an
angle of utter and absolute detachment.'
- Howard Phillips Lovecraft, In a letter to Frank Belknap Long, August 2

Diligent searching for an answer to this problem resulted in the discovery
of a set of synthesized voices that sounded very real, yet with quirks and
qualities that helped the listener to suspect their impersonality. This
somewhat disquieting effect is the key which, I hope, sets the readings of
Lovecraft's prose in this movie apart."

I would add that the most convincing reader I have heard is Andrew Leman
from the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society - he has it down perfectly, in my
opinion, but unfortunately he was not involved with this production.

I really wore all of the hats producing this thing, mainly because I'm a
cheap bastard, but also it helped me learn many aspects of production with
which I is was unfamiliar.

LNN: Have there been any other Lovecraft-themed projects you have worked on?

RC: I did a work for choir and percussion ensemble entitled Dark Feasts. It included Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard and Arthur Machen quotes. It was commissioned and performed by the University Singers of Indiana/Purdue University in Fort Wayne, Indiana under the direction of Dr. Paul Meers, who now resides and teaches voice in Beirut, Lebanon at the University of Beirut.

I have done other, solely musical, works that touch on some darker themes – Troll Witch Dances, for concert band, based on the work of Welsh artist Brian Froud, Wizard's Glass and Tree Cathedral, for unaccompanied solo clarinet, based on Druidic lore and practices, but not any other specific Lovecraftian material. I have sketched together video segments for Lovecraft's The Cats of Ulthar and know how I am going to do it as a movie if I get the chance (or make the chance!).

LNN: As a freelance composer who has been commissioned to write for many
different groups, including High Schools, do you ever worry that a project
like Lovecraft Paragraphs might be misunderstood by potential customers?
Or, conversely, does it make the students love you?

RC: This is an interesting question that I have actually asked myself. Some of
my very first commissions were from Catholic schools in Rhode Island - and
being a Lovecraft fan I was very excited to be working with and traveling to
Providence and its environs. I was able to explore Providence and many of
the towns surrounding it and up to the border with Massachusetts many times.
I can see why Lovecraft loved the place and why certain things may have
influenced his writing and world-view. I really liked (and continue to like)
Rhode Island although I regret I haven't yet visited Swan Point Cemetery
where Lovecraft is buried.

So I would mention my love of his work to the people I was working with
there and would get a wide range of reactions from "Who?" to "Oh yeah, he
wrote some really weird stuff, didn't he?" I would say yes, but then I would
mention the beauty in his writing as well, with which most were unfamiliar.
I mean, the sunset glories that he could spin were fucking incredible.
Providence at sunset is amazing to look at. Many of the houses are built on
the western side of a rise and are set off beautifully in the sunset. It
must have been mythic to grow up with.

Much of my music writing has been dealing with subjects that consider life
and death. A lot of it has been fun as well. But Philip Jose Farmer once
said somewhere that the reason he wrote his stories about our origins and
where we are going (the Riverworld series et al) is that these are the
important questions and the subjects worth writing about - who are we?
Where are we going? What are we doing? Before we do anything else these are the big questions that should be asked.

Life has its darkness as well as its light. There are things "out there"
that will eat you alive if you're not vigilant. This is just as important a
message as friendship and love. It cannot be ignored. I agree with Guillermo
del Toro about the latest wave of "romantic" vampire movies. They're crap.
Vampires are mean bastards who will eat you and your soul alive. These are
the monsters I grew up with and these are the way I see them. Mean MF'ers.
Believe me, they're out there!

I was raised in the Episcopal church. I believe that because of that
background the terror of losing one's mind, soul, whatever in Lovecraft's
stories to an impersonal cosmic entity or influence is heightened.

I am asked to write music for religious schools quite often and I try to be
practical about it. What gets lost sometimes in contemporary religious
teaching, Christian or not, is that there is some mean stuff in the universe
and it will eat you! So when I write from a religious point of view I try to
impart a feeling for these big questions - mainly that the questions are BIG
and that the sentimentality that many people attach to some of this stuff is
just not helpful.

The great Irish writer James Joyce said that sentimentality is unearned
emotion. I think that is true. It's a short cut that keeps the real
experience at arm's length. Carl Jung said that sentimentality is a
superstructure covering brutality. I think that to a large extent that is
true as well. I strive in my music to make sure that any emotions arrived at
by the listener make sense and are not shortcuts. Sometimes I succeed,
sometimes not.

As far as being misunderstood - people make snap judgments quite often. If
they would talk to one another they may find out that they are more in
agreement than not. So I do take time to talk to people who hire me to make
sure they understand where I'm coming from and that I can usually work
within their system.

Geez. I can be long-winded! Sorry!

LNN: What are your goals for Lovecraft Paragraphs post release?

RC: I would love for anyone who wants music for their Lovecraft production to
contact me. If anyone likes the movie and would like to distribute it, that
would be great! My main goal, however, was to submit it to the H. P.
Lovecraft Film Festival in Portland, Oregon and have it accepted and shown.
I won't hear until after September 1st if it will be selected or not. But
that was my main goal.

It is a work of love for the material. I mean money is fine (I don't reject
it!), but money ruins many Lovecraft presentations. I suppose love does too!
But not as often.

LNN: Would you consider Lovecraft Paragraphs to be an oratorio, or is
there a better term? How does this particular medium influence the delivery
of the content, the audience's experience, and message of the text?

RC: Whoa. Big question. The movie isn't a musical work, so I wouldn't give it a
musical form-name. I am striving to present these disjointed paragraphs in a
loose narrative form in an interesting way. Hopefully Lovecraft fans will
bring their own associations to the experience and it will be interesting to
hear what the reactions are.

LNN: Tell us about composing for a Lovecraft-inspired piece. How do you get in
the mind sight to tap into the dark mood and atmosphere a project like this

RC: The stories. Man, he is good for building that atmosphere. I can totally
identify with cosmic forces just coming to nail mankind. Somehow it's easy
for me. This may sound hokey but I can have such visions of light in my
imagination and these inform many of the brighter and more positive writings
that I do, but there has to be a balance, and I can get so dark. I think this
is my Welsh and Czech blood coming through that I can live there as well.
The dark and the light complement and balance each other. I can understand
why the Yin/Yang thing could be so attractive. I try to hold myself apart as
an observer however. The writer on mythological principles, Joseph Campbell,
has been indispensible for me in this regard. Many people know him for his
outlining of the Hero path, but there is a lot more going on in Campbell
than just that. He is worth reading.

Additionally I just love the atmosphere Lovecraft creates. I am right there
under the pyramids or descending the seven hundred steps to the Gates of
Deeper Slumber. I know I could score a film of The Dream Quest of Unknown
Kadath. I know exactly how things would look and how they should be
approached. It is so clear to me.

LNN: What does your family think of your project? Are you the kind of father that
gives your daughters plush Cthulhu dolls?

RC: I thought the family thing would be more sensitive than it has been. My wife Lee Ann has been (as Ken Hite states about his own wife) a "Lovecraft skeptic," but she has been so supportive of all my endeavors that I couldn't do what I'm doing without her. My daughters' reactions have ranged from "that's weird" to "that's cool." They have strong reactions to the images I am using in this movie.

If they were younger, there are many scenes I would not expose them to. The
one daughter is twenty-four and is pursuing a career in stage management.
She has had many insights on production that I had no idea about. Her
dramatic insights are particularly valuable. Also, if I was to do a live
action piece (Cats of Ulthar?) she has a talent pool of actors and artists
that I could draw from. The other daughter is eighteen and just starting
college this fall. She has very strong reactions and very clear opinions
about her reactions to the music and the visuals. Her insight is always

I have seen the plush Cthulhus and think they're great fun. But as we all
know in our heart of hearts, Cthulhu is going to rise and wipe us all out!
He's not cute and cuddly so I've avoided that whole approach. I really enjoy
Lovecraft more when taking him seriously. Having said that I just recently
watch the Chuck and Dexter "SpookySpookyScaryScary" video that's online and
laughed my ass off! I also like the Spanish comic strip "Young Lovecraft"
and of course the "Unspeakable Vault of Doom" comics. I was never a graphic
novel or comic book fan, especially of Lovecraft presentations - I like my
own imagination and movies better. But those strips are a hoot.

LNN: As a composer, tell me about the hubris it would take to attempt to write up
a score for "The Music of Eric Zann." Would you ever consider trying, and
if so, how would you go about even starting?

RC: I think if The Music of Eric Zann was approached too realistically (maybe literally is a better word) it might ruin it. Hubris, as you state. Ya know. And this might be a sensitive topic: reading the bible as prose gets people into trouble all the time. They get stuck thinking of this stuff as reality instead of as a representation. Of course much of it is reality and history but much of it is language that points beyond itself - like poetry. Music is also a language that points to things beyond itself. It's said that the best things can't be talked about because no tongue can describe it and we're stuck with language that can only be a descriptive referral to thethings that refer to this ineffableness (is that a word?) If one reads Lovecraft as strict prose the same mistakes can occur. But if you read his "prose" as poetry many things open up and point beyond the literal to his dreamworld (or other places and things) and how it functions. I think Zann can be approached in this way. I would probably "ground" the audience in tonal conventional music sounds during the real-world part of Zann and move them into atonal "out-there" sounds when that window opens (if I am recalling the story correctly). I have written pieces like this for wind ensemble - grounding the audience in the familiar and then launching them into a world of cosmically un-sure footing. I bring them back at the end but they usually feel that they've "been somewhere" instead of just enjoying a nice little piece. At least that is what I have attempted to do and have been successful mostly.

Writing music for Zann would be like Lovecraft's writing - how do you
describe the indescribable? You let the audience do the work in their own
imagination by providing the groundwork for them to do so. I would imagine
that this is much easier in music than it is using visuals.

Another approach might be to not use music at all in the movie until the
music scene - and then make it so cosmically overwhelming that the contrast
would blow the audience away. Sort of like when Dorothy opens up her black
and white front door in The Wizard of Oz - a blast of color and light, but

LNN: With potentially two mainstream Lovecraft project on the table over the next
few years (Del Toro's "At the Mountains of Madness" and Howard's The Strange
Adventures of HPL"), what sorts of considerations and advice do you have for
the composer who ends up scoring them?

RC: I would hope they would have done their homework and not only read the
stories but all related materials as well. I think a solid prerequisite
would be for them to be a lover of Lovecraft's work and have clear ideas and
solid approaches to the material - yet remain open to the director and the
music supervisor. The gravity of a cosmic approach is essential. They should
be able to clearly demonstrate their ideas quickly and efficiently and
change things as needed. I would love to score either of these movies
-especially "Mountains," but my big dream is to score "The Dream Quest of
Unknown Kadath" - that would be an amazing project.

LNN: Anything else you would like to add?

RC: I was fortunate enough to contribute some croakings to the H. P. Lovecraft
Historical Society's audio production of The Shadow Over Innsmouth for
their Dark Adventure Radio Theater. These guys, Andrew Leman and Sean
Branney, really have the tone down and produce great stuff. Their The Call
of Cthulhu silent movie was absolutely an inspired work and the composers
who worked on it, especially Troy Sterling Nies provided outstanding music.
I would love to work on any project that these guys produce.

I think we may be entering a new era of Lovecraft media production now that
inexpensive HD cameras and desktop video editing are becoming more
widespread. But no matter what the tools are, what is needed is a clear
vision. Stuart Gordon's Dagon came very close, AM1200 was an amazing,
well-crafted and high production value approach to cosmic horror, and many
of the shorts with Lovecraftian themes have presented amazing experiences. I
am hoping that the era of schlock Lovecraft is dead or dying (except for the
fun stuff!) and that we will soon see some amazing and cosmic things coming
from young (or not so young) directors and creators.

Visit Reber Clark's website to learn more about his composition:

*Update: On 8/9/09 Mr. Clark contacted us and was pleased to announce his official acceptance at the HPL Film Festival. Congrats!*

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