“Disorienting, Terrifying, and Deeply Somber”: Adam Michael Kozak Talks Scoring Novel ‘Negative Space’

Musician and composer Adam Michael Kozak makes dark, poetic electronic music as Burial Grid. He’s based in Massachusetts and seems to have locked into the oldest part of this country’s Gothic and sometimes bleak origins. But hey, in order to get better we have to look our seedy, wicked past right in the face and just say “What the hell?” Burial Grid makes music that doesn’t turn away from our shady pasts and darkest nights of the soul. He uses analog synths and industrial beats to conjure the inner demons and outer danger into our most sacred of places: our hearts and minds.

Burial Grid’s musical world is a personal one, working saturated nightmares out of psychic trauma. But despite how heavy it can be there’s always a glimmer of hope just under the surface. As black and desolate as the world may sometimes be there’s the idea that we can get better. We can do better if we just stop fucking around for a minute. Kozak as a writer and human is a romantic at heart. Maybe a dark romantic, or one with a chip on his shoulder the size of the Eastern seaboard, but he’s trying to chip away at it. Little by little. His music conveys that.

Burial Grid’s latest project is a score for a novel by writer B.R. Yeager. Negative Space is a Lovecraft-ian Gothic horror novel about a suicide epidemic on the east coast. Teens begin taking a synthetic drug to cope with the trauma of losing so many friends, but the drug has a side effect which opens a door to another reality. A connection to dark forces begins a downward spiral.

I spoke to Adam about Burial Grid’s latest music project; influences, his connection to author B.R. Yeager, and what’s coming up next for Burial Grid. Check it out below.

J. Hubner: So tell me how you got involved with scoring B.R Yeager’s horror novel ‘Negative Space’.

Adam Michael Kozak: Ben and I have been very close friends for about 20 years now. We started a collective/label in western MA back in 2002 called Dolichocephalic Records, which was really just a vanity label for our crew of artsy misfit selves to release music that no one else would put out. Of the group, Ben had the least amount of musical experience and began as almost a spectator. But before long he began making art and music, starting with poetry and Dilla-esque instrumental hip-hop beats, that eclipsed all of our abilities. Every medium that he touches he brings a repugnant grace to, like a filthy DaVinci. We have a pact where we show one another our new work usually before anyone else, and oftentimes while still in-progress. That’s what happened with Negative Space. Immediately music cues started to spontaneously emerge in my head, including the main leitmotif. Then I would forget them when I’d put the book down. But upon picking it up again, they’d re-bloom. So I floated the idea by him and he told me that he’d secretly been hoping that I would want to create some sort of musical counterpart to it.

J. Hubner: What’s the story behind the book? 

AMK: It’s about a small town in New Hampshire encountering a suicide epidemic. Some of the teenagers of the town enlist a synthetic hallucinogen called WHORL as a means of coping with the grief-exhaustion and subsequent decay of their environment. The WHORL has the side effect of putting them in touch with otherworldly forces, with consequences that begin to alter their reality in volatile, increasingly violent and terrifying ways.

J. Hubner: What was it about the story that you connected with?

AMK: Without going into any detail, Ben and I experienced a personal tragedy several years ago. That was a jump-off point for the novel, though it expands far outside of the galaxy of grief-art as personal catharsis. But that catalyst became evident to me within minutes of reading it and, the night that I finished it I was laid out on my bedroom floor, sobbing uncontrollably. It might not have been his intention, globally, but for me, reading it provided a potent release that I’ve otherwise never experienced.

J. Hubner: How did you approach scoring the story? Besides the book itself, who or what were some sonic influences and inspirations for the music? The score is amazing by the way. 

AMK: Thank you!! The literal background of the world of the novel becomes increasingly ripe with decay as it progresses. As the natural world caves in on itself there is an omnipresent climate of nature failing. So I originally incorporated a lot of found sounds from animals, branches snapping, leaves rustling and then riddled them with sonic errors. But then I thought it would be even more fun to emulate these sounds with synthesizers. The end result might seem like “an ambient album”, but the purpose was to create a sonic backdrop of nature not working properly anymore, and the sound of ghosts breaking through the veil. I also wanted to juxtapose that with more “traditional” synth-based scores from horror films and work within a more familiar sonic template and make it a bit more rancid. More unfamiliar. A score by, say Fred Myrow or John Carpenter are absolutely terrifying. But there’s a familiarity to them that feels grounded by the rules that they’ve helped to establish. If you take those rules and fuck them up in subtle ways, the hope is that the listener will feel disoriented and a bit lost while on a familiar path.

J. Hubner: What were some of the go-to instruments for this soundtrack? 

AMK: I think every piece of synth gear that I have was in there. Let’s see… Korg MS20, Wavestation SR, and Minilogue. Waldorf Blofeld, Kurzweil K2000, DSI Prophet 08, Arturia MicroFreak, Ensoniq Mirage, Novation KStation… the Yamaha RefaceDX might have been used the most. Samples from old drum machines that I used to own that are now programmed through Ableton Live. A bunch of very old guitar pedals. The GFI Specular Tempest was a not-so-secret weapon that made it onto every track. There are some of the aforementioned found sounds. But also the track “The Rags Had a Face” was built around an air conditioner and creating a phasing effect by moving the microphone.

J. Hubner: What was the headspace you were going for? There’s a very dream-like quality to the album. 

AMK: Dream-like is good. I wanted to find a balance between the three main tones that I kinda gleaned from the novel: disorienting, terrifying, and deeply somber.

J. Hubner: Is there a specific piece that you’re particularly proud of? What is it about that track that makes it stand out to you? 

AMK: “I’m the Moth” took the least amount of time to create and seemed to manifest itself without any help from me at all. I was recording “The Woman Buried Beneath the Candle”, and needed to stretch my legs a bit. I went for a half-hour walk and the entire piece just materialized in my head. I ran home, and recorded the entire thing on the second take, exactly as it had appeared to me.

J. Hubner: Stephen King calls and says “Score three of my books”, what three would you choose to score. And why those three? 

AMK: Gerald’s Game – The narrative is so intimate and Jessie’s psychological decline could have been fun to document

Survivor Type – Not an entire book. But I feel like it could have been a Hawaiian-tinged, almost exotica score, dripping with pitch-black humor.

IT – The ultimate novel about fear. What could be more appealing to someone interested in scoring horror? But also King was so loony tunes with the blow at that point in his career, which is reflected more in IT than anything other than maybe Tommyknockers, that it could be fun to capture that sense of desperate mania. Therefore, I change my answer to Tommyknockers haha.

J. Hubner: I’d love to hear your take on Tommyknockers. Since we’re talking scoring, what’s a score you wish you would’ve written? 

AMK: That’s a three-way tie between Howard Shore’s scores for Videodrome, The Fly, and Dead Ringers. Starting with Scanners, that’s such a solid, emotionally devastating run of collaborations between Cronenberg and Shore. Everyone should listen to the piece “Suicide” from the Dead Ringers score. It’s despair cooked to perfection.

J. Hubner: Howard Shore just doesn’t get the credit he deserves. All of his work with Cronenberg is superb, and his score for ‘Silence of the Lambs’ is a personal favorite of mine. 

Okay, so what’s next Burial Grid? What can we look forward to? 

AMK: I’m collaborating with Kerry St Laurent (who created the cover art for Negative Space) on an audio-visual art installation at UMASS Amherst. I’m working on a score for a short film by Nick Verdi, which also happens to star BR Yeager. A couple other scores in the the pipe. I’m about 80% done with a full-length album about demons of different cultures. That might not see the light of day until I can find a label to give me a hand with distro. I’ve also been playing with the idea of making calming music and sounds for those who are in the process of dying, which is a form of death doulaship.

‘Negative Space’ will be available tomorrow, 3/17. Hit up Burial Grid’s Bandcamp page and hit that “buy now” button.  B.R. Yeager’s novel Negative Space is available now. Buy it here

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