The Handmaid's Tale
Musical Score By: Adam Taylor
Distributed by: Lakeshore Records
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Based on the novel by Margaret Atwood, the Hulu original series, The Handmaid's Tale, is set in a dystopian future. The United States has undergone another civil war. The government of Gilead rules and society is organized along a militarized, hierarchal regime that treats women as property of the state. Widespread infertility due to war-induced environmental contamination results in the conscription of the few remaining fertile women, calling them Handmaids. One such woman, Offred (Elisabeth Moss) is a Handmaid in the Commander’s household, forced into servitude in one of the harshest homes to aid in repopulating the world. But Offred remembers her past and yearns to get back to it…and the daughter taken from her when she was enslaved.
The musical score of The Handmaid’s Tale was created by American composer Adam Taylor. Beginning his musical career by learning to play the guitar when he was fifteen, Taylor eventually dropped out of college to become a traveling musician. Eventually, Taylor began delving into creating his own music, using it to enhance visual and oral content. He began creating musical score for short films, commercials and documentaries until he got his big break with his work on August: Osage County. Since then, he has been enlisted to created musical score for Meadowland, Before I Fall and The Handmaid’s Tale.
According to the composer, the music he created worked around the various systems at play throughout the series: “The systems are the antagonist of the series, a relentless and indifferent force that is slowly disfiguring society and the inhabitants of Gilead. I thought about it like waves of sound, waves that slowly grew in volume and dissonance until it overcame the senses. This led to what we landed on as the opening theme, and also how we approached the dynamics and shaping of the orchestral elements of the score.”
The resulting score is a mix of orchestral and synths, acoustic and electronic. The sounds of normal instruments are often distorted to create a whole new and often ominous sound. According to Taylor, “We knew from the start that we wanted to use classical instruments, as well as synths and atonal elements. One idea for the score was to reiterate sounds and instruments through processes that would create a loss in fidelity, like a poor quality photocopy... much like how life in Gilead was a distorted replica of normal life…I went as far as tracking an instrument, then changing the speed of the tape to 'fake' melodic changes. It took some time to get right, but was worth it in the end – and ended up being crucial to making, what was essentially a two-note theme, sound emotive and interesting.”
The Handmaid's Tale Soundtrack opens with Offred speaking about her plight, making the listener uncomfortable…letting them know that something is definitely wrong in Offred’s world. That her world is oppressive and shocking is undeniable and Adam Taylor expresses her fear and aguish through music in the score through the use of lower registry sound and reverb. Taylor’s score is perfect for the emotions of the series subject matter and well worth checking out.