The Curiosity of a Horror Movie Music Composer




By Steve Trader

“The aesthetic of the room is real important to me, the whole vibe of the place,” says Bernhard of his studio space.

“The aesthetic of the room is real important to me, the whole vibe of the place,” says Bernhard of his studio space.




The first thing you see entering musician Chvad SB’s apartment is a life-size mannequin doll-wearing a World War II-style gas mask.

I’m there for less than two minutes before he excitedly asks if I want to see his jar of cat fetuses. He used to work at an animal hospital, and he kept a few after an already pregnant kitty came in to be spayed.

Then there’s the battery-powered teddy bear holding a plastic knife, that hums a children’s lullaby while stabbing itself in the heart when you squeeze a button in its foot. That’s sitting next to an old rusty mold that used to shape plastic doll heads, just to the right of the dolphin skull.

Chvad’s girlfriend Heather has aptly named it his cabinet of curiosity.

“The aesthetic of the room is real important to me, the whole vibe of the place,” says Chvad.
Despite the year-round, haunted-house style decor, there is something very inviting about
the atmosphere. Perhaps it’s the fact that you couldn’t find two warmer, friendlier people than
Chvad and his girlfriend. There just happens to be a taxidermied squirrel, and a dismembered
baby doll with a meathook sticking through it’s head sitting in the corner of the room as well.

Chvad’s been composing horror film scores for 20 years, as long as he’s been a musician. He’s
got $57,000 worth of instruments and recording equipment in his bedroom, including an analog
modulator system with a combined 1500-plus knobs, switches and patch-cable input plug-ins
capable of producing an infinite amount of frequencies, tones and beats. It can tune in to other
people’s shortwave radio conversations, or vibrate the walls to the point that loud neighbors turn
their music down late at night. He built it himself in just over two years.

A genius at work in his space. Bernhard’s equipment is worth about $57,000.

A genius at work in his space. Bernhard’s equipment is worth about $57,000.

When he scores films though, he prefers to start with a simple guitar or keyboard, with the
sound of the movie turned down as he watches.

“You see something happening and it’s like, what feels right? And then I just search for that,” said Chvad. “Then when you find it, you just try and roll with it.”

He sets about demonstrating his craft for me, first creating a web of almost 50 patch cables
in the modulator, before switching to the keyboard, adding a delayed effect to just a couple of notes, then looping in a guitar drone he creates through moving a magnetic, vibrating device over the strings. He hasn’t tunes his guitar in years. The tone is driving and melodic yet simple, the drone putting us both in a sort of trance as we
stand in the middle of the room.

“I love John Carpenter’s stuff, the whole Halloween thing, but I would never do that, even
though I love to hear it,” said Bernhard. “It’s so fixed and regimented, there’s a cool hook and
people are going to walk away and remember it. I like things without hard edges, that’s less intrusive. I’ve established weird moods and dark moods, it can sit in the background while things
happen and the story can tell itself.”

One can imagine Chad alone, sitting in the middle of his bedroom floor carpet, lights turned off, letting his mind completely zone out for hours at a time while the drone fills the room. It’s something he says happens way too often.

“I have a hard time with intent,” he says of his composing method. “That’s why I focus on reaction right? I never like to push things, I never want it to be ‘look at me playing.’ It’s like a jellyfish in the tide. The tide’s going that way, I’m going that way. And that’s how the music kind of happens.”

“You see something happening and it’s like, what feels right? And then I just search for that,” said Bernhard of his method. “ Then when you find it, you just try and roll with it.”

“You see something happening and it’s like, what feels right? And then I just search for that,” said Bernhard of his method. “ Then when you find it, you just try and roll with it.”