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Why ‘The White Lotus’ Season 2 Score Traded Monkeys for Mice

Composer Cristobal Tapia de Veer discusses his surprising path back to the world of "The White Lotus" in Season 2 and the changes for the new season's score.


“The White Lotus”

Fabio Lovino/HBO

Cristobal Tapia de Veer, who tapped into the sonic experience of Internet Age anxiety with the main theme for the first season of “The White Lotus,” wasn’t supposed to work on the show. Logistically, he was busy composing a snarling, delightfully unsettling score for the horror film “Smile”; thematically, the Season 2 jump from Hawaii to Sicily meant adjusting the dials on how the series presents its honey-trap of power and privilege in the titular 5-star resort. But “The White Lotus” couldn’t quite get away from Tapia de Veer’s work, and neither could he.

“They asked me to at least revisit the main theme,” Tapia de Veer told IndieWire. “Mike [White] told me some influences to fit in this new [season] in Italy, in Sicily, and that it would be nice to add some renaissance or Italian opera, or some renaissance instruments.” Tapia de Veer’s expertise with weaving vocal elements into his music gives “The White Lotus” score a primal physicality in places, a chorus straight from the lizard brain that threatens to overwhelm the carefully crafted facades of the show’s rich holiday-makers. Combining that with the music of the Italian renaissance wouldn’t seem the most intuitive fit on the surface, but Tapia de Veer found the (electronic) way through.

“I’m a big fan of [Paolo Sorrentino], his movies and shows like ‘The Young Pope.’ I always loved how beautiful they are, and also how he fits electronic dance music in between a piece of opera. So I wanted to do something a little bit clubby, dance-electro, Euro-electro. So I just jammed something,” Tapia de Veer said. “Mike really liked it because [when the song starts] it is unrecognizable from the first season for a little bit. Then the voices from the first season appear, and you recognize that, and then you go into this club thing. So it’s a nice presentation for a new place, this new scenery, these new characters.”

White liked Tapia de Veer’s version of the Season 2 theme so much, in fact, that “they asked me if they could maybe use the stems from [the new theme] and try to work out the score with them,” Tapia de Veer said. But the composer thought the Season 2 score should have more layers to it than appear just in the main theme and proposed working with his longtime collaborator Kim Neundorf to build out the musical world of the hotel’s Italian branch.

While the way that Tapia de Veer and Neundorf would jam to find the bones of the score didn’t change much from Season 1, the emotions that Tapia de Veer and Neundorf chased down with classical piano and Italian mandolins were different. “Mike was using lots of temp score from a show that I did called ‘National Treasure’ because he wanted the piano to feel playful,” Tapia de Veer said. “He wanted people to feel like mice or something. ‘Mice in trouble,’ he would say. He didn’t want these girls, for example, that come to the hotel to have sex for money, he didn’t want those girls to feel like there’s something evil happening or anything like that. He wanted everything to feel very playful. So the piano serves a lot of that.”

The increased sense of play and different instrumental choices are the main ways the score for Season 2 of “The White Lotus” differentiates itself from its Pacific-based sibling, which relied much more on atonal drums and dissonance to create a sense of mania about to be unleashed. But Tapia de Veer and Neundorf relished using vocal manipulations that sound slightly more operatic to make the Season 2 score a unique variation on the show’s familiar themes. “I like voices to feel a little bit odd or otherworldly. I don’t necessarily want [listeners] to feel like there’s a singer singing a part. I want them to feel like a little bit like an instrument,” Tapia de Veer said. “I feel like that gives it a special character.”

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