Photograph by Iki Ikram, taken during
Fans of Film Music 1 (2010)
Used by permission of FOFM/Peter Hackman
Film composer Daniel Licht passed away on Wednesday night, August 2nd after a short struggle with a rare form of sarcoma, a cancer. His passing came just weeks after it was discovered.
Dan was best known for his hauntingly ironic music for Showtime’s macabre detective/serial killer series DEXTER, where he combined such found “instruments” as knives, duct tape, saws, scissors and human bones with more conventional chamber ensemble to create the unique sound of the show’s episodes.
“Licht was born in Detroit, played clarinet and guitar as a youth, and graduated from Hampshire College in Massachusetts, studying jazz, world music, and composition. He moved to New York City, where he played jazz with Don Cherry and David Amram and began working in music for commercials,” wrote journalist Jon Burlingame in an obituary for Variety. “At the urging of his friend and college classmate Christopher Young, he moved to Los Angeles in the 1980s, initially programming and performing on synthesizers for Young’s film scores and eventually launching his own career as a film composer.”
Unsurprisingly many of his early scores were in the horror genres, as he followed in his mentor’s footsteps, providing superlatively-designed scores for films like HELLRAISER: BLOODLINE, Stephen King’s THINNER, and AMITYVILLE: NEXT GENERATION. In later years he spread out and scored comedies, mysteries, thrillers, but still enjoyed a bit of musical morbidity from time to time, which he bestowed with great instrumental “dexterity” over eight seasons of DEXTER, from 2006-2013.
Daniel’s inventive style of music caught the attention of indie directors such as Gregg Araki and Alex Cox for whom he scored the films SPLENDOR and THE WINNER . Among the hundreds of hours of television Dan scored were the series DECEPTION, BODY OF PROOF, THE RED ROAD, and GUILT. He was also a notable presence in the world of games, winning awards for his score to Dishonored, Dishonored 2,Silent Hill: Book Of Memories and Downpour. He won six BMI TV music awards, all for DEXTER and BODY OF PROOF. His most recent completed score was for the Lifetime Television drama, THE TINY HOUSE OF TERROR.
“BMI is saddened by the loss of six-time BMI Award-winning composer Daniel Licht, who passed away Wednesday at the age of 60,” read a posting at BMI.com. “Licht’s eclectic music in Dexter… were so popular they were immortalized in seven albums, and in 2015, a 10-minute orchestral suite of the beloved music was performed live at Poland’s renowned Krakow Film Music Festival. “The world of entertainment and drama shines a bit brighter because of Daniel Licht. He will be remembered by his friends and fans at BMI.”
“Saddened by the passing of superbly talented composer,” posted Score It Magazine on twitter. “One of the most creative forces in the industry.”
“Sending our love and thoughts to Daniel Licht’s friends and family,” tweeted the producers of DEXTER. “He will be dearly missed.”
Said “Dexter” executive producer Clyde Phillips, quoted by Jon Burlingame in his Variety obit: “Dan was an incredibly talented musician and composer, but most of all, he was a dear friend. His passing leaves all of us a bit quieter, a bit sadder, and without the gift of his music and his love.”
“I am so saddened to learn of Dan’s passing,” DEXTER star Michael C. Hall said in a statement, quoted by Mike Barnes in The Hollywood Reporter. “His music quite literally set the tone for DEXTER. I’m fortunate to have known Dan, as his talent was matched by his kindness.”
Members of Evolution Music Partners, Daniel’s management agency, wrote: “We are heartbroken to report the untimely passing of Daniel Licht, our good friend and a client of EMP since its inception. He was also an active in a number of composer groups and was much admired by his fellow composers, some of whom have already reached out to us to share a story and a tear. He was a fantastic guy and an amazing and completely original composing talent. We’re going to miss him.”
“Licht’s scores for DEXTER “were always special because the audience was treated to a look inside his mind,” states Evolution Music Partners’ Sol Kaplan, quoted by The Hollywood Reporter. “The many ‘found instruments’ that the employed (bones, scissors, glass) were never used as artifice. They were always critical to the effect he was out to achieve, and his thematic writing was sublime.”
“So sad to hear of Daniel Licht’s passing,” tweeted Arkane Studios’ co-director Harvey Smith, creator of the Dishonored video game series that Daniel scores. “Dishonored would not be the same without Dan’s music.”
"I am completely devastated by his passing,” Christopher Young told us. “We were best friends in college, and we played in a jazz band together. I'm so sad.”
“Heartbroken about Dan Licht - one of the very first composers I met in town - he was apprenticing with Chris Young at the time, and we were both just starting our careers,” wrote film and TV composer Jeff Beal. “[We] met through our manager at the time Carol Sue Baker - Worked so hard and wrote such great stuff - I learned from him the importance of making your work unique and producing a score with a personality. A wonderfully warm and non-
cynical spirit - love and condolences to his family, and God bless you Dan.”
“I am so saddened to learn that Dan Licht has passed away,” wrote film composer Tyler Bates in a Facebook post. “He was not only a fantastic composer (DEXTER alone is a tremendous body of work) but he was also one of the nicest and humblest humans I have ever met in the business. Always gracious, Dan never exploited the depths of his talent among colleagues or in the realm of social media, when he rightfully could’ve done so throughout his career. Out of respect to Dan and his family, and with recognition of how fleeting and precious life is, let’s go beyond our routines and daily stresses, and make today an extraordinary day in each of our own lives.”
We still have his music – but we will miss his warm personality, comforting smile, and the anticipation of new music to come. – rdl
A memorial service is scheduled for Aug. 18, 6:30 p.m. at Theatricum Botanicum in Topanga. Donations can be made to the National Cancer Institute or to his alma mater, Hampshire College.
Here is his live concert at the Krakow Film Music Festival a couple of years ago featuring Dan conducting and performing music from Dexter:
Randall D. Larson was for many years senior editor for Soundtrack Magazine, publisher of CinemaScore: The Film Music Journal, and a film music columnist for Cinefantastique magazine. A specialist on horror film music, he is the author of Musique Fantastique: A Survey of Film Music in the Fantastic Cinema and Music From the House of Hammer. He has written liner notes for more than 120 soundtrack CDs for such labels as La-La Land, FSM, Perseverance, Silva Screen, Harkit, Quartet, and BSX Records. A largely re-written and expanded Second Edition of Musique Fantastique is being published: the first of this four-book series is now available. See: www.musiquefantastique.com