While homebound during the pandemic, people are often turning to television and movies as a form of escapism. But creator, writer, and composer Firas Abou Fakher and the rest of the team behind the new acclaimed television series Al Shak (“the doubt”) did just the opposite, instead leaning into the very circumstances of the moment for its inspiration. The new show, available on the Middle East and North Africa’s leading video-on-demand streaming platform, Shahid, was entirely created, written, and produced by a team that was working from home.
“I wanted the starting point to be something familiar that everyone could recognize. The COVID-19 pandemic, which is at the heart of the mechanics of the show, is a global shared experience,” Firas, who is known for his role in indie rock band Mashrou Leila, explained to For the Record.
Al Shak centers on a young woman named Samar who is isolated in her family’s old house during lockdown. One day, she mistakenly logs into the wrong video chat and witnesses a murder. From there, through Samar’s experience, the 10-episode psychological thriller explores themes of isolation and connection.
As with most thrillers, music is used in Al Shak to heighten and amplify the characters’ moods throughout the show. The eerie and solemn soundtrack, which can be found on Spotify, also has an official copartnered, curated Spotify playlist to match. This playlist provides a unique, in-depth listening experience for fans—one that’s been carefully designed to complement and support the series.
In order to create these types of playlists, Spotify’s editors work alongside film and television showrunners, music supervisors, or composers to provide suggestions and guidance, as well as package the final product for fans. The copartnered Al Shak playlist, for example, was curated hand in hand with the show’s team, including Firas. The playlist even took Firas’ own inspiration for Al Shak’s soundtrack into account.
“I did a lot of research into the scores of psychological thrillers and horrors, from Bernard Hermann’s work with Alfred Hitchcock to the work of John Carpenter to contemporary scores by Mica Levi, Colin Stetson, Bobby Krlic, and more,” Firas said.
The playlist, therefore, includes Firas’ compositions from the show’s soundtrack, but also goes further, adding pieces from other composers, like John Williams and Thom Yorke, as well as songs from cult classic and more recent psychological thrillers and horror movies, like Psycho, Annihilation, and Midsommar.
The soundtrack also features a bit of whimsy—many of the sounds heard in the show are actually made from household items played like instruments. When combined with more traditional instrumentation, this creates emotional music that serves to highlight the show’s thematic content.
“I didn’t have access to the studios, musicians, and orchestras that I usually do,” said Firas. “I tried to create musical instruments from the items around me that are usually seen as boring or mundane, creating drones, percussion, and even piano-like sounds from them. I wanted all this to help create the dark and lonely world our protagonist inhabits, even within a highly connected world. The tactile reality of these everyday found objects plays a big part in the world-building of the show.”
Firas played on the lids of pots and pans with cello bows to create pads and drones—not that you’d ever know just from listening to the soundtrack. “These could be played in a very musical way, or very menacingly,” he said. “I also used superball mallets to create what would become the signature sound of our antagonist by making metal trays ‘talk.’ I used lots of salt and pepper grinders, as well as wooden sticks and metal cutlery to create the percussion, and I used soft mallets on metal trays. Glass windows created a ‘musical white noise’ that I think is felt rather than heard. Several doors were slammed to create the deep thuds throughout. The neighbors were not happy.”
By partnering with Spotify to create a customized playlist alongside the soundtrack, Firas can also look forward to insights our editors can provide (like unexpected regions that may stream the playlist). It’s also a great avenue for discovery for fans of the show who may not know where to go after streaming the series, and for furthering artist discovery for the music community in the Middle East and North Africa.
Yet technology can’t do everything. “I am a big believer that the human touch in music is essential,” adds Firas. “Even a human bowing the lid of a pot can express the intention of a scene or a moment in a unique and powerful way.”
The human touch—though something Samar’s character may be missing in her life—is truly felt in every aspect of Al Shak, from its carefully crafted story to the creation of intricate homemade music to its origination during a time when many are staying home.