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Joseph Bishara (born July 26, 1970) is an American composer, producer, and actor, best known for his work scoring films such as Insidious, 11-11-11, Dark Skies, and The Conjuring. Bishara’s career began with the 1998 Biblical drama Joseph’s Gift, though he composes music for mainly horror and thriller films and has collaborated several times with director James Wan. Projects by directors John Carpenter and Joseph Zito, and musicians Ray Manzarek and Diamanda Galás have incorporated Bishara’s work. He has also functioned as a producer on Repo! The Genetic Opera and other projects.
After an early influence of classical music, Bishara began experimenting with electronic and experimental music, becoming interested in Tangerine Dream. He became engrossed in horror film scores after watching the silent film The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari and the horror classic Nosferatu. In the late 1980s he became a member of the industrial band Yesterday’s Tears, which later was known as Drown. By around 1994, he was signed to a record and touring contract with Drown.
Although Bishara’s film score work began with the Biblical drama Joseph’s Gift in 1998, most of his subsequent work has comprised horror films like Unearthed and The Gravedancers in 2006 and Night of the Demons in 2016.
He began to be the subject of more media attention with the James Wan film Insidious in 2011. The New York Times film critic Mike Hale remarked that Bishara’s score helped the film recover from some of its negative attributes such as “pedestrian camerawork”. Writing for Howlin’ Wolf Records, Jason Comerford referred to the score as a “dense, bristling effort jam-packed with invention and energy”. The score was performed by a string quartet accompanied by Bishara producing sounds on a rusted piano using hammers, files, and other “experimental instruments” of his design. Much of the score was recorded before Wan began shooting the film, the musicians improvising some parts as they went along but following Bishara’s broad structure and concept. Bishara began sending completed recordings to Wan as he was editing the film so Wan could work the score into the film according to the structure he desired. Though film score composers are typically more involved in music placement, Bishara noted the process used on Insidious felt “free”. Bishara also acted in the film, portraying a demon that served as the film’s main antagonist.
Bishara went on to score the Darren Lynn Bousman film 11-11-11. In 2013, Bishara worked with Scott Stewart to score the science fiction horror film Dark Skies. Writing for Film Journal International, Justin Lowe referred to the score as “unnerving” but suitably within the background of the action. He then reunited with director Wan to compose the score for The Conjuring. He also portrays an entity named Bathsheba in the film. Wan’s producers gave him wide latitude to decide who he wanted to work with him on the film, so he brought back many of the crew from Insidious, including Bishara. Bishara scored the sequel to Insidious, Insidious: Chapter 2 (2013), but did not return to portray the demon.
In 2014, Bishara scored the John R. Leonetti horror film Annabelle, for which he received an ASCAP Top Box Office Films award. He next composed the score for a segment of the 2014 anthology film V/H/S: Viral, “Gorgeous Vortex”, as well as the James Wan production Insidious: Chapter 3, and another horror film, The Vatican Tapes, on which he replaced Mike Patton of Faith No More.
2016 saw Bishara score the horror thriller The Other Side of the Door and return to work with James Wan, scoring The Conjuring 2 and appearing in the film as an entity named the “Winged Creature”. He is also slated to score the 2018 installment in the Insidious film series, Insidious: The Last Key.
In addition to composing, Bishara has worked in other aspects of film production, providing sound design services for John Carpenter’s Ghosts of Mars and acting as music producer for Repo! The Genetic Opera. The Ghosts of Mars project involved programming and remixing music composed by Carpenter and determining how it would be integrated into the film. In 2015, Bishara helped produce the song “Shroud” on rapper Tech N9ne’s album Special Effects.
Bishara is known to be fond of horror, and he has stated that he favors composing for the genre above others: “It is the one that had the most energy for me. There always just seemed to be something a little bit more compelling about being on the edge of everything going away.” He is known for his avant-garde style and unique approach to instrumentation and composition that suits horror films particularly well. Music journalists have noted his disregard for horror film score conventions, employing “gut-wrenching string dissonance, haunting electronic sounds and sudden crescendoes” and using strings and percussion to create effects designed to evoke “maximum shock effect” in the listener.