If you’re the composer for a show as idiosyncratic as Silo — a sci-fi thriller that’s, by turns, riveting, disturbing, mysterious, and humane — where do you go for inspiration? If you’re Atli Örvarsson, you look to the show’s setting: a massive bunker where humanity has sheltered in isolation for decades or potentially centuries. Even if that means recording in an actual silo.

“It didn’t dawn on me until well into the process — let’s go to a silo to record sounds and ambiences,” says Örvarsson. “I’ve been very fascinated with the actual space that you record the music in, because it brings a feeling to things that you can’t get with technology and one you can’t really fake.”

The Apple TV+ series, adapted by showrunner Graham Yost (“Justified,” “Slow Horses”) from a trilogy of novels by Hugh Howey, is set in a post-apocalyptic future in which humanity lives underground following an environmental catastrophe. The show stars Rebecca Ferguson with a rich ensemble featuring Rashida Jones, David Oyelowo, Common, and Tim Robbins.

Silo’s electrifying, otherworldly score showcases the incredible range of Örvarsson, whose resume includes the movies like The Edge of Seventeen, The Hitman’s Bodyguard, and the entire NBC network lineup of “Chicago” television series. As it turns out, the link to “Silo” came from his work on the 2020 Apple TV+ crime drama “Defending Jacob.”

The Chris Evans led drama saw Örvarsson collaborate with Oscar-nominated director Morten Tyldum — who later recommended him to score “Silo” once Tyldum was hired to direct the show’s first three episodes.

With “Silo,” Örvarsson’s score manages to invoke the awe of the show’s stunning sets while quickly pivoting to the human-scale drama contained within the show. Some of his most incredible work came from writing the series’ incredible main title theme… a musical cue that grows from an almost mechanical hum into a brilliantly dynamic orchestral piece.

“The big challenge was juxtaposition between the very intimate, personal side of the stories and the massive scope of it. The instrumentation reflects that. But what glues it all together is sound design, and creating an ambience.”

Atli Örvarsson spoke to Awards Focus about uniting different plot threads through score, providing the soundtrack for suspense sequences, and how the musical palette will broaden in season two.

Awards Focus: Can you talk a bit about Morten Tyldum bringing this up to you as an opportunity? And you were hooked instantly from the books? What was your process for getting inspiration?

Atli Örvarsson: Morten brought me into this. When we started working, I said to Morten, “Should I read the books?” He was like, “No, absolutely don’t do that. Just wait until you see the images, because I want you to experience what you see.” That was good advice.

The ambiance and the production design have such a specific tone. As soon as I started seeing images or rough cuts, it was immediately inspiring. Music isn’t just the picture scoring, the drama, but it’s a big part of world-building. The first things that I started working on were more like sounds of a Silo than tunes or melodies. I was immediately hooked, and it was inspiring from day one.

AF: When did the decision to go record in the silo strike you?

Örvarsson: It didn’t dawn on me until well into the process — let’s go to a silo to record sounds and ambiances and ideas for Silo. I think Season Two will be even more inspired by these sounds and what we’ve done with them. I’ve been very fascinated with the actual space that you record the music in, because it brings a feeling to things that you can’t get with technology and can’t really fake. We captured something in the Silo that just made sense, in the context of it all. It always seems very on the nose, but there is a certain magic when you go on these fishing trips, to try to just capture moments in time.

Composer Atli Örvarsson recording inside a Silo. Courtesy of Talent

AF: Juliet’s journey is so much built on the pain of her loss and all the tension has this underlying emotional bereavement, and so much of that is captured and accentuated with the music. You bring such incredible emotion in these cues. Was that important for you?

Örvarsson: The key to the success of the show is that it’s human. It’s focused on humanity, on trying to imagine what it’s like being in the silo and living under the circumstances. The big challenge was juxtaposition between the very intimate, personal side of the stories and the massive scope of it. The instrumentation reflects that. But what glues it all together is sound design, and creating an ambiance.

There’s always a sound in the background, somehow, even if a solo violin or piano is playing the tune. From the beginning, themes and melodies seemed very important, because there’s no other way to kind of get the emotion across that I was looking for. It’s a dance between solo instruments for the solo performances of the actors, and then, somehow finding a way to represent the scope of the huge silo with orchestra or choir. I was very cognizant of just how important it was to kind of bridge these two worlds, the micro and the macro.

AF: Unsee is such an amazing track. Can you talk about building that?

Örvarsson: The title says a lot about the content of the music, because it’s where the secret starts getting revealed, and the cracks in the oppressive propaganda of the system start breaking. It’s the beginning of people starting to wonder, “Is it really the way we’re told outside?”

When you see that, you can’t unsee it. The idea behind it is the psychology going from oppression to starting to build your own ideas about what might be out there. What sets this show apart from a lot of other TV shows that I’ve done is how thematic I was, and how I would stick with themes and just play them. Unsee is a good example of that. Just follow the theme, just play the theme, and don’t be afraid to almost overuse it. Silo feels like 10 short movies as opposed to a 10-part series to me, so it hopefully feels cinematic.

AF: What’s great about that track is you have the cuts between the individual storyline and then the story of the civilization and what the citizens are seeing. When it becomes more of a montage, how does that change your thought process on scoring or even on the tempo?

Örvarsson: There are sort of two schools of thought there. One is, do you just play through and unite all the different inner cuts through the music? Or do you need to be delineating between two different sets of storylines?

For me, it’s always thrilling when you’re able to unite the story, even if it’s caught between two completely different characters and sets, when you can find the big picture. The music can be a godlike view. You’re looking down, from the outside in, and setting a tone for it all to unravel and unfold. Some of my favorite moments in scoring film are when you’re able to glue together a montage or a longer scene and give it one arc.

AF: Every time that Rebecca Ferguson’s Juliette descends to the bowels of the silo, down to the lake hideaway, that’s when she’s at her most vulnerable. Can you talk about the musical approach to the different sides of her character, and if that different production design gives her a new texture?

Örvarsson: When I wrote Rebecca’s theme, I was thinking about her childhood more than anything else, so it’s a vulnerable tune. What I’m playing with there is going from major to minor… Juliet is very major or very minor, there’s not much in between. But the geography of it, it feels like it’s somewhere else. I leaned more on electronics and kind of pulses. It just felt like an alien planet.

There’s also a moment where you see the drill that built it all, and that is obviously an epic moment and tonally different. That lovers nest had has its own vibe, and has its own tune. Isn’t this the beauty of the show, all these layers? It offers up the opportunity to write something that’s really layered.

AF: What was the last scene of the last piece of music that you went back to, and gave it one last layer or wrote something new?

Örvarsson: When Juliette goes out, gets across the hill, and sees what’s out there, there are two main themes. There’s the main title melody and there’s another theme I call the Silo theme, which is a bit tonal, with big jumps, and it feels quite alien.

So I was able to find a way to kind of play them both at the same time. It’s the season finale, it’s the last scene. It felt like the perfect way to end the season was to combine these two main themes into one big piece of music. It felt thrilling to put those things together.

The episode that I spent the most time working on was episode three because it’s almost one long action sequence. There’s a race against time to fix the generator. The very last thing I worked on was yet another revision of one of those cues, to get it that much tighter.

Apple didn’t have a lot of notes, but at the very end, they said, “There’s two or three moments we’d love to look at,” and I was really pleased that they did. I thought it was pretty good, but then when I was forced to revisit things, I’d learned a lot about scoring “Silo” between episode three and episode ten. It gave me an opportunity to tighten things up and make them even better. That’s the thing with music, it’s never done. It’s just when you have to hand it in.

AF: Have you expanded on the themes in season two? Did you want to have a similar musical DNA to the next Silo that we know Juliette will enter, or did you like to keep them as twins?

Örvarsson: I wouldn’t say twins, but relatives. There’s obviously room and the need to come up with new ideas. It’s also fun to come up with new ideas. But there’s good reason throughout season two to stick to what has become the sound of our world, so it’s a combination of both.

The key to this balance is going to be, how far do you veer off? How related is it? How do you keep it a silo but expand and come up with new themes and new ideas and new sounds? I’m really excited about season two and the opportunities that it’s given me to kind of expand this vocabulary.

Silo is currently streaming on Apple TV+ and eligible in all voting categories.