John Morgan.

john morgan 2John Morgan’s love and passion for the great scores of Hollywood’s golden age has led him to the arena of arranging and reconstructing many classic scores for new recordings. He has embarked on a long series of film music recordings for Marco Polo (Naxos), BMG Classics his own label with Anna Bonn and William Stromberg, Tribute Film Classics.

John Mansell: Where and when were you born?
John Morgan: Los Angeles, California. October 21, 1946

John Mansell: What musical education did you receive?
John Morgan: Received my Masters in Music Composition from San Diego State University.

John Mansell: Were any of your family musical at all?
John Morgan: My mom and dad loved music. We had a piano in the house and they loved opera, classical music and generally all types. They weren’t really “musical”, other than loving it. I was able to take piano lessons just about as early as I can remember.

 

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John Mansell: What attracted you to film music?
John Morgan: In the mid fifties KING KONG (1933) came on television and I was about 10 years old and noticed how effective the music enhanced the drama. Since then I always listened to the music scores and began associating styles with particular composers.

John Mansell: What was your first soundtrack album?
John Morgan: I really don’t remember. Probably the earliest I remember is getting 7th Voyage of Sinbad and Band of Angels.

John Mansell: When did you first realise that you would make music a career
John Morgan: I knew music was the main thing in my life from the beginning. Like all kids, I went through phases related to music. First, big shot pianist playing Rachmaninov with a big orchestra, then teaching music and finally moving to Los Angeles and knowing I had to compose for films.

 

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John Mansell: I know that most collectors associate you with the excellent restoration work you have carried out on vintage scores but you have also composed film scores of your own. What do you prefer to work on: your own scores or restoring past works or do you have the same amount of fondness for both?
John Morgan: Well, there is nothing like writing your own music and having a 90 piece orchestra play it. But with restoration and reconstruction I only have to answer to myself and not worry about a tin-eared producer not liking this or that. And I think by these re-recorded classic scores, I have done something that will outlive me.

John Mansell: Rome Adventure is a wonderful score by Max Steiner; do you think in the future this could be a work that you would look at to re-record?
John Morgan: Certainly. Almost any Max Steiner score is worth re-recording. It has some beautiful themes. Max probably has 100 scores that are worth re-recording that no one has touched yet.
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John Mansell: I was hooked on the Marco Polo re-recordings that you did with William Stromberg. I think I heard one and went out and just got the whole lot. I particularly enjoyed the Horror material i.e. – THE WOLFMAN, DRACULA etc. Wonderful atmospheric movies, with great scores. I think their appeal was that nothing had been available before, like the Hammer material in the UK; were these works that you yourself were particularly fond of?

 

 

 

 

 

 

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John Morgan: Thanks for supporting our efforts. I think we have done about 30 albums for Marco Polo/Naxos. Those Universal horror scores by Skinner and Salter have been favourites since I first saw the films on television in the fifties. I just loved the music and it really became part of me and my musical taste. I was so happy we were able to do these as I am convinced no others in the music world would tackle them as the films, for the most part, were considered B material. But they had A scores. It was difficult too, as none of the orchestration survived, so I had to use the abbreviated piano-conductor sheets and orchestrate the music from top to bottom. I was glad Hans Salter was still alive when we started on his project.

John Mansell: Why, after so many years with Marco Polo (1993-2007), did you choose to start a new label? Have you parted ways with Marco Polo for good?
John Morgan: It was time to go. Our first several years with Marco Polo, we did about 4 CDs per year. And the last few years we were barely doing 2 CDs every 2 years. Bill and I saw the handwriting on the wall. The Marco Polo releases shifted to the budget Naxos label, which I doubt a new recording could ever recoup its costs with the retail price. We were doing more elaborate scores and didn’t have the freedom of picking what we wanted to do like we used to. I have nothing but thanks for Marco Polo and Klaus Heymann for backing our series for so long, but we wanted to do more and have more control and own what we did – so that was our basic reason for striking out on our own. We would have been happy to continue with Naxos but they thought differently when they found out about our new company. We practically worked free for Naxos to just get this stuff done. We got tired, and never got a raise in the 15 years we were with them. And when the music was licensed we never shared in that revenue. So that, in a nutshell, is our reasoning.

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John Mansell: For me the new CDs do sound different from the Marco Polo recordings. Is it because of a different recording technique or maybe different placing of microphones etc?
John Morgan: I think The Adventures of Robin Hood was the first release we did in 5.1 sound. We felt the recording was much better with finer detail, so we have done all our subsequent recordings in 5.1 sound, although most are released in normal CD format. The SACD and DVD-A market is just too small to justify the added expense of releasing them in multiple editions… but we have the masters in that form, so whatever format comes along, we will be ready.

 

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John Mansell: What are the realities of re-recording classic film music – artistic restrictions and concessions?
John Morgan: Not really. If we think the music holds up on its own, away from the film, we have no qualms. So far, no artistic restrictions. The only thing that may restrict us if no written materials exist along with no in-the-clear music track. A couple of cues I had to reconstruct by listening to the original music tracks but if there are too many sound effects or other intrusions, it is impossible to authentically reconstruct it. The Roy Webb and Hans Salter/Universal stuff was tough because the conductor books were so skimpy I had to do a lot of intense listening to hear all that was in the music… or most all!
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John Mansell: Why have so many Steiner scores been re-recorded, is it simply because the composer is more popular, or maybe his scores are more readily available, or is this a personal choice? There are so many composers, Roy Webb, Frank Skinner, George Dunning etc. who are not well represented on recordings?
John Morgan: His scores are not more readily available but he is popular. And of the greats and the amount of scores he has done, he is very under-represented. His music is very difficult to prepare, even if the full scores exist; lots of extra instruments and other difficulties. Many scores have missing music but I have a good relationship with James D’Arc at BYU, who has the Steiner material, and have his sketches to help me in reconstruction. The musicians probably love playing Steiner more than most film scores. His music is very difficult but is written well and they enjoy the challenge. I remember our engineer when we were recording KING KONG saying, “Mahler easy, Steiner, difficult!” Actually, Steiner, Korngold and Herrmann are our best sellers. But we love almost all the golden age composers, so hopefully we can continue doing the better known ones along with the more obscure ones. We were able to do that with Naxos/Marco Polo.

 

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John Mansell: Would you consider recording other material not film related, like music from radio shows, for example Bernard Herrmann’s HAPPY PRINCE (a fairy-tale by Oscar Wilde, adapted by Orson Welles). I think this was performed in concert?
John Morgan: I guess we would consider anything, but right now, I think film-related music is our main focus. Hopefully, we fill in a niche in this big world. If it was a perfect world, I would love to include some classical music these composers have done. I know Bill would very much enjoy conducting a new recording of Herrmann’s MOBY DICK cantata.

John Mansell: Would you also consider re-recording non Hollywood scores, maybe a re-recording of ROCKET TO THE MOON by John Scott, or even music by composers such as Clifton Parker, Francesco Lavagnino, John Barry and even Frank Cordell (CROMWELL)?
John Morgan: As you may know, we did Philip Sainton’s MOBY DICK and a Malcolm Arnold CD with DAVID COPPERFIELD and THE ROOTS OF HEAVEN. I would love to do a complete recording of Parker’s CURSE OF THE DEMON, as well as the wonderful music of Easdale. So much to do.

 

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John Mansell: What do you do when you begin to restore a score, and maybe you get midway through and you realise that sections are missing; is it a case of then watching the movie and listening to the score?
John Morgan: Yes, we certainly do that. I had to reconstruct (orchestrate) all of SHE, KONG, SON OF… MOST DANGEROUS GAME, as well as a great deal for CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE. Also, CAPTAIN BLOOD, all the Roy Webb – Val Lewton music, and of course, the Universal horror music. So much of this music is simply missing and was dumped many years ago. Sad.

John Mansell: What do you think is the purpose of music in film?
John Morgan: To enhance the drama of the film. But when we re-record a score, I feel it must work as music away from the film as a listening experience… even if the listener hasn’t a clue what the film is about. When music is written for a film it belongs to the art of film, when you separate it from the film; it becomes a music art and must be enjoyable as music. I think there are lots of wonderful scores that simply would not work well away from the film. And there are lots of scores that may not work with the film but is terrific music on its own.

John Mansell: Who would you say were your influences musically – this can be classical, modern or film music composers?
John Morgan: Too many to really list. So many, actually. Mostly classical composers, but Richard Strauss, Mahler, Sibelius, Prokofiev, Puccini, Wagner, Vaughn-Williams and on and on. For film, I love the golden agers… Steiner, Herrmann, Waxman, Korngold, etc. And of the more recent ones, Bernstein, Williams, Goldsmith, etc.

 

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John Mansell: THE ALAMO is a score that is crying out to be re-recorded; do you think that this will ever get the Morgan/Stromberg treatment, or maybe a full version of Tiomkin’s 55 DAYS AT PEKING or THE FALL OF THE ROMAN EMPIRE?
John Morgan: Well, THE ALAMO is a first rate score, however all the music stems survive in stereo and I hope FSM or some other group can work it out so they can be released someday. We try to steer clear of things that we feel there is a good chance of original materials in great shape survive.

John Mansell: Are there composers who’s scores you would not attempt to re-record, and if so why?
John Morgan: No, but there are scores that we would not attempt to re-record. Scores that have elaborate electronic overdubs or tape manipulations we would shy away from as it is impossible to replicate those today. In cases such as Jerry Goldsmith, many of the overdubs were not written down and the electronic instruments he used then are mostly obsolete now. Also, scores that the original tracks survive in great sounding stereo sound, would be another category of scores we probably would not do. There are so many scores that have not had any kind releasable recording; I don’t think there is a big point in re-recording things like BEN-HUR, JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH, etc. And finally, scores that rely on musical personalities such as character singing, special jazz interpolations, special overdubs such as many of Henry Mancini 60s scores, we would also put on a back burner. Not that they aren’t worthy, but we feel we couldn’t do justice to with a re-recording.

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John Mansell: What would you say has been the most daunting or difficult project you have worked on, and why?
John Morgan: All of them have been difficult to try and get right. For me personally, the ones I have to reconstruct-orchestrate are the hardest, but most rewarding. Things like KING KONG, the ROY WEBB music, Victor Young’s THE UNINIVITED, Friedhofer’s THE LODGER, the Universal horror music were difficult because of the music I had to recreate in full score form.

 

John Mansell: How do you think composers of today compare with, the likes of Korngold, Steiner, Newman, North, Bernstein, Goldsmith, Barry and Morricone?
John Morgan: Every era has had first-rate, brilliant composers writing scores. The big difference today is not in music talent, but producers making films. Of course there are always exceptions, but on the whole, music’s place on the soundtrack has moved to third place, behind dialogue and sound effects. The big operatic approach is considered old-fashioned. Producers want music to be hovering in the background as wall paper, rather than contributing to the drama in specific ways. The use of temp-tracks and the insistence of composers to ape the temp track has ruined creativity to a large extent. Having almost all orchestral scores being prepared on synth ahead of time for demos restricts a composer as what sounds good on a synth may not sound good with orchestra and vice-versa. Producers should go to the golf course and leave composers alone.

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John Mansell: What is next on your agenda?
John Morgan: I have a couple of films I am up for to compose the music. We just got back from Russia where we re-recorded Steiner’s complete THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE, as well as Korngold’s THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER. We will soon be starting orchestration work for our next Tribute recordings which will include ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN by Frank Skinner, as well as a comedy album for two Warner Bros scores… Waxman’s THE HORN BLOWS AT MIDNIGHT and Steiner’s ARSENIC AND OLD LACE.

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John Mansell: Have you given concerts of your own music or the music you have re-constructed?
John Morgan: That is a dream we have; to do a big concert of some of the music we have re-recorded. Bill Stromberg did conduct a 25 minute suite from Steiner’s ADVENTURES OF MARK TWAIN back in the mid 90s in Berlin. It was very exciting hearing that music live, and the audience so receptive.

John Mansell: What non Hollywood score would you say is your favourite and for what reasons?
John Morgan: Impossible for me to name only one. The reasons are always the same, really fine music that is a joy to hear away from the film. So many, but off the top of my head, here are a few: Auric: Beauty and the Beast, Sainton: Moby Dick, Easdale: The Red Shoes, Bliss: Things to Come, Parker: Night (Curse) of the Demon among many, many more.

 

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John Mansell: Many thanks…

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Christer Christensson

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Composer Christen Christensson has mainly written music for stage plays and theatre productions and makes his debut in the world of film music with a spellbinding and melodic score for Swedish horror movie PSALM 21. The soundtrack is a mix of experimental and melodious styles and one which will become popular amongst film music aficionados.

John Mansell: Your latest work is the score for the horror movie PSALM 21 and this is your debut on the film music stage. The music is certainly atmospheric and also very emotive in places; how did you become involved on the movie?
Christer Christensson: I’ve worked with the director before on several stage productions so when Fredrik told me that he wanted to make a movie I was of course very interested to participate and he wanted me to.

John Mansell: What size orchestra did you utilize for the score, and how many voices did you use as there are a number of choral passages and also solo performances within the score, which I think make it even more chilling and atmospheric?
Christer Christensson: I wrote it for a chamber orchestra size and all the rest is my own recordings, samples, electronics and stuff. In some parts I beefed up the brass with lower brass sample instruments as we couldn’t afford to hire additional musicians but I think it blends very good with the acoustic recording. The voices I used are various different vocal instruments that I played and mangled to my needs and taste. I would of course have loved to have a real choir but this movie was done with a very slim budget so….The fact that we got the Swedish Chamber Orchestra to participate with such a small budget was almost too good to be true.

John Mansell: PSALM 21 is scored in an almost luxurious style. I say this because most of the Swedish movies I have encountered are scored very thinly or do not have a great deal of music in them, PSALM 21 however, has quite a large sounding soundtrack. It’s more Hollywood than Stockholm. Did the director have specific ideas as to what kind of music he wanted for the picture, or were you left to create the soundtrack without a great deal of hands on involvement from the director?
Christer Christensson: Fredrik (HILLER) always had a clear vision of what the music should bring to a production, so before they started to shoot the movie we went through the script a few times and discussed the style etc. We discussed different ways of how the music should be approached and came to the conclusion that we wanted a Hollywood approach but in a Swedish way. I don’t know if we succeeded but it has a more international appeal than the traditional Swedish films. I always like to become involved as early as possible on a project and to send out my scouts and to be able to influence the production.

John Mansell: How much time were you given to compose the score for PSALM 21 and how did this time scale compare with writing for the theatre?
Christer Christensson: The orchestra could only participate the first week of June, because of their schedule, that date couldn’t change for any reason at all whatsoever. I got the first raw cut of the movie during the latter part of January, but also at that time I had started to rehearse and write for a big theatre production in which I also participated as a musician which was due to premiere at the end of March. That gave me just nine weeks minus the time for my live gigs. In Sweden an ordinary theatre production rehearses for eight weeks. The way I work with a drama etc the first couple of weeks I have to attend the rehearsals to see what I am writing for etc so it’s a bit less.

John Mansell: What musical education did you receive?
Christer Christensson: I’ve studied on a higher level for six years, piano as main instrument. The focus was mainly on improvisational music such as jazz etc.

psalm 21John Mansell: Was music for film and theatre something that you had always wanted to be involved with?
Christer Christensson: As a kid I loved theatre and film. When I started to play the piano at around the age of thirteen, I often turned off the sound of the VHS and put new music to the particular film I was watching, so in answer to your question, yes I guess so.

John Mansell: What would you identify as the main differences between working in theatre and scoring a motion picture?
Christer Christensson: The main difference is that theatre is live. Even if it’s really well rehearsed, it’s always different from the night before. For me it means that the tempo, for example, is slightly different from night to night. Also, dialogue in a play is usually with acoustic voices which has its consequences for the music in terms of getting the desired dramatic effect without drenching the actors’ voices.

John Mansell: What is your favoured routine when scoring a project. Do you at first tackle larger cues or maybe begin with smaller intimate pieces and then move onto the more lengthy cues, and do you like to firstly come up with a central theme and build the score around this?
Christer Christensson: It really depends on the project. Sometimes I first hunt for the main colours because I find that’s most important and on other occasions I’ll go for the central theme.

John Mansell: What composers or artists have influenced you or have played a part in the way that you approach composition?
Christer Christensson: I have a lot of different influences from all genres but to name a few there is Steve Reich, Keith Jarrett, Arvo Pärt, Björk, Henryk Gorecki, Peter Gabriel, Igor Stravinsky, Samuel Barber, Bernard Herrmann… and quite a few more.

John Mansell: Do you conduct all of your own music, or do you at times enlist the assistance of a conductor?
Christer Christensson: Conducting larger ensembles is not what I do best so those I leave for a conductor, but smaller ones yes I will conduct them.

John Mansell: Also do you orchestrate all of your own music and do you think that orchestration is an important part of the composing process?
Christer Christensson: I orchestrate all my music because for me that’s a big part of the composition. But I always call for another set of ears and input from others too.

John Mansell: When you are working on a project what is your favoured instrument when it comes to arriving at your musical solutions, keyboard computer etc?
Christer Christensson: Most of the time I’ll start with piano and my voice to find the themes and main harmonics. From that I orchestrate and continue in DP or Logic with samples, synths or whatever needs I have. If a part needs to be recorded by another musician I write that on paper or in Sibelius.

John Mansell: What are you working on at the moment?
Christer Christensson: At the moment I’m writing a production for the stage and finishing up a Swedish drama for the cinema called OCH PICADILLY CIRCUS LIGGER INTE I KUMLA.

John Mansell: Many thanks.

Cesar Benito.

Cesar_BenitoHailing from Southern Spain, Los Angeles-based composer Cesar Benito’s film credits include the critically-acclaimed MIA SARAH, for which he won the BEST ORCHESTRAL COMPOSITION AWARD at the Garden State Film Festival and was nominated for BEST NEW COMPOSER at the Film Music Critics Awards as well as BEST ORIGINAL SCORE at the Cinema Writers Circle Awards of Spain.

Benito has also worked as a producer, arranger, orchestrator, conductor, performer and music director of a wide variety of shows like The Emperor’s Jazz Orchestra, the American Society of Music Arrangers & Composers Big Band, the Boston Conservatory Orchestra, Musicals, Choral ensembles, International folk festivals featuring Symphonic Flamenco and other events like the Opening Gala & Unveiling of the Ricardo Montalban Theater in Hollywood–Where he also accompanied on the Piano to Broadway star, recording artist and Grammy, Tony and Emmy Award winner Robert Goulet.

Cesar graduated Magna Cum Laude in Film Scoring and Contemporary Writing & Production from Berklee College of Music, Boston. He also holds degrees in Music Theory, Piano and Composition by the Conservatories of Malaga and Madrid in Spain as well as a Diploma in Industrial Engineering by the University of Malaga.

John Mansell: Was it always your intention to write for film?
Cesar Benito: Not really. I didn’t even think about making a living with music until I was in my mid 20s. I even quit my music studies for a few years to get a degree in Industrial Engineering; only to find out how much I hated it. Then I developed a passion for Broadway, and West End musicals. So I went back to my music studies at the Conservatory in Spain, and in order to expand my musical knowledge I went to Berklee College of Music in Boston. Their Film Scoring program caught my eye, and I fell in love with the genre after the first few classes.

John Mansell: One of your recent projects is WAYS TO LIVE FOREVER; how did you become involved on this picture?
Cesar Benito: The director of the film, Gustavo Ron, and I are good friends. We also have very similar film, and music tastes. We enjoy, and get very excited about every opportunity we get to work together. We have a close rapport. WAYS TO LIVE FOREVER is my second collaboration with him. Our previous project was his debut film MÍA SARAH.

John Mansell: WAYS TO LIVE FOREVER is a touching and bittersweet tale that contains a highly emotional score, that is uplifting but also at times so sad. You fuse both conventional instrumentation with that of a more quirky line up of instrumentation which you combine with electronic support. How do these elements relate to the actual story and central characters in the movie?
Cesar Benito: Gustavo gave me some initial directions about the music aspects for this film. He didn’t want a score rich in melodies and lush orchestrations. He didn’t want a sad depressing score either. He asked me to write minimalistic music with an uplifting feel to support the spirit of the young protagonist. We tried many approaches and brainstormed together quite a bit until the very last moment.

John Mansell: How long did you have to work on the score and was the director hands on when it came to the music or was he happy to let you do your job?
Cesar Benito: The whole score was done from inception to completion in about three weeks. It was a very hectic process. Once I got the workprint, and had a spotting session with the director, he let me do my job during the composing period. But during the recording sessions he got more hands-on and contributed with great ideas that improved the overall score. He was also very supportive to me during the whole process which I really appreciated.

John Mansell: What would you say is the role of music in film?
Cesar Benito: It’s different on each film. Sometimes the score is crucial to transmit certain emotions that cannot be accomplished just with the acting, or the sound effects. Some other times the music plays a more subliminal role in the story, setting the mood, in the background. In some other films you can find good catchy themes to make a character more attractive, or you can also find leitmotivs that identify different characters, and situations. The music can also become a character by itself in the film. The possibilities are endless.

Cesar_Benito_1John Mansell: What musical education did you receive and did you come from a family background that was musical?
Cesar Benito: Both of my parents are classical music lovers. I’ve always been listening to classical music at home, or during road trips with my family. Mainly Bach, Beethoven and Chopin. My mom has some musical studies, and she was the one who introduced me and my sister to music at a very early age. I didn’t start studying music seriously until I was ten years old. I graduated in Piano, Music Theory, Orchestration, and Composition at the Conservatories of Malaga, and Madrid, I also have a Dual Major degree in Film Scoring, and Contemporary Writing & Production (Pop-Rock arranging, Jazz & Big band arranging, etc.) at Berklee College of Music. Additionally, I have studies in Conducting, Music Technology, Film Music Orchestration, Classical Percussion, Latin Percussion, Electroacoustic Music, and I also learned as a teenager how to play the Electric Guitar on my own by listening to the music of AC/DC and Van Halen.

John Mansell: You were born in Marbella in Spain. When did you re-locate to the United States and was this because of your musical career?
Cesar Benito: I had dreamed of moving to the United States since I was about twelve or thirteen years old. I don’t really remember what triggered that idea in me. It wasn’t music at that time; maybe it started with my love for basketball and the L.A. Lakers. Once I decided I wanted to be a composer the idea of moving to the U.S. grew stronger in me. It took me many years to decide when to move because I felt that I should have a very solid musical foundation before I took the leap. I first thought of moving to New York to get into the world of Broadway, and write a musical, but then after I studied Film Scoring I decided to pursue a career as a film composer in Hollywood. I still want to write a musical sometime soon!

John Mansell: You have worked on TV productions such as the Spanish remake of the BBC show LIFE ON MARS, LA CHICA DE AYER and have scored motion pictures and worked on various musical projects, what would you identify as the main differences between the mediums apart from maybe budget?
Cesar Benito: When I work in films I’m given a time frame to meet a deadline, and I can manage my own schedule as long as I meet the deadline. On TV shows deadlines are much more tight, and immediate. The lower budget in TV projects forces me to work with sampled instruments rather than a real orchestra, so that limits my musical possibilities in these kinds of projects.

John Mansell: Do you orchestrate your own music all of the time or do you at times use an orchestrator; also do you conduct at all?
Cesar Benito: So far, I have always orchestrated and conducted all of my projects. However I would love to have a project with a budget that would allow me to work with some of the big orchestrators from Hollywood some day.

John Mansell: When spotting a movie how many times do you like to see it before you begin to get fixed ideas about the style of music and also the placing of the music?
Cesar Benito: I usually watch the film over, and over. Sometimes I respond immediately to the images, and good ideas can come fairly quickly while others I need more time to get inspired. I try to come up with music that reflects the personality of the film. I try not to repeat myself from other projects, and instead I try to be as unique as I can with every new project to give it its own individual personality. The beginning is always hard; trying to find out the tone of the story, the rhythm, the dramatic aspects, an identity for the music, etc. Of the time frame I’m given to score a film I usually use about 60% of that time to compose the best original themes and ideas that I can. When I think I have a decent amount of material to work with I start scoring and orchestrating scene by scene, usually in chronologically order, so the music evolves in tandem with the story, and the dramatic arc of every scene, and the film as a whole.

John Mansell: When working on a film score or indeed any musical assignment   how do you bring your musical ideas to fruition, do you use piano, synth or write straight to manuscript?
Cesar Benito: I mostly sit at the Piano, but I also hum while I drive, walk or go for a hike recording those ideas on any portable device I have at hand, or in the sequencer if I’m sitting in front of my computer. Occasionally I will write down something on paper if I’m already in bed…

John Mansell: What composers or artists would you say have influenced you at all?
Cesar Benito: I guess every composer I like has influenced me in some way. My role model would be John Williams.

15573John Mansell: Were you involved in the sequencing of the soundtrack compact disc for WAYS TO LIVE FOREVER; I mean did you select what music was to be on the disc?
Cesar Benito: Absolutely, this CD is my brainchild. I selected all the tracks, edited, and mix-and-match them to make the listening of the album more enjoyable. I also worked with the engineer, Javier Ferreiro, to remix and remaster some of the tracks to improve them sonically for the CD. I basically did everything to make a presentable product in the market from hiring the graphic designer of the CD cover to contacting the publisher.

John Mansell: Have any movies that you worked on contained a temp track of any type and if so did you find it helpful or distracting when trying to think of ways to score the film?
Cesar Benito: I get a temp track on most of the films I score. Sometimes they help, sometimes they distract, or sometimes they could be an obstacle when the director has fallen in love with it.

John Mansell: Out of the movies you have worked on is there any one or two that hold a special place in your affections and why?
Cesar Benito: I love most of my scores as if they were my children, but maybe MÍA SARAH is the one that holds that special place in my heart. It was the first feature film I got to use a real orchestra to record my music. I like the themes I wrote, and the way I used them as leitmotivs for each character and situations all along the story.

John Mansell: What are the main differences between Spain and The United States in the way of recording facilities orchestras etc?
Cesar Benito: I love working in the United States because of the level of expertise and professionalism of the musicians.

John Mansell: What are you working on at the moment?
Cesar Benito: I’m currently scoring two very musically ambitious TV shows for Antena 3 TV (Spain). The third season of LOS PROTEGIDOS (a show about kids with super-powers, action-packed with thrills, drama, comedy, and romance) and EL TIEMPO ENTRE COSTURAS (a story about a Spanish seamstress that becomes a spy for the British government during the WWII based on the bestselling novel by the writer Maria Dueñas) I predict it’s going to be a huge success. Also I just initiated talks with a film director from India to score his next feature film, a psycho-thriller.

John Mansell: Many thanks, for your time and patience…

Luis Ivars

luis ivars

 

 

Luis Ivars, a composer from Alicante, Spain, is a chameleon-like musician who has worked in various musical genres throughout his career. He jumped from his classical background to pop, rock and jazz as a keyboardist in bands such as Mediterráneo and Danza Invisible. After 20 years of touring both in Spain and internationally, Luis decided to focus his activities exclusively on composing for audiovisual media. He has written more than 70 scores for film, TV, advertising, theatre and museums such as LA DAMA BOBA, TIEMPOS DE AZUCAR and EL DIOS DE MADERA. CAPITAN TRUENO Y EL SANTO GRIAL is his tenth soundtrack.

 

 

 

 

 

John Mansell: Where and when were you born?
Luis Ivars: I was born in Alicante in 1960, a tourist city of the south-east of Spain. Which can be described as a Mediterranean version of California.

John Mansell: You started your career in classical music and then began playing keyboard in various bands etc, when did you decide to write music for film?
Luis Ivars: I spent all my childhood weekends in a double session cinema where my grandfather worked. I often think that was my best school and the seeds of my passion for film music were I think planted then. I recorded many hit records with my band and I also did 20 years of intense touring, it was during this period that I started composing for short or documentary. However, in 1995, I left the tours to start my first film score which was for Tabarka.

John Mansell: What musical education did you receive?
Luis Ivars: Officially, I studied classical piano, counterpoint and fugue and some courses on contemporary and classical composition. But education never ends.

John Mansell: You have scored many types of genre and also have worked on numerous projects including ads and television programmes, would you say there is a specific genre of film or a particular subject matter that you are more comfortable in as a composer or do you like to have lots of variation in your projects?
Luis Ivars: I think the ideal composer for film is like a chameleon. He should be able to change style depending on the environment. He must also have ability of adapting, in the same way an actor who portrays different characters.
I love diversity. I enjoy both London and a sunset in the Sahara. It allows me to learn and experience more. But even though I change style, I try to keep my personality in my compositions. I could say I’m an ocean of wisdom which is an inch deep.
capitan-trueno-pos-b
John Mansell:Your tenth soundtrack CAPITAN TRUENO Y EL SANTO GRIAL, has just been issued by Movie Score Media, were you involved in the preparation of the CD, i.e.; did you select the tracks etc that would be released and work closely with the company on the production ?
Luis Ivars: I took great care of the stereo mix process and the mastering of Captain Thunder. It has 90 minutes of music in 54 tracks. Then I started working with Mikael Carlson. He provides with very practical and artistic editing criteria and I studied new editions of the themes. Finally, we were left with sixty minutes of music in 21 tracks, which were placed in the running order as they appeared in the movie. It was a very positive relationship in which Michael displayed his great quality as editor.

John Mansell: Staying with CAPITAN TRUENO Y EL SANTO GRAIL, it is an epic sounding score, has sweeping and wistful themes, anthem like passages and also contains a certain amount of romantic and ethnic compositions, what size orchestra did you utilize for the project, how long were you given to write the score and how did you become involved on the movie?
Luis Ivars: I knew immediately that this work would be long and intense. I spent four months composing, recording, editing and mixing . So I chose a nice apartment which was situated on the 9th floor with spectacular views in front of the sea, the harbour and the castle to set up my studio. It was like being in a lighthouse, very much inspiring and I shut myself up there till I had completed my work.
Once I had this fantastic environment I begun to develop the main theme. Usually I begin doing ambients, easier scenes, but this time I thought that this would make easier my work. And I needed to feel how big the main theme would sound to find the colours and the size of the orchestra. I begun to work with Oscar Navarro in orchestration and finally we decided on an orchestra of 80 musicians.

John Mansell: Antonio Hernandez is the director on CAPITAN TRUENO; did he have a hand on approach to proceedings when it came to the music or any specific ideas or preferences?
Luis Ivars: The first time we discussed the music Antonio told me: “The music doesn’t stop up to THE END. Then, you take a rest for a second and the music continues with credits”. I thought: “Bluff! This is a joke!” But it was true. Ninety minutes of soundtrack.
It is wonderful to work with Antonio. He suggests you certain emotions or a line of action, but he gives you the freedom to create. He lives 400 kms away from me, so I send mp3 to him of what I had composed and then he gave me his opinion. We were sharing the music as I was creating it.

John Mansell: What composers or other artists would you say have either influenced you musically or have inspired you when writing or performing music ?
Luis Ivars: Surely, many of them. But for melodic quality I would say Ryuichi Sakamoto, Ennio Morricone and John Barry… and although it is not my style, Goldsmith even now when I listen to his work still surprises me.

John Mansell: In recent years Spanish film music has really captured the attention of soundtrack collectors, why do you think there has been this sudden upsurge of interest in Spanish scores?
Luis Ivars: It is true that there was a boom in film composers of my generation, which gave very good jobs in the 90’s. But new talents are still emerging, many of these have studied in LA or Berkley.
I think that there is something very important for composers to be able to succeed, that is to have good directors and international films. That is the case of Almodóvar with Alberto Iglesias, who has his third Oscar nomination.
On the other hand, having to compose a brilliant soundtrack for a movie with such low budgets in Spain forces one to rack your brains and creativity.

John Mansell: How many times do you like to sit and study a movie before you begin to get any fixed ideas about what type of music should be written or where music should be placed to best serve the movie?
Luis Ivars: I do tend to spend a lot of time studying a movie or any project I am about to work on. I feel this is the most important process to make a good soundtrack. I try to discover hidden emotional lines, I study the needs to compliment a character. Summing up, I need to feel deeply the emotions and also the story of the film. Then music appears. Sometimes I see a take repeatedly till I begin to play in a subconscious way over it trying to draw the emotions I feel. So, the feeling takes me to the idea and only at the end, to the formal aspect: the score.

John Mansell: Do you orchestrate all of your music for film, also do you conduct your scores or do you prefer to oversee things from the recording booth at the scoring sessions to ensure things are going as planned?
Luis Ivars: I usually work with an orchestrator. We split the blocks (There were four in Captain Thunder along the very last week to be on time) Then, I check his work and I give mine already reviewed, as a feedback which leads us to the target with accuracy. As for conducting, I do like to hear the orchestra in the recording booth and watch the footage simultaneously. This gives me a feeling that allows me to fit the performance and sometimes to make some changes to the score.

John Mansell: When working on a film score do you work out your musical ideas on keyboard or do you utilize computer or maybe you put them straight down to manuscript?
Luis Ivars: There are styles, such as baroque, I need to develop from the manuscript score. I usually work using Logic with many collections of sounds. But everything starts with my keyboard this is when I am looking for ideas or developing the melodies I have in mind. I also like to create the themes while walking along the beach, parks etc.
I hum them in my iPhone or write on a napkin in a bar… you never know when a good idea might appear, but for sure we must not miss it.

John Mansell: Are there any film scores that you have a particular fondness for either by yourself or by another composer ?
Luis Ivars: As I said before, my childhood was spent in a cinema where my grandfather worked at. I lived cinema from outside and from inside. Many years later, once my grandfather died, I went to see Cinema Paradiso. In some way I recognized myself in the child and a roller coaster of emotions overwhelmed me.
The music of Ennio Morricone became memorable for me because of the added emotional burden. I was deeply marked by him. I used all the handkerchiefs of the cinema…

John Mansell: Do you have a set routine when composing a score for a movie, by this I mean do you begin with the main titles or do you tackle more lengthy cues first leaving smaller cues till later in the proceedings, or do you think it is important to have a central theme to build the remainder of the score around?
Luis Ivars: I know that a routine is very important and I try, but… Each movie is different and needs its own individual attention.
To have the main theme to be developed and adapted always works. But sometimes this does not happen; in that case I start with other minor scenes. I always wait for the first editing to receive the sensations from footage, but in “Tiempos de Azúcar” after reading the script by JL Iborra I was so fascinated that I sat at the piano and in one afternoon I composed the two main themes of the film before shooting even a scene.
I would like to know the magic routine, but…

John Mansell: For you what is the purpose of music in film?
Luis Ivars: To become a parallel script to the film, as a second skin which compliments and adds formal and emotional continuity.

John Mansell: Are you working on anything at the moment?
Luis Ivars: Yes I am at the moment working on the music of the video which will represent internationally the Spanish Photographers of Nature in 2012. It will be screened in London… And always in FFACE, Federation for Film & Audiovisual Composers of Europe, where I have tried to do my best as President for the last two years. It is very exciting to share the information and problems of the European composers to find solutions all together to improve the conditions of our work.

Ben Bartlett.

 

ben bartlett

 

An Emmy nominated and Bafta award-winning composer, Ben Bartlett stormed the UK film & TV industry with his memorable and original score to WALKING WITH DINOSAURS. Hugely versatile, his music is intelligent, yet highly melodic, equally at ease with writing symphonic scores as well as writing in contemporary, edgy and upbeat styles. It is very apparent from his credits that he is a composer who can score anything, and score it to brief, whilst coming up with a voice that is fresh, unexpected and surprising. Ben is a composer for the alternatively minded project, as well as the more “mainstream” brief. He is a composer whose talents allow him to be as versatile as the projects for which he is commissioned.

 

John Mansell: One of your latest assignments for television is the police drama VERA. The first. episode which was a two hour drama, contained some really haunting and atmospheric music, I felt it evoked the style of John Barry in places, the low woodwind and dark sounding strings added much to the storyline, how did you become involved on the assignment and what size ensemble did you utilise and will there be a soundtrack album?
Ben Bartlett: I became involved with VERA through my relationship with Adrian Shergold – with whom I worked on HE KILLS COPPERS and FIONA’S STORY. These two very different projects were really exciting to contribute to – so VERA was a no brainer.
Barry, much like Hermann, is a strong influence on my work. Although tipping my hat quite deliberately at times to the sound world of Barry and possibly Mancini, (unison bass flutes for example), there is a deeper influence at work. Like Hermann, Barry pares down his musical arguments to the simplest of ideas – allowing the film’s edit room to breathe and flow, rather than attempting to underline cuts and junctions. I prefer (often) to be musically offset from the editor’s rhythmic meter. It’s not a conscious process however – I know when it’s feeling right. This often lends the music the power to refer to feelings or trajectories not immediately apparent on screen.
I employed 3 flautists, bearing the full range of instruments right down to the contra-bass flute.

John Mansell: Staying with VERA did you score each episode separately as you would in the case of a feature film, or did you spot the series and then score certain scenes from various episodes?
Ben Bartlett: Episodes were scored separately. There was a strong thematic component which appears throughout the score however.

John Mansell: I suppose you really became prominent and know to film music collectors via your music to WALKING WITH DINOSAURS, your scores for this and the spin off productions was excellent and gave the individual episodes and even the dinosaurs in the series an identity all of their own. Could you tell us how you became involved with these productions?
Ben Bartlett: WALKING WITH DINOSAURS was basically my big break. I became involved as Tim Haines at BBC was inviting people to submit their show reels, and my agent at the time got wind of this and pressed Tim to listen to mine. That was just the beginning though. At that stage I was then asked to scores (and re-score several times) a sequence of film (from Ep 3 as it turns out). From that I think I won them over.

John Mansell: You have worked on feature films as well as TV productions, what would you identify as the main differences between scoring projects in these two mediums?
Ben Bartlett: It’s a subtle difference to explain – let me make an analogy. TV tends to feature more close ups than film. It’s a function of the scale (or historical scale) of the medium. To see the eyes in a movie a full close-up us not so necessary. Film is more photographic, more contextual – a larger whole, or framework, is at work. TV needs to grab attention away from household (and other media) distractions. Film has a captive audience. Take what you will from this regarding music – but for me film music requires or more expansive approach than does TV. Film music has a luxury (captive audience) and this allows the score to breathe more deeply. This could translate to bigger sounds and sweeping themes. But on the other hand the tiniest idea (think Morricone and THE GOOD, THE BAD & THE UGLY for example – a simple flute figure) can be just as expansive. TV music needs to satisfy certain elements of “product” that film can largely avoid. Lately though, film has been trapped in a TV brain – perhaps an inevitable result of the merging of media delivery across on line formats etc.
I have so often been briefed in TV work to “be filmic” and the result can often seem bombastic and pretentious. Unless the TV script has a broad canvas (which VERA is inclined towards) it will work better when the score addresses “the present”. It’s very tempting to produce filmic leitmotifs in TV and I often (usually) do this. But through-connectivity or arching structural effect if this effort as a composer is at risk of being broken by an ad break or channel switch or other perils of the medium.

John Mansell: You have also written music for advertisements, this I should imagine is quite difficult, taking into account the time you have to make a statement with any music?
Ben Bartlett: The challenge of Music for ads is understood in part, by taking the contrast between TV and film I just outlined and multiplying by ten. Many tricks are necessary to concatenate a musical argument with a time frame too short for it. Partial phrases, slipped meters, and pastiche are vital. The last especially as, to evoke a time frame larger than we have, subliminal references to pre-existing music genres allows the illusion of scale by drawing upon the viewers pre-learnt musical baggage.

dinosaurs 2John Mansell: What musical education did you receive, and whilst studying did you focus upon a particular area of music and also on any one instrument?
Ben Bartlett: I went to London University and then Guildhall School of music. My original goal of being a concert pianist was soon swiped away by a series of reality checks. Scoring numerous dramas for student productions was a vital learning process.

John Mansell: Do you come from a family background that is musical?
Ben Bartlett: There is some musicality in my family but I was never honed or pushed. My family is very visual – both parents are designers and my mother also worked as an actress. I think this is why I am so comfortable or even dependent on visual contexts for my work.

John Mansell: When you worked on WALKING WITH DINOSAURS, were all the effects in place when you got to see the rough cut of the film, if not did this make it difficult to decide what type of music you would write etc?
Ben Bartlett: By effects I guess you mean sound effects. Largely they were in place – although thankfully Kenneth Brannaghs’s voice over was not. If it had been I would have felt very cornered. I ignored the sound pretty much. I was scoring the emotions of the creatures. That was my intention – to facilitate emotional investment from the viewer in an essentially inanimate artifice.

John Mansell: When you work on a series such as GHOST SQUAD, which I think was 13 episodes, do you ever for want of a better word re-cycle any of the cues you have written for early episodes in later parts of the production, or do you try and score each episode as a separate assignment?
Ben Bartlett: I won’t deny it – let’s say TV has it’s pressures at times. However, I refer to the word recycle in it’s true sense – cues will be re-processed and altered for sure. No two scenes are ever the same. Otherwise, it’s re-use – better still for the planet but not for a score, and best avoided.
At times though, a recurrent theme is exactly what’s needed. HE KILLS COPPERS is my best example of this, where less really is more.

John Mansell: When you start work on a series or a feature film, how do set about it, by this I mean do you start with a central theme and develop the remainder of the score from this or do you write individual cues and then develop any theme for the project from elements of the score?
Ben Bartlett: That’s too tough a question. It is different every time. I do know though, that I am searching at the outset for a musical “engine” that is right and unique for the drama. This engine can often come before the theme. But not always!

John Mansell: You have worked with Adrian Shergold a few times, (HE KILLS COPPERS and FIONA’S STORY) Did he as a director have a hands on approach with the placing and type of music he wanted or did he leave you to get on with the job in hand ?
Ben Bartlett: Adrian is one of the cleverest directors I have had the honour to work with. By a bizarre positive feedback effect, his total trust of whomever he has chosen to work with seems to engender the most inspired output -certainly in my case anyway. I have worked with some very hands on directors of great talent but almost OCD levels of interference. But one has to deal with all these possibilities – it’s part of the job description.

John Mansell: What composers either contemporary or classical would you say may have influenced you in your approach to either scoring films or maybe have had some influence in the way you actually write music?
Ben Bartlett: That’s a potentially huge question. I’d like to just state Shostakovich, Stravinsky, Bartok, Hermann, Mahler, Bach… oh and Artur Koechlin.

John Mansell: Do you perform the orchestrations on your music for film, or do you always or sometimes use an orchestrator. Likewise do you conduct at all?
Ben Bartlett: I ALWAYS orchestrate my work fully. Obsessionally. Conduct – 75% of the time.

John Mansell: Were any of the projects you were asked to score temp tracked, and do you think that this is a practise that is a help or hindrance?
Ben Bartlett: A help for the client. A hindrance to the composer. That’s as plainly as I can put it.

John Mansell: What do you do musically away from film?
Ben Bartlett: I conduct a small chamber choir; try to keep my Chopin Etudes in reasonable shape along with the Goldberg Variations. Would love to direct a crazy huge Latin/Tango/Salsa band but have never gotten around to it. I do teach too.

dinosaurs: Your music for WALKING WITH BEASTS etc, did get released onto CD, did you have any involvement in what music tracks would be going onto the release?
Ben Bartlett: THE BEASTS soundtrack album was so fast tracked that they wanted it realised before the last 2 episodes were scored. It was a sad fact but that was the way it was. I wasn’t happy about that at all.

John Mansell: You have worked on many differing genres, is there any genre of film that you have not worked that maybe you would like to?
Ben Bartlett: Full on period drama has oddly eluded me to date. Watch this space!

John Mansell: At what stage of proceedings do you like to become involved on a project, do you like to see a script or do you prefer to see the film at the rough cut stage for the first time and how many times do you tend to watch a film before you begin to get any set ideas about the music?
Ben Bartlett: I MUCH prefer to wait until a fine cut. By this I mean a completely locked film. My reason is many folds – but mainly because I want as little baggage from the film making “process” itself. I want to enter the films world with as much of a virgin mind as possible. Producers often don’t get this – and I find a score can suffer when it starts to be fed in to the editing process. It’s not just the cues that get scrambled – my brain gets scrambled too. I need to take an overview and get my plan for the score sorted in the knowledge that nothing will change. The slightest tweak to a cut can have a MASSIVE effect on the drama and the score’s goals.

John Mansell: Do you think that a good score can save a bad movie?
Ben Bartlett: No. But it can help a lot! I think a bad score can really ruin a good movie though. It happens all too often.

John Mansell: At the moment in British television I am of the opinion that the musical scores are of a high standard, although at times they do tend to lack the presence of a stand out theme as in vintage television programmes. What is your opinion of the state of British television and film music at this moment in time?
Ben Bartlett: I agree with you. But the lack of stand out themes is I believe a symptom of producers shying away from anything retro. And also wrongly reacting to solid orchestral writing as if it were a retro statement. There are exceptions (e.g. Vera actually, where the producers were brave about being orchestral) but in the drive to be modern, cutting edge, a strong theme is often hard to fit in to that musical environment without it jumping out. The style statement seems to outweigh the musical one sadly.

John Mansell: In your opinion what is the purpose of music in film?
Ben Bartlett: That’s a huge question and it needs a book to answer it. A good approach to understanding it though is to remember that film is a supreme artifice, and although experts at it, modern viewers still need assistance to maintain their suspension of disbelief. Another answer is, well music is powerful and available, why avoid it? That sounds a little cynical I know, but my point really is that film, like it’s precursor, opera, is a total art form. It combines design, prose, acting, cutting, sound and music. The “purpose” of music is almost an empty question. Film is not really complete without it 99% of the time. It provides an emotional argument running in parallel to the script, intensifying the engagement of the viewer. True. But “how it does this” then becomes the next, more interesting question if you follow me.

John Mansell: What are you working on at the moment?
Ben Bartlett: My family. Next project unknown! That’s the joy accompanies the perils of being freelance!

John Mansell: Do you produce what I call show reel discs to send out to prospective directors and producers, a sort of best of Ben Bartlett?
Ben Bartlett: Yup. You need to be Williams or Zimmer not to need too. And I bet they get asked too.

John Mansell: Do you perform at all on any of your scores?
Ben Bartlett: In all of them. The modern computer is an instrument and it’s present in almost every one of my scores. If not, I’m waving a baton.

John Mansell: Thank you so much.
Ben Bartlett: Pleasure.