Gus Reyes is already an established film music composer in his native Mexico, his score for the movie EL LADO OSCURO DE LA LUZ will soon be released by Kronos records, hopefully with the release of this score the interest in this young talented composers music will begin to grow on a worldwide scale. Born June 27, 1977 as Gustavo Alberto Ramirez Reyes. He studied in many important music institutions ending with his application to the “Cardenal Miranda Institute”, where Reyes spent most of his youth studying music. Great Mexican teachers had been part of his education, like Xavier Gonzalez Texcucano (Composer, Orchestral Director and Choir Master), Luis Armando Elias Chain (Composer), Philippe H. Tolon (Lead Violinist), Juan Trigos (Composer), Jorge Torres Sáenz (Composer), Jaime Uribe (Composer and Musical analyst), Eduardo Gamboa (Composer) among others. Reyes studied majors in Composition, Orchestral and Choral Conduction and Musicology.
Many thanks to the composer for his time his patience and his wonderful music.
Well, I can’t pinpoint exactly the first moments of my approach to music. My father was a great musician, so when I was very young we used to spend most of the time listening to classical music, jazz, and different styles all day long. Then, of course, he had to study at nights, so I kept on listening to all his guitar and bass studies, John Patitucci, JoePass, Jaco Pastorius and so on. He used to laugh when I hummed those guitar studies while playing. I guess it was not a surprise for him when I applied for a classical boy’s choir. I think I was 8 years old. By that time, we were already seeing films together every day. So my days were filled with music and movies. So while singing Bach, Stravinsky, Mozart, Händel or Vivaldi, I was also enjoying and discussing the famous 80s film scores. From Goldsmith and Williams to Morricone and Rota. I used to say to everyone that I wanted to become a conductor. Believe me, I was the weird boy in school, nobody knew any of the composers or the themes I used to talk about. Soon after that, my grandmother, who was working for Columbia Tristar Pictures Mexico, saw the interest that I was developing in films so she started to take me to the censorship sessions for each incoming release. Yes, almost like in Cinema Paradiso. She also used to give me all kind of promotional material. That’s how I got my first LP Soundtrack, “First Blood Part II” by Jerry Goldsmith, among other stuff. I was completely blown away with Goldsmith’s work. That was the day I decide to become a composer, a composer for films.
What was the first instrument that you played?
Piano is my instrument. It has been all my life. I was very respectful of my father’s guitar, almost scared by it. I thought I was never going to be as good as he was with a guitar in my hands.
While studying mid and high school I was splitting my time to also study music. I did went to several small academies like Fermata Academy of Music where I practiced the Berklee method of ear training but, I was not happy until I applied to “Cardinal Miranda Institute”. Long time ago, it was called “The Royal Academy of Sacred Music” being an extension of the VaticanPontificalUniversity. By the time I was accepted, of course it was modernized and open to all public and religious beliefs. The discipline was tough and constant. All teachers were great musicians and academics. Home of the best teacher of advanced counterpoint and harmony I’ve ever encountered father Javier González Tezcucano. He was also a great composer and choir master. So I decide to hide from the rest of the world in this college and study all careers and majors possible. I studied Composition, Musicology and Orchestral & Choral Conducting. Always thinking of using all my learned knowledge to be a composer for films.
One of your more recent projects is the score to EL LADO OSCURO DE LA LUZ, your music for this movie is very varied and also haunting, how did you become involved on the picture and how many musicians did you have to perform the score?
Hugo Carrillo and I were already involved in other small TV projects and documentaries. He spent many years trying to bring one of his scripts to the big screen. So when he found the right producers, I was already set to compose for the film. El Lado Oscuro de la Luz was not a big budget production. It was more like a really heart felted project for many of us. When I realized it was going to be a difficult project with lots of usage of samples, I called Diego Westendarp, a great composer and a good friend to produce the music. We decided to take the ordinary sample sound transforming it to its best. Hoping to achieve a non robotic sound but a dynamic and felted and even slightly rough like the beautiful human error in music. We also decide to complete this very hard work with a couple of recordings to bring it closer to real life. We were very impressed with the result. We still are.
In Mexico is the film industry assisted by any funding at all and is the industry successful?
There are several official funds to assist film production in Mexico. None of them have really proofed to be fully successful. Lots of corruption, bad logistics and bad funding administration. This in combination with many legal barriers to create a true business environment makes of the film industry in this country, a very inconsistent one. Most productions stand with no interest from the distribution companies, and no spaces in theatres. Most of them end in a complete failure with no opportunity to compete with foreign films. Private funding films have better chances, but only with the right amount of money to open those spaces. Most films struggle with budget issues, but this has not slow us down. There is talent in our industry. Perhaps the only good thing about this is the free form art we get to experience when money is not the main goal of a production. That I must say is very refreshing comparing it with the big studio foreign film. In other words, Mexican films still believe in dreams.
I try not to over see it. Two or three times tops. Normally the first impression is the most important. That is when you start to think in musical ideas. Some of those ideas get to be important ones, at least to begin the process. The main title of El Lado Oscuro de la Luz was one of those first, and I think it went well.
How much music did you compose for EL LADO OSCURO DE LA LUZ and how much of the score will be included on the CD release?
Let’s see, 25 cues, 5 songs, that is almost 55 minutes of music in the entire film. Most of the cues are in the CD release. I left out two or three small ones and left only the song that was created originally for the film. There were some cues that worked together perfectly so I edited them for the release.
Were you involved in the selection of music for the CD release?
Frankly, I was not sure to be able to find an opportunity to release this score, so I did a personal edition, mainly for myself. I was very happy with it, but when Godwin Borg of Kronos Records listened to it, well, he was very happy too. So I talked to Ivonne Guevara to settle the possibility to maintain her song in the CD release, and she and Warner Chappell Music Mexico were very happy too. So we never changed a thing. We are all a happy family…
Do you orchestrate all of or the majority of your music for film and do you think that orchestration is an extension of the composing process?
I do tend to orchestrate all of my music, but I’ve also worked with excellent orchestrators like Jaime Arturo Uribe or Arturo Rodríguez and even trained myself helping maestro Eduardo Gamboa with some of his music, but I do think orchestration is an essential part of the composition process. To compose without orchestrating is like drawing without filling with colour.
On the score for EL LADO OSCURO DE LA LUZ, there are a number of stunning Soprano performances, who is the vocalist and when you were writing the vocal parts of the score did you have this performer in mind?
You got me! I did write the Soprano part with a specific person in mind. Her name is Alejandra Esqueda, and I personally think she is one of the best soloists in Mexico right now. She is a 27 year old performer who has a long career and is part of the first Opera Studio in Mexico studying with teachers of the Academy of Vocal Arts of Philadelphia. I was stunned with her voice and rendition since the first time I met her in a concert. She performed the aria “Rejoice Greatly, Oh Daughter of Zion” from Handel’s Messiah and she was the light of that evening. We have worked together in many projects and I trust completely in her voice and her work.
Do you conduct at all, if so do you like to conduct your film scores or is it better for you to monitor the scoring sessions from the mixing booth?
I do like to conduct, mainly my music, but, at least in my own personal experience, sometimes you do not get the chance to do it. There is too much work to be done, and it is also very interesting to monitor the recording session from the mixing booth. I’ve had the chance to work with fantastic conductors like Arturo Rodríguez and it is a pleasure to see him work with the orchestra. I really enjoy standing by the director to chat about the interpretation between cues.
When writing a score do you firstly establish a core or central theme and then fashion the remainder of the score around this foundation or maybe you begin with lesser cues and then after these are finished move onto the more substantial pieces, or is this different with each project?
It depends on the project or at least this is how it is for me personally. Some film directors do not like thematic music, so in that case the order of the composition process may be different. They may want an atmospheric approach with the music so I try to avoid all melodic comments in the score, at least in those cases. Certainly I absolutely prefer a fully thematic score at all times. And in that case I do seek for the main melodic or harmonic theme first, and then start to develop it for the rest of the score. Counterpoint in it’s purest form allows you to write several themes that are interconnected, like in the score of El Lado Oscuro de la Luz, the line of the 1st violin is the main melodic theme, but the line of the sopranos of the boys choir is a counter melody that was used for the most dramatic moments of the main character. Listening them separately they seemed like different pieces, but they are part of the same thing. Then, in the Requiem, you can find both lines together in a continuous development.
Do you like to perform on any of your own scores?
I love to, mainly with my voice. If there is any part for a Baritone or some special textures for a male voice, I tend to do it myself. It is so much fun to be part of the final sound, even if I don’t like much the sound of my own voice. But normally I play all the piano parts.
The composing process has altered drastically over the past twenty or so years, how do you work out your musical thoughts, do you write straight to manuscript or maybe keyboard, piano or do you enlist more hi tech components?
I used to be a pencil & paper kind of guy, but today this is very impractical for projects with a deadline. I usually start with the keyboard, after that I record the idea in a midi sequencer. My choice has always been Steinberg’s Cubase for its fantastic feature of see all midi tracks at the same time. This allows you to work seeing all voices and their movement. I tend to have the score option open at all times, so I never go too far from the actual notation. I think I’ve become a hi-tech geek, at least for fast composition gigs. From time to time I write for myself with pencil and paper, or analyze any classical score, mainly to be clear about all notation techniques and never forget them.
EL LADO OSCURO DE LA LUZ is directed by Hugo Carillo Brumbaugh did he have a hands on approach when it came to the music for the movie, or was he happy to leave you to work on the score?
He was happy to leave me work in the score. We had several sessions to revise the status of the music, and I quote him“Every time you show me new cues, I feel like I’m seeing a different film that the one I directed”. That being said, this is the most personal score of my entire career. Hugo is very happy with the final result.
Most of the times yes, Directors tend to be very clear about the places where music should happen in their films. But In El Lado Oscuro de la Luz, Hugo left me entirely free to make even those decisions. I had to embrace the whole film, analyze it profoundly to make the best choices of the musical events. I had long discussions in my head about each musical decision. I even dreamt about them. I guess sometimes it pays to be a little extra free.
Looking at film music from the past, how do think that modern day film music compares with scores from the 1940,s 1960,s and 1970,s?
I think each generation tries to put their likings and styles into film music in search of a better emotional communication process. Considering expressionist and nationalist music as the first to be on films, and the first recordings of classical masterpieces, most of them of the Romantic period, which were the boom at the time when filmmaking was actually born, there has been an interesting phenomenon that permeates film history. All popular music styles used for generational communication purposes in films eventually change from its purest form and fused up with orchestral music. Jazz in the 1930,s, and the1940, s, Rock & Roll and Latin Jazz in the 1960,s, and the 1970, s, Motown and Disco also in the 1970,s, Electropop in the 1980,s, they all suffered the same fate. Somehow the orchestra remains as the best man made instrument for emotional communication. There has been usage of almost all “classical” styles in music history for films. Of course each decade developed different scoring methods and purposes, the full underscoring, the Mickey mousing, the atmospheric use of contemporary music, the thematic and operatic use, but we can’t deny the fact that orchestral music has found a natural bond with movies. Lots of film directors consider orchestral sound as a “cliché”, but I think this is a common mistake. Orchestral sound in movies is in reality a “convention”, one that communicates effectively, and one that we can still develop in the future. Furthermore I think thematic orchestral music has always been around films, and personally I believe that it is directly linked to the natural progress of “Classical” or serious music itself. Anyhow I think films allow composers to rethink melody, harmony, rhythm, counterpoint, its logical progression and movement beyond the classical forms. We can observe long and complex melodies made for long purely musical scenes like in Miklós Rózsa´s work for Ben-Hur in 1959 or Laurent Petitgand´s work in Faraway, so Close! in 1993, to small gestures of melody of simply two notes like Hans Zimmer & James Newton Howard’s work on Batman Begins. Film music has always pushed the boundaries without breaking entirely the conventions of communication. So besides the main differences between styles in every decade, music in films always did search for, like I said before, a better emotional communication process for it’s time, and did built a separate evolution from the world of music itself.
The temp track is something that is in use on a regular basis, what do you think of the practise of tracking the film with music from other movies or even songs and classical material, do you find this is helpful or the opposite?
Temp tracks are constant discussion around the world indeed. I think editors find them very useful, but they also should realize that temp tracks keep them from the possibility of sensing the rhythm in their cut in an organic way, without biases. The real problem comes when an editor thinks he should be in charge of the musical decisions. Hardly any editor has the musical knowledge to discuss theme developing and it’s interconnections thru the film. They normally rely on musical taste alone. But, don’t get me wrong, I have a great deal of respect in the work of editors. It’s always good to have second opinions, but that’s all they are. Directors on the other hand, normally know when and what type of music they want, but I do think they never should revise their film with temp tracks on. To sense the rhythm, the emotional intention or the hidden layers to portrait with music in a film is work for a composer in complicity with the director. Best analysis of the film that any composer can do, can only be done by seeing the film without music. Only then a composer can present music that comes from a blank sheet, inspired directly by the film itself, without biases.
What in your opinion is the job of music in film?
I believe the job of music in films is mainly to punctuate the emotional communication process, to give certainty and complete coherently to an emotional world that first happens outside ours, but should end happening inside our own. It helps films to be an extraordinary event. Music has accompanied all extraordinary events of mankind since the beginning of time. From the rituals of the elders to the great military parades of last century, and even today. That is why music and films have a natural bond. Going to a theatre to catch a film is still an extraordinary event in our modern lives, despite the possibility of doing the same in our own home. We pay for a ticket to have an extraordinary experience and to be blown away from our senses in every possible way. To attend and even be part of a fantasy tale or a science fiction story, or a horror flick, or an historical recreation, all happening in a window, on a big screen that invites us in. I think music is the magical ticket to enter.
What composers would you say have had an influence upon you when it comes to your approach etc when working on movies?
It’s not an easy question, certainly Jerry Goldsmith, John Williams, James Horner, Stu Phillips, Alan Silvestri, Basil Poledouris, Hans Zimmer, Vangelis, Danny Elfman and the rest of the big bombastic composers of the 1980,s are very important in my life as a film music fan, but there are composers who I think are a bit closer to my approach now a days. Composers like BearMcCreary, some works by Dan Jones, some works by AbelKorzeniowski, some works by Randy Newman, Elliot Goldenthal,Steve Jablonsky, the recently past away Normand Corbeil, Ramin Djawadi, Roque Baños, Carles Cases, and of course the everlasting Ennio Morricone, and I think I’m short on the list. Classical composers who are also very dear to me like SamuelBarber, Arvo Part, Gyorgy Ligueti, the eternal W. A. Mozart and I’m also very short on this list as well.
Are there any projects that you have worked on that hold a special memory for you?
Back in 2006 I worked in a film called “El Ultimo Evangelio” (TheLast Gospel), directed by Juan Carlos Valdivia, and I was really excited about it. I thought the film was very interesting and did my best to create the score. Nothing seemed to work in my relationship with the rest of the team. Everybody had a different opinion and the project became a real nightmare. I was very young and learned how to resolve many things in that project. At the end I realized that only few people were interested in the film and its completion. I really don’t understand why. I was happy with the final music, but the film was released in one single festival to be forgotten later. I still think this film did not deserve that. I love that project for all I could learn by working on it. Still hope to see “El Ultimo Evangelio” released some day.
What are your thoughts on the increased use of electronics and samples within film music?
Of course it is very important not to put samples before real musicians, unless the budget is limited. I think electronics has it’s good use’s within film music, no only the usage of electronic instruments but the tools to transform acoustic sounds, filtered them, swing them, reverse them and all it’s possibilities. You can achieve really extreme sounds and create atmospheres like Steven Price in his latest work on Alfonso Cuarón´s GRAVITY. At the end, you can always complete these textures and weird sounds with the emotion provided by real musicians. Price’s work on Gravity or Joseph Trapanese & Anthony Gonzalez´s (M 83) in Oblivion are great recent examples of what can be done with this kind of fusion. Samples are a fantastic way to preview the music before recording, and in some cases you can fix and improve the recording it self on bad achieved passages and even in rare cases, where the work with samples is carried to its best, you can actually use it. It is very important not to rely on samples for every project and always write your music as if it’s going to be recorded because you never know when it’s going to really happen. I’ve always wanted to have my own orchestra, but never had the resources to buy one, so plan B was at least to have one in my studio computer.
Have you any preferences regarding what studios you use when recording a film score?
Eastern European orchestras are really good except in percussions. Prague, Bratislava and even Macedonia are great places to hire an orchestra for recording. Here in Mexico we have at least two orchestras that I can recommend. The MexFilm Orchestra, founded by the great composer Eduardo Gamboa for his own film score recordings and the OSM (Symphonic Orchestra of Minería) directed by Carlos M. Prieto. Of course I still carry the dream to record with a famous one and in a famous studio some day.
How much time are you normally given to complete a score, maybe you could use THE SECRET as an example?
Every project has been different regarding deadlines. The Secret (El Secreto) directed by Gilberto De Anda, was a film that I worked on in 2010 and I must say that was an extremely hard project to work on. I was contacted once the music was actually finished. The producers hated it and decide to search for another composer and start from scratch. That’s when I entered the project, with a deadline of two months due to the release dates already placed by the distribution company. It was a tremendous pressure to compose and produce not only the score, but two original songs as well. Coffee became my personal lover and sun risings the picture on my wall. A fantasy/Horror flick with lots of music needed. A big orchestral and choir base, ethnic instruments, powered electronic percussions, electric and acoustic guitars and vocals to be recorded. The whole composition process is still blurred in my mind. At the end everything turned out fine. Nowadays I usually ask for tree months minimum. The director and producers were really pleased with the result, and I’m happy to announce that Kronos Records will also be releasing this score soon.
What are you working on at the moment?
Well I just finished a fantastic collaboration work with AndrésSánchez-Maher for the film “El Charro Mistrioso” (TheMysterious Charro) directed by J. M. Cravioto, soon to be released. And I’m still working on a film called “El Entrenador”(The Coach), a family movie directed by Walter Doehner, also to be released this year. I’m pleased to say that I have very interesting propositions for four more films waiting in line.