As a composer you are not solely occupied with writing for film, could you tell me what other musical genres you work in?
Fundamentally, symphonic music and especially the symphonic-choral one. I have specialized in symphonic arrangements of all kinds of music, including rock, pop or Latin music and in soloist and orchestra music composition
For several years I have worked in different aspects of musical pedagogy through the composition of several musical stories for young people. These stories, written in a very cinematic musical language, involve an approach of young people to orchestral music and the learning of concepts such as leitmotiv, musical modes or fugue and counterpoint.
Was music always your choice of career, and what are your earliest memories of any type of music?
I studied Psychology and worked as an experimental psychologist for some years. Nowadays all that knowledge I try to incorporate it into the music that I compose. The first music I remember is that one of my mother singing zarzuela and copla while she was cooking or taking us for a walk. And I also remember my father playing jazz piano or improvising on well-known movie themes.
What musical education did you receive?
I have a classical education in the disciplines of guitar, harmony and composition, although much of my training in other fields such as modern music or film music has been self-taught. I believe that true learning occurs through observation, analysis and research, in spite of the fact that it is reinforced by teachers or by attending courses. The exhaustive study of scores in both the classical and audio-visual fields is fundamental.
What would you say were your musical influences and inspirations, composers, vocalists or any other artistic profession?
As for symphonic music, the great classics and especially the Russian musicians have been a great source of inspiration for me. I also have a special predilection for Elgar (and other English composers as Delius or Vaughn Williams), Piazzolla and Bach….and Morricone, Shore, Williams and Goldsmith, among others, in film music. On the other hand, Latin American, Asian, American or European folk music attracts me to such an extent that I always include some element of this type in my compositions.
THE CHESS PLAYER is a beautiful score, so filled with emotion, how did you become involved on this project?
More than 8 years ago I was offered to compose music about the novel “The Chess Player” by Julio Castedo. The goal was to make a project to shoot a movie. These producers wanted me to be in the project from the beginning, composing pieces about the novel and the script, although the final version of the music has nothing to do with what was written during these years. We could have music for several films with all this material, but the truth is that none would be used for the film as it was at the end of the process.
What size orchestra did you use for THE CHESS PLAYER and where did you record the score?
The music was recorded with the Budapest Symphony Orchestra with approximately 50 musicians. The experience was very rewarding, because the musicians perfectly understood the meaning of the music and apart they were very professional. It is a fact that the musicians of Eastern Europe are specialists in strings and were the ideal ones when it comes to match the style of the film, On the other hand, the solo cello and the pianist were recorded later in Madrid.
Luis Oliveros directed THE CHESS PLAYER what degree of involvement did the director have when it came to the placing of the music and were there any specifics when it came to the style of music that you should compose?
With Luis I had several meetings in which there was a very thorough work to decide which parts should have music etc … but above all, Luis was clear that he wanted a soundtrack in the classical style with defined melodies, and very present in certain sequences. There was a previous process where I sent him models to investigate the style and, once defined, I had creative freedom to compose.
As well as a composer you also conduct, do you find it better to conduct your own music for film, or at times can this be a task you give to a conductor so that you may supervise the scoring of the film?
I am married to an orchestra conductor and therefore I am used to entrust that work to a professional who controls the technical aspects of orchestra conducting better than me. I prefer to be in the control room choosing shots and offering the necessary feedback to the director to get the best recording possible.
When you are offered a movie project to score, what stage do you like to become involved, by this I mean at what stage of the production is it better for you to begin your work?
If possible, I prefer to start working with the script and thus be able, on the one hand, to establish a previous musical script and on the other, to create musical motifs, leitmotifs etc … It is not always possible, and the end is reached with very little time, but in my case, I prefer to spend enough time for the music to mature.
How many times do you look at a movie, before setting out what sections you think need music?
I like to see them several times. The first, from the beginning to the end without interruptions so as not to lose continuity and then analyzing specific parts and defining crucial or determining sites. But for me it is more important the sessions with the director to establish common criteria and that we can both provide relevant information. I think it’s a teamwork in which the editor of the film should also participate.
THE CONSPIRACY was a 2008 movie, which had a running time of over 2 hours, how much music did you write for the movie?
One hour of symphonic-choral music. I am especially proud of this score in which I could combine the symphony orchestra with Renaissance instruments such as vihuela or cornet.
When you write a score for a movie do you ever write a piece of music with a soloist in mind to perform this, and do you perform on any of your film scores?
Only in certain cases such as folkloric or period instruments such as cornet or vihuela, I do think of certain soloists. With the rest of the instruments, I think of “schools of interpretation”, rather than specific soloists. For example, I like the wood wind soloists from the eastern part of Spain or the string soloists from Eastern Europe.
What would you say is the job or the purpose of music in film and can too much music be a bad thing in certain movies?
Music should serve to help tell the story, to explain and to enhance dramatic effects. I think that the music must be absolutely integrated in the image in a way that combines perfectly with the rest of the elements such as sound effects, colors, etc … This is why the absence of music is as important as the music itself, which should be used only when needed. Sometimes certain films need small amount of music and I think adding more can harm the whole.
Is orchestration just as important as the composition of the music?
I think so. For me, orchestration is part of the composition and therefore indivisible. Choosing a specific solo instrument with a certain accompanying texture is a determining factor in defining the composition itself. If I can choose, I prefer to compose and orchestrate at the same time. In fact, I have never collaborated with orchestrators although I have had to orchestrate on some occasion, but I prefer not to do it because it is like attacking the creative intimacy of the composer.
Is there a set routine that you follow when scoring a movie or does the scoring process vary on each movie?
It varies depending on the production, the director, the editing, the time, although I would like it to always be the same. In any case, each film and its particularities give me different views on film work and also give me experience to be able to take on jobs in all kinds of conditions.
Would you say that opening themes or THE MAIN TITLE THEME as many call it is becoming a thing of the past?
It may be, but I am a romantic and I refuse to lose the traditional terminology. In any case, the very nature of music and its function within the film somehow forces you to call it that way. In the case of “the chess player” and by agreement with the director, it was decided that there should be a main theme from which the entire musical structure of the film was developed.
Going back to THE CHESS PLAYER, did you have any involvement on the compiling of what music went onto the soundtrack release?
Yes, I have been involved in the selection, the order etc … After the time maybe, something would have changed or included some piece but in general we are happy with the result. Sound engineer Luis del Toro has also been very involved in this process, whose contributions in the mix have been fundamental.
Techniques, methods and approaches to scoring movies have altered a lot in recent years, how do you work out your musical ideas, piano, synthesizers, or do you turn to a more technical method?
I work very traditionally with the piano and the score and the Sibelius program. I have established a working protocol with these three elements and I cannot renounce any of them. I like to investigate in all the technical advances, and to use some things punctually, but the fundamental base of my compositions is in the traditional methods.
Collectors have been talking recently about the use of THE DRONE sound effect in film scores, what is your opinion of this practice?
I think that every kind of musical effect can be good as long as it is used in an appropriate way to the image and worked from the musical point of view. A well-built drone can be very effective. The problem is when it is used abusively and as an easy resource for composition.
What is the impact of a low budget on what music a composer can create for a movie project?
I think the impact is that the composer has to use more imagination. With great creativity and few instruments, you can create great music. The problem may arise when the expectations of the producers do not coincide on the final result. That is why it is necessary that all the team is aware of what can be done or not with a certain budget. The honesty of the composer consists of being clear about what can be done or not with a certain budget and negotiating with the producer so that both walk in the same direction. If the producer with very little budget wants to obtain a great orchestral soundtrack and does not understand the differences between orchestral music and sampler, for example, the composer must be very careful when accepting that work.
Do you like to develop a central theme for a score before you begin to write the smaller cues?
It can be a theme, a musical motif, a texture or even a style, but you have to have material to be able to build with homogeneous and coherent criteria. I think that all the time that can be spent on research is not wasted time. Before writing a single note, in our head should be around, those magical notes, sequences of chords, etc …
You have written the music for a handful of short films, is it easier if that is the correct wording, to work on a short as opposed to a feature film?
I think that writing music for short films is a challenge. I think it resembles composing small masterpieces that do not have symphonic structures: you have to develop musical themes in a short time and that these are effective.
A question I like to ask is, if a temp track is on a movie, do you find it distracting to work with, or does it help give you an idea of what the director is looking for?
This question is very interesting. In my opinion and according to my experience, the important thing about a temp track is to guess which aspects of it are the ones that make it interesting for a director to use it. Sometimes we think that it is the melody, the harmony, the rhythm but it may surprise us that the director has noticed other aspects that go unnoticed by us. The error I think is in trying to imitate or make a copy. It is preferable to waste time to find out the nature of the temp track.