TALKING TO, UNO HELMERSSON COMPOSER.

 

 

Uno Helmersson, was born and raised in Västerbotten, in the rural parts of Northern Sweden. When he was a small child, his parents took note of his talent for music and made him take organ classes in the nearest town. As a teenager, having moved to a larger town, he played in bands and came to realize that he wanted to pursue music as his profession. He studied music in upper secondary school and continued with a number of preparatory courses before being accepted into Royal College of Music in Stockholm in the autumn of 2002. During his collage years, he came into contact with Johan Söderqvist, one of the most prominent composers of film music in the Nordics. After graduating, Uno started working as Söderqvist’s assistant on films like “Let the Right One In”, “Kon-Tiki” and “Limbo”. Their cooperation matured into a partnership that has resulted in acclaimed productions like the TV series “Bron” and “Departement Q” I & II.

 

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One of your recent soundtrack releases was THE LION WOMAN which got a digital release first then was issued on KRONOS records, how did you become involved on this movie?
I was contacted by one of the producers who had heard my music from my earlier films. I came in late into the process of this film, so the circumstances wasn´t optimal in my opinion, since I like to come in early in process to be able to create this sonic and musical world with a lot of time ahead of me.

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Do you prefer your soundtracks to be issued onto compact disc or do you lean towards digital releases that collectors can download?

I think that you should have both a physical and a digital release of your albums I like the old records, especially the action of turning side – and the possibility to work with layout in that larger format.

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Are you involved in the process of selecting what cues will represent your score when your music is released onto CD?

Yes, I am. In this case the credits on building the record should go to the talented Mikael Carlsson at Movie Score Media who did a great job on finding the right cues and the balance in the composition of their order.

What degree of involvement did the director/producer have on THE LION WOMAN, and did they ask for a specific sound or style, before you began work on the movie?

Because of the late entree, we had to find the musical world of the film, so we started to build up a common reference on what music we thought would fit and what kind of music Verbeke liked etcetera. Like a sonic mood-board.

 

When recording a score for a movie, do you have any preferences when selecting a studio, and maybe you could tell us what your reasons are for selecting a certain studio?
I have worked a lot with the orchestra in Bratislava, and the studio there which I find really gives the sound that I´m after. We have a good collaboration, and I always tend to land there…

 

Would you say that Main title themes that open the movie are now becoming something of the past, they were the mainstay of the movie score for years, but nowadays they have vanished from the scene, and how do you feel personally about the lack of what many people regard as a film theme or opening theme not being prevalent more recently?

I don’t have a certain opinion here. But I have to say that this is not completely true if you look at the series that are produced for the VOD-services, series like The Crown or Game of Thrones – there you have quite prominent themes. According to movies – I would say that much of this is a combination of what type of movie we are talking about and of course the fact of what the filmmakers like to be in the movies music-wise. Music drama always keeps changing, also the way of watching films. It´s complicated…


What would you say is the job of music in a film, is it there primarily to support and enhance the images and scenarios on screen, or is there at times an opportunity to write something that can have a life away from the movie it was written for?
I mainly work with the music to support the film in various ways and directions. It is sometimes frustrating to be under the influence of images and scenes, but also comforting as the film demands. Then you always would like to write a piece that stands for itself musically, fully instrumented. As a composer it is a great thing when the music you create touches people. I would say that that is the payoff for all the hard work.


You worked as assistant to Johan Soderqvist, what were your duties whilst collaborating with him?

Well, I did all from recording and producing sample libraries, write music, arrange, orchestrate, prepare click tracks, do score preparation, well, I guess that is what an assistant does. From this it took a couple of years until I wrote the music for The Bridge on equal basics.

Your first solo score was I think ARMADILLO which was a documentary, how did you become involved with this, and is it in your opinion more difficult to score a documentary film as opposed to a motion picture, or are both basically the same?

I had worked with Janus Metz (the director) on a couple of documentaries before Armadillo. We had a good collaboration and it was natural to hop onto that project. Regarding writing to documentary or motion picture It is basically the same process in creating the music, though the process on the filmmaking is slightly different since you work with a lot of recorded material to adjust the story in the direction you want it. Another difference is that it is generally a slightly lower budget on documentary films then on motion picture.

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You have worked on many TV series, what would you say are the main differences between working on a series for TV and scoring a feature film?

Oh, well, scoring for TV is more intense I would say.

 

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Staying with TV series, when you work on a series of say 6 episodes do you score each episode individually or do you score the entire series as a whole?

I always do many mock-ups even before I have seen the material. Then I see all episodes available, then I go into scoring for each episode. The thing is that when you start scoring, it takes a while before you calibrate your music to fit the drama perfectly.

 

When recording a score do you conduct all the sessions, or do you sometimes have a conductor so that you are able to supervise the recording from the recording booth?

I always use a conductor. I rather sit in the recording room and keep track of score and image.

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What composers or artists would you say have influenced you or inspired you in your career and had an influence over the way in which you score a movie?

I am very fond of different composers. I tend to get stuck into different recordings or different pieces that I listen to until my ears fall off. To name some I would say; Stravinsky, Pärt, Britten, Glass, Mendelssohn, Bartok among others. Miles Davis, Cage, J Williams, James Blake, Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith; Reich, Bach, oh, there are so many… The ones with a special place in my heart are definitely Pärt and Stravinsky.

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Do you consider orchestration to be an import part of the composing process, or on some projects is there just not enough time for you to carry out the orchestration?

It is an important part of composing. In my case I do orchestrate, produce and write the music parallel together. The matter of orchestration, I would say, is a matter of music budget. But yes, some projects don´t have either time or budget for it.


If a movie is not that interesting, do you think a good film score can save the movie, or can it help in some way to lift it a little?

Well, It helps if the movie is good without music. But in some cases, you need to help the drama with some music.

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TEMP tracks are either loved or hated by composers, do you think it’s a useful guide for a composer or is it something that you think is not necessary?
For me it is a helpful tool. It gives me a hint on what function the director wants the music to have or in which direction the director wants to take the scene – or the scene after the scored one. If I come in early in the process, I have the ability to send them my mock-ups to temp with – also to take out the temptracks, which can tend to resist long into a project sometimes.
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Do you like to view a movie several times before you start to map out your ideas out regarding the style of music and where music you think should be placed?

I would yes. Both details as scenes and cuts, and the whole piece to get the overall movement in the drama. I also like to have conversations with the director on different parts of the music – just to get closer to what the film needs.

When you began to become involved in music as a career was it music for film that you wanted to do from the start?

No, I wanted to be a musician from the start. But when I got into college, I decided to stick to composing. Inside I always kind of knew that I was best on writing music then performing.

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What musical education did you receive, and what instruments did you concentrate upon whilst studying?

I was mainly into jazz and had guitar as my main instrument. I have been playing piano since I was a kid, and that is mostly the instrument I use now except for all the other instruments that I play when I produce and record music in my studio.

 

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Can you recall your earliest memory of any kind of music, and were any of your family musical?

My family is very interested in music and arts, some of them paint, some of them play an instrument on rudimentary basis, but it is only I that has music as a profession.

 

When writing the score for a movie, do you have a set routine that you follow every time, or is every movie different as regards to which order you score it?

I have my routines – business as usual: I leave kids at school and kinder garden, then I go to my studio to work. Except from that, my standing point is to always be open and” empty” when I enter a new film to score for.

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What is your preferred method of working out your musical ideas, keyboard, pencil to manuscript or a more advanced and technical way?

I have different methods to write music. Shortly I like to play the piano to come up with melodies, but sometimes I´d go with any instrument that I find interesting and that could suite the sonic world of the film.

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Do you buy any film music on CD by other composers and from a purely personal point of view do you think that sleeve notes about the composer the music and the film are important and are a thing that should be utilised more, especially by soundtrack labels?

I do study scores and get my inspiration from old music, but now and then I see a film and get triggered by the music in it. Then I do see if I can find the soundtrack of the composer.

 

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There has been much discussion amongst film music collectors and critics about the use of what is described as the DRONE sound in film music, many collectors regarding it as a noise rather than music and a tool to fill time, and that this style of scoring has maybe de valued the film score as an art form, what is your opinion of this practise and do you think it is just the way that film music is evolving?

It is an exciting time since the computer came into film composing. It makes the composing diverse. I have a foot in the” drony” world like the music for The Bridge, and the other foot in the more orchestrated music like the music from The Lion Woman. I am not worried or bothered about the one or the other. The thing that bothers me is when the music distracts me from the drama in a movie.

 

How much of an impact can a small budget have upon a film score and the composer?

In one way it makes you more creative, because it gets to be a one man show. But if you only have small budget films, you probably will be distracted and not so focused since you are probably up to writing music for 4 films in parallel.

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Can you tell anything about what are you working on now?

Im working on a feature documentary and a motion picture. I will also write some” stand alone music” this spring.

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