GREAT GARBO is a music production company founded in 2004 by the Swiss/Australian Baldenweg siblings. Diego Baldenweg with Nora Baldenweg & Lionel Baldenweg are a multi award-winning composer team that produce high quality music and soundtracks for international advertising campaigns & feature films.
Their original compositions are featured in over 300 campaigns for global brands such as Carlsberg, Mastercard, Sony & Dove (3rd most viewed online campaign of all time in 2014). They have written film music for over 20 films like the world bestselling children’s book adaptation “The Little Witch” starring Karoline Herfurth, the international remake of Til Schweiger’s German box office hit “Head full of Honey” starring Nick Nolte, Matt Dillon & Emily Mortimer, as well as for the Oscar nominated “La Femme et le TGV” starring Jane Birkin.
The Baldenweg siblings have worked with numerous acclaimed orchestras and collaborated with the likes of maestro David Zinman, Pepe Lienhard and star violinist Daniel Hope. They have won numerous awards and their music has been played on radio stations like BBC, Swiss National Radio, Radio Monte Carlo and the International Radio Festival. They are voting members of the European Film Academy, Swiss Film Academy, Australian Academy of Cinema and TV, SMECA (Swiss Media Composers Association) and AGSC (Australian Guild of Screen Composers).
Can I begin by asking how you became involved on director Stefan Haupt,s THE REFORMER. ZWINGLI – A Life’s Portrait (https://www.imdb.com/title/tt8251234/) , and also what size orchestra you utilised for the score?
We have a long standing working relation with the producers (C-Films), so we knew about this project from an early stage. It was also the producer Anne Walser who eventually introduced us to the director.
We collaborated with star violinist Daniel Hope and the full Zurich Chamber Orchestra (6 x 1st violin, 5 x 2nd violin, 4 x viola, 4 x cello & 3 x contrabass). In addition we hired 8 additional musicians for the woodwinds section (3 flutes, 3 clarinets, 1 oboe & 1 bassoon). Apart from this we recorded solo singer Larissa Bretscher and the Zurich Vokalensemble (6 x soprano, 8 x alto, 6 x tenor & 8 x bass) in a historic church. Last but not least we used organ improvisations played by Tobias Willi on the massive organ at the Grossmünster church (which 500 years before was already the main church where Zwingli preached) in Zurich.
You compose as a team? So how does this work, do you write separately or work together. I mean by this do you each work on different aspects of the score?
We always work together on each scene. Diego is the main composer and Nora and Lionel act as co-composers. Initially we sit together, brain storm, discuss and argue creatively to eventually agree on how to approach it and what we want to achieve with the score.
How much time were you given to write and record the score?
The whole process took about 2 years including the reading of scripts prior to the shoot.
We had three phases of composing. During the rough cut phase we supplied ideas based up on our inspiration from the script. After the picture lock and due to budget constraints we initially scored the entire film thinking it was going to remain a digital symphonic orchestral composition. Duration of writing this composition was approximately 4 weeks. Once the financing of the live orchestral recording was secured we had to amend and recompose the entire score for a chamber orchestra setup. Duration of additional re-composing took approximately 3 weeks.
Did you carry out a great deal of research about the music from the period in which the movie was set?
Yes, we had tons of material (original lyrics, tuning scales, songs etc.) given to us by the director. Initially we even discussed about trying to keep the score in line with the instruments and playing techniques from the 16th century.
As we realised that the film already showcased a lot of original music (Gregorian choir, bagpipe, hurdy-gurdy, lute) from that time, we didn’t want to double it in the score.
We eventually decided on focusing on supporting the emotions (love, turmoil, reformation, spirituality, sadness, hopelessness).
How much music did you compose for the movie and is the entire score on the newly released compact disc, also do you have involvement in what music from the score makes it to the CD?
The score is 69.31 minutes long. Almost all of the cues are found on the Soundtrack. We sometimes took a few similar cues and merged them into a listenable track. We also had the luxury to record „Adiuva Nos, Deus“, „Agitatio“ and „Pura“ as a full track even though only parts of it are in the actual movie. The soundtrack was completely curated by us.
THE LITTLE WITCH is a wonderful score, did the director Mike Schaerer have a specific idea about how the score should sound, or were you given a free hand to create the music?
Prior to composing the score to „The Little Witch“ we had many thorough discussions with the director. He gave us very visual and playful inputs as inspiration.
The picture lock was totally filled with temp tracks. Since Mike Schaerer’s background is editing, he knew the problematics with temp tracks and solely used them to demonstrate metrics and amount of quirkiness he wishes to have. So we didn’t have to pay much attention to the temp and presented something so original that the producers and the director immediately green lighted this approach. We then worked together with the director in a very detailed manner on each cue.
You recently scored HEAD FULL OF HONEY which starred Nick Nolte and Matt Dillon. Will there be a soundtrack release of this soundtrack?
Til Schweiger who created the original film „Honig im Kopf“, which was a huge success in Germany, approached us to help him on his international remake called „Head Full of Honey“. Til Schweiger had his long-standing composer Martin Todsharow and us work simultaneously on the entire film. Our task in this process was simply composing suitable tracks, which he’d use during the editing process during the shoot. He wanted to choose from all of our cues and have as many options at hand as possible all the way to the final mix. A soundtrack release is currently not in discussion, but who knows.
When you are asked to work on a movie, how many times do you prefer to look at it before discussing with the director or producer, where the music should be placed and also what style of music will be employed?
That depends on the process. Music is a complex subject so what we find very helpful is to first sit down with the director and go through the entire film without music and create a cue sheet with a clear emotional description of each scene. This way the director and us are aligned at what is emotionally important or not, before talking about the style and placement of music. An emotional road map (cue-sheet) also gives you the chance to analyse the film from another perspective.
What musical education did you receive? (could you give answers for each of you if possible thank
None of us studied music in a school. We grew up in a very arty and musical household and our parents always had very inspiring and talented guests hanging around our house. We listened to lots of different music from 70’s rock, classical music and 80’s pop tunes. From a very early age Diego would play freely on our piano and later compose Chopin inspired pieces. Lionel built his own drum-kits on chairs, pans, metal cans etc. And Nora would attempt to sing before she could even speak properly.
During primary school Diego and Nora had basic piano lessons and Lionel had basic drum lessons. During high school Nora had basic singing lessons and Lionel and Diego had basic guitar lessons. That is it really.
Do you have a set routine of working, for example do you write the more lengthy cues first and then move to the smaller cues or do you like to develop the central theme first and then base the remainder of the score around this?
We have no routine. Every project has been completely different and every score we’ve written so far has been very different too. After fully understanding the story we do tend to score chronologically so that an emotion can grow organically.
Who in the way of composers would you say have influenced you or indeed inspired you?
On the film music side: Bernard Herrmann, Ennio Morricone, Nino Rota, Thomas Newman, Alexandre Desplat, Hans Zimmer and also upcoming artists like Jeff Ruso, Mac Quayle and ESKMO. On the classical side: Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Dvorak, Ravel & Beethoven. Besides this many other great songwriters/bands had an influence on us like: JJ Cale, Tom Waits, Nick Cave, Johnny Cash, Tom Petty, Elton John, Inxs, Metallica, Slayer just to name a few.
Shorts and feature films are somewhat different, is there a difference for you as composers in the way that you approach these?
A story is a story so the process is somewhat always similar. We always try to find a solution to making one long cue that emotionally works instead of 2 – 3 short cues. With this approach we think cues always have a value in both mediums.
What are your earliest memories of music of any kind?
Our parents had a great record collection including all the great classics like The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, Genesis, Tom Waits, Grateful Dead, Jimmy Hendrix, Pink Floyd, Roxy Music etc. with all these interesting and mind bending cover sleeves.
What instruments do you play and do you perform on your soundtracks?
Depending on the size of the project we tend to program and play every instrument by ourselves. If we record jazz-combos, small or big orchestras we don’t play along with them during the recording session. As far as performing, we always play certain instruments ourselves, so it’s usually a hybrid of both.
Orchestration can be a subject that is controversial, do you orchestrate all of your film scores and do you feel that as a composer orchestration is a vital part of the composing process?
Yes, the orchestration is the soul and colour of a composition and Diego always does an amazing full and detailed orchestral arrangement. Once we all know what we exactly want and our score is approved, we hand it over to our music preps/orchestrators to get transcribed.
What are you working on next, if you can tell me?
On an international TV series yet to be announced.
Your first credit according to the internet at least is a documentary BUILDING THE GHERKIN, how did you break into writing music for film and was it something that you had wanted to do?
Initially we started off as a band which we had for 10 years. Out of this era we eventually stopped playing shows and just composed without a clear goal. Somehow Directors and Music Supervisors started to ask us for permission to use our music and this is how we got in contact with the advertising and film world. Over the last 15 years we also composed a lot of music for advertising campaigns and one step led to the other. We didn’t really pay attention to film music before we started with it ourselves. Now we love film music soundtracks.
You have collaborated with film director Cihan Inan a few times, does he have a hands on approach when it comes to music in his movies?
Cihan Inan is a great writer and director and is always very involved in every process of his films. He is also very open minded and loves to get convinced by a good idea, as long as the story doesn’t lose its focus.
You have worked on a wide variety of genres, are there any types of movies that you prefer working on?
We think that the story is the most important part of a movie and the genre just helps it be told. We always seek for stories with a certain relevance.
What is your opinion of the trend in movie music nowadays to use the DRONE sound or style of scoring, do you think that the theme or main theme for a movie will ever return?
We believe that the theme is already returning. There was a certain way of movie making for the last decade where main themes might not even have suited the movie. Especially at festivals we have seen a lot of strong stories and different directorial approaches to movie making and we are certain that strong themes and drones will eventually come together and find peace.
How do you arrive at your musical solutions, by this I mean do you use computers, or maybe piano to work out your ideas?
Piano is a main contender for finding themes. Looking back at our approaches though we have found all ways of starting points. To showcase our ideas though we cannot escape the mock-up on the computer. Everybody has gotten so used to it.
What is the purpose of music in film?
The purpose changes from director to director. How is the film told? What person are we dealing with? Do the producers have other expectations? Music serves the common good of a story being told as perfectly as possible. Sometimes music plays the main role and sometimes music accompanies the actor’s main role and sometimes no scored music is needed or only songs. We are of course very happy if we can contribute to a film in a manner to help tell the story and for the music to still be meaningful enough on an original motion picture soundtrack release.
You have worked on films from many countries, have you a preference when it comes to orchestras or indeed recording studios?
It always depends on the music. We don’t have a preference yet and we would love to keep trying out the many orchestras out there. We are very happy with our recording team „Idee und Klang“, which have an amazing collection of vintage microphones (incl. the 1st perfect Neuman M50 prototype/reference mic, known from many legendary classical DECCA recordings). They also own a famous vintage CADAC Analog mixing console (previously used for Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody) and they have always done a great job at getting the sound we are after.