Alexander Bornstein is a composer who has created numerous haunting and innovative musical scores for film. Alexander is an award-winning composer who is currently based in Hollywood. His attractive and compelling musical scores have been heard on both television, independent films, feature films, web series, documentaries in the festival circuit, and also concert halls around the U.S. His style is not one that is instantly recognisable but it is one that is always inventive, enriching and inspiring. The composer has also been at the forefront of new multimedia platforms, composing music for one of the first Virtual Reality television series. He has also provided additional music cues for various TV shows and movies working in collaboration with a number of well known movie music Maestro’s. SCHEMATIC, Alexander’s debut album, was released in 2017 and is available on various music outlets online.
The first thing that struck me about your score for FIRST TO THE MOON was the sound and the style that you employed, it is a contemporary sounding work but also has to it a vintage of silver age film music sound, by this I suppose I am saying it contains real themes that are developed and have substance, which is something that is becoming rare nowadays. What size orchestra/electronic components did you have for the score and how did you become involved on the project?
A: I’m really glad to hear the silver age stylings came out! As a composer, I tend to not get too mired down in what style or other composer I might be emulating—there’s usually not much time to be so self-reflective. However, the silver age is where my love of music began so it’s definitely an undeniable inspiration even if there might not be such an ostensibly obvious homage. For FIRST TO THE MOON, I discussed with the filmmaker early on that I wanted to definitely have a more modern sound which usually means synthesizers and many layers of percussion. However, it was essential that there was a main theme to tie all those disparate things together. We also were able to record some of the score live with the Budapest Symphony Orchestra which obviously adds a completely unmatched power. Samples have come many light years in quality, and I work with them daily, but feeling live musicians performing your music can just never be matched. However, we were cognizant to not lean too far into sounds people already associated with space—in one instance, a solo trumpet. I hope that the resulting work is an interesting hybrid of a few different styles.
What would you say are the differences between scoring TV projects and motion pictures?
A: I think TV puts a composer in a much longer form style of writing, where you can develop themes endlessly over many seasons if the show is successful. I also really enjoy the consistency and ability to become very efficient at writing music on a tight timetable—a challenge facing composers for centuries! Conversely, movies can allow for infinitely large palettes, a closer ended musical structure, and have the opportunity to be seen in a movie theatre which is still probably the most exciting way to watch a story.
Going back to FIRST TO THE MOON, the soundtrack was released on digital platforms and also a compact disc I understand, do you involve yourself in the compilation of the soundtrack album at all?
A: Very much so. FIRST TO THE MOON’s soundtrack album was assembled by me after finishing the film. My goal was to take what I thought were the highlights of the score and assemble them into what I thought made the best musical impact away from the film. An example of this is placing ‘The Good Earth’ as track three, even though it isn’t used in the film until the final third. That particular cue is also a favourite of mine, so I also wanted it to be heard closer to the start of the album.
What musical education did you have, and what would you say were the first memories of any kind of music?
A: I studied Jazz Piano/Arranging at the University of Central Florida before attending New York University to get my Master’s in Music Theory/Composition. My emphasis at NYU was in film scoring, but I also wrote a lot of concert music since there is such an incredible pool of talent in New York that wants to play new music by living composers.
BECOMING APOLLO 8, is a standout cue on the score for FIRST TO THE MOON, (the entire score is excellent) I think this is very much in the Jerry Goldsmith style, what composers or artists would you mark as influences for you?
A: Thank you for the kind words! I’m really glad that cue had an impact on you and is definitely a highlight for me as well. Goldsmith is one of my favourite composer’s, so your comment is extremely high praise! In addition to him, I’m very enamoured with silver age composers like Lalo Schifrin, James Horner, Elmer Bernstein, Basil Poledouris, Alan Silvestri, and Bruce Broughton. More contemporary favourites are Joe Hisaishi, Hiroyuki Sawano, and Johann Johannson.
Do you have a set way in which you approach a score, by this I mean do you tackle larger cues first and then work on smaller cues, or do you prefer to have a central theme and build the remainder of the score around this?
A: My goal at the beginning of any project is to come up with some foundational idea for the score, be it sonically or thematically. Ideally, I am able to lock down both but there are times where one influences the other or the palette is abstract enough to not be traditionally thematic. I remember on several projects where I would have a theme, but the overall “sound” didn’t materialize until well into my process of composing. At that point, I then have to retroactively apply these things to previous cues so there’s continuity.
Have any of the movies or projects you have worked on had a temp track installed, if so is this a tool that you think is useful or maybe distracting?
A: I typically find them to be very useful tools. As musicians, it’s easy to forget that not everyone is versed in the ability to communicate what they want my music to be doing. Temp tracks alleviate this collaborative struggle significantly and ultimately allow everyone to arrive at a solution faster.
What was you first assignment as a composer on a movie, and how did you become involved on this?
A: A very good friend of mine was making a feature length film in college and he asked me to be involved in composing the score. It was a terrifying and thrilling experience having to come up with almost an hour of music, but at the same time pretty much cemented that this is what I want to be doing for a career. I constantly remind my friend that without his encouragement it’s hard to say where I might have ended up.
What would you say is the purpose of music in film?
A: I don’t think there is any “one” correct answer per se, but in my opinion music is there to act as a character in the film. Like characters on screen, it develops, reveals more of itself to the audience along the way, and ultimately arrives at some kind of climax. Music needs to be participatory in the film it’s in so the audience can feel themselves fall into the world that the filmmaker is trying to create. The difference between us and the actors on screen is that we are simply performing out of sight.
Is orchestration an important part of the composing process?
A: Absolutely. I always orchestrate as I compose and when things get handed off to an orchestrator, I am explicitly clear with what I’m trying to achieve. A great orchestrator also brings their expertise though, and many times improves or enhances what you’ve already done. That being said, simply knowing something like how and when to use a synth pad or where you can play a melody on a certain instrument is related to orchestration. I find this even more true as composers are writing in sequencers with gigantic instrumental palettes at their disposal. We have to be versed in many instruments and arranging styles to make sure they have the greatest impact possible.
How do you work out your musical ideas, by this I mean do you use piano, keyboard or a more contemporary method?
A: I work things out at a piano for a bit since it needs to be compelling at any level of arrangement, then dive into Cubase and begin composing. DAWs are completely ubiquitous in composition now, so the cue will always be born in that software. On particularly dense or long cue’s, I will always do a piano sketch that indicates what needs to happen (be it with synthesizers or a full orchestra from winds to strings) then arrange into the orchestra or ensemble for that project.
Have you ever given a concert of your film music, or performed it in concert, and do you perform on your film scores?
A: To be honest, I don’t think I’ve amassed enough music worth a concert! Maybe someday!