You are one of Norway’s top composers of film and TV music, yet we don’t see your name on the credits of productions outside of your country, have you written music for any English or non-Norwegian projects, and do you have an agent in the UK, as your music would certainly be perfect for several of the drama productions that the BBC and other channels are showing at the moment.
The majority of my scores are for Scandinavian productions, but some of them have quite an international reach. “Atlantic Crossing” is sold to more than thirty countries now and is the first non-English series to be bought and aired primetime on PBS Masterpieces in the United States. It is also nominated for an International Emmy for best miniseries now. The feature film “Thale” was selected to the main programme for Toronto film festival and have had a massive global distribution as well. The horror film “Haunted” is distributed on Amazon prime, The Nordic noir crime thriller “Outlier” is sold to thirty countries including Acorn tv in the UK. “Ice road Rescue” on Nat Geo/ Disney? have a wide global outreach as well.
What was your first scoring assignment?
My first scoring assignment was as a student at the Norwegian State Academy, collaborating with the Norwegian Film school. My first professional assignment was a documentary series for Norway’s biggest broadcaster NRK. A series that turned out to become of Norway’s biggest phenomenon’s since and rocket launched my career into the film and television industry.
You come from a family background that is musical, can you tell us your earliest recollections of anything musical and was it writing music for film that was always in your mind to do as a career?
My mother was a brilliant singer. Mostly Jazz but she sang all the classics. I remember us singing together and making improvs from when I was four, five years old. As soon as I learned to read music at my piano lessons as an eight-year-old, I also started composing my own little pieces. My interest in film scoring gradually grew as I fell in love with the music of John Williams, Danny Elfman, James Newton Howard, Howard Shore and Hans Zimmer in high school, but my focus was mainly to be a contemporary composer of concert music.
When you were studying music as well as studying composition etc, did you focus upon any one instrument?
In high school I did a music specialisation with classical piano as my main instrument. I mostly used my time playing pop and jazz, but I rehearsed a descent repertoire. I Was accepted at the State Academy of music in Oslo and then I quit spending time developing my piano skills and focused only on composing music. But I am a piano composer, and the piano is always the starting point of my music.
So when writing music you work out your ideas by sitting at the piano, do you like many other composers also work these ideas out using more technical means?
I’m a piano composer as I said but I’m very much into music technology and I spend a massive amount of time sketching and finalizing music with sample libraries.
In 2012 you worked on the fantasy movie Thale, with Geirmund Simonsen. I loved the score, because of its varied content, was this a collaboration in the true sense as in writing themes etc together or did you contribute your own themes to the score separately.
I began the work on this film alone. Composing the main themes and the Norwegian folk music basic expression, but at the time I gradually worked more and more with my excellent colleague Geirmund who I brought into the project and from a certain point we worked together scene from scene. Him being a multi-instrumentalist gave us a lot of sonic freedom to test out a lot of different approaches and styles as well.
You scored Haunted in 2017, again a very atmospheric score, do you think that movies within the horror genre require more music, or maybe not as much as others?
Yes, I think they do but there is a reason for it. In contemporary horror film the composer often finds him/herself in the role of being a sound-designer. A lot of what the audience would perceive as classic sound design is done by the composer in this genre.
I love composing in the middle ground of music and sound design. Making emotional triggers and narrative direction with non- harmonic and thematic soundscapes is the new school of film scoring and the best way to make music as immersive as it can get.
You worked on many TV series in Norway including two recent shows, Atlantic Crossing and Outlier, which you have already mentioned. Were these both episodic series? If so, do you score episodes in the order that they will be shown on TV and does working in TV differ from scoring a feature film?
High end, high budget television drama does not differ much in production value or process to that of feature films. Atlantic crossing was like composing the music to four feature film in seven months. A massive amount of work. Composing frame by frame from A to Z episodes one to eight. There is of course some re-use of material but there are surprisingly few copy paste situation in over eight hours of drama. In more middle budget to low budget television drama there is a different process. You often find yourself composing a music signature like any other format television job and composing a bank for the editors and production. Then you work synchronised on selected critical scenes sent to you. Feature films are a luxury when it comes to process if you are used to television drama. So much time for perfection and you don’t have to spread your budget over eight hours but focus all on two. Working with feature films is also very exciting as a composer because you get to work on a higher dynamic range when it is made for the cinema and not the television. But all in all, the process of composing music for television dramas and feature films is getting more and more similar.
I was going to ask when scoring a series for TV such as Kjaere Landsmenn for example, do you re-use cues from earlier episodes in later ones, but I think you explained that in your last answer?
In this style of medium budget drama comedy, there is a lot of re-use. I compose a bank of cues linked to narrative lines and characters that the editors and director play around with in the edit. But it is important to mention that the re-use approach is an important part of the aesthetics and process of this type of series.
What scoring process do you have or follow, by this I mean do you have a set way in which you work on a movie as in Main titles theme to end theme, or do you record smaller cues first and move to the larger pieces later?
I have a very clear scoring process. It is a creative and concept-oriented method I developed when doing my masters at the State Academy of music. To make a short differ between three different categories of concept and make a birds perspective road map for the entire series of film. I focus on phases between “strong concepts”, that is the pure musical structural elements. The theme and chords progressions etc. And in some cases, extremely unique soundscapes or sounds. “Neutral concepts”, The instrumentation or the segmentation of sounds I will use to construct the strong concepts. “Weak concepts”, music who’s only function is to establish characters or situations in the social field, time of day and history. I then move from the big picture (Macro spotting) to the details and hyper detailed narrative craft in each scene (Micro spotting). Working in nonlinear manner and gradually connecting the dots of related concepts form a grand form and sound for the score.
How many times do you prefer to see a feature film project before you start to formulate what music route you will go down, and have you encountered the temp track when seeing a movie for the first time, and do you find this practise helpful or distracting?
I often start working on concepts when the project is only in script form. Many of the directors I work with like to have sketches of my music to play with when editing. Then only to reboot with a proper synchronised process when the edit is locked. But temp tracks are a normal part of many projects. The problem is not the temp track but the director’s attitude to it when applying it. For some it is about a general feel and editing tempo, pacing etc. But the problematic part is when it is personal. Some directors write on scripts listening to scores they love. This for me is like only writing half a movie. In these situations, it is often difficult for directors to release themselves from the temp track and you could be pushed down a path of avoiding plagiarism but in some means composing a score that have been composed before. Boring and a waste of a composer’s time.
You have scored several projects that have all been released in 2021, Taxi Maxi, Outlier, Kjaere Landsmenn, Jeanne d’Arc of the North among them, are you involved with the sequencing and also compilation of what music will go onto the soundtrack release, or do you leave this to the record companies?
I release my music on my own label. So, I do the selection myself. Often making my own soundtrack edits and cuts as I prefer them In, some projects I do not get the right to distribute myself but I often do the selection there as well.
What would you say are your musical influencers, these can be film music composers or rock stars etc old and new in fact any artists?
John Williams, Hans Zimmer but maybe most of all John Williams and Trent Reznor for having such unique voices that challenge that film music must be a certain style. We are living in the shadow of Hans Zimmer. His success has in many ways defined that modern high end film scores should sound like. The John Williams of our time. But this is problematic because it also brings stagnation and mono aesthetics to a field that could need more diversity and individual voices. I my self am guilty of this far too often.
You utilise many elements and components within your scores, voice, choir, synths, electronic support as well as conventional instrumentation performed by musicians, do you think that the new style of scoring movies with layers of sound or soundscape is as effective as a grand or melodic sounding symphonic score?
I have worked a lot with the orchestra, both orchestrating and conducting my own scores but I have to say. I find the purist orchestral approach a bit boring. I love blending the traditional orchestral flavour with layers of synths, guitars and you name it I will use it. Modern production techniques give us far better possibilities than before. One can make any conceivable sound or soundscapes and you have so much creative control working with films on your timeline of the digital audio workstation.
Jeanne D’Arc of the North, is a documentary and has a superb score, which is very grandiose in places, I think it possesses a subtle yet powerful aura, with rich thematic properties. How did you become involved on the movie, and what size orchestra or how many players did you have and who was the female voice on the score?
This score started out as a traditional orchestral score for this documentary of the insane and untold story of Norway’s biggest female war hero who worked with Mi6 agents during WW2 to fake a possible British invasion via Middle Norway to distract the Germans away from Normandy. The score is performed with a standard size orchestra in Hungary. I often record there. Excellent musicians and a super professional film industry. They are rigged for film scores 24/7 in amazing scoring stages. The piano is performed by me and there is a lot of orchestral programming blended with the recorded orchestra. The singer is the Norwegian artist and vocalist Anja Hausberg Huse who I have collaborated with over many years. She was my student of composition. Her voice can also be heard in “Atlantic Crossing”, “Tainted” and the upcoming thriller drama “Catch and release”.
A lot of your music is thankfully released on digital platforms, but there seems to be very few compact discs, are your scores available in Norway on disc as in the shops?
I’m from the generation who barely knows what CD´s are and I only release digital. But I do occasionally print some LPs on demand to fans and friends.
Do you orchestrate all of your own music and do you think orchestration is an extension of the composing process and do you also conduct or do you prefer to supervise and listen to the recording in the sessions?
I do orchestrate my own music, but I could easily see myself hiring an orchestrator. But it is difficult to find the right person to work with. But I will surely try it if I’m to do a grand orchestral project again. I do conduct sometimes. It is an amazing experience, and it is fun but it does not give you the same critical listening perspective that you get in the studio. I tend to get more involved with the fun of conducing than evaluating good takes. So, I often chose to listen and not conduct.
There is a homage to Morricone in some of your scores, most noticeable in Jeanne D’Arc of the North which I also thought had a slight John Barry style woven into it. Was this something that you set out to do?
I composed the score for this documentary around the time Enno Morricone passed away and I listened a lot to his music. You can hear the influence in the way I construct themes and uses modal harmonies a lot in this score. Also the way I use the wood winds I very much inspired by this massive inspiration and grand old man of global film scoring. John Barry is also an inspiration of course he is or was a composer with a beautiful sense of thematic writing.
Have you given any concerts of your music, if not would this be something that you would like to do?
There have been many performances of my concert music but only a few of my film score suites. It’s not really marked for this in little Norway but I am giving my first live in concert to the film this month! my score the children series “Rabalder” or “Trouble makers” (the international name from the distributor)
Do you perform on any of your scores?
Yes! most. I do most of the piano parts, accordion, and many other instruments. All of the synth and programming as well.
What would you say is the purpose of music in film?
To give it emotion. There’s is not a single thing you can do in a script, in the acting, photography etc that even comes close to adding emotions to the film/series like music can. Music is the language of emotions.
What is next for you?
Next up is the Nordic noir crime thriller “Catch and release”, the feature film “Girl trip”, A children’s musical and multiple format television shows.