Michelino Bisceglia

Michelino Bisceglia has already composed the soundtracks for multiple feature films. Some of these films were screened at the Cannes Film Festival and Venice International Film Festival.

His soundtrack for the film “Marina” (about the childhood memories of Rocco Granata) won a World Soundtrack Award for Public Choice in 2014.

Bisceglia occasionally also arranges, orchestrates, and conducts soundtracks for other film composers all over the world. His contribution to the animated film “Cafard” composed by Hans Helewaut and the feature film “Mother’s Instinct” composed by Frédéric Vercheval, both also won the World Soundtrack Award in 2016 and in 2019 for best Belgian Score. 

Bisceglia’s most recent work was for a 10-episode series “Thieves of the wood”, a worldwide release by Netflix. Last Year Michelino also finished composing the orchestral score for the animation drama “Charlotte” (with Keira Knightly). This film premiered at the Toronto Film Festival in September 2021. Also last year Bisceglia composed the music for the exhibition on “Claude Monet Immersive Experience” exhibited in dozens of cities worldwide.

Your most recent scoring assignment is Charlotte, an animated film about the German-Jewish artist Charlotte Saloman. Your score is so beautiful, filled with delicate and poignant nuances. How does scoring an animated film compare with writing for a live-action project? 

Thanks for the compliment on the score! The biggest difference is the sound design in the film. In a live-action film, all the sounds you hear are of natural origin. In animation, everything must be reconstructed. That is not the same and that gives a different setting for the composer. In general, you can say that I have more space to fill that in. On the other hand, in an animated film, you must personify and define the characters even more clearly with the music. You must stay with them, and evolve but can’t lose them musically! 

How did you become involved with Charlotte, what size orchestra did you have for the project, and do you perform on the score at all?

In 2018, the City of Genk (B) had planned an exhibition with all the works of Tim Burton for the opening of their new cultural season. I was contacted by the cultural department asking if I would like to arrange a concert with all the music from Tim Burton’s films. I had decided to accept the assignment and chose to rearrange all the music for a completely different line-up. More specifically my own jazz trio, clarinet, cello, classical percussion, and a children’s choir.

Tim Burton with the Composer.

Tim Burton attended the concert as well. It was a successful evening and Tim Burton was first to jump for a standing ovation at the end of the show. A few months later I received a call from a co-producer Eric Goossens who told me that he was also present at this specific concert and that he was still impressed by this great evening. He wanted to talk to me about a new project and if I was interested in composing the soundtrack for “Charlotte.” Some months later I was invited to meet the director and producer in London. Meanwhile, I had read the script and developed some melodic themes based on that. In London, I proposed those themes, and they loved it. It was a great dinner after that .

For this project, It was clear from the start that I needed the full symphonic orchestra with additional soloist instruments. For this score, I did not perform the piano parts but conducted the scoring sessions. 

Did the directors of the film have any specific instructions or ideas regarding the music when you initially saw the movie and was there a temp track already installed, if so, do you find this helpful or distracting?

I prefer to start with the composition when I have read the script even before I have seen the first images. This gives me much more freedom to create an original musical framework to determine the melodic and harmonic material. But before that, I first consult extensively with the filmmakers to discuss the story, the characters, the style, the tone, and the structure of the film. 

In some cases, there are already ideas regarding the music by the director. Somehow, when reading the script, I manage to feel the pace of the film and hear the tone. I can sometimes very well imagine the music of the scenes while reading the script. Also, for Charlotte, several important music cues were composed based on the scripts before I had seen any image. After this, I start to process the musical material and start composing sketches. I then begin to assign melodic material to certain characters or other aspects of the film. If there is enough time in advance, I like to work out musical suites to try out all the material in a longer musical context. 

I have always spent much time and effort building a good relationship with the director and if possible, with the editor. It is so crucial to be close with the director during the moments when we are deciding what proposals will be approved. It is important for me to understand how the choices that have been made came to be. I like to provide pre-demos as soon as possible so it is available to be used during the early editing period. This avoids many issues with the temp tracks while the production is proceeding.

It is an intimate and very personal-sounding work, you use solo instruments at times, such as cello and violin, plus piano, do you like to develop a core theme first and then use this as a foundation for the remainder of the score?

For this project, I had worked out several elements and thematic material in advance intended for characters or for certain situations. As my preparation progressed, it was easier for me to make choices about which themes worked best and refine them even further to get closer to the characters, both in terms of melody and harmonic context and texture. Some themes began to become a leitmotif and formed a foundation to build on. On the other hand, I didn’t want to exaggerate with the leitmotif. I had to deal with this subtly to give the score enough variation and especially to be able to follow the evolution of the story.

I understand that you began to take an interest in music at the age of six, was writing music for film something that you also wanted to do from an early age, or was this something that you became interested in as your career progressed?

When I was seven years old, I received a keyboard from my father. I started to play on it, but I didn’t know what to play. I remember I heard some melody lines and tried to reproduce that on the keyboard. Many years later I found out that the notes I was looking for were the main theme by Nino Rota from the film “The Godfather.” Although I don’t remember seeing that film at that age, I must’ve heard that music somewhere at that time in some place. Years later my sister was working as a cashier for a film theatre. She gave the free ticket she received to go to the movies to me. So, I had unlimited access to the theatre to go and watch any film I wanted to. But to be honest, I wasn’t that interested in watching films, I was interested in hearing the music and selecting the films based on the composer. That was a wonderful time for me to discover all the greatest composers around that time like John Barry, Elliot Goldenthal, Jerry Goldsmith, James Horner, John Williams, Ennio Morricone, and Alan Silvestri. The first time I got in contact with music for the film was a job I was working on in the 90s for the animation series Symfollies. For this project, I had to rewrite famous classical music and adapt it to make it fit for the animation series. This was a great opportunity for me to get in contact with the greatest classical music, learn the score, and rewrite the animation. After 54 episodes we developed a version for live concerts with a full orchestra and animation. With this production, I’ve conducted the Antwerp Philharmonic, The Japan Symphony Orchestra for its premiere in Tokyo, the Orchestra of Casa Da Musica in Porto, and much more.

What musical education did you receive?

The moment when orchestral music caught me completely was when I bought a score around the age of 19 with the 3 piano concertos by Rachmaninov. Especially with the 3rd concerto, I was so impressed by the orchestration and richness of colour and harmony. I got tears in my eyes of beauty and emotion while listening to and watching the score. I decided to immerse myself in it completely and started taking private lessons. Quite early, I also got opportunities to arrange for an orchestra. Initially for a few instruments, but that became more and more until I was allowed to write for the symphonic orchestra of the opera house in Aachen (Germany) at the age of 21. Since then, I have written countless scores for all kinds of orchestral line-ups for concerts, artist recordings, events, films, and TV. 

But my complete commitment to music wasn’t just to orchestral music. The piano is my main instrument. As an instrumentalist, I had more preference for jazz than for classical music. As a musician I started playing concerts from the age of 17, this was my main activity for the first 2 decades: playing concerts, touring worldwide, studio recordings, solo albums, sideman gigs… I had the privilege to play and record with great musicians like Randy Brecker, Bob Mintzer, Dewey Redman, and Toots Thielemans, at a later age, composing and orchestral work started to take more place in my work.

But to answer your question, the education I received was basically two mentors who helped me at a very young age. Mrs. Heidi Minten for classical music and Mr. Irvin Defays for jazz piano and modern music. And all the rest was autodidact and self-study! 

You conducted the score for Charlotte, is this a role you like to undertake when working on scores for films or is this not always possible? 

Yes, I do like and prefer to conduct my own recording sessions. It is for me, as well for the musicians, much easier to adjust and shape the details to get the takes exactly as I want them to be. In fact, I regularly conduct several films a year for other film composers. 

You also write for the concert hall, and have released some of your orchestral works on digital sites as the Orchestral Works album, which is wonderful, (especially Adagio for Strings) do you find that when writing for live performances you are less restricted, as in free of FX and timings, etc, so able to be more expressive?

Yes, when writing for concert performances I have more freedom to compose. But I can’t say that it is much easier. The reason I like to compose for the film is just because of the restrictions and limits all over. This is really what challenges creativity: finding solutions with all the restrictions. I like that! I give myself a time frame to finish the composition, which I find helps my creativity. 

The score for Charlotte is available on digital platforms, will there be a compact disc    release of the score, and were you involved in the selection of cues that went onto the soundtrack album?

It is up to Sony to decide what the formats are they want to explore the music on. I don’t know if there will be other formats, but I don’t think so. Yes, I selected the cues for the soundtrack album in consultation with the production. 

How much music did you compose for Charlotte, and is all the score on the soundtrack release?

No, I composed much more music and most of it was not even recorded. And there are several other music cues that I didn’t select for the soundtrack release. Some of them are nice but shorter in length. So, I didn’t find that interesting to have that on a soundtrack release.

Would you say that you have been influenced by any composers in particular? 

Well, I’ve been composing, arranging, and doing orchestrations for about 30 years now. Of course, I was influenced by what I listened to in my earlier period, but I can’t say clearly what remains of it. I don’t listen to other music as much anymore. Because I don’t have that much time and when I’m in the car I don’t like to listen to music! But I’m inspired by reading biographies, painters, and architecture! 

Claude Monet, the immersive experience is a project that you scored in 2020. Can you tell us something about this and how you became involved?

This project was produced by a friend of mine, Mario Iacampo. I met him 10 years ago when he commissioned me with the Brussels Chamber Orchestra to compose 2 concerts for a cartoon animation festival in Brussels. This was a great experience, and it was a huge challenge to play this live on stage in sync with the video. We stayed in contact, and he kept producing for special live events. Some years ago, he reached out again and wanted to have original music for the most famous painting of Claude Monet including the story of the artist himself. I had a great time composing and recording almost one hour of fully orchestral music based on the paintings of Claude Monet. It is a great exhibition where the audience is completely immersed in the paintings with 360° video mapping inside great buildings. This production has been touring all over the world on all continents since 2018. There is also a VR section where you are immersed in a virtual reality environment, traveling through the paintings with my music accompanying this all. After several years, it’s still very successful! 

What is your opinion of the ever-increasing use of electronics, samples, and synths in music and in film scoring?

These are the new generation of instruments today like there were new instruments 200 years ago. They are part of evolution, and we should not avoid them, but learn to use them in the most organic way. Or even in hybrid form with a classical orchestra, it really can be very effective and innovative. I like to experiment with that and try to find ways to implement them in my writing and in my production. In fact, I have a project called Svínhunder where we use those elements as the main instrument. Completely different from what I’m used to doing with orchestral writing! 

How many times do you like to watch a prospective assignment before starting to get ideas about what style of music the film may need and indeed where the music should be placed to best serve it?

I prefer to start developing musical material based on the script and the info I get from the makers during the conversations and discussions we have on a regular basis. It is there where we discuss the style and tone of the music. After this, we plan a spotting session to discuss the placement of the music. In some cases, the editor can also be involved in this process. In fact, after that, during the further development, I try not to watch the film too much. This keeps a kind of distance from the images so that I can remain objective as the production progresses.

Using Charlotte as an example, how long did you have to compose and record the score?

For Charlotte, I was first in New York and Toronto to discuss the production and go through the spotting session with the directors. That was early February 2020. I had started with the compositions immediately after my return trip. Shortly thereafter, the corona crisis broke out. It was originally planned to do the recordings 3 months later, but due to multiple production delays, we could finally start recording in mid-September. In the end, that all worked out really well because I could continue working quietly. But we were lucky, it was around September that the corona restriction was toned down to make the orchestra recordings possible. Right after our recordings, everything was back in lockdown. In the end, we needed 5 recording days for the orchestra and the soloists. 

What is next for you?

I am currently working on a concerto for trumpet and orchestra. I also have some scoring sessions planned that I will conduct and orchestrate for some other composers. There are also recordings planned in June for a new album with my trio. In the summer, I will start writing a new score for the film “Sleep” by the Dutch director Jan-Willem van Ewijk.