Many thanks to the composer for his time and patience and for giving such an interesting interview.
What for you is the job of music in film?
As long as a movie needs music, because music is not always a must, the soundtrack should always increase the quality of the film. A good score must help to understand what is not understood and to improve what is possible. Either a poor assembly or a lighting that has not been achieved as wanted, a positive music can illuminate a dark scene among other possibilities, can enhance characters with little personality, emotions not achieved with the acting and just the opposite if necessary. This is the aim of my work. A good soundtrack is a movie itself, with its own script.
You were born in Barcelona, what musical training did you undertake, and what areas of music did you concentrate upon?
In fact, I was born in Zaragoza but at the age of 14 I moved with my family to Cerdanyola del Vallès, a town near Barcelona. It was in Barcelona where I studied Modern Music and Jazz at Aula, the first Spanish Music school that was recognised by the prestigious University of Berklee. I graduated in Guitar and my professional career started as an instrumentalist, having been part of numerous bands of Jazz, Rock, Funky, Blues, etc. It was not until later that I began to be interested in composing and I attended several seminars. Among others with José Nieto, a fantastic composer of Spanish soundtracks, with the magnificent Armando Trovaioli and the great Ennio Morricone in the Accademia Chigiana in Siena, Italy, of whom I have fond memories.
You have scored a number of animated movies, do you think that it easier to score animated features as opposed to writing the music for a live action movie or maybe it is more of a demanding task?
Yes, because of coincidences of life animation has been and it is the genre par excellence that has given me the most satisfaction. And unlike in fiction movies in which the composer usually has to use more resources and imagination, an animated film can bring together elements of other genres condensed in the same film such as comedy, action, mystery, drama, etc. In addition to doing it many times over 90% of the footage and in synchrony, either with the use of Micky Mousing or without reaching that extreme. They are normally films with many characters, situations and different settings that require a very elaborate narration.
At what age did you decide that you wanted to make music your career, and were any of your family musical in anyway?
I realized that I really wanted to get myself into music when I was 18 years old. At that age I had already started a Teaching degree and I gave it up to chase my passion. It was then when I decided that I would dedicate myself professionally to music. In fact, it wasn’t a surprise, it was the logical consequence of having been brought up in a family that provided me with a fantastic musical environment generated by the passion, that my mum who was a “soprano” and my father who was a “bass” (although both were amateurs singers) had always kept at home.
I loved your score for PAPA SOY UNA ZOMBIE, it was richly Gothic and evoked so many memories of Horror film scores of the past, plus it also had more contemporary sounding passages, what size orchestra did you utilize for the score and was the sound that you created intentional or something the director wanted for the film?
Thank you, John. Yes, I really enjoyed composing this soundtrack. I have to say that the movie was clearly inspired by the Tim Burton universe and also the horror B movies and besides, Danny Elfman is one of my favourite composers. So I had the opportunity, with the absolute freedom given by the directors, to compose with that sonorous universe as a reference and to turn it around until I got my own sound. Motivated by the characters and the story that is narrated in the film I could not record with a large orchestra despite having composed the entire soundtrack thinking of that possibility. But I am lucky to have an excellent team of professionals and my engineer Mikel F. Krutzaga always gets the best possible sound in my soundtracks.
CHER AMI is a great score, how did you become involved on this project and how long did you have to complete it, and did the director have any specific ideas about watch musical direction he would like you to take?
For many reasons I feel especially satisfied with the soundtrack of Cher Amí. After many years working as a team in one of the musical production companies that I had founded for the audio-visual industry, with numerous works for television, documentaries, audio-visual installations, etc, Cher Amí was my first great soundtrack for a feature film that I did all by myself. It was not the first work with its director Miquel Pujol, with whom I had already collaborated in other films, but it was the one that represented a great qualitative leap. It was a great movie with a clear Disney influence. In it I worked for about a year joining the production once I could have an animatic or leica reel in rough but with the reel locked in order to start composing in synchrony. Taking two of their main themes previously composed as a starting point and the Disney universe always as a reference, I was closing sequences prior validation by its director with whom we had regular working meetings, and while in parallel they were finishing the animation, the colour, lighting and visual effects. This time I was able to record with a great orchestra, the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Hernando and with my team of great professionals with Ferran Cruixent as orchestrator and Mikel F. Krutzaga as sound engineer.
What composers either film music or classical would you say may have influenced you or inspired you?
I am very, very eclectic and I listen to a lot of music from a wide range of genres and styles that go from jazz to contemporary music, and although I do not like talking about the one I admire the most or the one who has influenced me the most because there are so many great composers, it is true that, in classical music, composers such as Mozart, Debussy, Camille Saint-Saëns or Igor Stravinsky are referents. Music movie composers such as John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, John Barry, Ennio Morricone, Howard Shore and Danny Elfman are references, but so are Nino Rota, Alexander Desplat, Ryuichi Sakamoto and many other great and admired composers.
If you are offered a movie and a temp track has been installed on the film, do you think that this is a good guide for you or maybe it is a tool used by film makers that you find less than helpful?
It is true that the temp track is a clear example of what the director wants for his film. Most of the times, they are a good help in the final editing of the movie, acting as a “tempo” track that provides rhythm. Sometimes it is an emotional reference but it is never a good narrative reference, never. They tend to be an unconnected selection of musical themes. Of course, they help us to know what the director wants and compose in that direction, but it is a double-edged tool since it facilitates that understanding, but at the same time it limits the creativity of the composer. Sometimes it can even end up on the verge of plagiarism as it has already happened in some movies. I’d rather talk to the director about his references, the narrative/emotional needs of the story, than have a synchronized “temp track”. In any case, I want to be the one who decides on them.
Do you orchestrate all of your music for film, or do you use an orchestrator if the schedule is a tight one?
I do not understand the process of composition without the orchestration if this requires it. In fact, I do not just enjoy composing melodies. Working with all the instruments of the orchestra is very exciting. The endless sound possibilities are incredible, and that itself is already part of the creation process. However, I am not a typical orchestrator and when I orchestrate my scores I follow my intuition I don’t follow “the rules of the good orchestrator”. That’s why in my great soundtracks I always entrust the final revision to my reference orchestrator who is the one who corrects and prepares my scores, making the necessary decisions so that there are no errors and the recording is as fluid as possible.
Likewise, do you conduct at all, or is it better for you to watch and supervise from the recording booth and use a conductor?
I am only capable of directing small formations and just occasionally. The recording of a soundtrack with a large orchestra requires a great director so I prefer to delegate the direction and supervise the process from the Control Room of the studio.
EVO was an interesting film, how much music did you write for this project?
Evo is a short film with a feature length of 9 minutes, but it is also very intense. I wrote the music in sync, no more and no less. And, in spite of not being able to have a great orchestra, we recorded the soundtrack with small orchestral sections of wind, metal, string, etc. and also a mixed choir using the Overdub technique, layer by layer. I am very happy with the final result. And if it sounds as good as it does, it’s thanks to my engineer Mikel F. Krutzaga. Check out all the awards he has received. I am very grateful.
How do you bring your musical ideas to fruition, by this I mean how do you work out your musical ideas, do you use piano, keyboard etc?
I am a guitarist par excellence, it is my main instrument and the one I studied, but few melodies / harmonies come from the guitar. The vast majority comes from the controller keyboard that it is also the instrument that directly connects with my sequencing system, with my computer and my “virtual” instruments with which I am able to create good musical demo that closely resemble the final result I will get with the recording. Of course, over the years I have bought many musical instruments that I often play (or try to play) always looking for that inspiration that a few organically executed notes can offer me.
When you watch a movie to spot the scenes that you think will need music, how many times do you like to see it before beginning to get fixed ideas of any kind about styles, sounds and where music would be best placed to serve the picture, and at what stage do you like to become involved on a project?
To start composing I need and I like to have all the information, documentation and possible material of the project: the script, the Story Board, the visual reference material or anything that helps and can be a source of inspiration. The ideal is to see the film several times, write down ideas and whenever possible, talk to the director about them. Where and when the music will be necessary and incidental and work the sequences chronologically developing the main themes, the secondary ones and the musical motifs as the narration requires it. Although sometimes I can also start to compose the first ideas without the film, with the previous information and develop them later in synchrony.
You have been involved with a number of seminars and you also teach I understand, do you tutor young composers who want to work in film and what does the course entail?
I have taught different Master Classes, I have given some conferences and I have planned several seminars, however these are always occasional jobs since my compositional activity does not leave me time to do more. I usually focus on the importance of soundtracks in the audio-visual world and especially in cinema. I also talk about the basic knowledge and the necessary resources such as specific musical equipment for synchronous composition. And above all, I stress the importance of understanding that the good film composer is at the service of the story, of the image and it is not enough being just a good composer. You have to know what you’re facing up. Understanding the guidelines of the director, time constraints, budget, the number of changes that can be made to hit with what another person sees or wishes where you see and would like other things, etc
Would you say that contemporary film scores lack the thematic qualities of movie scores from the 1960.s and 1970.s?
I will not be so categorical with that premise, but it is true that nowadays there are other types of soundtracks, some absolutely environmental, underscore, not incidental. There are also soundtracks where epic or contemporary percussion take priority over the melody. But luckily and as I see it, there are directors / composers who continue to recognize the value that the melody has above all. The value that lasts over time and is harder to forget. Generally, if a good soundtrack lasts over time, the movie lasts, definitely.
Do you like to be involved on the compilation of any CD release of your scores?
Obviously I do, but the editing of my scores has never bothered me.
My compositions for the audio-visual industry far exceed my film soundtracks. And the opening and closing of the TV series, the Jingles, etc. were not edited back then. Of course, I have a lot of material uploaded on social networks like Sound-cloud and some edited CD. But I also have material prepared to participate in any compilation. Kronos Records and Rosetta Editions have made some proposal to me, but I am waiting for the right moment.
What is the biggest orchestra you have utilized and what assignment was this for?
Without a doubt the one utilized in Cher Amí, and in my last project Hullabaloo with almost 70 musicians.
HULLABALOO, is an animated movie, when can we expect to see this in cinemas and can you tell us something of the movie and what type of score you are composing?
I am especially happy and excited with this project. I’m working with one of the great animators of Disney, James Lopez who has an incredible curriculum having participated in numerous films of the Disney factory. Hullabaloo is his personal project, pure 2D animation with some 3D integration. Besides having a spectacular quality, it is set in the fascinating Steampunk universe, in retro futurism, which I love. It will provide adventures for the whole family and fans of this genre. Hullabaloo has as a starting point 4 short financed by a successful crowd funding campaign that achieved 588% of what it requested in a short period of time, with more than 10,000 people collaborating. It is planned to edit a DVD / Blu-Ray with these shorts and then distribute it on some platforms. And maybe, sooner or later, it will become a great animated film, or a successful television series, who knows… The score is orchestral, with small references to the Disney universe, but not only, also with more current ingredients, with powerful percussions and great melodies, combining adventure, action and mystery with humour. We have already recorded a large part in Bratislava and we will shortly record what remains to be done.
Are there any preferences for you when it comes to recording a film, studios, soloists or orchestras etc?
I always want the best possible team if the budget allows it, so whenever I can I work with my usual collaborators as I have mentioned before, because besides excellent professionals they are best friends and when you want to go fast, you better go alone, but if you want to get far, you better go in good company.