Category Archives: Interviews

BRUCE BROUGHTON.

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Bruce Broughton is best known for his many motion picture scores, including Silverado, Tombstone, The Rescuers Down Under, The Presidio, Miracle on 34th Street, the Homeward Bound adventures and Harry and the Hendersons. His television themes include The Orville, JAG, Steven Spielberg’s Tiny Toon Adventures and Dinosaurs. His scores for television range from mini-series like Texas Rising and The Blue and Gray to TV movies (Warm Springs, O Pioneers!) and countless episodes of television series such as Dallas, Quincy, Hawaii Five-O and How the West Was Won. http://www.brucebroughton.com/biography/

 

Bruce Broughton is in my opinion one of the great film music composers, his scores have delighted and excited audiences both when heard underlining and supporting the  movie or TV series and also away from any images it was written to enhance. His scores are varied and vibrant and are always filled with themes that are memorable and entertaining, in short he is a talented and extremely innovative composer, who is at home scoring any genre. My thanks to the composer for agreeing to answer my questions and for being so courteous and obliging, taking time out from his busy schedule to bring this interview to fruition. 

 

Can I begin by going back to RESCUERS DOWN UNDER, how did you become involved on the movie, and what was it like working for Disney?

I simply received a call from Disney about the movie. I interviewed with the producer, Tom Schumacher, who told me what the film was and what it was about and asked if I’d be interested in doing it. What Tom didn’t know was that as a kid I wanted to be an animator and Walt Disney was my childhood hero, so it was really easy for me to answer positively and quickly. I think he was surprised, because a lot of composers really don’t like to do animation. Once I got started on the project, it went smoothly. The people I worked with were wonderful. Aside from Tom, I had two tremendous and very talented directors, Mike Gabriel and Hendel Butoy. From start to finish, it was a great job. I had to turn down “Home Alone” to do it, but I never regretted it.

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One of my own personal favourites from yourself is YOUNG SHERLOCK HOLMES, what size orchestra did you have for the movie and how much time did you have to write and record the score?

The orchestra by today’s standards was not all that large. I think it was probably around 65, give or take a few musicians. I wrote the score in 4 weeks, immediately after “Silverado,” and took a week to record it at Abbey Road. The producers were happy with the result and gave me an extra week in London to enjoy on my own afterwards. The sessions were memorably fun.

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SILVERADO is a great score, did Lawrence Kasdan, have any specific ideas and requests as to what style or sound that he wanted or indeed where the music should be placed?

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Yes, he was very specific about what he was doing and what he wanted from the score. He was trying to make a western for people who had never seen a western before, which essentially were kids who were all a lot younger than we were. Although “Pale Rider” came out the same time as “Silverado,” westerns were no longer being made, The last successful western had been “Blazing Saddles,” which was a parody, a signal that the genre was through. For a score, he wanted a “big, traditional Hollywood score.” That made me think immediately of Jerome Moross (“The Big Country”) and Elmer Bernstein (“Magnificent Seven”). I wasn’t interested in copying the music, but I did take on the big, rambunctiously energetic style of those earlier iconic scores. It seemed to work well. As far as the placement of the score, the music was spotted with the two of us. There wasn’t anything in this movie that wasn’t intentional.

You have worked on so many genres and also scored shorts, television series as well as feature films, do you approach a short in a different way that you would a feature film, and what would you say were the main differences between working on a movie and scoring a series for TV?

The whole point of music in a film is to help tell a story. When the story is very short, the need for music will certainly be different than if the same story was lengthened to the size of a feature film. For one thing, there won’t be as much as it and for another whatever the music does likely has to be specific and get to the point quickly. One difference, however, between a feature film and a TV show, aside from the general formatting issues that series have (like commercial breaks, for example) is that TV tends to be watched on smaller screens. You can be a lot subtler with a 35’ image or sequence than with the same image at 2 feet. But in general, what works in one visual medium should work in another.

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I think your first scoring experience came in 1974 on a TV series called, DIRTY SALLY how did you become involved on this?

Actually, I don’t remember writing any music for “Dirty Sally,” although I may have. My very first scoring experience was earlier on a show called “Men at Law.” My first composer credit was on “Gunsmoke” in 1975 and my first complete episode that was entirely original was on “Hawaii Five-0” and I got my first Emmy nomination for it.

 

 

What were your earliest memories of music or a musical instrument?

I grew up in a musical household. A grandfather was a composer; an uncle was a songwriter; an aunt was a professional pianist; all of my grandparents could play musical instruments or had musical training; my parents each were very good amateur musicians, played two instruments each and could sight-read and sing; my brother was a trombonist, arranger and composer and worked in the studios doing each of those jobs for several years. It was hard to avoid music, so my earliest memories are about the same as those for preschool and whatever. The first instrument I learned was piano, which was my primary instrument, but I also learned to play brass instruments, as well. I was a mediocre French horn player, but it got me into the Army band and out of harm’s way when I got drafted during the Vietnam war.

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What is your preferred method of composing, piano, keyboard or more contemporary methods?
In general, I prefer beginning at the piano and moving directly to the computer for notational software. I rarely compose on sequencers, although I have. I’ve done a couple of movie scores that way and a few TV jobs. Sometimes, if I don’t have access to an instrument, I’ll simply write without a sonic reference. I don’t think it matters how you compose music as long as you get it out.

 

Do you think it is important for a score to have themes as in pieces of music that the cinema goers can remember? I ask this because of the current trend of a handful of composers utilising a drone like soundscape as opposed to composing thematic material, and do you think this fashion of scoring is a trend that will pass?

Themes are hard to write, but easy to disparage. It’s not a time for melodies at the moment, not in the movies, not in pop songs, not even in Broadway theater. However, in a movie a theme or a melodic fragment, i.e., a motif, can definitely attach itself to a dramatic idea or character. One of the best examples is in “Jaws.” It only took two notes to announce the possible presence of the shark, and was used even when the shark wasn’t there to keep the tension high. I think the use of drones, pads or repeated figures in the same key is the musical moron’s way of composing. They’re very easy. It’s not to say that at times they aren’t valuable techniques to include in writing a dramatic score, but if it’s the only arrow in your quiver, you’re inadequately prepared.

Having said that, I think that some sound design scores are wonderfully creative when used by a good musician. There are, however, many more musical amateurs in the score-writing business than ever before, a result of the techno explosion and digital music production. Apple’s Garage Band, as an example, has spawned a lot of bedroom songwriters. But even simple devices like banging on tom-toms can be used to good and creative effect with some musical work.

 

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I was lucky enough to be invited to the recording sessions for TOMBSTONE. at Whitfield studios in London many years ago now. You did not conduct the orchestra on that occasion, can I ask do you conduct your scores, or do you prefer to use a conductor so that you are free to supervise the recording?

“Tombstone” was the only score I didn’t conduct. In general, I always prefer to conduct my own work because I’m in direct contact with the people who are performing It. I can also get away from using clicks on everything, so that I can make the music more expressive. Some composers who could conduct choose not to because their priorities are somewhere else: In the recording booth with the director, for example, or with the recording mixer or with the studio execs. There’s a lot of conversation that takes place during any recording that the composer won’t hear unless he/she Is there In the middle of It.

Is orchestration an important part of the composing process?
Absolutely. Whether the orchestration Is with acoustic Instruments or with digital Instruments, It’s the sound of the note or the phrase that makes the essential connection between the score and the llstener. Music Is very associative, meaning that we associate certain feellngs with certain musical or aural combinations and every composer who works In film, even the amateurs, know this. The one composer who understood this first was Bernard Herrmann.


Your score for MONSTER SQUAD was initially not released on CD, but was issued later, do you have any influence or input into what scores of yours will be issued, or is this down to the film company?

This has been a decision that has been primarily out of my hands. It has had to do either with the production company or with the record company. I’ve been fortunate, however, in having essentially one record company, Intrada, as a loyal fan for many years. We’ve done over 50 albums together, and they still have more planned. It is Intrada that can be thanked for the reissue of both ‘Silverado” and “Young Sherlock Holmes” on to CDs.

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Did you always want music to be your career or was this something that just happened?

It just happened. Probably due to entropy. My family was very musical and I learned to play a couple of instruments as a kid. I was always connected to the piano, but, as I mentioned above, what I wanted to do was to be an animator. It’s probably a good thing I didn’t carry through with that. Life turned out okay with the composing, and I’m happy with it.

 

 

How many times do you like to see a movie before you begin to put together ideas about the music?

 

I generally will not start working on a movie or a TV show until we’ve spotted the film. If I don’t know where the music is actually going to be placed or what the purpose of it will be in the film, I won’t start thinking about it. Once I know what the role of music is, I’ll start thinking about the theme and how I want to write the score.

 

You write for the concert hall, is this something that is more difficult do you think because with film and TV music at least you have images?
The images and emotions involved in a movie go a long way in helping the success of any score. With a concert piece, you only have the music. You can write some mediocre music in a good film and the film will carry it along. In fact, there are a lot of famous films with a lot of mediocre music attached, but you’ll generally only hear a mediocre concert piece once. It just won’t get played again. With a mediocre concert piece, it wiil be mediocre from start to finish. In general, I think the bar is a lot higher in concert music than in film music to write well and involve an audience.

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Temp tracks I have found are treated with mixed feelings some composers do not like them, others think they are a useful tool, what is your opinion of the temp track?

I live with them. I don’t mind hearing them. If nothing else, it’s a starting point for some interesting conversation. The worst thing about them, of course, is whether they’re good or bad, whether the director likes them or not, everyone’s used to hearing them where they’ve been placed and it’s difficult to compete with the familiarity.

During the 1970’s and 1980’s you worked on a number of popular TV series such as LOGANS RUN, DALLAS and QUINCY I think, how does working in TV then compare to working in TV now, and when you worked on a series did you ever recycle any music that had been used in a previous episode?

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I’ve never intentionally recycled music. When I was doing Dallas and Quincy, because I knew I’d be doing a lot of the episodes, I made a conscious decision to always change the orchestra. That way I couldn’t write the same thing twice. New orchestration brings along fresh composition. Along the way, as a result, I became a good orchestrator, so I benefited. The producers always enjoyed knowing that something new would be coming up on the next show.

The biggest difference, I think, between then and now is that we didn’t do mockups back then. Everyone heard the music for the first time when it was recorded and there was often a lot of excitement, if not gratitude. I wrote every score once. Now with mockups and producer’s “notes,” composers sometimes have to write cues two or three times. It’s dumb.

You have also taught film music, but what musical training did you have?

Academically, I have a BMus in composition from USC. In terms of training, I have over 50 years’ experience in television, motion pictures, games, theme parks, concert music and concert performance. I think I’m qualified to teach.

What composers or artists would you say have influenced you or what composers do you think are particularly interesting?

If you’re thinking of movie composers, there’s a long list: Jerry Goldsmith, Alex North, Miklos Rozsa, Carl Stalling, Jerry Fielding, Mort Stevens and many of my co-composer friends like Al Silvestri, Tom Newman, Randy Newman, John Powell and Ben Wallfisch. Having just written these names, I’ve left a lot of people – a LOT of people – off the list, because life is short and the truth is I’m influenced by just about everyone. But there are some specific scores and techniques that come to mind with the above list of names. I wouldn’t take my list too seriously, however.

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You worked on THE ORVILLE how much music did you contribute to that project and did Seth Macfarlane have any specific requests about the score?

The music for ‘The Orville” begins and ends with Seth. He called me about working on the pilot and contributing the main title. We had lots of conversations about the series, what it was, what he wanted it to be, as well as how he saw the music. He works with good people: Walter Murphy, Ron Jones, Joel McNeeley, John Debney, Andrew Cottee are the guys I know and they’re all very, very good – as good as anyone I know writing for film.  Add them all to my list above. Seth makes sure the music budget is big enough to do what he wants done with it. I wish there were more people like him, because he understands what music does and what it is. I couldn’t say enough good things about either him or his contributions to the music on his show.

Out of all of film scores is there any that you have particularly fond memories of?

A few, but for different reasons. By passing some memorable TV episodes and events, I have warm fuzzies for when we recorded “Silverado.” There was an enormous amount of energy surrounding that movie and the people were wonderful to work with. I have a special fondness for “Young Sherlock Holmes,” because it was a great film and a great opportunity; again, I worked with wonderful people; I had a sensational week recording it and it was the first time I laid eyes on Belinda, my wife-to-be, playing in the violin section, although that part-to-come took several years to happen.

 

I liked “Baby’s Day Out” because I thought it was funny and the people were terrific on it. I liked “Tombstone’ because it was a lot of fun and a really entertaining movie. I liked “Miracle on 34th Street” because it was a really great film. And I really enjoyed working with John Hughes. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven with “Rescuers Down Under.” Again, the movie was terrific and the people were tremendously special. Like my composers’ list above, I’m leaving a lot of stuff out. But I have no regrets over the movies or for the years of television. I learned a lot, and I continue to hear from people all over the world about how much this or that score means to them. For being an unintentional composer, I think I did pretty well for myself.

 

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TALKING TO COMPOSER CYRIL MORIN.

Highly respected and enormously talented, Cyril Morin is known to many soundtrack collectors as a much in demand film music composer, who’s film scores support and ingratiate film and TV projects, he is also known for his chameleon like approach to scoring movies and creating tantalising and melodic themes for each and every project he has been involved with, but he is also a film maker  who produces, directs and writes screenplays and has created interesting and thought provoking movies. (mmi-(c) 2019.

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Photograph by-LUK MONSAR.

Since the 90’s, Morin has also produced over 30 albums, soundtracks and solo albums for his label, Massive Music. He has also orchestrated songs for Madonna, Mirwais, Kery James and the Indian singer Vidya Rao. As a solo artist, Morin’s “The Evolutionist” has been hailed a “cinematic journey” and “a beautiful fusion of sound” by critics.

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.In 2012, he wrote and directed The Activist, a thriller about American political unrest regarding the Native Americans at Wounded Knee. Released in 2014, the film won awards at the Sedona, Tenerife, and Red Nation film festivals. It also received two Henri Langlois awards in France. The Activist was named one of the top 10 essential Native American films by Indian Country Today.
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In 2015, he released Hacker’s Game, a love story between two hackers, starring Pom Klementieff (Old Boy, Spike Lee, Guardian of the Galaxy2) and Chris Schellenger (The Canyons, Paul Schrader). This film swept the Indie Fest Film Awards with four wins. His next film, NY84, was released in 2016. Inspired by the artists and music of the 1980s, the film looks at the beginnings of the AIDS crisis in New York.

In 2017, Cyril Morin’s “An American Trilogy” (3 features about 3 American tragedies) was given a  worldwide release on Blu-Ray, along with a documentary to provide an amazing and in- depth look at the filmmaker’s concept behind the project.  (source-IMBD). 

 

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Do you consider yourself as a film music composer or as a composer who also writes for TV and Cinema?
I consider myself as an artist, who is a composer who mostly composes for film. I like different forms of art. I love music and films, writing, and painting. For any forms of art the energy is the same, and “comes from the same heart,” this would tell someone about my work.

 

 

What are your earliest memories of any type of music or of a musical instrument, and were you from a family background that was musical?
I’m not from a “musical” family but my father was a jazz and classical music lover. My earliest memory is my first music class at 5 with a blind music teacher. Then my first score memory is “Lawrence of Arabia”. Later, I had a chance to meet Maurice Jarre several times.

 

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Were you always attracted to the idea of becoming a composer as a career?
No, never. I wanted to be an artist, mostly a guitar player. One day I had to sing in a band because there was no singer. Then I thought I could be a singer which I did for ten years before realizing I wasn’t good.  I always preferred the creation in the studio/laboratory, rather than the performance on stage. But I did the concert and the TV stuff which is a good experience.

 

 

 

Do you think that the scoring process is vastly different in Europe to that of the way in which movies are scored in The United States?

 

No. I would say the mainstream soundtracks are different from the independent soundtracks. It is a different angle and obviously different budgets. It is also true that the US mainstream films have more budget and require music all the time.

 


Do you think that there are times when not scoring a particular sequence or scene in a movie, can be beneficial to the production?
Silence is better and better… In films scores, music has a meaning, and music must be part of storytelling. Some stories need more music, some other less, and some, no music at all.
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You have worked on a few historical movies and TV series, LOUIS Xl, CARTOUCHE and BORGIA, when you are working on a period piece do you carry out a great deal of research into what the music would have sounded like in the time slot the movie is set?

 
I never forget a film and its soundtrack are for a contemporary audience. As a composer I have to make a link between “now and then” and decide where to put the cursor. It is important to know the music history, in order to include it or not in the soundtrack. If you look closely to the Borgia score, we have electric guitars, sound design and renaissance instruments as well… But I always look at the story and the audience who will receive the sound, the music, and the characters and the story as well. It is sometimes a complex mix that you need to put together.

 

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Your music for me has always been very thematic and melodious, what is your opinion of the growing trend in mainly big budget movies to fill out certain sections of the soundtrack with the “DRONE” sound or soundscape as it is referred to, is this just a trend do you think and will real themes return to the blockbuster soon?
Having a theme is very important. I have no problem with scores when the music is a “piece of sound”. I have a problem when there is no imagination at all, or when there is a poor connection with the film. Every film has music inside and sometimes the music can be almost nothing. Less is more, especially in Indy films or world cinema.
In every film there is a line where you go above or under. Above is when the feeling of the music has more power than the feeling of the story and the character. You have to cross this line sometimes to create an emphasis.

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You scored, ZAYTOUN in 2013 I think, how did you become involved on the picture, and what size orchestra did you utilise for the soundtrack?
I worked a couple of times with the director, Eran Riklis. He called me for Zaytoun which was an important production with a US cast including the likes of Stephen Dorff. The score wasn’t supposed to be larger than usual but, in fact, it became larger because of the layers of instruments. For the opening, I recorded tons of percussions on the top of a string orchestra. There is also a lot of solo instruments like the solo violin or oud. At the end we were close to a hundred tracks for some themes. It was re-recorded on the top of a 50-piece string orchestra.

 

 


Is there any difference in the scoring process on a documentary as opposed to working on a feature film?

 

A documentary speaks about the truth. A film that is based on fiction is creating something else. And because music can change the storytelling or the curse of a story in a fiction, it is important, in a documentary, to respect the way things are, and not changing the feelings by a soundtrack which could influence too much the audience in one way or another. “Respect”, is the key word in that case.

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Returning to BORGIA, you composed a lot of music for the project, when you work on a long-running series for TV do you for want of a better term, recycle any music or themes from early episodes into later ones?
There is no recycling. Every theme is different with me. And it was impossible to recycle on Borgia, because I had to adapt all the time with something new rather like it was coming from the story, or from the production. Recycling is not my cup of tea. Every film is a blank page, and that makes every beginning a bit painful because I always think I’m restarting from zero for every soundtrack.

 

What musical education did you have?
I was a bad classical student. I went to the conservatory, then I began to learn classical guitar. Later, I travelled the world to meet real Masters and learn from them. I’m a self-teaching person who was lucky enough to meet extraordinary people on his path. I went back to the school of music many, many times in my life, and it is still not finished.

 

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Do you conduct your scores for movies, or is this not always possible due to the time factor, also do you work on the orchestrations yourself or do you at times use an orchestrator?

I do conduct my own music sometimes, and it has been a good experience. I also did  my own orchestrations. I love doing all this, except time doesn’t allow you to do everything. For some soundtracks, it is better to have the best people in every domain, conducting, orchestrations etc, in order to have the best possible score. Team work never hurt and you always learn a lot from these experiences.

 

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You have collaborated many times with film makers Pan Nalin, does he have specific ideas or suggestions about what style of music or where the music is to be placed?
Every film is a new start for him and for me and this is what I like. We often have the same experiences in life, and it is easy to understand each other when we meet again. We don’t need to explain much. On one film we did together, we even worked only on “keywords and a trailer”. And the music came out naturally. Nalin is a “Brother in film”.

 

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SAMSARA is a beautiful score, so emotive. How much time did you have to complete the score, and what size orchestra did you have, The score also contains a number of ethnic instruments, when you are writing a score that requires ethnic instrumentation do you write the solo parts with a particular performer in mind?
Samsara was my first feature film. I recorded tons of music but, for most of the themes, everything came up in a very early stages. I recorded a lot of rare instruments while I was doing the demos, with some instruments being very hard to put together with a western harmony and for a classic orchestra. We kept most of those researches and recordings, and then we added a large string orchestra under it. Sometimes, you have to lock yourself in a room with a hundred instruments and try things. This is what I did for Samsara. The film is so special.

 

 


How many times do you like to see a movie before beginning to get any set ideas about style or where the music should be placed to best serve the movie?

The more I score, the less I like to see the movie. Nowadays I work much more on the right feelings I need to put in the music. The script also gives me a lot of elements I want to live with. But for all the films I did, the first time I see the movie is special. This is where I receive all the information, like a sponge. So the first screening gives you most of the music. Then, I feel it is better to work with this memory attached to my heart, than watching over and over a scene, or trying to synchronize a scene, which is something I do at the last moment, when all the feelings are in right place.

 

 

You have used both synthetic and symphonic in your scores, is it more difficult writing a synthetic score?

 

We know how western classical instruments sound, but we don’t know how synthetic elements sound in advance. Sometimes it takes more time to find a sound inside a synthesizer or a sample than figure out a flute or an orchestra… I like synthetic or electronic sounds when it supports classical or ethnic sounds. I did a couple of purely electronic/synthetic scores, and I enjoyed it. It is another kind of energy.

 

 

For you what is the purpose of music in film?
The storytelling and only this. Also a film’s score is made for speakers, nothing else. So you’d rather work the sound. Lastly you never work for yourself, but for a film and a story. You’re here to help, and if the film has success, you’ll get a little part of it.

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Are there any composers or artists that you find particularly interesting and why?

 

Many, many, many. From the Middle Ages to the 21st century. I’m interested.

 

Do you have a preferred recording studio when you are recording a film score?

 

It’s always great when a recording studio has a past and a soul. I’ll always remember when I went down the stairs of the Beatles studio in Abbey Road. My legs were shaking. There are few places like this in the world. I was always fascinated by the studio at the Bulgarian Radio in Sofia. A beautiful place, where we created good memories. I recorded there for the first time with an orchestra, a few years after the fall of the Berlin wall. The atmosphere was special, and I will never forget the generosity and the warmness of the sound of the musicians (and the conductor) in Sofia.

 

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What have you been working on and what will you be moving onto next?

I just finished a movie called “Desrances”, with an African female director who just win at the Fespaco (most important African Festival). I also did a German film (just win at Cinequest) and the next one should be an Indonesian film, then a feature documentary. At the same time I release solo albums here and there. The last one was four albums influenced by the soundtrack I did in 2002 “Ayurveda” which was very successful. The next one is a contemporary music inspiration which will be  released in September.

 

 

TALKING TO COMPOSER BC SMITH.

 

From his first film score, Smoke Signals(Sundance Film Festival’s Audience Award and Filmmakers Trophy winner) to horror Master Tobe Hoopers final movie Djinn,  composer BC Smith’s work can be heard in an incredibly broad range of acclaimed and award winning film and television projects. Whether working with modular synthesizers, multifarious ensembles, large orchestras, peyote singers, aleatorics or electronics, BC is one of those rare talents who effortlessly traverses eclectic worlds of diverse musicality.

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Where were you born?

I was born in Richland Washington. It’s an idyllic small town on the Columbia river that originated as housing for the Hanford Nuclear Reservation, the site of the world’s first full scale plutonium reactor. It’s a strange place full of scientists and artists. My father was a jazz musician that ended up working in the critical mass lab of the reactor. When I turned 18 I moved to Seattle for college and to play in a rock band that had drafted me out of my high school.

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Howlin wolf records have just issued Djinn on compact disc, can I ask how you became involved with the project?

 

I received a call one evening saying the the movie was in post and the filmmakers were feeling it wasn’t scary enough. They asked me to demo a scene for a meeting the next day. I anticipated something big and dramatic, but they sent over the very mild cocktail party sequence that segued into what seemed to be hallucinations. Clearly the test was that if I could make this benign sequence suspenseful, then I’d probably be well suited to tackle the whole film. I set to work composing, and by the end of the eve I’d managed to even scare myself. I emailed my music and heard nothing for months until I got the call to fly to Abu Dhabi and spot the film.

 

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Tobe Hooper directed DJINN, what was he like to work with and did he have specific ideas when it came to the style of music he wanted for the movie?

DJINN had been in and out of post for quite some time with major revisions to the edit and special effects. I came on very late in the process so I missed the traditional window of director and composer working alone in a bubble together. With the production based out of Abu Dhabi, and a very short timeline to score, all feedback regarding music cues was done via email. None of that is an uncommon situation for me. I do a lot of work from around the world, so I’m quite adept at making those scenarios work.
The filmmakers wanted the score to be modern, synth based and reflect some of the spare but brutal sensibilities of K and J horror films. Sound plays a big role in all Tobe’s films and I created a sonic pallet that blurred the line between music and sound effects. The score also needed strong emotional themes as DJINN isn’t a typical horror film, but rather a supernatural tale about two mother’s grief. Though the story is set in the UAE they wanted to minimize any use of regional musical elements beyond the traditional lullaby that permeates the film. The Djinn are part of Islam and it was also very important to not have the central character, Um Al Duwais devolve into a Freddy Kruger type villain or monster.  The film’s premiere was in Abu Dhabi at the same time my son was being born, so unfortunately I never got the chance to meet Tobe in person before he died. That was part of my decision to pursue having the score released. It’s kind of my little tribute to him.

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You scored WEST OF REDEMPTION in 2015, who is the solo voice performance by on the opening cue?

I was very fortunate to have Carina Round from Puscifer sing on the score. She is amazing.

You have worked on a few horror or drama movies, do you think these types of movies need more music or maybe not as much, by this I mean can an un scored section of film be just as scary ?
My sensibilities for horror and drama tend to lean toward a less is more approach. I try to treat silence as a part of the composition and really put a lot of thought into the ins and outs of score. Breaking from score or having it coalesce with the natural sound can create a very intimate space in quiet, suspenseful moments, or starkly amplify the terror at the apex of a horrific moment. If set up properly with score, scoreless sections of the film can be very powerful. In post production, music and sound effects creation happen concurrently and independently of each other. When spotting the film I have to watch the movie objectively and take note of the moments where I believe the SFX guys are going to be getting creative or hitting it at 11. I’ll try to work with that knowledge rather than compete with it. Every movie is different, but I’ll often try things a few ways and if the director approves, I’ll even reach out to the SFX guys to share my ideas. I hate the director having to make some sort of Sophie’s choice between score and SFX on the dub stage.

 

How many times do you like to see a movie before getting any fixed ideas about where music should be placed and the style of music?

From the very first viewing I’ll have strong opinions, but I usually like to watch the film several times and let those ideas percolate before I start writing. I try to do the heavy lifting in my head first and not just dive into composing. I take a lot of notes and write out my thoughts. I identify any problem areas and how score can help to overcome them. I try to get into the head of the director and really understand what story they want to tell.

Creating the sound pallet is also a big step for me. A lot of composers use the same sound sources and template on every film. Personally I like to take a more bespoke approach. I create a new sonic pallet and template for every film. I’ll often spend the first days on a film just simply making sounds or procuring new instruments and reconfiguring gear. I don’t like to rely on any existing sound libraries. I have many of them but only want their usage to be a creative choice rather than convenience. For me there is that heavy thought and prep for the first days, but then I just start writing. I’ll work directly to picture and away from picture. I really try to immerse myself in the story to see where it takes me.

 

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Many of your scores are electronically realised, do you utilise soloists and live performances within these as well?

 

I do! I try to make all my scoring decisions based on what will best enable the score to help tell the film’s story. Sometimes that’s all electronics, sometimes it’s a live orchestra or smaller mixed ensemble. Usually it’s a mixture of electronically realized and live, but ideally that is a creative rather than budgetary decision.  As a general observation I think most scores benefit from having as many live performances as possible. A film score is all emotion and there is no better way to convey that emotion then with a human being performing the part. I’ll try to take that approach even with an electronic score, recording the part, effects and manipulations in real time.

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Going back to DJINN, how much time did you have to write and record the score?

About 6 weeks.

What involvement do you have on the compiling of any of your scores that get a CD or digital release?
The issue of soundtrack usually falls to the films distributor and it often seems to be an area that gets less focus. In the past I’ve rarely had any involvement with a release. When Tobe passed away, I took the initiative and personally reached out to Howling Wolf after a friend’s recommendation. Wall from Howling Wolf really encouraged me to be heavily involved in all the creative aspects. Writing the liner notes was something that I initially dreaded, but the trip down memory lane of having to articulate the experience proved to be a very rewarding challenge. The whole experience has made me want to be more proactive in releasing my future film scores as soundtracks.

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Do you have any opinion on the use of temp tracks by film directors, is it a useful tool and can it help the director and composer understand each other as in what type of score is required?
I think temp scores can be useful as a discussion tool for quickly establishing what could work or doesn’t work. It helps the composer immediately get a gauge of the director’s musical perceptions as they are referencing something very tangible. Beyond that initial conversation I hope all parties put the temp away for the duration of post. If a temp is heard too often it can morph warts and all into something that hinders the scoring process. I witnessed this early on in my career when I was asked to provide temp music for the editor on a commercial I was scoring. I was busy on multiple gigs and after clearing it with the editor, I simply sent over a click track. When the project locked picture they brought me back into the fold and I composed the score per our discussions. In the music approval meeting the client turned to me and said…”yah man, I like what you’ve done here.. but there was something about that first piece of music you gave us.. that BAM BAM BAM!!! It just worked with the cuts so well…”. I was stumped of course until I released he was speaking about the click track! He had fallen in love with the click!!! Let that be a cautionary tale to all of the power of a temp track! It’s funny though, as I often get hired on films that can’t find any suitable temp music. It’s a good feeling to be able to come into that situation, start writing and have everyone say “Yes! That’s it!”.
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What musical training or education did you receive?
My father was a jazz pianist and I started lessons as a kid. By age 15 I was playing in rock bands and performing in clubs 7 nights a week much to the horror of my teachers and mother. After graduating high school, Stan Kenton’s arranger Dave Barduhn took me under his wing and I studied with him at the local college. He was the 2nd most published arranger in the country and I very much liked his approach to dissecting music and reimagining it in various forms. I looked to further my studies at several music schools but ultimately grew frustrated as I was very into synthesizers and modern composition for orchestra. I dreamed of writing for film and there didn’t seem to be a path for me to get to the type of music I wanted to write or get any of the technical experience. Ultimately I left college and went directly to various professors, and professionals to hone the skills and compositional tools I wanted in my tool box. When I wanted to learn about writing for orchestra I went to one of the guest conductors of the Seattle symphony, when I wanted to learn synths I went to the owners of the only scoring for picture system in Seattle. I also spent a great deal of time studying under Jerome Gray. He is a legend in the Seattle music scene as a near mythical musical virtuoso and recluse. His ideas on harmony and composition were very inspiring to me. About that time I became good friends with producer Ric Parashar and he gave me a room in his studio in the hopes I’d be able to bring in scoring to picture work. It was an amazing time for me, as he was producing what would become some of the seminal bands and albums of the grunge scene: Pearl Jam 10, Temple of the Dog etc etc. Though unorthodox, for me it was all a conscious effort to gain as much musical education and experience as possible.

 

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What do you think is the purpose of music in films?

In film, it’s all about the story. Music exists in film solely to help tell that story. I believe the score is most effective when it conveys something that isn’t being shown on screen at the moment. It needs to speak of the deeper motivations and backstory of the characters. The power of music in film is amazing. It’s fascinating to see how even altering a few notes or timings can completely change the scene.

What artists do you feel have had an influence upon you or made an impression upon you?
I’m a fan of film music and love the scores of Jerry Goldsmith, and many of the greats, but I’m also very interested in where film music is headed and I tend to gravitate toward  some of the aesthetics of artists that push the envelope, like the late Johanne Johansson. I’m not only interested in their music but in the way their music works within the film and helps tell the story. I also liked Johanne’s ability to compose beautiful, emotional music for one film and electronic noise based textures for the next. I try to cultivate that same diversity. My music is different for every film. No two scores are alike.

 

Do you score a movie in any order ie from main title to end themes or do you score sequences and scenes out of the running order?
I tend to bounce around the film as I score. Early in the process I will often score scenes multiple ways to give the director options until we’re really solid on the direction. I’ll also rough out several scenes or sequences to make sure I’m getting the overall flow right. It’s important to keep looking at a scene in the context of how it fits in the overall film. Once I get the themes or textures established and a few key cues in place, the score tends to come together pretty quickly.

 

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What are you working on next?

 

I’m scoring Hood River for director Steven Cantor. It’s a wonderful film about  a boys soccer team that is a microcosm of some of the current troubles we’re facing in the US. The score has some interesting synth and guitar work. I’m also scoring a pretty heavy family drama called Language Arts directed by Cornelia Moore. This will be a contemporary orchestral score. I also have a very cool collaboration with Alessandro Cortini from Nine Inch Nails. They’ve just wrapped up their tour, so we’re considering our next scoring projects together.

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In my spare time and just for fun, I’m also an amateur magician and member of the Magic Castle here in LA. (It’s a fancy private club for magicians.) I perform small, intimate shows of eclectic close up magic, combined with some spooky illusions and a séance.  Lastly, revisiting DJINN reminded me how much I enjoy scoring suspenseful and spooky films. I think I’d really like to focus on scoring more movies in that genre.

 

Thanks to B C for his time and patience, also many thanks to James Anthony Phillips for his information on the composer and to Wall Crumpler of Howlin Wolf records. 

DJINN SCORE RELEASED ON HOWLIN WOLF RECORDS and available now. 

http://howlinwolfrecords.com/

Diego, Nora & Lionel Vincent Baldenweg aka GREAT GARBO.

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).

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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.

 

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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.

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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).

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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.

 

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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.

 

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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
you).

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.

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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.
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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.
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What are you working on next, if you can tell me?

 

On an international TV series yet to be announced.

 

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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?

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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.

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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.

RODRIGO FLORES LOPEZ.

 

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Rodrigo Flores Lopez is a rising voice in the film music arena and is becoming a prominent name within a generation of new composers – with two Master’s degrees in film composing – one from the University of Bristol and the other from New York University. He also studied composition at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada and at North eastern University in Boston. He studied a bachelor’s degree in music, specializing in composition and piano at the Universidad de las Américas, Puebla in Mexico. He was a selected participant at the 2004 NYU/ASCAP Film Scoring Workshop in memory of Buddy Baker.

Can you tell me what is for you the primary job of music in film?

I think music in film adds another layer of meaning and emotion. And I think this layer should try to be something that is either not so evident in the script or visuals, or something that needs reinforcement in some way. And many times it is done in a subliminal way, since it is supporting the narrative.
But I also believe that music in film, opposed to the idea that it should never be noticeable, should rather seek its balance and try to find exactly how to support each moment where it is used. Of course dialogue should always be the most important aspect at all times, except if it is conceptually not meant to be like that. But there are certainly some moments when either the sound design, the score, or any other music may have more relevance in a given moment. Therefore, when it comes to the score, a composer should try to be aware of the director’s vision and use music accordingly. The better a composer learns how to communicate with the film’s director, the better he or she will find ways to achieve that vision and enhance it with the score. A composer may even find aspects of that same vision that the director had not foreseen, but then discovers. Of course it is the director who has the final call, but it is sometimes the film itself the one that dictates that final say.

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What musical education or training did you receive?

 

I studied a B.A. in Music at the Universidad de las Américas-Puebla in Mexico, and I specialized in composition. My main instruments were piano and voice. While I did my undergraduate degree, I went on two exchange programs where I could start focusing on film music, whether from courses or from teachers. So I went to the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada and then to North eastern University in Boston, U.S.A.
After I graduated I was incredibly fortunate to get two scholarships to study two Master’s degrees in Film Scoring.  The first one was an M.A. in Composition of Music for Film, Theatre and Television at the University of Bristol in the U.K., and the second one was an M.A. in Composition with a specialization in Film and Multimedia at New York University (NYU). I was also a selected participant at the NYU/ASCAP Film Scoring Workshop in memory of Buddy Baker in 2004 and I took a film orchestration course with Steven Scott Smalley when I was living in NY.

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You have worked in TV, Film and also have written for the theatre, what would you identify as the differences in scoring projects from these three mediums?
In my experience TV has been the most demanding process in terms of timing. Tight deadlines can mean sacrificing quality, but some productions don’t even care about it. And in some TV projects I have actually been asked to compose music that somebody else will eventually put into the scene. So I’m sometimes not even exactly sure what the music will be used for. It can become quite messy and your music can end up being chopped up and inserted in ways that can be quite frustrating and completely out of context. My experience in theatre and film so far has been much more rewarding. Of course theatre projects are usually the ones that suffer the most in terms of budget, so I usually have to do a lot of sequencing and limit the number of live instruments, whether they are recorded or played live. But I think the most important difference that I have experienced between film and theatre has had to do with the possibilities each one has to offer.

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When you work with a film, you get the very best acting each performer has given, the best shots and the best takes they were able to get during filming, and it has all been edited with utmost care. Therefore, you work with a final cut that puts all that together. You can find nuances and details that can be highlighted with music in an incredibly precise way.  So what I love about scoring a film is the possibility of taking advantage of that. Nowadays many of those aspects are sometimes going to be very subtle, but they are planned in a way that is unique to that specific moment in the film. That can be incredibly powerful. Add to that the possibility of having a wonderful recording session with an orchestra of amazing musicians, in which you strive to get the best performance possible, and it is just fantastic. Now, in theatre I do tend to have smaller budgets and in many cases I do not get to have live musicians during the performances. So I end up pre-recording the music and it is then played through speakers during the shows. But the amazing part has to do with the process and how it translates into the performance. I love going to rehearsals and playing music for the actors in order to do exercises before the play has even been staged. And I’ll probably make a lot of decisions based on that. Or I create the music based on how the scene develops. There are even instances where the music ends up dictating changes in the blocking or in the way the scene itself is conceived. So the reaction of the actors as the score starts becoming part of the narrative is amazing, because, unlike the actors in a film, they are listening to it.

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And even though I do use a lot of non-diegetic music in theatre – the characters are not supposed to be listening to it-, the actors are in fact listening, and they are constructing their emotions and reactions every single show because of the music too. It becomes part of the essence of their performance and I’ve had amazing experiences with it. I remember an actress that cried the first time I brought a piece of music to try with a scene; she said that it was the music that made her understand what the character was going through. Or another play where the final scene was all accompanied by music and the synchronization came perfectly every single time because of how the actor always built his emotional climax based on the structure of the music.
But at the same time, every single performance was different. That is also fantastic, but in a different way.

Do you orchestrate and conduct your music for film, or is this not always possible?

I do orchestrate my music every time. I actually like doing it because I feel it is an important part of the essence of the score, like colours in a painting. It makes the process a bit more stressful because of timing, but I really enjoy it. But I would like to work with additional orchestrators if I had to.  Now, when it comes to conducting I guess it would be nice to do it, but the first film scores I did were recorded in Bulgaria, and most of the musicians didn’t speak English, so I knew it wasn’t going to be a very effective process. And the most recent film score I did was recorded in London, and I had the great opportunity to have Gavin Greenaway conduct it, so I decided to stay in the recording booth. On the other hand, even though I know conducting your own music can be very rewarding, I have also enjoyed the experience of being with the recording engineer and the film’s director. It’s a different perspective and I feel like I can be aware of things I might miss if I were conducting.

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You have worked with director Jorge Ramírez Suárez, does he have specific ideas when it comes to the style of music he wants for his movies?

 

Yes. Our first collaboration was actually a TV documentary series about the future of Mexico, and it was during that project that I actually started to know him and his vision. After that, we have collaborated on two films so far, and the experience has been wonderful.

Jorge does tend to have some concepts about what he’s looking for in terms of music. For example, for the TV series Futuros Posibles, he knew he wanted a signature theme that could be varied according to which aspects of living in Mexico were being discussed, since the series dealt with different topics: sports, legal, technological, romantic, etc. And in Guten Tag, Ramón he knew he wanted to have an acoustic guitar as part of the score, and to somehow make distinctions musically between Mexico and Germany.
He sometimes may want to clarify which musical style he does not want, and that starts giving me pointers as to how I can experiment. So in a way, some limitations are always good to start creating. But at the same time, he’s always been very open to stylistic suggestions he might not have considered before.

 

 

At what stage of the production do you like to become involved on a project?

I like to get involved as early as possible. I think time constraints can be a limitation when scoring films and visual media in general. And since projects are actually conceived from the moment there is an approved screenplay, I think it can’t harm a composer to get to know the project at that point if possible. Of course a lot of things are going to change, and the resulting film can differ greatly from the original script, because of directing, acting, editing, production, etc. But what I like to rescue from that early process is the essence of the story: What is it that defines the film that will be made? And some core aspects are there throughout the entire process. So that helps me to begin drafting ideas and playing with them. Many of them will not be used in the end, many will be reimagined once the film has been shot, but there are also things that may prove to be an integral part of the identity of the film, and I like to try to discover those before I actually start scoring the film.

 

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Was music something that you always wanted to do for a career, and what are your earliest memories of any kind of music or musical instrument?

 
I was always very fond of the arts in general. My dad wanted to study piano, but life took him in a different path and he became an accountant first. Then, by the time I was born, he was already studying a degree in piano, and I would sometimes fall asleep while he was studying in the evening, and I really enjoyed listening to the music. I was maybe 3 years old when he first tried to teach me very simple things. Later on I started playing the piano by ear under an uncle’s guidance, and I gradually fell in love with music. I also started taking singing lessons. I was about 8 years old when I decided I wanted to pursue a career in music composition, but I kept learning empirically. At some point I realized that the music I loved from several films had actually been composed specifically for the films themselves!

So I then figured out I wanted to become a film composer. I applied to the National University in Mexico for a 3 year preparation course in order to be able to study a career in composition, but I was already 15 years old then, and even though they said my musical abilities had been outstanding during the admission process, I hadn’t been able to write the composition I played on the piano because I had no formal training yet. So they basically told me I had no future in music and that I should just give up. I got quite depressed, but I eventually started studying piano formally at a small music school in Mexico City. I wanted to prepare in order to apply to the Universidad de las Américas-Puebla.

 

 


Is the Mexican film industry producing a lot of movies at this time, and do directors and producers value the symphonic score?
Yes and no. The amount of films produced in the past 20 years or so has increased exponentially. There was a golden age of Mexican cinema during the 30’s and up to the 50’s, and there was a huge industry back in those days. But then there was a decrease in the number of films produced each year that continued until almost the end of the 90’s, in which there were about 8 films produced each year. The number has increased to more than 150 film’s last year, but the huge problem in Mexico is still distribution. Movie theatres make a huge profit from Hollywood film’s, so they will always favo8r them over Mexican productions. And Mexican cinemas are supposed to be among the best venues in the world, but of course, business is always a huge part of the whole deal. And Mexican film’s tend to try to be on one of both extremes. They either try to be a commercial success, and therefore focus on romantic comedies that are not always round projects, but that will manage to recover the investment and secure a screening opportunity, or they will try to show the film makers’ particular vision, with the support of the government’s funding for their production. But in many cases the latter will never even see the light of day outside of festivals and will therefore not make a profit. And I guess it’s difficult to say if this is right or wrong, but it is probably a consequence of the way the industry works nowadays in Mexico. So, what happens in the end is that directors and producers end up facing one of two situations in most cases. For a commercial movie they will try not to spend too much of their budgets on symphonic scores because they don’t realize that an integral part of a commercial success could be supported by a well produced score, and they tend to license more pop songs and try to have a really basic score that is either done with a small ensemble or it’s only a MIDI score in many cases.  And then many others choose not to have music at all or to limit the score to the same options, and in this case it could seem like an aesthetic idea, but personally, I believe, it sometimes serves the purpose of making a film that will be more acceptable in festivals, and the general belief is that art films will try to be “more realistic” and avoid a symphonic score as much as possible.
At least that’s what I feel happens with Latin American films in general. Then again, budget limitations could also be a part of the decision-making process for them, since most likely the investment will never be recovered and the films may not even get distribution even after winning awards in several festivals.
Of course, with so many more films produced in Mexico nowadays, there are some chances for symphonic scores, but I think we still have a long way to go.

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Have you a routine when you are working on a movie, by this I mean is there a set way in which you approach a film, do you like to create central themes firstly and build on these or do you start at the beginning of the movie and work through to the end titles?
I don’t think I have a unique way of approaching a film. I may choose the scenes that I feel are important to work on them first, but never in a very particular order. I guess I do try to leave the very last cues at the end, because I think they will flow better once the musical material has been used in different ways throughout the film. And in a way, those last scenes will end up being a musical conclusion as well.
One other thing I like to do is to start coming up with musical ideas when I first get to know the story or read the screenplay. As I was telling you before, many of those ideas will end up being discarded, but I may find the core aspects of the story and come up with some possible melodies or motifs to represent them. Once I have the final cut I can start seeing which of those will be the ones that really seem to resonate with the film, and only then will I start to consider my orchestral palette and the kind of synth sounds I will end up using. I feel that helps me define the particular sound of that specific film. That palette may change a bit during the process, usually to enrich it, but I like to have a starting point that defines that sonority.

 

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What is your principal way of composing or working out your musical ideas, piano, keyboard or via a more technical method?
In terms of the music I use the piano a lot, since that is my main instrument. So the main ideas will be born there most of the time. When it comes to orchestrating then I will get away from the piano of course, but it does seem to work as a starting point for me.
Something else I like to do is come up with conceptual ideas that will help to structure the score. Those concepts may end up being quite subliminal, but they help me to unify it and make statements about the story that are musical, structural and narrative.
How many times do you need to watch a movie before you start to formulate any solid ideas about the style of music and where music should be placed to best serve the film?
I think first impressions are very important, so I like to watch the film just 2 or 3 times at first. The most essential aspects of the film should pop up in those first times. And I have to be aware of them because they will probably be an excellent guide as to what the film is asking of me and how I can support it.
Of course I will talk to the director about it and the spotting session with him or her will help define both the style and where should the music go, but watching and getting a first impression will also help me understand the director’s vision and sometimes even find concepts that help enhance what the director had in mind, but from a parallel perspective.

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Do you write music that is not film music, are you involved in any other musical ventures?
Well, I also write music for the theatre and sometimes for TV. I would love to write for video games as well, but I haven’t had the opportunity yet.
I am also a songwriter. I even had a pop duet about ten years ago, but I’m trying to apply song writing now to musical theatre.
I also compose concert music and I really enjoy the possibilities it gives me due to the fact that I like to work with the emotional aspects of music. For many years, the emotional aspects of music were disdained in concert music, as if focusing on them would take away the academic and serious aspects of music making.

But the truth is, the emotional aspect, in my opinion, is very important in music, and it comes in every detail you add to the score and in the way it is interpreted by the musicians who perform the music, whether it is in the form of a recording, or in a live performance, where the audience will react to the music through the unique performance the listener is experiencing. I am currently working on a composition project that explores the emotional aspects of music, with the support of a grant from the Mexican government.

 

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Do you think that it is important for a score for a movie to have themes rather than contain drone like passages as the trend seems to be at this time in Hollywood produced pictures, or do you think that the theme as we know it has disappeared from the film score?
I honestly don’t think themes could ever disappear from the film score. I’m aware of this trend and I still find it difficult to understand why it has become so prevalent in many Hollywood scores nowadays. I sometimes think some directors might be afraid that the music could somehow “steal” the audience’s attention. But film music, when tailored to a specific film will not do that. It may be noticed, as I mentioned before, but because it is enhancing the storytelling experience.  Eventually recognizing themes, motifs and musical gestures should not be mistaken for a distraction. And I wish directors would know that for a fact. Great film music can be experienced separate from the film for which it was created and make great concert music, but it must work in the film first. And the power of melodic recognition is an amazing tool for composers in the art of storytelling. And again, it can be motivic, thematic or even gestural, but music and visuals get a lot of power and meaning from that association. I don’t think it could ever disappear and I hope that all those drone passages can learn to co-exist with the thematic material. I love some minimalist music, and ostinatos, and even drone like passages, but they should be part of a wider spectrum of possibilities.

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I am pleased to see that your soundtracks get both a digital and a compact disc release, do you have any involvement in the preparation of the soundtracks for release, and which do you prefer the digital versions or the physical CD?
I do get quite involved in the release of the scores, which is probably part of the reason they get released in the first place. I’ve always loved film music aside from the film as well, and I grew up listening to film scores and letting my imagination flow freely with them, so I think it’s important to give the score that chance to live outside a film. When a film score is released, I think it’s important to plan the album so that it is an interesting listening experience.  That may mean leaving cues out, re-editing some and in general, whatever process is necessary to turn the score into an experience of its own, whether it reminds you of scenes in the film or not. I guess I like to have both versions because the digital release is widely available and it can reach many more listeners than the physical release. But CDs have that magic that collectors appreciate: the booklet, the pictures, the additional words and insight from the people involved or from film music critics. The quality of the audio file. And it has something that I value a lot: credits. The problem with digital releases on their own is that they don’t tell you much about the product.
There is music I have composed available on Spotify that doesn’t even have my name on it because it is an album with pieces from many composers released by an ensemble, and they did not include our names in the info. Or even my pop music is not related to my film scores because only the name of the duet shows up. So releasing a physical Cd gives you the opportunity to give due credit to everyone involved in the project, because they are part of it. For my latest release, La Gran Promesa, which is being released in March by Kronos Records on Cd (and Movie Score Media digitally) I was happy to include those credits in the Cd. Maybe because I produce my scores every time, I know who’s been part of them, and even in the film, Jorge himself, being the producer of his own films, wanted to include the names of everyone involved in the score in the end credits. And I think that shows respect for the film score itself. If many films include the names of caterers, drivers, and a lot of other people involved in production, I don’t see why the team involved in the score production shouldn’t deserve the same recognition, if possible.

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When you are spotting a movie with the director do you focus on any one scene or a character to begin to fashion your score?
Yes, I think it is important to focus on characters, concepts, etc. according to their relevance in the story. Sometimes a character doesn’t get any musical treatment because it won’t help the storytelling, and it is important to have those things clear as early as possible. And some scenes are going to have a huge impact on the way the story develops, so the spotting session clarifies a lot of those aspects.

Were any of the movies you have worked on tracked with any music or songs by the director to give you an idea of what is required?
Yes. Even though there aren’t music editors in Mexico, there is usually a temp track that gets assembled to help the editing process. It is usually selected by the director and the editor, and it can prove useful when you need some pointers as to what the director wants. But I try not to watch the film with that temp track at first, because I don’t want those tracks to limit my creativity. The temp track can be a useful tool, but it can be very dangerous too. If the director gets married to those tracks, your process could turn into a nightmare. I’ve only had that happen to me with a TV commercial fortunately. I guess directors should try to understand that the risk of asking for a pastiche of those tracks is against the uniqueness of the score that will be composed for their films. And I guess the most authentic films should aim to create that originality in every way possible. Maybe it is true that everything has been said already, but there will always be plenty of ways to say those things again differently.

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What will you be working on next?
This year I have several theatre projects on the calendar, but the main one is the second part of the composition project for which I got a grant, and it consists of a musical theatre play with puppets for children. I recently finished a work for String orchestra that is also part of that project and which will be premiered this year by the Wratislavia Chamber Orchestra at a music festival in June-July in Poland, which I hope I get to attend. And next year I will be composing a work for Symphony orchestra that will conclude this composition project that focuses on emotions in music. There is also the possibility of another film and a documentary series this year, but I still haven’t confirmed those so I prefer not to get too excited about them until they are a fact.
Thank you for taking the time to ask all these questions and for your interest in knowing a bit more about my work. I truly appreciate it.

I think the world is still not quite aware of the idea that there are film composers all over the world, and I think an-interview like this is an amazing opportunity to let film music lovers know that composers can come from places from which they don’t usually expect to hear about us, like Mexico! I think that is also how international collaborations come to be. It’s a big world!

 

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