Category Archives: Interviews

MARK McKENZIE, SCORING DRAGON HEART, BATTLE FOR THE HEARTLIGHT.

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J.M. I think I am right when I say DRAGON HEART THE BATTLE FOR THE HEART LIGHT contains a score that is maybe 80 percent electronic, was this something that you were asked to do when scoring the movie?

MM: First thank you for your interest in my music John. I especially appreciate people like you who look deeper than the latest blockbuster movie score. The old adage, necessity is the mother of invention is often the case in film making. There was creativity at every level of making this film and my hat is off to Raffaella De Laurentiis, Patti Jackson all the film makers for their inventiveness.  I hopefully did my part as well.

J.M. Do you approach a project differently when working with electronics?

MM: Preparation is essential. I always spend a great deal of time studying potential electronic sounds looking for sonics that seem expressive or that intrigue. Then there is the boring part of reading manuals to learn how to manipulate the sounds into something closer to what I’m actually looking for. In this film there are multiple childhood flashbacks which unfold gradually. These flashbacks are filled with melancholy hurt, frustration, grief, anger and yet great love. To underscore them subtly, I wanted something that sounded very simple, pure, yet warm. I manipulated a crystal glass sample and then combined it with a soft sensuous boys choir and a rich analogue synth. To my ears it lifts the heart and soulful memories and plays easily under dialogue. Director Patrik Syversen and Producer Rafaella De Laurentiis encouraged me to aim for simplicity so I did exactly that. In a moment of inspiration I was drawn to an old French baroque musical form called Chaconne which includes variations over harmonies and a repeating bass line. When I played it for director Patrik Syversen and the producers we all immediately were on the same page. I use this Chaconne repeatedly in the soundtrack.  Track #19 “Truth and Love Bring Healing” is one example. It’s a very simple, meditative track that I find myself drawn to.

 

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J.M. You have scored three DRAGONHEART movies, each score has included the Randy Edelman theme from the original score, was this something that you decided to include?

MM: Randy’s theme is one of the great iconic movie themes. It is moving, uplifting, powerful and is part of the joy of watching the Dragonheart films.  The director and producer and I all conferred on each film where the theme should and shouldn’t play. We use it sparingly for moments when hope and chivalry comes alive through the great dragon. The Dragonheart theme is a textbook example of the commercial value a strong melodic theme can give to a film franchise. It is integral to the Dragonheart films and part of the reason we even have these sequels. Incidentally I first met this man I love and admire, Randy Edelman, orchestrating his TV pilot called The Adventures of Brisco County. One of the cues Randy composed and I orchestrated for that TV pilot, later became the Olympics theme we all know and love.

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J.M. DRAGONHEART: THE BATTLE FOR THE HEART FIRE, has a score that is certainly filled with emotion and has a romantic but melancholy sound to it. Is it more difficult to create this atmosphere using electronics as opposed to utilizing the conventional instruments of the orchestra?

MM: Maybe just different I think. Musical color, harmony, form, themes, rhythm and rubato, still apply to electronics but you have to recreate an orchestra of your own making and not rely on the orchestra and performers that you have studied for a lifetime. The glorious beauty of the orchestra is sorely missed but I do my best with the current technology to approximate it when needed. With electronics you never think about intonation issues and you have complete control of everything. In some ways it is easier to just perform the music yourself as you want it rather than trying to explain to others how it should go. There is much to love about electronics.

 

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J.M. How much time did you have to write the score and record it?

 

MM: I had 6 weeks to compose, record and produce and I used every minute of the day as wisely as I could because there were no assistants or recording engineers or music editors. There were however, two people who never get credit who were essential: Mark Nagata and Ryan Ouchida at Vision Daw. When the electronics and computers fail or crash, they are the smart people working like Sherlock Holmes to figure out why and get me back up and running.

J.M. Did the director have a hands-on approach when it came to placing the music?

 

MM: Director Patrik Syversen was a pleasure and I found brilliant. He had a great sense musically and learned to trust his instincts. He was very exacting philosophically about what he was looking for and where he wanted music and how long it should last. Happily, he was completely open to creativity on how to accomplish the goals. We worked very closely. I’d play him each cue and we’d discuss it. He had lived with the film for a year and so he was often aware of details, character motivations, inner thoughts and feelings that were helpful to me as a composer.
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J.M. How much music did you write for the movie and is most of the score included within the recording and do you have an input into what tracks go onto the recording?

 

MM: I wrote over 60 minutes of music and was given complete artistic control over the soundtrack thanks to Jake Voulgarides at Universal’s Back Lot Music.  There are a few pieces the director and I would like to have included but I just ultimately felt insecure about them and opted to leave them off. I was going to omit the first track but I have a tribute to JS Bach in that track and left it in just for that reason. Patrik wanted chimes in the opening of the movie so I thought…OK…I’ll use them and have them play 4 times…just enough to quote Bach’s 4 note theme to the great c# minor triple fugue in the Well Tempered Clavier. You know, I orchestrated Jerry Goldsmith’s final 6 films and helped him compose on a couple films and he would say:  “If I compose 1 good minute of music in a year, I think I’m doing great.” I feel the same way. A close friend of mine said last week: “You are really hard on yourself”…she was right.  Probably most artists are.

J.M. The cello performances sond stunning, they are so poignant and heartrending. When you write pieces such as this do you have a soloist in mind?

 

MM: Thank you John. Yes, but in this case it is electronic. These days I’m more excited than ever about electronic music in part because of the growing quality in sampling. Right before I started Dragonheart: Battle for the Heartfire, I ran into Danny Elfman, who I orchestrated 17 films for, at an Academy Screening of his electronic film score “The Girl on the Train.” He was excited about electronics and after hearing his thoughts, like often is the case for me with Danny, I was inspired. When I finished I ran into him again. We compared notes and both are very excited about the possibilities in electronics. To combine them with a huge orchestral score in Los Angeles or at Abby Road is a vision I have.  By the way, Sony Classical plans on releasing my latest epic orchestral score MAX AND ME recorded at Abbey Road Studios with choir orchestra and concert violinist Joshua Bell. It is a work of great love and  I’m hoping it will be released this year.

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Many thanks to composer Mark McKenzie. for his time and his co-operation as always.

 

AN INTERVIEW WITH COMPOSER CHRISTOPHER SLASKI.

 

Can I begin by asking where and when were you born, what are your earliest memories of any kind of music, and was music always something that you were attracted to do as a career?

I was born in London on 3 December 1974. Apparently, as a baby, music had a calming effect on me, but of course I have no memories of that! When I was five years old, recognising that I had some musical ability, my parents organised piano lessons for me and later I began learning the organ. By sixteen I was giving piano and organ recitals, performing chamber music and concertos, and playing in Jazz groups and I loved it, but I didn’t have any wish to pursue it as a career at that time. It was only when I reached my mid teens that I started composing. A chance encounter with the music of the French composer Claude Bolling drew me into the world of film music. Until that point, I hadn’t even noticed the existence of film music and I certainly had never considered it as a possible profession.

 

I think I read that you stated that your musical influences came from composers such as Michel Legrand, Philippe Sarde and of course Ennio Morricone, did you or do you collect or buy soundtrack albums by other composers?

I think I was around 14 or 15 when I discovered modern Jazz and began to listen to and buy recordings by Bill Evans, Miles Davis, Dave Brubeck, Oscar Peterson and Antonio Carlos Jobim amongst others. In 1988, I saw the Italian film “Cinema Paradiso” and was completely blown away by both the film and Ennio Morricone’s score. Soon afterwards, a friend sent me a video tape of Michel Legrand, Claude Bolling and Oscar Peterson performing a Jazz piano concert together. This was the first time I heard Legrand’s music from “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” and “The Thomas Crown Affair” and I immediately fell in love with it. At this time, apart from classical music and Jazz, I was into buying CDs of soundtracks and I would visit Tower Records, HMV and other specialist music shops, listening to everything I could find by my favourite film composers.

 

 

What non film music composers would you say have influenced you?

Bach, Chopin, Mahler, Debussy, Satie, Ravel, Poulenc, Stravinsky, Rachmaninov, Copland, Astor Piazzolla, Steve Reich, John Adams and Antonio Carlos Jobim. Also, Richard Rodney Bennett, who taught me at the Royal Academy of Music. His concert music is just as direct and beautiful as his film music. Finally, the song-writer and arranger Burt Bacharach. His sophisticated melodies, harmonic changes and arrangements are so original and beautiful.

 

 

 

What musical education did you receive?

Apart from piano lessons with concert pianist Martino Tirimo and organ lessons with various teachers at my school and at Westminster Cathedral, I also studied for GCSE and A-Level Music, together with all the other usual subjects. During my gap year, I signed up composition classes at Morley College and conducting with Laurence Leonard and meanwhile I got an offer from Queens College, Cambridge to read Music. After three years there, where I had the honour of taking composition lessons with Robin Holloway, I spent a further two years as a postgraduate in Composition at the Royal Academy of Music under the guidance of Paul Patterson.

You worked as an orchestrator, do you think that this gave you a better understanding of music composition or the way in which music works?

I wouldn’t say that the experience of orchestrating gave me a better understanding of music composition, as music can, in most cases, be separated from its orchestration. Ravel’s piano works for instance. They are all great in their own right. Ravel’s orchestrations of his piano works give the music an extra dimension, but his piano works are not diminished in any way next to the orchestral versions. What the practical experience of orchestrating did do for me was to better enable me to present my musical ideas for the orchestra, and hopefully, to maximise their potential.

I think that orchestration can help to structure music. In the greatest concert works, orchestration is not a haphazard series of orchestral-colour decisions, but a well thought-out process that, just like the music itself, has it’s own logic. When writing film music, orchestration tends to be instinctive for most composers, as much of the time you are not dealing with long musical structures as you would be in a concert work. I tend to invent sounds and textures that are appropriate for the given moment in a scene and I use orchestration to define moments, to evoke atmosphere and create connections, just as I would use a thematic leitmotif.

The thing that has really helped me to understand how music works has been the process of transcribing music. I have made hundreds of transcriptions from audio recordings, writing out pieces of music by ear. These have been the most useful exercise I have ever done and I would recommend transcribing music to any prospective composer or arranger. Taking down music by ear has not only given me an insight into how the compositions (and orchestrations) have been created from inside out, but it has had the secondary benefit of fine tuning my inner ear, which has in itself helped me hugely. Thanks to these aural ‘workouts” I can now hear in my head any musical and instrumental combination, and notate them without having to play them on a keyboard.

 

You scored a movie entitled THE BREAK IN back in 1999, and then a year later you collaborated once again with the director John Stewart on THE ASYLUM, how did you become involved on these projects?

The 1999 thriller, “The Break-In” came about after answering an advert in the back of a film industry magazine. John Stewart and his producer were looking for a composer to score their new short film and I managed to talk my way into getting the job. There was a small fee but no recording budget to speak of, but because I wanted the quality and emotion of live musicians, I managed to persuade 15 friends from the Royal Academy to play on the session. The director requested a score with music of a highly dramatic nature. It was super fun to write and record. Years later, I would hand over the recordings to a library music company, and it has became some of the most widely used of my entire catalogue.
Getting to score John’s feature film “The Asylum” was my prize for having scored his short. Set in Cane Hill Asylum, an abandoned Victorian psychiatric hospital built on a hilltop in the London greenbelt, it was a psychological horror film. I composed a gothic Herrmann-esque score to match. They had a fairly decent budget this time around, so I was able to record my first orchestral score, which were did with a 60-piece band in Prague.

 

You scored BEYOND THE SEA for Kevin Spacey, did he have specific ideas about what style of score he wanted and was this a difficult project because the soundtrack obviously contained so many songs?

It was actually John Wilson, the musical director (and well-known conductor), who asked me to score “Beyond The Sea”. In a short phone call, apart from one or two specific instructions, Kevin Spacey gave me free reign. It was surprising but also a bit daunting to have so much trust placed in me like that. This was a Hollywood studio film, the highest profile film I had worked on. It had a cast of very famous actors and actresses. Fortunately I didn’t have time to think deeply about it, otherwise I might have freaked out!

As you say, there were many existing songs interspersed throughout the film. This meant that the musical entrances and exits of my cues had to segue imperceptibly with the starts or endings of existing songs. That wasn’t particularly difficult. However, finding a musical style that was not only in keeping with the period but which also blended seamlessly with the existing songs and their arrangements – that was the big challenge. The music I ended up writing had a distinctly American feel, but also placed the film decisively into the 1950s and 60s, which is when the film was mainly set.

Kevin Spacey was very happy indeed with the score and getting the thumbs up from him was a very proud moment for me.

In your opinion, what do you think is the purpose of music in film?

To enhance the emotions and to say what is not possible with words.

 

 

When a score that you have composed is given a release on compact disc etc., are you involved in the compilation of the music tracks at all?

Absolutely 100%. It is vital to make sure that the music is presented well and I work closely together with the producer of the album spending much time deciding on the best possible order of tracks and whether they should be presented individually or merged into longer suites. In the end, it’s all about how to structure the best possible listening experience rather than slavishly following the order of the cues as they appear in the film.

 

 

As well as feature films, you have worked on numerous shorts, what would you say are the main differences between scoring a feature and a short film?

Whether it’s a short film or a feature film, the process is exactly the same. Short films, while often low budget, are not the poor relation when it comes to compositional challenges. Indeed, there can be certain advantages since you are not bound by commercially driven decisions and there are fewer people involved in making those decisions. I believe some of the most personal music I have written has been for shorts because I was unhindered by the extra-musical distractions that can take over on larger projects. Although the condensed nature of a short means you rarely have the opportunity for extended development of musical material, it always surprises me how much musical variety you can cover in a 15-minute film. One of my most liked compositions comes from a short film called “Cuadrilátero” directed by José Carlos Ruiz and starring French actor, Mathieu Amalric. Another short film I very much enjoyed working on more recently is a comedy called “Tú o Yo” directed by Javier Marco. I decided to compose an energetic Jazz score which I recorded with some really marvellous jazz musicians in London, including John Barclay, the flugelhorn player on John Barry’s early Bond scores and an incredible saxophonist called Martin Robertson who had no problem playing my extremely difficult written out Jazz lines.

 

You studied under Ennio Morricone, what was it like being giving instruction by the Maestro? How many times do you like to see a movie before you begin to get ideas about where the music will go and what style of music you think the movie requires?

During my gap year, an Italian friend who knew how much I loved Morricone’s music, sent me details of classes that Morricone was giving at the Academia Chigiana that summer in Sienna. It wasn’t open to anyone and you had to apply, by sending in a number of compositions and a curriculum. We were about 20 or so students and the classes took place over the space of a week or so. Rather than being taught traditionally, we listened to extended conversations between Morricone and the musicologist Sergio Michelli. So, there wasn’t much opportunity for interaction. Even so, it was amazing just to be in the same room as the Maestro and I did manage to ask a few of my own questions plus get a few moments to share some of my scores with him, including a transcription I had made of the score to “Cinema Paradiso”. He seemed quite touched when I showed it to him, and he spent some time going through it and making some corrections! I still have this manuscript in my studio to this day, with the words “Bravo per la trascrizione, Ennio Morricone” !

As for your second question, I get music ideas from the very first moment I see a film. The first viewing is of utmost importance to me, as I’ll never see the film like that again, with such an open mind. So the first viewing is the closest I will ever feel to how an audience will see it when they go to the cinema.

 

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The album FILMWORKS is an amazing release, are there any plans for a volume two soon?

Thank you! I would love to do another one, but I will have to build up a similar body of work to justify another retrospective. I am writing new music all the time, so this shouldn’t take too long! What is likely to happen before that is the release of a new work that I am currently working on: a concerto for Bandoneon, Guitar, Piano and orchestra. I think it’s the best work I have written, easily as ambitious the “Frank Lloyd Wright Suite” (recorded by the London Symphony Orchestra in 2005), but very different in style. There is still a long way to go before I am finished, as it is a dense and complex work with millions of notes. My hope is that it will receive some live performances before being recorded because that’s always the best way for music to become second nature to the musicians.

When scoring a project do you have a set routine, by this I mean do you begin with the opening titles and work through to the end credits, or do you develop a central theme and build your score around this?

The latter is more typical in my case. That is to say, around some central ideas but not chronologically. Rarely do I start at the beginning and work my way through to the end. Whenever I have tried to compose in a logical progression, the director has gone and changed the order of cues, so that we ended up with a different score than the one I had envisaged at the beginning. I see writing for film as more akin to sculpting from a piece of rock. What starts out as a rather unwieldy block of stone is gradually chipped away at until a shape begins to take form. Little by little this shape is refined until you end up with the polished statue. Actually, this is how all compositions are formed in my case, concert works included.

 

What is your opinion of the use of the temp track, do you think that maybe certain directors can become fixated upon the temp and it blurs their vision as far as an original score is concerned?

Temp tracks inhibit freedom, artistry and imagination. They are the very antithesis to creativity. By acting as a blue print for the score you will eventually compose, they blind everyone to the possibility of creating something original that they hadn’t imagined. Temp music can be useful in helping the director to make a point, and certainly helpful to the editor to cut to, but they have no artistic use whatsoever. In fact, I would go as far as to say that the liberal use of temp music has led to a deterioration of really good film composition. A great deal of film music today sounds bland and identical, no matter who the composer is, and I am not alone in saying that. Morricone, Legrand, Sarde, Elfman and many others have made the same point. That said, I am used to temp tracks, and I know how to deal with them. I would always prefer to have a film temped with my own music because at least then I am hearing my own musical language in context of the film rather than being asked to imitate someone else’s

 

 

You have worked on movies from many different countries, is film music treated differently from country to country, or do directors all pretty much think along the same lines when it comes to the score?

I have been lucky to have worked with some really good directors, regardless of where they came from. Kevin Spacey, one could say, is part of the film nobility in Hollywood, as are the Quay Brothers in Art House cinema. Likewise, David Planell and Jose Carlos Ruiz from Spain are seriously talented auteurs as are Friedrich Moser from Austria and Beryl Richards from England. What makes each one stand out is their personality and culture rather than nationality. That said, I have seen many different styles of film making, and each film requires a bespoke musical approach. In European cinema there is definitely more emphasis placed on the role of music as a distinct personality in the film. In British and American cinema, music tends to be more consigned to a background, incidental role. This is a generalisation of course, and there are examples that go against this, though the melancholic nostalgia, intellect and sensuality one finds in much French cinema (Francois Ozon’s films for instance) is notably absent in much contemporary social British cinema which tends to be more concerned with the grim realities of urban life (such as Ken Loach). The fact is, I try to write music that best suits a film’s style and needs. Sometimes you can make bold musical statements, other times you have to take more of a backseat role. Of all the directors I have worked with, what never fails to delight me is the gratitude they express when I compose something that really makes their film work. I think it’s because music makes them fall in love with their film again.

 

 

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WHO IS FLORINDA BOLKAN is an interesting work, a homage to Morricone, how did you become involved on this project and was it your idea to score it in this style?

Ruben Torrejon, a young Spanish director approached me for this film. He already knew my music from other short films I had done and, like me, he loves 60s and 70s Italian film music. It was his idea to score the film in that style, using Bossa Novas and a wordless female voice, very much in the style of Edda Dell’Orso and the sensual, psychedelic scores of that period in Italian cinema.

One of your latest projects is THE GOOD AMERICAN which you worked on with composer Guy Farley, was this a collaboration in the true sense or were you each responsible for individual cues for the score?

Guy and I have a long established partnership writing music for commercials, an arrangement we have had since 2009. On this occasion I asked him if he’d be interested to collaborate with me on a feature film. Apart from a couple of cues where we mixed our ideas together, we generally kept our cues completely separate, choosing in advance which scenes we’d like to score. This worked well because in this particular film we found that the scenes could be evenly divided up into genres and moods. The score was recognised by the Austrian Film Academy and nominated for the Austrian Film Prize, the Austrian equivalent of the CESAR or OSCAR. We took part in the ceremony in Vienna a few months ago which was an unforgettable experience.

 

Using THE GOOD AMERICAN as an example, what size orchestra did you have for this project, and what synthetics did you use?

I had 40 strings, 8 woodwinds, harp, piano and percussion plus non-orchestral, synthesised sounds to add a modern, technological feel to the music. Fast, agitated string passages provided the pace and tension while the woodwind was available to vary the colour. I used two bass clarinets often for some repeated staccato effects and I gave the bass flute a number of important solos. Something about the gentle character of the protagonist, Bill Binney, the location of his home near a forest and his love of nature suggested writing for the lower woodwind, especially the flutes. The electronic elements I put together before starting. I chose sounds that appealed to me from existing electronic instruments and I also created some different sounds myself. The way I like to use electronics, is blended so well with the orchestral elements, that they become part of the texture. It’s a homogeneity of acoustic and electronic sound. I also like to double the contrabasses with a low electronic sound, which gives them an extra richness in the cinema.

On the FILMWORKS album you have included the unused music for I ANNA, in the form of the FILM NOIR SUITE, the music is excellent, why was the score not used?

The director’s original idea was for a retro instrumental score inspired by French film music of the 1970s. This was a dream project for me, and I came up with some demos in an appropriate style but with a modern twist that the director and producer really loved and encouraged me to explore. The film’s editor too was very complimentary when he heard my music, a sure sign that I was on the right path.

Two weeks before the orchestral recordings were due to take place at Abbey Road Studios, I received an apologetic call from the producer to inform me that a decision had been made to explore an entirely different musical route from the one thus far, and one much closer to the original temp track which everyone had got to used to. So, the film ended up with a non-orchestral, ambient-electronic soundtrack, composed by the same author as the temp music, plus some pre-existing songs. In other words, it couldn’t have been more different in style to the original concept. Although this outcome was disheartening, the experience hadn’t been a waste of time. Those months of intense work and experimentation turned out to be a very useful period of musical development and I subsequently re-worked one of the cues from I, ANNA into my latest score for A GOOD AMERICAN (a cue called “2 Disc PC”). Never waste good music!

 

 

 

 

 

Do you think that a good score can save or maybe make a bad movie a little better?

It depends on your definition of ‘better’. While music cannot transform a bad film into a good one, what it can unquestionably do is make the viewing experience a lot more palatable. Most films have a problem or two lurking away within them, perhaps a scene that doesn’t work quite as well as the director had envisaged, or a clumsy transition or even a lacklustre performance. Music can certainly help to gloss over those moments and make them seem less bad. However, despite the best music in the world, if the film is just poor, the audience will still walk away feeling let down. The difference is, if the music is highly engaging, the audience might stay in their seats until the end of the film rather than leaving after 20 minutes! So, although a good score can make a bad film appear better, in the end, it’s still a bad film. Composers are often asked to commit to working on a film after reading a script, and long before the film has been made – and this is how they can sometimes find themselves working on a film that hasn’t turned out very well. In cases, like these, I refer to some advice given to me by Richard Rodney Bennett who said that if you’re going to write music for a film, you have to learn to love it in some way, however bad it is. It’s also worth noting how many superb scores have been written for crappy films!

 

 

 

THE PIANO TURNER OF EARTHQUAKES, is a score of yours that I like a lot, was it difficult creating the music for this as I know that there was music by Vivaldi etc. on the soundtrack as well?

Thank you – I’m really glad you like it. THE PIANO TUNER OF EARTHQUAKES directed by Stephen and Timothy Quay, stylistically speaking, was different from anything I had ever seen before so I had absolutely no point of reference. It’s a dark and surrealist vision from two completely original film makers. From the outset, I decided to compose freely, inspired by the images and the script rather than the picture. As you rightly say, there was some pre-existing music by Vivaldi that I re-arranged and used dramatically, as part of the score. The Vivaldi and my own original music had quite separate functions within the film, and were used in quite different scenes, so it didn’t pose any problem at all for me.

The challenge was, as always, how to find the most fitting musical mood to complement the abstract and quite stunning imagery. The Quays played me some music by the Russian composer Alfred Schnittke for inspiration and we decided to use the Aeolian Harp and Alphorn in the score and a fairground steam-organ to create the sound world of the automata, the mechanical machines that dot the film’s landscape. I used all kinds of rarely used instruments such as crystal glasses, glass harmonica, prepared piano, contrabass flute, and many kinds of percussion instruments to add unusual colors to the score. I exploited sounds by altering them electronically, changing their velocities, reversing them and combining them with vocals and a hint of specially created synth sounds. The final result was an eclectic, avant-garde score that reflected the strange, dream-like world of the Quays.

Do you think that there is any genre of film that is particularly difficult to score, and for what reason?

Comedy. It’s probably the most challenging of all genres. This is because it will often encompass a myriad of different shades of drama, emotion, and styles. So, apart from the scenes of physical comedy, or slapstick, of which there are bound to be some, there will also be sad, dark, or ironic moments and quite possibly fast paced action scenes as well. There may even be suspense or horror, and certainly some melodrama. So, in a single comedy film, a composer may end up covering every cinematic genre. In that sense, writing music for a comedy can often be all encompassing and hence very challenging. On top of that you have the additional challenge of finding new ways to enhance the comedy with music which don’t sound hackneyed and without an expert musical touch could easily make the comedy fall flat.

 

What are you working on now?

I have just completed the music for a couple of TV and cinema adverts plus a handful of new orchestral pieces for Audio Network, the library music company, which we recorded at Abbey Road Studios last month. As I mentioned earlier, I am also working on a concert work, a concerto for Bandoneon, Guitar and Piano. In September I’ll be starting work on a new film score for a French-Polish production. I have Polish nationality as well as British, and I am excited to be working with a Polish director for the very first time.

 

 

 

TALKING TO COMPOSER JAMES GRIFFITHS.

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Where and when were you born. Were any of your family musical in any way?

I was born in Swindon, UK, 17th January 1984, I moved to Norfolk when I was 3 and stayed there until I moved to London. I would say that my father was musical, and passionate about music, he certainly loved to listen to music. He later decided to pick the guitar up after I did, and for a few years he just enjoyed the casual hobby and playing AC/DC riffs.

Movie score Media released THE DRIFT last year, how did you become involved with this project, how much music did you compose for the movie and did you have a hand in the selection of the music tracks for the MSM release?

I spoke with Mikael Carlsson of Movie Score Media for a while on what the best way was to release this album. Amazingly with a Soundtrack Geek award win for Best Surprise, also nominated with Hans Zimmer and Max Richter for Best Sci-fi and an additional nomination for Best Feature Film Score for Music and Sound Awards, I was taken back so much that I had to release it with a great and strong label, which MSM is. Interestingly we released the second movie Darkwave: Edge of The Storm on the same record. It’s the second part in a series of movies from the makers of THE DRIFT. It’s a short score so it made an interesting double score album. We worked together on creating the track order and it turned out great. All in all THE DRIFT full score is about 84 minutes.

 

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You were for many years Principal Saxophonist and al Guitarist for THE BAND OF THE COLDSTREAM GUARDS, and you performed with artists such as Catherine Jenkins, Jools Holland and Sir Rod Stewart, when did you decide to make the transition from performing musician to composer?

I worked in that performance aspect for about 13 years. I learnt a great deal working with so many amazing musicians and diverse ensembles, touring the world and making great Number 1 records. We performed a huge amount of repertoire daily, which included film music, not just classical, modern wind band or marches. I always loved the diversity and I was very lucky. It helped me understand what instruments were doing within the ensemble, which part they were playing, and section they were complimenting. I used to listen to and ask my colleagues what can they do, and can they do this? In turn I got to know more about the instruments. This helped greatly with my writing and whilst I was writing music for MTV, I thought I would take the leap of faith and go from performing to full time composer.

 

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Had you always been attracted to the idea of writing music for film? When you were working on THE DRIFT were you given any specific instructions by the director, Darren Scales as to the style or the sound of the musical score he wanted?

I love film music, I always have from a young age, E.T. being my favourite score of all time as it’s a wonderful bridge between score and classical music, it gets me every time watching it on screen. I think writing scores came more natural to me after performing them for so long and when I studied my Masters in Music Performance and Psychology, I learnt more about how music reacts with the individual. I try to focus more to combine this into my writing, and to really channel the emotive response that the picture is explaining. Darren is very specific with his temp placements, it can be a great help but also a big ask when such famous scores that he is in love with are the direction to go in. When the director has often sat on the temp for probably about a year, getting away from it is tough, but ultimately once the score has its voice the temp can be used for a quick reference of emotion or pace and that’s it.

 

 

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You also conduct, did you conduct THE DRIFT and do you like to conduct all your music for film and TV, or are there times when it is just not possible for you to do this?

I love conducting, I always have, even back in my former career, rehearsing ensembles and playing under great conductors including the LSO and RPO. It’s something that I always enjoyed learning as everyone has his or her own style. If I get the opportunity to wag the stick I leap at the chance, but then also in the session I am keen to sit in the booth and hear the recorded aspect so it’s a balance. Trusting the team in the studio is the big thing, so if you have a great team then it’s more of an enjoyable process to conduct the ensemble and leave the rest to do what they do best. I didn’t conduct THE DRIFT as it was a clever tech process we will no doubt chat about.

Orchestration is an important part of the composing process, do you orchestrate all your music, or are there at times (when deadlines are looming etc.) when you use an orchestrator?

Orchestration is a big job, especially if it’s a large ensemble. If I have the time I definitely like to do it, but if deadlines are tough like now, I call in the team to help and work on it. Currently I am sharing the orchestration with my great assistant and composer in Vienna, Christoph Allerstorfer to get the job done. It’s like a well – tuned machine, when the cue’s written and signed off then off it goes!

You are at times involved with fellow composer Frank Ilfman, what are you responsible for when collaborating with him?

I was working for and with Frank for about 2 years as his assistant. I had many great experiences learning his style and how he manages his movies. He is such a wonderful composer and mentor. I would work on anything he needed, from cue sheet and Pro Tools prep, to streamers and additional music or source. I’ve just finished working for him as my schedule is quite busy and we actually just scored a feature together called 68 Kill. It’s a great movie that we decided to give a double team approach to.

 

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You went to Abu Dhabi in 2015 to conduct music from THE DRIFT what was this for? DARKWAVE EDGE OF THE STORM is also included on the release by Movie Score Media, this is a short film which runs for approx. 20 mins, how does working on a short or a television series differ from working on a full-length movie?

The NSO Symphony orchestra invited me to provide them with a suite of THE DRIFT. It was a great honour to have it performed by such a wonderful symphony orchestra and bring new film music to the country. It was even better to go back the following year with a new suite, involving Darkwave EOTS and an additional 30-piece Chorus. It sounded amazing and we have a wonderful relationship I’m sure will continue.

It is great working on shorts and I feel sometimes you have a bit more weight to really throw the themes hard into the movie as the movie is often edited in a fast pace fashion. Working on a feature however is a completely different beast. Not only the amount of music but making sure that the handful of themes are continued throughout, reintroducing the points of story and emotion. I love it; I am very much a composer that wants my music heard and not just provide an underscore. It’s down to me to make it work well in that case.

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When scoring, a project do you have a set routine or a fixed way in which you approach it, do you begin with the main title and work through to the end credits or do you create a central theme and then develop the remainder of the score around this or from it, or is every project different?

Dependant on time I obviously watch the movie through once after reading the script. I like to come on board early if possible so I can really get to know the directors vision of score and start to play with ideas for themes and characters. I do like to start from the beginning in general. I just think it helps develop the story telling in my writing and I can see everything grow throughout.

When playing around with my theme ideas in the sketch stage I have them ready for when I get to the scenes in question. Our Shining Sword for instance, they haven’t finished filming yet but I have been receiving rushes and edits to start mapping ideas out throughout the production phase.

 

 

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THE DRIFT a very grand and powerful sounding score, which for me evoked memories of Jerry Goldsmith and John Williams, what size orchestra did you use for this assignment and where did you record it?

That’s really kind and generous of you to compare me to these legends, thank you! THE DRIFT was a really interesting project as the whole ethos of the movie was; could the production team create a Hollywood size movie including all VFX and music on a shoestring micro budget. I loved the opportunity to see what I could do, and it paid off. No live musicians and just clever technology gave it the 100-piece orchestra size. Of course, I would have loved the live orchestra but it wasn’t possible under the project. I think it worked out great though under the circumstances. Everything was programmed and mixed here at Riff Studios.

Staying with recording studios and facilities, do you have a preference for any studio when it comes to recording your film scores?

I’m lucky enough to have recorded and played myself in the best studios in the world including Abbey Road, Air Studios and The Synchron Stage, Vienna. If anything, I love Air Lyndhurst in the UK. It has such a massive sound and great team working there with rich History. Abbey Road obviously has its charm and history, which I do enjoy but I think Air has a bigger fuller sound for my taste.

The Synchron Stage in Vienna, which is newly opened is wonderful, and a really big sound. I’m looking forward to recording there in the near future. The team are fabulous and technology is second to none.

 

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What composers, artists etc. would you say have influenced your style of composition or in the way that you approach the scoring of a movie?

I am a massive love of composers who have their own unique voice and style. Elliot Goldenthal, Mr Williams, John Powell, Frank of course an Johann Johansson are definitely composers who I love and respect their voice and work. Anyone who is brave enough to do something different gets my vote!

How do you work out your musical ideas, piano, or computerised method? What are your earliest memories of any kind of music?

I do work from a computer setup with the usual big libraries etc. but I do tend to use the piano to write the melodies. I just think it flows better and then I will translate that into the voice I need. Any kind of music.. gosh. Film score: E.T, Classical: Wagner’s Elsa’s procession to The Cathedral and no doubt Metallica Black album.

What are you working on now? What in your opinion is the purpose of music in film?

I have just wrapped up “68 Kill” a comedy thriller feature with Director Trent Haaga, Snowfort Pictures and I co-wrote this with Frank. It has its world premiere at the midnight screeners in March at SXSW. Currently I’m just in thick of scoring Director Richard Rowntree’s Folk Horror feature “Dogged” which will be released in the spring, It will be wrapped up in a few weeks then I will move onto the next one! Music in film is incredibly important, it’s all about emphasis of the story telling, contributing to the movie environment, emotion or character description. Watching a movie without any music is a strange experience, but also as a film score it has to work with everything else, the dialogue and Sound FX, so there also has to be a partnership between all the elements and allow for space. As a composer you have to not be afraid of silence within the score. If it’s just non-stop full on music, often it doesn’t work so well.

 

 

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How many times do you like to watch a movie before you begin to get ideas about what type of music the film needs and where music should be placed to best serve the picture, do you prefer to see a movie in its rough-cut stage or do you sometimes like to see a script?

If I have the time to watch more than once then great, often the case it’s just once, but I will have spotting sessions with the production team to go over everything before I start work officially so it still becomes a good base to get to know what’s going on.

I do like to see rough edits and working reels but I try not to do too much sketching over the working edits, as often things change adding more work to cues that now may not work at all. Also, the style and the sound of the score may need to be completely different from the original idea so it’s best to just keep informed of changes and talk to everyone involved. Of course, you also need to know what the budget can afford regarding musicians as this will play a big factor of who you write for and what sound the movie needs.

Do you perform on any of your film scores?

I love having the NSO in Abu Dhabi perform my scores and I hope there will be many more opportunities abroad and at home to bring my scores to the live audience. I always want to write scores that can be performed live, either as a small ensemble or full symphony.

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Oscar Martin Leanizbaruttia, an interview with the composer.

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As far as I can see you have scored two motion pictures, both of which contain very powerful soundtracks. How did you become involved on these projects?

 

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These projects were both communicated to film maker Pablo Moreno, who was contacted by Goya Prod. SA. He then contacted me as part of his team, I am very grateful to him for giving me this very big opportunity.

 

 

 

 

You were first clarinet in the Youth Symphonic Orchestra of Valladolid, was it here that you decided that you wanted to become a composer?

 

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Well, I learnt a lot listening the tone and the colours of the orchestra playing my clarinet with my musical partners, and it was an enriching experience, but really the thought to become a composer was earlier, when I was fifteen I wrote my first composition and from that day, to become a composer was on my mind, and whilst I was studying clarinet all the time the idea of becoming a composer was growing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

You are in fact studying music at the Royal High Conservatory of music in Madrid, but have been writing music since 2013, as well as composition what other musical studies are you undertaking?

I started my studies in 1996 when I was 7 years old, and from that year (except four years that I stopped my music studies) I was studying music, in total four years of elementary level and a further six years of middle level with specialized concentration in clarinet, and then four years of high studies (degree in Composition) which will be completed this May 2017. At the same time, during these past years, I´ve done several courses on film scoring, conducting, and I´ve composed different small pieces, but the biggest piece was the youth mass for orchestra and choir from the WYD in 2011 “Hoy y siempre, Señor”

 

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POVEDA is a wonderful score, in which you create so many themes that are both delicate and haunting, how much time were you given to score the picture and what size orchestra did you employ for this project, and what percentage of the score was performed on conventional instruments and what percentage was created using synthetic instrumentation, and was it the same orchestra on LUZ DE SOLEDAD?

Well, because of the low budget of the film, it was impossible to contract any musician, so all the music in Poveda is digital, in Luz de Soledad it was extremely necessary to record a violinist a violist and a soprano, because the digital sounds for soloist aren´t so good to be put into a film.

The main themes were created two months before the film was completed. In mid – October the final cut of the film was sent to me, and because of I was attending classes in Madrid, I had to plan my time the most way I can; In total composing the film score took five weeks, but these weeks were alternated, one week attending classes in Madrid, the following week working on the film, the next in classes again, and for two months it was like this. Regarding the size orchestra, although it was digital, I composed the music in a template of a big orchestra, with soloist of wood winds, powerful metals, and a big string section. Careful equalization was necessary to get the sound the best way. This was also the way with Luz de Soledad, with the same digital orchestra, except the real soloist being recorded.

 

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The director of POVEDA and your other assignment LUZ DE SOLEDAD is Pablo Moreno, did he have any set ideas about what direction you should take when it came to the score, and was he involved in the final decision of where the music should be placed etc. within the movie and had he or the producers of the movies installed a temp track, if so did you find this helpful or distracting?

From the beginning, Pablo Moreno had a clear concept of the film, and he explained this to me in detail, but he did not employ a temp track. I am very grateful to Pablo Moreno, although he showed me the concept of the two films, he trusted my judgment, so as I was creating the score, I was showing him my work, so if something didn´t work, he was able to tell me and we could change it.

What is your opinion of the increased use of electronic support, samples etc. within film music today?

I think that if used correctly, all of them are a very powerful tool, because it composers to make a realistic mock-up, on the other hand, composers like Steve Price or Zimmer, etc. Make very intelligent use of the synths and electroacoustic tools in order to create new sounds and atmospheres and I think that combining them with the power of the “classic” sound of the orchestra, can give us a very wonderful result.

 

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Do you think that orchestration is an important part of the composing process and although the scores were both digital, do you conduct at all?

As I said, digital sounds created the music. But if it was necessary I´d conduct the orchestra, and it´ll be a very exciting experience, I have conducted in the past. The orchestration is a very difficult part of the composition, because a very good theme can be lost with a bad orchestration with bad results, and a bad theme can be made better with a good orchestration. Orchestration is a craft an art form very much like, counterpoint for example.

Who was the guitar soloist on POVEDA?

The guitar solos were played by myself, but with the use of digital libraries.

The scores have been released for collectors, did you have an active role in selecting what music would go onto these releases?

Yes, I did. When the producers told me that a compact disc of the films soundtracks were to be released. I selected the different parts of the soundtrack that I thought would be interesting to be released for collectors of film music and people who saw the movies and liked the music.

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What composers would you say have influenced you or inspired you when it comes to scoring motion pictures?

Well, I like a lot the style of James Newton Howard, for example, but I am also attracted to the music of John Powell and Hans Zimmer, obviously, John Williams is a big influence for myself and many other composers, and the Spanish composers Oscar Navarro and Fernando Velazquez are also high on my list. But little by little I’m strengthening my own style and developing my own techniques, although there are several composers whose style I am very attracted too.

Is writing music for movies something that you have always wanted to do?

I can say yes to that question straight away, because from when I was a child I liked the movies and the music from them very much, I also loved to experiment composing music, so when I got the opportunity to study film music and work on films it was for me a dream come true.

 

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Did you perform on either of the scores?

Yes, all the notes and interpretation of the music that sounds (although it was digital) was recorded and mixed by me.

Who performed solo violin on LUZ DE SOLEDAD, the sections which feature the violin are so emotive?

The violin was played by the excellent violinist Cristina Baquero Rejón. Who Is a friend from my childhood, who I spent many years studying in Palencia Clarinet. Now she has finished her studies in violin in the High Conservatoire of music of Oviedo.

 

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What are you working on now?

At this moment, I am working on the ideas for the next film of Pablo Moreno “Red de Libertad”. Which should start production in early March, and I think it´ll be an amazing work! I will compose the music next July (I think) and for this project fortunately, I will have enough money to record the score with an orchestra.

 

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Gerrit Wunder. (Interview with the MMI breakout composer of the year 2016/2017.) .

Austrian born composer Gerrit Wunder studied classical composition, jazz composition, music technology and film music at the University of Music in Vienna and holds a masters degree in composition. As a freelance and award-winning film- and TV composer, he writes and produces music for major European and American film productions, TV stations and commercials.
 

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Both KISS THE DEVIL IN THE DARK and
CREATURES OF WHITECHAPEL are shorts less than 30 mins in
duration, you however wrote quite a lot of music, so is the
music continuous in both movies and is it more of a
difficult task scoring films that have a short running time
as opposed to say a full-length feature?


Exactly, both movies are scored wall to wall and because of that they felt like full length features to me while working on them. Also the production value is relatively high on both films and they really felt and looked like full length features. Let me put it this way – I have scored movies with running times of over 100 minutes with shorter scores and less thematic material.

What size orchestra did you use for
KISS THE DEVIL IN THE DARK, I ask this because it sounds
quite large at times, with choir in places, some wonderful
brass passages and I love the way you utilise harpsichord
effect and create an atmosphere that is not unlike the music
that we associate with Hammer horror films from years ago,
and at times it is quite Omen like in its style and
sound?

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Thank you very much, I love Jerry Goldsmith’s scores for „The Omen“ movies. The music budget on both films was relatively high for short films but of course not enough for getting a full sized orchestra. That is why we recorded in sections, meaning we added a group of string players (violins, violas, cellos, basses) and a group of brass players (horns, trombones) to my programmed orchestra. The choir, the percussion and all the rest is just me in my studio. We recorded at Megatrax Studios in North Hollywood with recording engineer Preston Shepard. It is a great location for recording smaller sized orchestras.

What musical education and training
did you receive, and what instrument did you concentrate
upon whilst training?

I studied classical composition, film music, jazz piano and arrangement at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna, Austria and hold a masters degree in composition. My instruments are piano, violin and the viola. Although I began studying music fairly early in my life, I personally don’t think that it is important to have a profound musical or classical education in order to become a good composer. Education definitely has pros and cons. The more one studies the more one tends to compose with the brain – but the most important thing is writing music with your heart and soul. Music is emotion. It took me a few years after earning my degrees to re-learn how to compose with my gut again not so much with my brain and knowledge.

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Was writing for movies always
something that you wanted to do and what would you say was
your earliest recollection of any kind of music?

My father, who is a music teacher, tells me that at age four I’d be climbing on the kitchen table, pretending to conduct whenever he was playing Strauss’ „Also Sprach Zarathustra“ on his sound system in the living room.
I was fourteen or fifteen when I first wanted to become a film-composer. But it took me quite a few years to finally end up in Los Angeles, where I reside since five years. Austria’s film business is very small and there are not many opportunities.

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How much time were you given to score
CREATURES OF WHITECHAPEL, and how many times did you watch
the movie before you began to get a fixed idea about what
music you would compose and where the music would be
placed?

I think I had a few weeks for each of the movies. Maybe 2-3 weeks to compose the score and do mockups (computer versions of the score for the filmmakers to listen to) and then another week to produce the score, which means doing the orchestral recordings and the mixes.

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Rupert Gregson Williams was credited
for writing the score for POSTMAN PAT THE MOVIE, what was
your involvement on the soundtrack?

I have worked with Rupert a few times so far and am very thankful for that. He is an excellent and experienced composer and great human being. On „Postman Pat – You’re The One“ I contributed some cues to the score, mostly the chase music. My credit was „additional music composer“.

You have worked on many documentaries,
what would you say were the main differences between scoring
a documentary as opposed to working on a motion picture?

Well, that definitely depends on the documentary. I don’t really make a huge difference between those genres myself while writing and treat everything pretty much on a case by case basis. For some documentaries I worked on, especially on some nature documentaries, I sometimes got the opportunity to compose orchestral hybrid tracks that did not differ much from typical feature film scores. Then, on other documentaries, the music was supposed to be more sparse and not so „emotional“ or tense – but really, it totally depends on the films. It varies greatly.

You were also involved on shows such
as Dancing stars, were you musical director and arranger on
this?

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Yes, I spent the first few years of my career as the music arranger for the Austrian version of „Dancing With The Stars“. We had a 30 piece live orchestra on the show every week and I arranged well known songs in all different kinds of dance-styles . It was a lot of fun.

Are there any composers in film music
or indeed classical music that you think have inspired you
or influenced the way in which you might approach a
project?

Yes of course. I’ve always been a huge fan of Sergej Prokofiev, Elliot Goldenthal, Ennio Morricone and of course John Williams, just to name a few. I love many works by Hans Zimmer and most admire his ability to reinvent himself and always stay fresh and cutting edge sounding. This is for sure one big principle of mine. One can not always achieve it – depending on the filmmaker’s needs and wishes – but that’s definitely a „leitmotif“ in my own work.

When working on a movie how do you
bring your musical ideas to fruition, by this I mean do you
use piano, write straight to manuscript, or use a more up to
date method or maybe a mix of all three?

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Well, I tend to compose all the main thematic materials and musical motifs on the piano and write it down using pencil and paper. Then I usually type the material into „Sibelius“, a music notation software program and print out those pages full of ideas. Once completed, I sit down in my studio in front of all my computers and use this material to compose, orchestrate and mockup the whole score directly in my DAW (digital audio workstation), so I can properly play all the cues for the director to give feedback.

 

 

I am glad to say that both KISS THE
DEVIL IN THE DARK and CREATURES OF WHITECHAPEL are available
for collectors, did you have any involvement in the
compilation of the music tracks for both releases?

Yes, I sent Mikael Carlsson, the album producer, my suggestions. He then brought in a few of his ideas and that was it. But since there was only 30 minutes of score in each of the films, we ended up using almost every cue.

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Johnathan Martin directed both KISS
THE DEVIL IN THE DARK and CREATURES OF WHITECHAPEL, did he
have any specific instructions as to what style or sound
that he wanted for his movies and was there a temp track on
either of the movies to act as a guide?

Well, Jonathan doesn’t use temp music, which is a great choice. But he of course had his ideas in terms of style and sound. He loves it „big“ and loves Richard Wagner. Of course we did not want to sound „dated” and so I tried to create my own modern sounding hybrid horror movie score for each of the films.

Do you conduct at all, or do you
prefer to supervise the recording of a score from the
control box also do you or have you performed on any of your
scores?

Yes, I always perform on my own scores – mostly keyobards, piano, harpsichord and violins/volas or electric violins. I know how to conduct and have done it before but am not very good at it, nor do I like it very much. I definitely prefer sitting in the booth supervising the recording whenever the situation and budget allows. Thank goodness my good friend and collaborator on certain projects, William T. Stromberg, is a fantastic (grammy nominated) conductor.

Do you orchestrate all your music for
film, or at times is there no time for this because of
deadlines etc. And you use an orchestrator?

Yes, I have composed and orchestrated all of my scores by myself so far.

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What are you working on now?

I just finished a pilot for MGM as well as a series of three nature documentaries for Red Bull Media and BBC. A Swiss show and some US commercials are also happening right now and a few projects, including a next feature film and a mini series are supposed to come in soon. However, I refrain from talking too much about not completed or not yet released projects because anything can happen at any given time in this crazy and most adventurous business we are working in. At the end of the day no one ever knows what tomorrow will bring.