Imran Ahmad.

aHR0cDovL3d3dy5ydW5tb3ZpZXMuZXUvaW1hZ2VzL3N0b3JpZXMvU291bmR0cmFjay9JbXJhbl9BaG1hZC5qcGc=Imran Ahmad is a British-Indian Film Composer and Music Producer based in London, U.K. His music has been broadcast on UK and international television (BBC, Channel 4) and commercially released worldwide (UK, USA & Japan). Imran recently composed the music to a zombie feature film set in West Africa -THE DEAD, which screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2010. It will have its theatrical world premiere in Autumn 2011. He has also composed music for several documentaries, notably multi-award winning Mayomi which is an intimate portrait of a young woman’s struggle in post-tsunami Sri Lanka. Imran is co-director and producer of 4Dio. A multimedia company creating “audio movies” – produced with full theatrical performance, film music and sound design.
John Mansell: One of your latest projects is the Zombie movie THE DEAD, how did you become involved with this movie?
Imran Ahmad: I met the directors Jon and Howard J. Ford in London. Howard sent me a link to the initial trailer just before the film was going into post-production. I was so inspired by the images of the African landscape (shot on 35mm film). I composed a music demo that in my mind translated how I felt by watching the trailer. Howard and Jon were excited with the music and my ideas regarding the score and so I came onboard.

John Mansell: Did the directors of the movie have a hands on approach as far as the music was concerned, or were you given a free hand to create the score?
Imran Ahmad: They wanted the movie to be original in every way possibly including the score. Apart from the obvious horror aspects they were very keen to convey the fragile sense of hope the main characters possessed. My initial demo was the impetus for exploring a more spiritual vibe to the music so thanks to the directors this led me to have free reign.

John Mansell: How many times did you see the movie before you began to get any fixed ideas about what type of music would be utilized and where it would be placed and how much time were you given to complete the score ? 
Imran Ahmad: I watched the movie at least twice before I started to work out the broad strokes thematically. It was going to be very important to articulate the internal journey of the main characters as there was little verbal expression. I knew I wanted a strong melodic African flavour, yet universal sounding, for their inner emotions, and vocals and percussion for the outward journey and horror aspects.
The directors and I worked out the placement of music at the spotting session. The type of music for each cue and the overall musical arc was based on discussions of the story, internal motivations of each main character and the experience we were creating for the audience.
As the film was being prepared for screening to distributors there was some back and forth on the music development for some of the cues. In total it took me about 8 weeks to compose, mix and master the score. Some cues/segments that didn’t make the final cut are featured in the soundtrack release.
John Mansell: Did the directors of THE DEAD have a “Temp Track” installed on the movie when you first viewed the film and if so did you find this helpful or was it distracting ?
Imran Ahmad: There was no temp track installed on the movie.
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John Mansell: You created a very original and also a very earthy and percussive sounding score for THE DEAD, what did you set out to achieve when you began work on the movie, was there a certain sound that you wanted to create or did the sound evolve as the project progressed?

Imran Ahmad: In one of my initial conversations with Howard, I described the intended music as arising from the landscape and turning the wilderness into a twisted and distorted reality. The film is shot mainly in daylight, there are bare and empty vistas and the hot sun is a huge burden causing mental and physical fatigue. It’s not just the zombies, it’s the environment and climate that will slow the main characters down and they must rely on their primal instincts in order to survive. So I really wanted the music to reflect this through percussion and vocals – two of the most primitive forms of music. Having said that, some of the vocals have an anguish and sorrowful sound to them. The main characters do not enjoy killing the zombies! The dead used to be human beings. The African soldier, Sgt. Daniel Dembele is emotionally distressed having to slay his own people.

John Mansell: When you begin a project, what do you use as a starting point, do you create a theme and build the remainder of the score around this, or do you begin with maybe sounds and small phrases and passages of music and then develop the work from there ?
Imran Ahmad: I like to begin my initial musical ideas by working out the dramatic themes of the story. I then work chronologically as it feels natural to build up slowly so that the music’s language for the film can develop. I develop a palette of sounds that I feel will be suitable for the score and limit myself to this range. These sounds or musical colours are drawn from the film’s own reality. Also composing this way enables me to see if the musical arc is following the dramatic arc of the story.

John Mansell: The soundtrack album from THE DEAD is about to be released, what involvement did you have with the production of the compact disc?
Imran Ahmad: So far the soundtrack has been released as a download via iTunes and Amazon. I’m really excited to be working with a record label to release a limited edition CD of the soundtrack that will be out later this year.

John Mansell: You are known as a composer and also a producer, but do you perform on any of your scores?
Imran Ahmad: I performed some percussion such as darbuka on the score but at a basic level! Also a lot of the breath sounds are mine! I have also performed hammered dulcimer and Turkish baglama on my previous films. However, I really love working with musicians by experimenting and recording sounds that I use to assimilate into a score.

John Mansell: Was your family background linked to music, by this I mean were any of your family musical in any way and what musical education did you receive?
Imran Ahmad: My family background has some roots in music and poetry. I do try and bring my Indian musical influences into the music I compose. For example, the live woodwind that is performed in the score are all played on Indian flutes in Indian modes.

John Mansell: The score for THE DEAD is a fusion of what sounds like orchestral elements, vocals and also synthetic or electronic sounds, what percentage of the score was performed by conventional instruments and where was the score recorded?
Imran Ahmad: More than one-third of the score is performed by live musicians. Some of the electronic sounds were deliberately used especially the high octave sustained notes that you hear in a few of the cues. This was meant to be a musical homage to the long synth sounds from some of the Romero zombie movies such as DAWN OF THE DEAD. The directors really liked this idea.
The score was recorded at my home studio and at Spirit Studios – a professional recording studio in South London.

 
 
 

John Mansell: Staying with THE DEAD, when you began work on the score did you have the vocalists who performed on the soundtrack in mind and write for them in particular?
Imran Ahmad: I wanted to work with Saba Tewelde who I had previously worked with on another project. She had the exact vocal dichotomy I was looking for to represent the natural world becoming corrupted. The lower end of her vocal range has a resonance conveying a heavy feeling of sorrow and foreboding. Conversely her upper vocal range is incredibly radiant and ethereal. Her vocal tones pursue the two soldiers throughout the film giving them no peace or chance of respite!

John Mansell: You scored the short film, TO UNWILL A HEART, which was set in Syria in 946 A.D. How much research did you do before you began work on this project?
Imran Ahmad: This short film is a taster to help kickstart a feature film about the ancient English legend of Bevois of Hampton that is almost forgotten here in England. It is a beautiful and haunting story which involves the Kings from Three Nations with geographic settings from England to the Middle East – it’s on the scale of Gladiator! The music is atmospheric using certain key instruments from the regions such as the Turkish Baglama. I’m really looking forward to doing more research when it comes to working on the feature film.

John Mansell: What do you undertake musically away from film?
Imran Ahmad: I am currently learning to play the sarod – this is an ancient Indian stringed instrument. Interest in this instrument has been revived internationally thanks to Soumik Datta who is a very talented classically trained sarod player. And I am grateful to have him as my teacher!

John Mansell: What for you are the main differences between scoring shorts and working on a feature length movie apart from the obvious being the duration of the films?
Imran Ahmad: For me it’s exactly the same process. I have been fortunate to work with some great directors on the short films. These invaluable experiences cultivated my move into scoring for feature films.

John Mansell: What artists or composers would you identify as being influential upon you and maybe have inspired you in your involvement with music and film?
Imran Ahmad: There are so many influences! The first film I went to see in the cinema was THE RETURN OF THE JEDI! So naturally I have always been inspired by the music of John Williams. I am also inspired by Bernard Herrmann and Maurice Jarre, and classical composers such as Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov and Sergei Rachmaninov. My other influences come from Indian classical music and indigenous folk songs.

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Karl Jenkins.

 

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John Mansell: You normally compose music for the concert hall, did you find that writing for a motion picture was restricting at all; by this I mean you had specific timings for scenes and style of music etc…?
Karl Jenkins: I spent a large part of my career writing music for advertising so the process was familiar, both technically and politically! I also had a great assistant in Rupert Christie.

John Mansell: You utilised the London Symphony Orchestra for the music to RIVER QUEEN, what choir did you use and who was the solo female voice?
Karl Jenkins: I have a close relationship with the LSO; the concertante, ‘Quirk’, was commissioned by the LSO and conducted by Sir Colin Davies as part of its 2005 centenary season and I used them on my recent release with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa so they were the best choice, both musically and because of their experience of film work. The choral singers were from Synergy, a group run by Michaela Halsam and the soloists were Mae Mckenna and Belinda Sykes.

John Mansell: How many times did you watch the movie before ideas of style and where the music was to be placed on the picture began to become clear to you?
Karl Jenkins: The film was being cut as I was writing and indeed, some was cut after it had been recorded so it was an ongoing two way process. Style was determined in part with discussions with the director. There are two major strains in the film; the British, which here was essentially Irish/Celtic and the indigenous ethnic Maori both of which had to be reflected in the music.

John Mansell: The song DANNY BOY is woven into the score was this idea yours or was it an instruction from the films director/producer?
Karl Jenkins: This was director Vincent Ward’s idea which he had before we ever met.

John Mansell: How much time were you given to write the score, and did you find the schedule difficult to work to?
Karl Jenkins: I think it was done in a couple of months since I work pretty quickly. I do my own orchestration (can’t really call yourself a composer if you can’t!). I know some composers due to time restrictions farm this out but this is difficult in my case anyway since I write straight onto full score.

John Mansell: Did you have a set plan when scoring the film, by this I mean did you start with the main theme and work through the picture to its conclusion, or did you tackle larger cues first leaving smaller sections and musical stabs till later?
Karl Jenkins: As I said, it was generally chronological since that was how the cues were edited. There was much use of leitmotifs, themes associated with characters and situations that were reused in different guises.

John Mansell: How did you become involved on the project?
Karl Jenkins: My music was sent to the director Vincent Ward, who liked what he heard!

John Mansell: Are there any film music composers that you find particularly interesting, and for what reasons?
Karl Jenkins: I think the standard of film music generally is pretty dire, especially in this country. The American writers are good. I saw a poll recently of the greatest scores which had LORD OF THE RINGS at 1. and GLADIATOR at 2. which is absurd. People only seem to revere the recent past, unlike classical music where the reverse is true. Standout scores for me for example would be Korngold’s ROBIN HOOD, many by Bernard Herrmann (NORTH BY NORTHWEST, PYSCHO), Michele Legrand’s THOMAS CROWN AFFAIR, Quincy Jones’ IN THE HEAT OF THE NIGHT and Dave Grusin’s FABULOUS BAKER BOYS. In the UK two composers stand out, Walton and Richard Rodney Bennett. All these wrote memorable music which rarely happens nowadays unless it’s by John Williams. I don’t usually go along with the “film music should not be noticed otherwise it’s not doing its job” credo!
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John Mansell: You were obviously inspired by the movie, as your music is superb, is film scoring something that you would like to do more of?
Karl Jenkins: I would but don’t seem to get asked to do so.

John Mansell: Sometimes when a soundtrack CD is issued a number of musical cues are not included because of space etc on the compact disc, did you have anything to do with the compiling of the CD to RIVER QUEEN, and is all the music included on the disc or were there any cues that were omitted for any reason?
Karl Jenkins: It is probably the reverse on this occasion. I pretty much had complete say over what was included and if anything there is more music on the CD than in the film. I did have some difference of opinion with Vincent in that he loved a minimalist sound and if there were a choice between a solitary harmonium and the opulent strings of the LSO he usually favoured the former.

John Mansell: I notice that the copyright on the movie and the music for RIVER QUEEN was 2005, when did you score the film?
Karl Jenkins: I worked on the movie in 2005.

John Mansell: You also utilised pan flutes within the score. What made you decide to use this instrumentation?
Karl Jenkins: The ethnic element representing Maori was a little strange. I was surprised the haka was not used. I suggested this since it is so obviously Maori and war related but Vincent preferred something more general and vague. I used Mick Taylor quite a lot on ethnic flutes and pipes. He also does the Irish tin whistle thing as well so he came double sided. He played on my first Adiemus album; ‘Songs of Sanctuary’ and I think he’s worked with James Horner a lot.

John Mansell: The temp track is a very sensitive area of discussion amongst composers who work in film, was there a temp track attached to RIVER QUEEN at all?
Karl Jenkins: Yes there was and what a liability! Yet again people only seem to be aware of the recent past so I was lumbered with cues (sound wise) from recent films. I had this all the time in advertising music. People have no faith and want to hear it before it’s written. Then of course once it is in their brains there is no dislodging it.

John Mansell: What are you working on at the moment?
Karl Jenkins: I’m working on a setting of the Stabat Mater which will be my next release on EMI Classics and premiered next March15th at Liverpool cathedral as part of the city’s ‘European City Of Culture’ status for 2008 and also an album by Mike Oldfield (Tubular Bells) who is releasing an orchestral CD that I’m orchestrating, conducting and co-producing.

Many Thanks to Karl Jenkins for his time and also his patience.

Zacarías M. de la Riva

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Zacarías M. de la Riva studied at the Berklee College of Music (Boston) where he accomplished a double major in Composition and Film Scoring (1997). Back in Spain, he began his career with novel directors and composed his first scores for different short films, and his first feature film JAIZKIBEL (by Ibon Cormenzana). In 2000, he moved to Madrid and started his collaborations in the industry with Juan Bardem, Álex Martínez and Roque Baños. He worked as orchestrator in films such as THE MACHINIST, AL SUR DE GRANADA, 800 BULLETS, MORTADELO & FILEMÓN, THE BIG ADVENTURE. In 2003, he began to compose his first scores such as EL CID, THE LEGEND. He met Enrique Gato and Nicolás Matji, the TADEO JONES team, and began the composition for the first short film of the saga, winning not only the Goya Award, but also 2 awards for best music (Dos Hermanas Film Festival and Malaga Film Festival).

 
The following two years, he continued with the orchestrations (ROMASANTA the werewolf hunt, HEROINA, DI QUE SÍ, MELISSA P), but also with composition works such as THE NUN and BENEATH STILL WATERS.  In 2005, he met Mateo Gil (writer and collaborator of Alejandro Amenábar in films such as THE SEA INSIDE, OPEN YOUR EYES AND TESIS) and composed the film score to his movie Spectre, within the project ‘Films to keep you awake’. In 2006, he worked for Elías Querejeta and composed the music for his Spanish Civil War Film, NOTICIAS DE UNA GUERRA (directed by Eterio Ortega). After that, he composed the music for the short film COMING TO TOWN (Carles Torrens) winning the ‘Fotogramas Award 2007’ and being finalist in the HBO Comedy Film Festival in Aspen (USA).

In 2007, he composed the score to THE LAST OF THE JUST (directed by novel director Manuel Carballo) and the second short episode of the Tade Jones’ saga (TADEO JONES AND THE BASEMENT OF DOOM), winning a second Goya Award and the Alcalá de Henares International Film Festival (ALCINE) Award for best music. During the year 2007 he met Marie Noëlle and Peter Sehr and started the composition for his movie THE ANARQUIST’S WIFE, a romantic-drama with the Spanish civil war as background.

In 2008 he composed the music for Brazilian Road Movie, Carmo, directed by Murilo Pasta and for IMAGO MORTIS, a thriller produced by the Italian Pixstar and the Spanish Telecinco Cinema. In 2009, his latest work is the score to thriller HIERRO, directed by Gabe Ibáñez and produced by Madrugada Films and Telecinco Cinema. The film just premiered in Cannes Critic’s Week. He is now working on a documentary directed and produced by Elías Querejeta. Source MovieScore Media

John Mansell: TAD is your latest assignment. It’s an animated project and has created quite a lot of attention. How did you become involved on the project?
Zacarías M. de la Riva: My involvement with TAD goes back to 2004. I wrote the music for a short film that featured the same character, called in Spain TADEO JONES. The short did extremely well in festivals and won the Goya for best animated short in Spain. In 2008 I wrote music for the sequel called TADEO JONES AND THE BASEMENT OF DOOM. It also did really well and won another Goya for best animated short. Since the first short, the director Enrique Gato and the producer Nico Matji have become good friends and it was only natural that I wrote the music for the film…

John Mansell: Will there be a soundtrack CD of the score do you think?
Zacarías M. de la Riva: I really hope so. I am really happy with the end result. We spent about five months working on this project. I had a lot of help from my friend and excellent composer Àlex Martínez. We’ve composed about 90 minutes of music, of which about 72 are featured in the film. I have been talking with Mikael Carlsson about the possibility of publishing this soundtrack and he is quite thrilled about it. So I really hope that we can put out the CD soon.

John Mansell: What size orchestra did you utilize for TAD?
Zacarías M. de la Riva: It was an 85 piece orchestra. We did eight sessions with the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra.
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John Mansell: EL CID: THE LEGEND was released in 2003; as yet the now long out of print CD has not been re-issued although many collectors have requested a re-press. This was a collaboration for you with composer Óscar Araujo. Did you work together on the score or did you submit sections of the score as individuals?
Zacarías M. de la Riva: They were really stressed by time. Óscar gave me the main leitmotif and some midi ideas he had composed and I took it from there. Due to time restrictions we didn’t have time to work together closely so they gave me freedom to do almost whatever I wanted.

 

 

John Mansell: One of your latest projects COPITO DE NIEVE (THE WHITE GORILLA), which is an animated feature, has a beautiful score, very lyrical and emotive with a great deal of comical sounding references. What size orchestra did you utilize for the score; where was it recorded and how did you become involved on this project?

Zacarías M. de la Riva: It was a 70 piece orchestra and we also used a lot of samples. We recorded the score in Kiev. I had worked before with FILMAX (the production company) in films like EXORCISMUS or THE LAST OF THE JUST. So I was considered among a group of film composers. I had a couple of interviews with the director and they finally chose me.
John Mansell: You were born in Barcelona Spain in 1972 but studied music at Berklee in the United States. When did you relocate to the States and was it specifically to undertake your musical studies or had you already begun to study music in Spain?
Zacarías M. de la Riva: It was in 1993. I moved to Boston to study specifically film composing. In Spain I was pretty much self trained. I did take some piano lessons and solfege but it never occurred to me that I could dedicate myself to writing music for film. It was in my first year in Engineering that, seeing that I liked none of the subjects, I started thinking about what I really wanted to do… So I dropped out of Engineering and I started studying music seriously.

John Mansell: Were any of your family musical in any way?
Zacarías M. de la Riva: No, not really. My mother can play some tunes on guitar and piano but not very academically…

John Mansell: Was it always your intention to write music for film?
Zacarías M. de la Riva: Yep, when I decided to drop out of university and study music it was because I wanted to put music to images. I don’t see it that way anymore though. I am getting more and more interested in writing music for the concert hall, outside the structural restrictions that movie music has. So I am going to try to do both and earn a living!

John Mansell: You have worked on television and also feature films, plus animated projects. Do you find that an animated movie or movie short demands additional music or a greater amount of music or even a greater depth of sensitivity than a live action production and how does scoring feature films and animated productions differ if indeed they do at all?
Zacarías M. de la Riva: I think that animated features are the hardest to write music to. Apart from the big amount of music that they normally require, the music has a big weight on the emotional part. It is most of the time quite exposed, and the big emotional structure relies very much on the music. Much more than in any other type of movie.

John Mansell: You worked as an orchestrator for Roque Baños on THE MACHINIST, 800 BULLETS etc, when you are writing a score do you orchestrate it or do you, because of time constraints etc., use orchestrators at times?
Zacarías M. de la Riva: I always use orchestrators. Normally Claudio Ianni or Àlex Martínez. It’s true that I give them thorough logic files and much of the orchestration is already there. But due to time constraints I have rarely been able to put that music into paper.

John Mansell: What composers of film music or indeed what composers or artists would you say have played a role in influencing you in the way you write or in the way you approach a project?
Zacarías M. de la Riva: Since I was young I’ve loved John Williams, so he’s been a big influence, not stylistically, because he is out of this world, but almost philosophically or aesthetically; the way he approaches every project and how the music stands on its own completely; the way he writes motivically and how he is able to develop those motives through the film and his orchestrations are just brilliant! But apart from the maestro, I’d say that I learnt a lot from Roque Baños when I orchestrated for him. And I admire Alberto Iglesias a great deal for his craftsmanship and unique voice.

John Mansell: Do you think that a good score can improve a movie or do you think that if a movie is not so good no amount of music can help?
Zacarías M. de la Riva: It’s a combination of both. I think well written and spotted music can improve a movie, but if the movie is bad it’ll remain bad. Maybe not as bad as it was but bad nevertheless…

John Mansell: When you undertake a scoring assignment how many times do you like to study the movie before you begin the composing process or do you at times like to see the script for the picture?
Zacarías M. de la Riva: A few years ago I didn’t want to read scripts or even see rough cuts of the movie. I’d prefer to start working with the final cut or almost final cut. Nowadays I am starting to write music as soon as I know about the project (if I can). I’d read the script and write some music inspired of what I imagine the movie is going to be like. It’s true that sometimes most of that music doesn’t make it into the movie but it is a more musical way of approaching the project than going cue by cue, I believe…

John Mansell: Temp tracks are either a great assistance to the composer or they can be a distraction. How do you feel about the use of a temp track on a movie that you have been asked to score?
Zacarías M. de la Riva: I don’t really mind about them. I am not against them if it is something that helps the process.

John Mansell: Have you a preference when recording a film score as to what orchestra you utilize or maybe any particular soloists or sound engineers?
Zacarías M. de la Riva: Sure. As for the orchestra, it depends on the budget. I’d love to record in London every time. But with the budgets we have in Spain this is almost always impossible. As I have said with my last project (TADEO JONES) we had eight sessions with the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra, and I have to say that I am extremely happy with the results. I was especially impressed with the horns and the brass in general. As for soloists I’d normally record them in Madrid, so I have some I always like to call; Ara Malikian, Julia Malkova, Javier Paxariño, Juan Cerro, etc.
As for the engineers I have mostly worked with two: Jose Vinader and Jose Luis Crespo. Basically at the start of every project I have to choose between both depending on how do I want the music to sound. Each one has its own philosophy and approach for recording and mixing.

John Mansell: When scoring a movie or indeed any project, do you have a set routine? By this I mean do you like to work through from beginning to finale or do you maybe tackle cues that you think will be time consuming or more difficult to compose first, leaving shorter or less complicated sections of the score till later on?
Zacarías M. de la Riva: I start from beginning and go from there till the end, but I like to have at least a couple of themes composed before I start with the first cue. And also I’d have discussed with the director what is the musical approach and general tone of the soundtrack.

John Mansell: Also when scoring a project do you like to establish a core theme for the soundtrack first and build the remainder of the work around this central theme or does the theme come later in the process?
Zacarías M. de la Riva It depends very much on the movie and what it needs. I tend to compose a core theme. I think almost all of the movies I’ve done have a main theme (in IMAGO MORTIS is a two minor chord progression a tritone apart, in HIERRO it’s a simple piano melody, etc.) Sometimes you just need one main theme, and you build the whole soundtrack from that, and other times you need more themes (like in SNOWFLAKE, where there are at least 10 different themes)

John Mansell: Do you conduct at all and if so do you like to conduct all of your film scores or do you prefer to be in the recording booth at scoring sessions to monitor what is going on and that everything is going in the direction that you want it to?
Zacarías M. de la Riva: I am not confident with my conducting skills, so I have someone else conduct, normally Claudio Ianni, and I’ll stay at the recording booth. But I am working on that, I really want to put myself on the spot up there sometime soon, we will see…

John Mansell: Have you ever had a score rejected or have you ever said no to any particular movie or project?
Zacarías M. de la Riva: No I have never had a score rejected, but I’ve had to work like hell in some of my projects. I remember I did 15 versions for HIERRO’s title credits, in fact HIERRO is probably the hardest movie I have done in that respect. I had to do many versions of almost each cue. Gabe, HIERRO’s director, was really interested in using music in almost any way possible to get from the audience the reaction he wanted. And I worked hard to get as far as he asked for… Another example in that movie is a scene in a caravan where two women are fighting for the custody of a child. I didn’t see music in that scene but Gabe kept telling me that we should do something and I ended up doing a choir and string piece in Mozart’s requiem style. That worked really well with the images…
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John Mansell: Out of the movies you have scored is there any one that stands out for you as being more rewarding or gratifying?
Zacarías M. de la Riva: Each one has its own rewards and for me it’s a learning process. Every movie I do, I learn something new, and this helps me get better and improve my chops.

John Mansell: What are you working on at the moment?
Zacarías M. de la Riva: I am starting a social drama film called LA ESTRELLA. Nothing near SNOWFLAKE, THE WHITE GORILLA or TAD, THE LOST EXPLORER. Not a lot of music in the movie, few instruments, maybe guitar and cajón, and a string quartet. Also working on the promotional material for TAD, THE LOST EXPLORER. There are quite a few things to do, from a short promotional film, to trailers, teaser, editing the soundtrack, etc.And also trying to get back to finishing my 1st string quartet.

John Mansell: CD releases of your scores are available, so when a record company asks if they can release one of your scores are you involved in the production, i.e.: selecting what tracks will be used for the release or sequencing the cues etc?
Zacarías M. de la Riva: It depends on the movie but most of the time I am quite involved in the process. I’d choose what tracks will be used but not the order; I’d leave that to the publisher.

John Mansell: How do you bring your musical ideas to fruition. Do you use keyboard, piano or write straight to manuscript or in this day of technology utilize computer?
Zacarías M. de la Riva: I use all of them! My instrument is the piano so I go first to the piano and write themes and ideas, tones, colours, whatever, on manuscript paper. After that I go to the computer and start with the first cue. Sometimes I return to the piano to write a specific cue but mostly I work on the computer, which I don’t think it’s the best way of doing it, but at least is the fastest for me…

John Mansell: What is the normal time you are given to score a project from beginning to end or does this vary from assignment to assignment?
Zacarías M. de la Riva: It totally varies from project to project. For TAD, THE LOST EXPLORER we had five months. For EXORCISMUS we had a little less than two months. But it is always less than what is really needed. I guess it’s part of our work…

Miguel D’Oliveira

 

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Self taught and with a passion for playing and collecting every musical instrument known to man, Miguel started to score more and more projects that went on to play at Cannes, Edinburgh and other main film festivals around the world. From TV commercials to feature films and from documentaries to installations he has scored for big live ensembles and studio based electronic productions.Miguel has vastly increased his collection of musical instruments by now – always trying to incorporate them in a fresh and original way into his scores. He is also a baritone/deep bass singer. His knowledge of instrument playing techniques, electronics and audio software allow him to push the envelope of experimentation with each score that requires a new approach.

John Mansell: There has been much interest in your music for THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN, (deservedly so) which is a documentary made by the BBC, and aired to commemorate the anniversary of the battle, how did you become involved on this project?
Miguel D’Oliveira: Thank you. The director had heard my music on a couple of TV shows that I had scored. I think it was THE QUEEN and THE AIR HOSPITAL. And so I was asked to submit a reel, along with many other composers.

John Mansell: I think I am right when I say THE BATTLE OF BRITAIN documentary ran for around an hour, how much music did you write for the film, and how much time were you given to score it?
Miguel D’Oliveira: It actually run for 90 minutes and it had just over an hour of music. Although I was supplied with the ever-changing edits for a month or so, the film was locked on a Friday and the orchestra recorded the following Monday morning. That wasn’t a peaceful weekend.

John Mansell: Is working on a documentary more difficult than working on an actual movie or TV score, because in a documentary I suppose you have to be aware of the narrator or dialogue more because that is an important part of the production?
Miguel D’Oliveira: The score’s main job is to serve the picture in a myriad of ways. In this, I find it is the same for TV or films. In TV documentaries, however, you usually have and lot less room and time to let the music grow and create an impact. Which means that, if you want to be a counterpoint to whatever is being said or shown on screen, you need to say it with very few but efficient musical gestures. You also need to be aware that average TV speakers could not care less about your velvety sub bass or complex quiet textures. And, aside from dynamic and frequency range limitations, you should also remember to stay clear of the commentary frequencies most of the time.

John Mansell: What size ensemble did you utilise for BATTLE OF BRITAIN?
Miguel D’Oliveira: The live ensemble was around 23 musicians, give or take. All recorded at the, now unfortunately defunct, Hear No Evil studios in West London.

John Mansell: I understand you attended medical school. When did you decide that this was not the career for you?
Miguel D’Oliveira: Shortly after graduation I realised that you should never postpone your dreams. Nor attempt two dreams at the same time. So I set aside 6 years of college education and got busy reinventing myself. I would like to think that all that knowledge comes in handy every now and then. But, not really.

John Mansell: You played in a band for a couple of years called ‘Lapland’ where you performed keyboards and also trumpet, whilst doing this did you think about writing music for film at all?
Miguel D’Oliveira: No. When I came to London, my intention was simply to play in a rock band – and later write for it as well. ‘Lapland’ was a lot of fun and hugely educational. Unfortunately it started to look like a dead end so, two years later, I left the band, and the rock’n’roll dream. Around that time I was getting more and more fascinated with the role music has in moving images. And so, the sleepless nights of L2hvbWUvcnVubW92aWUvcHVibGljX2h0bWwvaW1hZ2VzL3N0b3JpZXMvU291bmR0cmFjay9Qb3N0ZXIvVGhlX0JhdHRsZV9vZl9Ccml0YWluLmpwZw== (1)study began.

John Mansell: You have an extensive collection of instruments; do also perform on your compositions for film?
Miguel D’Oliveira: To my wife’s despair, I have a perpetually expanding collection. Which I play on my scores, as much as possible, with various degrees of expertise (expertise, in the broad sense of the term). I think that, aside from THE INCUBATOR which required an all-electronic approach, all my other scores have me playing at least one instrument live.
There are sounds you cannot get in any other way and, for better or for worse, your sound becomes very unique if you go way beyond factory presets. When I am playing I usually welcome the odd mistake and it sometimes that opens up all sorts of new concepts.

John Mansell: You are self-taught I know, but did you have any type of formal training at all?
Miguel D’Oliveira: Not really. Around 1997 I enrolled in a jazz school in Lisbon, but because I had founded and directed a jazz school at the University of Coimbra (while a student at the faculty of medicine) they thought I must be a pretty solid performer, and so, insisted I was put in the advanced classes. Six months later I left under the impression that jazz was taught in Sanskrit.
As for my MA in composition at the National Film School, this was almost exclusively film orientated. You learnt by scoring a great deal of projects.

John Mansell: Do you come from a family background that is musical?
Miguel D’Oliveira: No one in my family plays or owns any musical instrument. Nor were they very keen music listeners. That has changed now, as I torment them constantly with CD compilations of my scores.

John Mansell: When preparing a score do you like to work out your musical ideas on any particular instrument and do you have a set way of approaching a project, e.g.: larger cues first or maybe start with the central theme and build score around that?
Miguel D’Oliveira: Except for scores that I feel need to be guitar-lead, I tend to write on the piano. I find that the daddy of all instruments makes it easy to build that first scaffold, as the ideas start forming in your head. It also speeds up the process, since time is usually a luxury. In case I get stuck on the keyboard with no decent ideas I will try one of the 20 or so instruments lying around.
I normally start with the key moments in the film, and once these musical sketches are sorted I try to draw material from them as I begin to tackle the project in chronological order.
More often, unfortunately, I have to move forward alongside the edit. Which means I don’t get to see the complete arch of the story until a few days before I have to deliver the score. The start of the film may be shot at the last minute and land on the cut as they lock it.

John Mansell: What are your thoughts on film makers use of a temp track on a movie, do you think that this practise can be helpful to the composer or maybe it can be a little distracting?
Miguel D’Oliveira: Temp scores can be very useful. Music qualities are abstract and hard to define in practical terms. A director’s idea of relentless or melancholy may be miles away from yours. Even his idea of what a bassoon sounds (when he asks for one to play a solo, like on the track they are using) may not match an actual bassoon. Therefore a temp score can help communications a great deal. It can flag up potential problems (usually followed by the composer’s question “is this what you really want?”) and it can even open new approaches – accidentally or not, they might have used a track that does wonders for a particular scene, and it may be stuff you probably wouldn’t think of writing.
There were a few instances, however, where I got the director permission to delete the temp track without listening to it.
But, every now and then, you get an unlucky throw of the dice and the temp becomes a curse. This happens when they fall in love with a temp cue or cues and you have to sail too close to the wind.

John Mansell: You have worked on both TV and motion pictures, what would you say were the main differences between the two mediums when it comes to the scoring process?
Miguel D’Oliveira: From what I have experienced, time is the main difference. I cannot comment on budget disparities, since my feature films were quite unusual. In film (short or feature) the time afforded usually allows you to build up a stronger relationship with the director and fine-tune the intentions of both parties. The score evolves a great deal from that first concept. And this (in moderation) is usually a very welcome scenario. You may then have the luxury of trying crazy ideas as well. You often feel there is no pressure to get it right on the first sketch (I imagine other composers may read this as absolute sinful heresy, but that’s where I have been so far).
Whereas in a film, the director is usually your only port of call, with TV programmes you often need to quickly gauge what you think the film needs, what the director wants, what the producer and the commissioning editor want and then frame that with the network’s target audience in mind.
Finally, when you are working on a film, you usually have a pretty good idea of the whole story from script stage, unlike TV where things may change quite radically at the last minute. I have actually sat on a dub with my laptop hooked up to the desk, so that I could tweak some cues to the newborn locked cut.
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Miguel D’Oliveira: A huge range of mostly obscure people, but I’d say that the ones with more impact on my writing are probably: Debussy, Stravinsky, Wagner, Nino Rota, John Powell, Adrian Johnston, Miles Davis, The Beatles and Massive Attack

John Mansell: Your score for The TOYBOX is soon to be issued on Movie Score Media; did you have a hand in the preparation of the compact disc release?
Miguel D’Oliveira: This score was released a couple of years ago. Unfortunately most of it never made it onto the film, as the computer it lived on, was stolen at the time I was beginning to mix the cues.
We recovered it a few months after the dub when the DVDs were already being pressed, and BrandnewFilms decided it would be a good idea to release it soon after.
The score on the CD features me playing around 14 instruments, plus singing basso profundo and whistling (not at the same time). I had an inspiring 50 pound budget to score the whole film. This allowed for a violin player to come in for an hour only, so I really had to think outside the box.

John Mansell: A number of collectors and also critics have commented recently that film music is going through a rather uninspiring period. What do you think of the state of film music today and what film scores by other composers do you find particularly interesting and why?
Miguel D’Oliveira: I think there are still innovative and inspiring scores lighting up a hard-to-keep-up-with, film music horizon.
Alberto Iglesias or Carter Burwell scores, for example, rarely disappoint me. They can be challenging and reasonably unorthodox.
On the other hand, that is also a very valid argument. I think plenty of great composers have fallen victims of their own success, and are asked to imitate their previous scores ad nauseam
I also imagine (an educated guess here) that there are plenty of fantastic scores being killed by committee. To the composers, and music lovers, despair and loss, respectively.

John Mansell: When scoring a movie or TV project do you conduct at all?
Miguel D’Oliveira: Conducting is a serious kick of adrenaline and I absolutely love it. But it is also serious business and best left to those who can do it well. Therefore you usually find me sitting in the control room. I also think my judgment is best applied, at that stage, producing the recording instead of looking like I am about to lift off.
517114.1010.aJohn Mansell: You worked on MERLIN with Rob Lane, what did you contribute to the project?Miguel D’Oliveira: Merlin was great fun to do and Rob Lane is a terrific and inspiring composer to work with. He thought I would be ideal to be in charge of the Druids, and so I started working from episode 8 – when Mordred first makes his appearance. Unfortunately a bike crash meant my collaboration was limited to a couple of episodes on series one. But my cues and motifs (with me singing deep bass and playing a modified viola, amongst a few other bizarre instruments) and have since then infiltrated series 2 and 3.

John Mansell: You have worked on a number of advertisements; it must be very difficult to come up with music that serves the advert as well as being attractive and striking to grab the attention of the viewer?
Miguel D’Oliveira: My experience here has been very limited. TV ads are a completely different kettle of fish. Although I have had a reasonably nice time, my recollection is that they always want something very vague, for yesterday. And then you look around and see everyone sitting on the fence.

John Mansell: Do you go to the cinema at all?
Miguel D’Oliveira: I try to. Saw CHICO AND RITA, a brilliant animated feature, last month and highly recommend it.

John Mansell: What are you working on at the moment?
Miguel D’Oliveira: I am finishing a BBC4 documentary about the Icelandic sagas and a 2 part for BBC 2 about ‘Children in Care’ with Neil Morrisey. Later this week I am starting a ‘Cutting Edge’ documentary for channel 4 about that paedophile ring uncovered in a Plymouth nursery last year.
I have also been asked by the Horniman museum in London to conduct a series of master class’s on sampling, which I have started this month.

John Mansell: Many thanks to Miguel for taking the time to talk to us.

Michael Richard Plowman.

 

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For the past 30 years, London, Los Angeles and Vancouver based composer Michael Richard Plowman has been composing award winning and internationally recognized music, touching audiences in over 120 countries.

His passion for creativity began in his birth place of England where he learned to play the trumpet at the early age of three. Plowman’s love and talent of music quickly grew, as did his aspirations. He began teaching himself different orchestral instruments. Over the course of his school years, Plowman was a member of jazz and rock groups, playing gigs at local clubs, and at 14 landed his first commercial television job. At 16 he received a recording contract and produced his first album, “The Now Sounds of Today”. He works with many of the major players in the industry world wide; including Sony Pictures Television, BBC, Cartoon Network, WB, 20th Century Fox, New Line Cinema, MTV, Nickelodeon, Disney, A&E, Discovery, Animal Planet & Stephen King.
Plowman has written over 150 scores to date in live-action, animation, film and games, including Hunt to Kill, George of the Jungle, A Dangerous Man, Trucks, Never Cry Werewolf, Splinter Cell and Polar Storm.

John Mansell: You are based in the UK, Canada and also in The United States, how do facilities i.e.; recording studios, orchestras and musicians differ if indeed they do in these three locations?
Michael Richard Plowman: Most of the time I am based in the UK, this is where my main studio is located. I do travel to North America depending on the project that I am working on. The facilities that I work at are quite similar in that the people are not only wonderful but also professional. The Orchestras are very different in that the sound of the players is quite different from UK to North America and Eastern Europe.
 
John Mansell: AGE OF HEROES is one of your more recent works; it’s a large scale score and in my opinion goes back to the more traditional style of scoring. As in the vintage war movies, such as PATTON, WHERE EAGLES DARE, BLUE MAX etc, it has a strong thematic content, but also has a very powerful percussive foundation, so the best of both worlds really, old and new. How did you become involved on this project and is it the largest project you have worked on thus far in your career?
Michael Richard Plowman: This is definitely one of the larger projects I’ve worked on. Since a big part of my career has been TV it was wonderful to be working in the cinema side for a part of the year. I was brought on the project while I was still in North America; I was brought in at a late stage to the production to replace the composer. The producers were looking for a very large emotional style score and after a few demos and a meeting with the director we all knew it would be a wonderful fit for me. I did want to bring a score that was reminiscent of the Great War movie scores of the past but as you said a very strong percussive side to the film also.

John Mansell: For AGE OF HEROES you utilized the Hungarian Studio Orchestra, did you record in Hungary simply because of budget?
Michael Richard Plowman: As with so many films these days budget is the thorn in a composer’s side. The film needed a real orchestra to accomplish the emotion we were looking for. In Budapest I could get a great performance and still stay within the financial limitations that we had on the movie.

John Mansell: How large was the orchestra?
Michael Richard Plowman: I was in Budapest for 2 days with 65 players.

John Mansell: Peter Pejtsik is the conductor on the score, do you conduct at all?
Michael Richard Plowman: Whenever I record in Budapest I have Peter conduct for me. This is a complete language issue. When time is of the essence and I want to get the most out of the players having a conductor who is also a translator is the best way to accomplish this. Peter is a wonderful conductor and has amazing respect from the whole orchestra. Normally I do conduct when there is no language issue.

John Mansell: How much time did you get to complete the score for AGE OF HEROES?
Michael Richard Plowman: On Age of Heroes I had a little less than normal. Which was about 4 weeks.

John Mansell: Was the film temp tracked at all, and do you as a composer welcome the use of temp tracks?
Michael Richard Plowman: Temp scores can be at times a good thing and times a terrible hindrance to the creative process. Because I was brought in so late in the process and the producers didn’t put a large amount of effort into a temp score I had a very open canvass. Their main comments were a large emotional exiting score.
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John Mansell: As well as scoring movies, you have also written the music for a number of games, how does the scoring process differ between the two mediums?

Michael Richard Plowman: Yes I have scored quite a few big games. The main difference is the focus. In films I am dealing with a larger piece of music that focuses on a specific and emotion. Where as games are less specific and more emotion. This is mainly because of the platform and how the music works with the media. In movies you know where everything is and it will always be there where games everything is always a moving target.

 

 

 

 

John Mansell: You began your interest in music at a very early age, I understand you started out playing trumpet and also performing in bands, and at the age of 14 got your first chance of writing for a TV programme. What was the TV programme and what musical education did you receive?

 

Michael Richard Plowman: My first so called paying gig was when I was 14 it was for a TV commercial writing for a car racing speedway. I recorded it with pencil and paper, two cassette players bouncing back and forth, a bass guitar, an old Roland drum machine, a synth and a space echo. Back in the days when you could do more with less. Sometimes I really miss those times; it was more about the writing. I’ve had formal lessons on trumpet and piano since I was four and after six years of composition at university I taught at university for a few years for what seemed to be my greatest education of all.

John Mansell: What composers and artists would you say have influenced you?
Michael Richard Plowman: Apart from a large amount of music written in the romantic period; Vangelis, Brahms, Debussy, Puccini, Waxman, Broughton and of course Williams.

John Mansell: Your score for AGE OF HEROES has just been released onto CD, did you have any input into the sequencing of the tracks and also the selection of what cues would be used?
Michael Richard Plowman: Movie Score Media is a wonderful soundtrack company. It has given opportunities to composers that sometimes would not have the chances otherwise. I have an amazing amount of input in the track selection although I do have help from the people around me in the selection since by the time I’ve finished the film I do need an honest opinion.

John Mansell: Do you orchestrate all of your own music, or do you at times utilize an orchestrator?
Michael Richard Plowman: Even though I love to orchestrate and my midi is quite complete when I pass it on I have used the same orchestrator for the last 10 years.  An incredible orchestrator, composer named Chris Nickel. After this long he knows exactly what I’m thinking and the shortcuts based on the limitations of the time and technology.

John Mansell: When scoring a film, do you have a set routine, do you start with the central theme and build the remainder of the score around this, or do you maybe tackle smaller cues first and how do you bring your musical ideas to fruition, i.e., straight to manuscript, computer, piano etc ?
Michael Richard Plowman: When I start a movie I always just start writing ideas even if I never use them. I call it getting the bad ideas out of the way. From then I move onto themes, which I mostly do with pencil and paper or singing into my I phone. From there I start digging into the film. Depending on the project I might bounce around or start from the beginning and race to the end.

John Mansell: What are you working on at the moment?
Michael Richard Plowman: I’m just finishing three films at the same time. A LONELY PLACE TO DIE an amazing action thriller that will be in cinemas this fall. I recorded the score in London.
TREASURE GUARDS a big budget action TV movie I recorded with 70 players and full choir in Budapest. The one that I’m just finishing writing and will be recorded in London at the end of August is an animated feature called CLOCKWORK GIRL. A fantasy action film with about 94 minutes of music.

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