Tag Archives: Atli Örvarsson

Atli Örvarsson.

Atli Head Shot B&W

One of your first scoring assignments was for NYPD BLUE, this was a series on TV, how did you become involved on the show?

At the time I was working as an arranger/programmer for Mike Post who was the composer on that show. He had something like 5 or 6 TV series going simultaneously at the time and understandably needed a hand!

How many times do you like to see a project before you begin to write the score and get any ideas about what style of music you will compose or where the music should be placed to best serve the movie?

The challenge here for me is to not jump in too early and just start writing! I tend to get ideas right away and just want to start developing them but I have learned that sometimes it’s better to watch the film a few times and let it all seep in.

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When you are working on a score do you think it is important to firstly establish a core theme so that you can then develop and build the remainder of the score around this or have you a set routine when you work on a movie?

I think it’s of paramount importance to have a strong foundation to build the score on and that tends to be in the form of a theme and typically more than one! But also the overall sound and colour is very important, whether it’s orchestral, electronic, small band or whatever the direction is. Then, along the way, you make various discoveries that add to the gestalt but yes, a strong idea in the beginning is really important.
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You have worked in both TV, video games and on motion pictures, would you say there are any major differences between writing for the big screen as opposed to writing for the television or games?

They are all quite different. The biggest difference between TV and film really is the time you have to write. That inevitably dictates how you write and what you write for. There simply isn’t time in TV to be as thorough as you would be on a film. I have found that video games are mainly different for the reason that most of the music for those isn’t tailored to a specific picture and therefore there’s a bit more freedom. It’s more akin to writing a suite at the beginning of a film score.

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If you think a score needs a particular instrument that is outside the conventional orchestra, how do you locate it and also a musician to play it, or do you maybe opt for the synthetic version of the instrument?

Typically, I will not use a synthetic version of a real solo instrument if I can at all avoid it. There are exceptions when a sample has some sort of a character that gives a specific flavour but usually a big part of the charm of such instruments is the actual performance of a live player. There are some very established specialists that do a wonderful job playing all kinds of things from around the world but I’ve also gone on You tube and found new talents which is always a fun discovery!

When writing a score do you set about it with a particular orchestra/choir in mind?

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Do you have preferences when it comes to recording engineers, studios and orchestras?

Yeah, I think all of us who do this have those preferences. You find the people who you like to work with and who have a similar aesthetic as your own and stick with them! The same goes for studios.

At what age were you first attracted to music and at what stage did you decide that you would like to be involved in the writing of film music?

I can’t really pinpoint when I was first attracted to music but I started to seek out music lessons when I was 5 so it was quite early on. I probably first noticed film music when I saw Star Wars and later it was Ennio Morricone’s work that really cemented my interest in film music.

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Is it difficult at times to relay to an un-musical director what you think the movie needs regarding music?

I think it’s almost always hard to talk about music because experiencing it is such a profoundly personal thing so words can mean completely different things to different people when describing it. I’ve found that it’s always best to let the music to the talking, although a good doze of snake oil maybe required from time to time!

How much time do you normally have to complete work on a score from start to finish, maybe you could use SEASON OF THE WITCH as an example?

There really is no norm when it comes to that and each project is different. SOTW is an interesting example because the film went through different editing phases with different artistic directions which I had to follow. In fact when it was all said and done, one of the producers said to me “you scored the film three times” which is quite close to the truth! Because of this, the post production period was extremely long and I think it took almost a year to finish it all up. Then, on Mortal Instruments: City of Bones I came in very late and had about 7 weeks to do the entire score. So, it’s all over the map really.

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You have worked on the TV series CHICAGO FIRE (30 EPISODES) and LAW AND ORDER LA (18 EPISODES) in series such as this the schedules must be very tight, do you ever re-use music that has been utilised within previous episodes?

I will certainly re-use themes when it’s appropriate and sometimes base a cue on a previous one.
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THE EAGLE is an interesting score, how much research did you do before approaching the score and did you use Scottish musicians on the soundtrack?
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I did quite a bit of research but I really learned on the job on that one from working with both Scottish and Irish musicians. You can read all you want about styles and instruments but it’s really when you start working with them that you grasp what it’s all about!

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HANSEL AND GRETEL is also an interesting movie a really different take on the classic fairy tale; did you have second thoughts about becoming involved with the movie because it was such a different approach to the story?

No, I can’t say that I did. The director, Tommy Wirkola, has a very distinct style and I had no problem with him putting his slant on this story. In fact, I bet the brothers Grimm would have gotten a kick out of it!

What was it like working with Tommy Wirkola, did he have a great deal of involvement with the scoring process or was he happy to let you work undisturbed?

I’d say Tommy had just the right amount of involvement. He certainly had quite a bit of input but was also very respectful of my process and gave me plenty of freedom to experiment.

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HANSEL AND GRETEL contains a lot of strong themes and also a lot of action music do you think it is important to have themes for the central characters or the characters that feature highly in a movie?


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Staying with HANSEL AND GRETEL there are some really nice rocky sounding guitar riffs in some of the cues, I understand that you once were a member of a rock band, what bands, composers or individual performers do you think have influenced you in the way you compose or even in the way that you approach scoring a movie?

Oh, there are so many. I’d probably start with my two mentors Mike Post and Hans Zimmer but long before that I was being influenced by Pink Floyd, Ravel, Tchaikovsky, Sibelius, Trevor Horn, Ennio Morricone, John Williams, Arvo Pärt, Steve Reich, Philip Glass, Queen, Bill Evans, Miles Davis…. the list goes on!

Do you ever perform on any of your film scores?

I have that experience for the first time earlier this year when a suite from the score for the Czech movie Colette was performed with a live orchestra at the Nordic Film Music Awards in Finland. It was such great fun that I can’t wait for the next opportunity!

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Have you ever come up against a brick wall when scoring a movie, and really had no ideas at all, if so how do you get around this, is it a case of leaving the work and doing something else?

I must say that I have and probably the strongest on my first big studio picture assignment, Vantage Point. In that case I really just powered through and didn’t sleep much for about 2-3 months but I think now I’d probably do the opposite and step away and trust that the creative process will take care of itself.


We spoke a little while ago when you had scored MORTAL INSTRUMENTS – CITY OF BONES will you be working on any more of the movies in the series?

Should there be more of these I certainly would love to be invited back but I think that’s very much up in the air at the moment.

What is your opinion of the increased use of samples and electronics within film scores?

I think it’s a very natural progression which goes hand in hand with the evolution of popular music and probably society as a whole. Technology is everywhere in our lives and why wouldn’t it be a part of film music as well? Having said that, I personally love live music performed by live people and will always gravitate towards that.

At what stage of the production do you like to become involved, is it helpful to have a script or is it better to wait until the movie is in its rough cut stage?

I think the earlier the better, especially if you’re working with someone you have a good understanding with. This way the script, the music, the film, the acting etc. can all help to inform each other and create a more holistic work.

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In your opinion how does contemporary film music compare with the music for films from the Golden and Silver age?

I think it’s very hard to compare those eras with ours. The times change and so does culture and people’s taste. I love a lot of the music from these times but most of it wouldn’t play very well within the context of modern film making and I think it’s important to remember that film music is exactly that, music made for films! That’s not to say it shouldn’t be interesting and well executed but it’s not music for music’s sake but a part of the film and therefore needs to work within the current framework of film making.

Do you ever involve yourself with any of the compact disc releases of your scores, by this I mean do you compile the tracks and select the music that will represent the score?

I’m rather obsessive when it comes to that! I think I’ve driven a few of my assistants, engineers and record company people crazy doing these. I actually think it would be great to get about a year’s break from the music before assembling a CD release because you need some distance to be able to make an objective assessment of your own work.

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Going back to SEASON OF THE WITCH, this sounds very grand and epic in places, what size orchestra did you use for the score and where did you record it?

It actually wasn’t a very large ensemble as I remember, probably about 40 string and 10 brass players for the most part. Towards the end of the third phase of that score we added a choir as well but it wasn’t as big as you might think but a part of the reason it’s sounds big is because it was recorded in two of the greatest halls in the world for such purposes, Abbey Road and Air Studios in London.

Temp tracks are in use a lot nowadays, do you think it is sometimes a distracting practice to install a temp track, and what happens if the director decides he loves the temp track so much he maybe wants you to replicate it as near as possible?

Temp tracks can work both ways. If there’s strong temp love going on it can be detrimental but on the other hand the temp track can eliminate a lot of possibilities and thereby make the scoring process a bit more focused. At the end of the day, complaining about a temp track is much like complaining about the weather. They’re pretty much always present nowadays and not much you can do to change them unless, you start writing early enough that your suites and ideas become the temp track and then you’re really ahead of the game!

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What are you working on at the moment?

I’m currently doing two TV series ( Chicago Fire and Chicago PD) and two movies, one is an Icelandic film called Rams and it’s a very personal project for me as it was largely shot on the farm where my mother grew up! The other one is American and I can’t really talk about just yet…!



Based on the novel THE GIRL FROM ANTWERP, this Slovakian/Czechoslovakian co-production is a movie that relates to us the real horrors of the Holocaust and also tells the story of a loving relationship that develops despite the horrors that are being committed within the confines of Auschwitz.  The music is by Atli  Örvarsson who recently completed scoring MORTAL INSTRUMENTS, many collectors have questioned the merits of  as a Örvarsson composer of film scores, but I have seen or at least heard things within his music that have made me stop and think and even go back and listen again, and I think that he is a very talented and more importantly a highly original composer. I must admit however that COLETTE is somewhat different from the normal musical style that we expect from the composer, this is a score that is quite lush in its style and orchestration, it relies quite heavily upon the string section of the orchestra and the composer has written one of the most haunting and appealing love themes for this score. The compact disc opens with the main theme from the movie and this is breathtaking, it contains a full and romantic central theme which opens in a fairly subdued and even is a little apprehensive, but as the music begins to develop and the composition stats to grow, the composer utilizes the string section, which is supported by piano and also harp, strings then provide a mid tempo background to plaintive piano and pensive woodwinds that develop the central theme even more and then pass it back to the string section for a delicate and low key working, which brings the opening cue to its close. Track number 2, THE DIAMOND, is also a version of the central theme, but this time the composer approaches it with a slightly more subdued way, solo oboe is utilized, with low underlining strings providing a slightly dark sounding background, as the cue progresses,  Örvarsson passes the piece to various sections of the orchestra, but all the time maintaining a low key and rather subdued persona. The theme is there and it builds slowly and gradually but never really reaches a climax, strings take on the theme once again and add a certain luxurious sound to the proceedings. The first time we hear a more forceful and dramatic line of scoring is in track number 3, WORK SHOP OF EVIL, employs strident strings and percussion to great effect, the composer again gradually building his composition and adding level upon level of tension via strings that are supported by various percussive elements and martial sounding timpani. Track number 4, MERCI MON AMOUR, is a further working or arrangement of the scores central theme, on this occasion it seems a little more romantic and emotive with harp punctuating strings and also woods in a delicate and affecting version of the theme.


Track 5, CREMATORIUM, is a darker piece all together, ominous sounding strings that are intertwined with sparse use of woodwind, create a daunting and somewhat uncomfortable atmosphere, rumbling percussion acts as a background to strings to create an almost foreboding or fearful sounding composition. Track number 7, FREE AS A BIRD, is at first a heart warming and highly romantic sounding cue, again strings and piano are the mainstay of the piece, which is brief but effective, and although short lived it alters mood midway through and the atmosphere changes from a light near happy one to a more threatening or hopeless sounding ambiance. Track number 8, PRAYING FOR WILLIE is an emotive musical journey which radiates a melancholy and also a sound that seems to say hopeless and maybe forgotten, piano performs a slightly fragmented version of the central theme, underscored by low strings, solo violin is then brought into the mix accompanied by oboe and given support from strings, this is a bitter sweet sounding piece that is probably my favourite cue from the score. Overall I have to say that COLETTE is probably the best Atli  Örvarsson score I have heard, it is powerful because it contains so much emotion and also is filled with drama and passion. Please do not miss out on this release. Recommended totally. Available on movie score media/kronos.


Our September releases include the following titles:
A Single Shot (CD and digital): An atonal score for the Sam Rockwell thriller, written by Icelandic-born composer by Atli Örvarsson.


Colette (CD and digital): Our second release with Atli Örvarsson was written for a tragic Holocaust film, based on the novella by Arnost Lustig.




The Tall Man (CD): Previously issued as a download, here’s the CD premiere of the wonderful horror score by Todd Bryanton, Joel Douk and Christopher Young.


Conspiracy (digital): And finally a digital release by newcomer Darren Baker, who combines the sound of Ligeti with Nine Inch Nails in his gripping debut.

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Set in modern day New York, MORTAL INSTRUMENTS tells the story of a seemingly ever day teenager Clary Fray, played by British actress Lily Collins (THE BLIND SIDE, MIRROR MIRROR and PRIEST). After Clary discovers her Mother has been abducted by a demon she joins forces with a band of shadow hunters and finds out that she is descended from a line of these shadow hunters which are young half angels who are locked in a deadly battle against the forces of evil and are protecting the world from demons and other creatures of darkness. Clary’s newly found allies introduce her to a dangerous and very different world in the form of DOWNWORLD which is filled with, vampires, werewolves, demons, warlocks and their like. The movie is based on the best selling book series by Cassandra Clare. This is the first of what we hope will be many films from the MORTAL INSTRUMENTS series, in fact the second movie is already in pre-production.

MORTAL INSTRUMENTS-CITY OF BONES opens in cinemas soon and the soundtrack album is released on Milan records on August 20th, the musical score is by one of film music’s rising stars Atli Örvarsson who’s music has aided greatly films such as THE FOURTH KIND, BABYLON AD, VANTAGE POINT, SEASON OF THE WITCH and more recently HANZEL AND GRETEL-WITCH HUNTERS. Örvarsson,s score for MORTAL INSTRUMENTS is a driving and epic tour de force that was written for 90 piece orchestra and choir, it posses a lushness and power that can be likened to film scores from bygone days, but also has to it a sound that is pulsating, vibrant and contemporary. The composer utilizes to great effect a sweeping string section, which is supported by brass stabs and an equal amount of brass flourishes that relay dark and light, plus there are pounding and vibrant percussive elements, which further enhance the work and these are embellished by the use of a scattering of synthetics which push the compositions forward at break neck speed within certain areas of the score. The work however does have its more subtle and poignant side and includes plaintive solo piano that relays touches of melancholy and feelings of solitude at times, which the composer then builds upon and elevates these thematic properties to full blown crescendos that are stunning and breathtaking. Although this is most certainly an action led soundtrack, it also has within its perimeters a real richness of sound that oozes romanticism, and it is I think this underlying romantic and lushness that acts as a foundation to the remainder of the score.


atli-orvarsson-la-premiere-of-the-mortal_3812340The choral work on the score is also outstanding, at times I have to say it verges on the Elfman-esque in its sound but this is not a derogatory remark or observation, as the choir acquit themselves wonderfully and the inclusion of choir brings a whole other dimension to the work giving it even more emotion and depth plus adding to the mix an atmosphere that is grandiose and at the same time humbling and beguiling. The composer also at times utilizes a solo female voice which is highly effective and mesmerising. The compact disc opens, quietly in the first instance as we are ushered into CLARY’S THEME, as the composition progresses it alters in mood and atmosphere its six note motif theme changing from a mysterious and quite subtle sounding piece into a full and rich sounding cue that is performed by strings, choir and percussion with brass underlining the proceedings as it builds, it then melts away into a melodic piano solo, this itself is short lived but certainly makes an impression, the string section come back into play accompanied by choir and horns bringing the track to its conclusion in a glorious sounding crescendo. The softer side to the score is I think heard for the first time in track number 3, YOUR SECRET IS SAFE, solo piano underlined by strings are joined by a female solo voice, the subtle theme that they create is then taken on by strings and choir, it gains momentum and swells to an emotive and heartrending apex, the cue then falls back into solo piano that is touchingly beautiful and takes the cue to its conclusion. I am not going to do a track by track analysis as I feel this is a score that one should discover one’s self, all I do know is I enjoyed it immensely and have returned to it a number of times in the past three days, for me MORTAL INSTRUMENTS-CITY OF BONES is the best soundtrack released thus far this year, and I am also of the opinion it will take a lot to beat it.


Available on Milan records August 20th 2013.

ATLI Örvarsson talking about MORTAL INSTRUMENTS.


You recently completed THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS-CITY OF BONES, and I understand there are six novels in the series; the second movie is already in pre production, how did you become involved on the movie?

– I actually ran into the director, Harald Zwart, at the premiere for my last film, Hansel & Gretel: Witch Hunters and he expressed an interest in me taking this one on with him.

What size orchestra and choir did you utilize for the score, and did you use any specialist instruments or soloists?

– The orchestra and choir were about 90 pieces and I used all kinds of special instruments ranging from bass duduk to the viol, which actually plays a pretty big role in the score.

The soundtrack album will be issued on MILAN records shortly, have you been involved with the sequencing of the soundtrack and also what cues will be included etc?

Yes, I did the sequencing of it myself and decided to completely disregard the order of the cues in the film and simply make the most listenable album I could.

I have been lucky enough to hear just two cues from the score, CLARYS THEME which is very lush and romantic sounding and also THE CLAVES CURSE, which is certainly epic and full of drama in it’s sound and style, when you begin work on a score do you like to start with a central theme and build the remainder of the score around it, or do you begin with smaller cues firstly?

– My mantra is that there’s a big difference between writing music and writing cues.  I believe that for the cues to be built on a strong foundation you must have your themes and musical ideas worked out before scoring the picture.  Of course, that’s plan A and there are exceptions but I usually want to start that way.


At what stage of proceedings did you become involved on THE MORTAL INSTRUMENTS, and did the director Harald Zwart have a hands on attitude to the style of music and where it would be placed etc?

I came in quite late and had about 2 months to do the score which meant that there wasn’t much time to let ideas gestate.  Harald is the kind of director who loves music and he was very hands on which was great.

You recorded the score at Abbey Road, do you have any personal preferences as to where a score is recorded and why, and how many sessions did it take to record the score?

There are great players and great places to record in both London and Los Angeles.  Abbey Road has a wonderfully rich history and very beautiful ambient acoustics which I thought would fit nicely for this score.  We recorded the score in two sets of sessions, the first one was four days and the second was three days.

Did you conduct the score and do you conduct all of your film scores, or are there some where you have used a conductor and supervised from the recording booth, likewise do you orchestrate your scores?

– I did conduct this score.  I have only recently started conducting and find that it’s something I enjoy very much.  I feel that there’s a different relationship with the musicians when you’re out there with them than in the recording booth.  That does have its advantages too though so I might go back and forth but at the moment I’m really enjoying conducting.  Orchestration is a bit different than it used to be because nowadays, at least the way I work, the music is mocked up so extensively that it’s almost fully orchestrated as it is being programmed.  Having said that, I worked with a brilliant orchestrator, Julian Kershaw, on this film and when he extracts my sketches into a written score it adds another level of quality to the music.


How many times do you like to watch a movie before you get a more or less fixed idea about what music you will write and where you think it would be best placed to serve the picture, obviously use MORTAL INSTRUMENTS as an example?

– I didn’t have a whole lot of time to watch the film before I got started!  I did watch it a few times to get familiar with it and get a feel for the tone but I more or less had to just jump in and start writing!  One thing I have learned though is that it’s very important to keep watching the film as a whole, or at least big chunks of it, as you’re scoring to get a good feel for the overall arch of the score.  In a way, be mindful of the both the forest and the trees.

As this is the first in a possible series of movies, do you think you will be involved with the other films if and when they are made?

– I certainly would love to be invited back!


The soundtrack compact disc will be released on Milan records on August 20th.