Pantawit Kiangsiri was born in Thailand and is a graduate of the Scoring for Motion and Television Program at USC, having studied with Bruce Broughton and Christopher Young. As a classically trained composer and orchestrator he is comfortable with all schools of film scoring from the symphonic to the contemporary, and has created scores in a rich variety of formats and styles. Whether it’s a traditional wall-to-wall score or something quirky and modern, Pantawit never fails to deliver what is needed to enhance every kind of project.
He currently works on film, television, video games and concert music from his studio in Los Angeles. His career spans film commissions in Hollywood, China, and Thailand. At the moment he is composing a score for the first sci-fi film from China Film Group. His list of credits includes writing music for Warner Brothers, Netflix, Digital Domain, Sony and Vevo.
Taken from the composers website.
How old were you when you began to take an interest in music. And was it film music that you were attracted to?
I started my first piano lesson when I was 5 and around the same time, I took an interest in listening to a lot of Thailand’s pop music of the day. I remember I felt as if I were under a spell every time, I heard the rhythms so my father bought me a toy drum set which I played on for a long time. Then, I became a hardcore fan of the Star Trek franchise, and that’s when I started to take notice of film music. But I didn’t know the true power and effect of it until I watched Star Trek First Contact when it came out in 1996. This was the first time I thought, “Film music is so cool!”
What musical education did you receive?
I took private composition lessons with Thailand’s top composers: Somtow Sucharitkul, Narong Prancharoen, and Narongrit Dhamabutra.
I graduated with a bachelor’s and Master’s Degree in Composition from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM). After that I got accepted into the USC film scoring program (SMPTV at the time) where I learned from some of today’s top film composers, Bruce Broughton and Christopher Young.
Did you focus or concentrate on any one instrument when you began to take an interest in music?
Not really. My first piano lesson was a disaster. I didn’t like it, and I cried! After that, I would do a lot of listening while playing some drums on the side. Then jump to 9 years later, I decided to seriously pick up the piano again after having discovered the Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven. I did have a habit of changing up other composers ‘music (mainly because I was too lazy to practice) and would make up some random tunes. My piano teacher at the time then suggested that I should try composition and even taught me how to write down those tunes. Because of my mediocre playing skills, my mentor at the conservatory, David Garner taught me to compose by using my head and to develop my inner ear— to hear the sounds I wanted and not be limited by my inadequate technique.
Do you think that contemporary scores are more soundscape than (traditional) soundtracks, and do you think they utilize the drone effect too much?
I think so and part of it is the development of technology. It is so easy now for everyone to make (or choose) electronic drone sounds from their computer, versus the old days where one has to have a concept of melody, harmony, rhythm and orchestral textures first.
The problem is not about overuse of the drone technique, but more about many composers using the same drone sound all of the time without being creative. As long as it enhances the film, then it is ok to use the drone effect! That being said, many wonderfully melodic driven scores are still being composed, such as the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy, Avengers: Endgame and most of Michael Giacchino’s scores.
How many times do you like to see a movie before you start to formulate ideas as to what style of music and where the music is placed in the movie?
I usually sketch out the musical themes, ideas, texture, etc. as soon as I have read the script or viewed some of the raw footages. I usually engage in a creative conversation with the directors in the beginning stages of their film. Then, when the nearly finished cut arrives, we will have a formal spotting session for music placement. At this point, all of the main musical components would be finished and ready for scoring.
Do you conduct at all. And if so, do you conduct your scores or prefer to monitor the scoring process from the recording booth?
Yes, but only when there is no budget for a real conductor (Laugh!) Seriously, I have conducted for other composers’ scores, but for my own music, I would prefer to listen in the booth at the recording session with the director beside me so we can discuss the emotional response he or she is hoping to evoke in that passage of the film. Then, I can instantly tell the musicians and make the necessary changes right on the spot.
What artists or composers would you say have either influenced you or inspired you?
There are so many names! My main influences come from Beethoven, Jerry Goldsmith, and Somtow Sucharitkul. But I do listen to Stravinsky, Bartok, John Williams, The Beatles, and many others.
Do you have an active role in selecting what music from a score is released onto the CD?
Yes! Working with Mikael Carlsson at Move score Media is a blast! Usually, I will pick out cues which I think are a great listening experience and discard the less interesting ones. Then I will put them in the order which I think will have a nice pacing and flow for the album. Afterwards, Mikael would come back and suggest to me some reordering of the tracks for a smother, more even flow.
What is your opinion of the temp track? it a useful tool or something that can cause problems?
I really don’t like using temp tracks all that much because of the difficulties it can create. If the director loves the temp track too much, it can stifle my freedom to create something fresh let alone getting it approved. Sometimes though, when the director doesn’t know exactly how to explain what he or she wants with the music, a temp track could be a useful tool. Temp tracks can give me some insight for the basic mood, tone and, pacing for each cue. In short, I don’t like it but it is useful to have it as a backup!
Is orchestration just as important as the composition of the music?
Yes. To me, orchestration is an integral part of the composition process, and I find it difficult in separating the two. I always thinking about instrumental colors when I am composing. If I write for the violins, then it will be for that sound rather than composing something on a piano sketch and then waiting to assign instruments later. The choice of instrumental colours (vocal and soundscape in recent years) is very important in film scoring, because composers can use a specific combination of instruments to convey different emotions to the audience. So, if you are very skilled at orchestrating, chances are your musical ideas will have a better clarity in presentation and will be more effective in helping support the film as well.
What instruments or tools do you utilize when working on a score ?
When doing an orchestral score then I’m still a bit of the old school style. I usually sketch out ideas with a pencil and paper, and occasionally check the sounds on the piano. Then I will create a demo mock-up in Logic Pro for the director to listen. If I have enough time left, I will usually do my orchestrations using pencil and paper as well. Other times I would use anything I can find in my place from instruments, toys, objects, kitchenware, etc. to create scores as well. Basically, anything goes, as long as it takes me to the result that film maker and I want!
The Secret of Immortal Code is a great score. How much music did you compose for the project, and did the director have specific ideas as to what type of music he wanted for the film?
Thank you! There’s about 80 minutes of music in this film. I actually composed this score twice in the period of a year and a half! At the beginning, when the film was still coloured, the director Li Wei and I had the same idea that we wanted to do a classic sci-fi orchestral score that paid homage to classical sci-fi films of the past. We wound up with a rather good score but felt that some originality was missing. So a year later, the producer Wang Donghui had the wild idea to make this a black and white film, which we all thought was a bold and creative move! The producer told me that now the music would have to take center stage in the story telling rather than as a supporting role as in our first version. The question of how much originality was still on our mind, so I decided to rewrite about 90% of the score. Next, I experimented with using just the double bass and came up with hundreds of ways to produce very unique sounds (sometimes noise) on the instrument. Afterwards, I sent those sound samples to the film makers, and they said, “That’s it! Those are the original sounds we’ve been looking for!” So, in the final score, there are several sequences that were scored using only the double bass and nothing else. Combining those sounds with an 86-piece symphony orchestra and electronic sounds (and even an occasional drone!) and we finally came up with a score that satisfied us all in the end!
What would you say is the purpose or job of music in film?
The main function of film music is to support and amplify the film emotionally. It has to help convey certain emotions that film maker wants the audience to feel. An excellent film score should enhance the whole viewing experience. Music is the best tool for this because everyone can instantly feel the music. Aside from this function, I also strive to write a score that can stand on its own for either as an album experience or as standalone pieces for a concert performance.
Do you buy or listen to soundtracks by other composers at all.
I grew up as a soundtrack nerd. Needless to say, I have a huge collection at my home! When I was 8 years old, I listened to almost exclusively to film music. I also studied this craft intensely and was very interested in the history of film music, so I tried to acquire and collect as many soundtracks from the different cinematic time periods as possible. They served as an excellent inspiration for me!
What is next for you?
I am currently wrapping up work on two documentaries and a TV series. I will soon be starting on a new feature film, a documentary and a 4D experience ride.
Is anyone in your family musical?
My wife is a concert pianist and a guzheng player (like a Chinese harp). She’s also the score producer/supervisor and a founder of my company Pantawit Music Production Corp. (PMP). Aside from this, I have a cousin who is also a musical composer and my father played a bit of guitar when he was younger.
Do you think it is possible for a great score. To save or help a not so good movie?
A great score can help a little bit in my opinion. But what I feel a good film needs in order to be successful is for everyone in the creative department to be good and blend well with each other in the first place. A good director, producer, actors, cinematographer, editor, production designer, composer, etc.; they all need to contribute in order to make a good film. A great score can help in terms of bumping up the excitement and exaggerate an outpouring of emotion. But if there’s not enough excitement and emotion in the first place then the improvement by music will be minimal at best.