Born in 1997 in Halle/Saale, Germany, Georg Mausolf’s musical education began early. He started learning violin at age five, switched to classical guitar and eventually to orchestral percussion, drums and piano. Being the son of a violin teacher and a software engineer creating music and sounds with the help of computers turned out to be a somewhat logical development for him – he started his foray into the digital audio world at age thirteen.
Was writing music for film and sound design something that you had always had in mind to do as a career?
Yes, pretty much – I was exposed to music from a very early age, learning different instruments throughout my childhood (piano and percussion stuck with me). I began experimenting with improvising and composing when I didn’t yet think about it as a career option. But my interest in film music was probably sparked through “Pirates of the Caribbean “, which I loved back then. I found the soundtrack at my hometown’s public library and listened to it on repeat. This sparked my interest and through research I learned about Hans Zimmer and many more, and about their workflow. The idea of creating music with the computer fascinated me. So, when I began to experiment with producing music that way myself, I was sold pretty soon. So, for the last 12 years, I’ve been pursuing that path.
Breaking into film scoring is I am told quite difficult, with so many composers and artists now involved in scoring films. I understand you began writing for film at the age of thirteen. What was your first scoring assignment and how did you become involved on the project?
Breaking into scoring is indeed difficult, at least into the kind that allows you to make writing them your full-time career – I’m still very much at that breaking-in stage. I started writing music in the style of orchestral film music at the age of thirteen and did some small film projects with friends in the following years. I also composed a few tracks for an indie game that never saw the light of day. The first “serious“film I worked on was a student short film. I met the film’s sound designer when we were both interning at “Rotor Film”, a film sound post-production company at Studio Babelsberg in Potsdam. They needed a new composer because something hadn’t worked out with the first one. This short films director was also the director of “Looking for Erdnase” the first feature length film I did.
So, many of the opportunities I got arose from contacts through jobs and university. Connecting online has been very important too, though. I’m currently breaking into trailer music (I did the music for Netflix’s Vikings: Valhalla teaser trailer for example) and that’s something that 100% happened online.
What composers and artists would you say have influenced you and inspired you?
I believe that every piece of music I ever heard has influenced me – even things I didn’t consciously listened to (there is music everywhere you go), though often in a very minute way. Of course, my music is very influenced by all the big composers in Hollywood like John Williams, Hans Zimmer, Harry Gregson-Williams, John Powell, … But also a lot of ‘classical’ composers I grew up with, like Dvořák, Tchaikovsky, Richard Strauss etc. I also listen to quite a mixture of different genres, from Hip-Hop and Rock to Balkan Brass bands – and even though those tracks may not directly influence my writing, they broaden my musical horizon. My mother is a violin teacher, so the whole family learned musical instruments – I started out with violin, for obvious reasons, but switched to guitar, then piano and percussion. But my father is a software engineer, so maybe making music with my computer is the logical outcome of that combination.
What musical education did you receive and where did you study?
I started out by taking different instrumental classes at my mother’s music school. When I got to high school, I chose one specialized in music, where I also had courses in music theory, music history and orchestra/ensemble. During that time, I thought about what I wanted to study after school – my goal of becoming a film composer was clear but I didn’t really know how to achieve that. I considered studying modern classical composition but realized that my style wouldn’t really fit in at such an institution. instead, I decided to study audio engineering for film at Film university Babelsberg KONRAD WOLF in Potsdam, Germany. There, I learned about the technicalities of Sound, Equipment, Acoustics and the procedures and workflows of film (post) production.
During those years, I also gained an understanding and appreciation of the role of non-musical sound in films, such as Sound Design, Foleys, the importance of good location sound etc. Since finishing my bachelor’s I’m now studying for an MA in film music composition at the same University, where I have courses on film music concepts, orchestration, music production and also the business side of being a film composer, which is really important if you want to make that your full-time career.
Your score for the short film PSYKHE is such an emotive sounding work, how did you become involved with the movie, and is it difficult establishing a connection musically with films that are very often less than half an hour in duration?
My involvement with PSYKHE was actually a direct result of me studying at Film university Babelsberg. A good friend of mine, Victor Schwarz, was studying for a Master’s in film production there when I met him. He told me about his plans of producing this film as his graduation film – a massive feat considering the technical difficulties of producing a student film in Dolby Atmos and Dolby Cinema. So, when he asked me to score it, I was very happy to do it. For me, it is sometimes easier to get to the essence of a short film since there isn’t much time to tell the story and the filmmakers have to concentrate on the core ideas. In the case of PSYKHE, it was clear early on that it would be a very emotional story and that there would be almost no dialogue, so the music would have to carry a lot of the weight. I realized early on that it would need to be an orchestral score and that it wouldn’t suffice to do it with samples – so we had to to make orchestral recordings a possibility. Thankfully we found a great partner in the German Film Orchestra Babelsberg and they played the music beautifully!
You have also scored video games, for you is there a great deal of difference scoring a game as opposed to a live action or animated film?
Yes, definitely – the change of medium requires a very different approach to the music. Of course, you still have to enhance the narrative and try and provide emotional depth. But due to the variable timing of the game and the way the music is implemented, I thought a lot more about loop-points, fades between different game states etc. The way we worked on Cepheus Protocol was pretty minimalistic, we didn’t exhaust the possibilities of adaptive music by a long shot, but I learned a lot about writing scores for games.
The video game Cepheus Protocol-Pandemic Mode has a stirring main theme, anthem-like I would say, was this a totally electronically realized work, or are there live players also performing?
Sadly, due to the game being an independently developed title, the budget was very slim. So, I had to work completely in-the-box. It surely would have benefitted from having live players greatly, but that is a reality in the indie sector. However, developing indie games is a great way to try out new and exciting ideas and I think it gives you as the composer a lot more creative freedom.
Going back to PSYKHE did the director have any specific ideas or instructions regarding the style of music that he wanted for the film and was there a temp track on the movie when you first saw it?
I think we started talking about the music with the director and the producer even before shooting. We felt the film needed an orchestral score (of course there are also some pads/synths and a few plucked instruments in there as well). When the film came back from the edit, it was completely temped, mainly with tracks from different Thomas Newman scores.
That of course influenced the stylistic choices, even though I always try to get away from the temp to make it more of my own. During the process I sent WIPs to the director and producer and we discussed what aspects felt right and where we’d need changes, rewrites etc.. That kind of workflow is common when scoring projects – I can’t lock myself in in my studio and expect everyone to be happy with what I come up with the first time around.
Is the temp track helpful do you think, or is it something that you maybe find distracting?
To me, temp tracks can be a valuable tool in communicating the intent of the filmmaker that can greatly accelerate the process of finding a common musical language. Music is often hard to describe for filmmakers, so I tend to try and talk more about feelings, the narrative, setting and style of the film and then try to translate that into musical decisions. And in this process, the temp can help me a lot. Of course, there is also the flipside of temp tracks, namely the filmmakers being too in love with them and the composer having to struggle to write something very similar. This happens to me as well, when I listen to a temp too often it gets harder to a) come up with something original and b) not compare myself with the great masters, especially when I feel like the temp works well. I often start out watching the film without the temp, trying to get a feel of it without any music, maybe already getting some quick ideas down, or at least take notes. Then I watch the film with temp and begin on the whole concept-stage with the filmmakers. During the actual writing I try to listen to the temp as little as possible – while still being mindful of what the temp might do well, like music in/ out points or hitting a cue precisely or giving just the right amount of intensity to a scene.
From what I have heard of your music it is very much theme led, as in your scores contain themes and quite intricate melodies, do you think that themes are important when writing for film?
Yes, you’re right, I do tend to work quite thematically. I think having memorable musical themes can be a great asset to enhance the story-telling. Connecting it to narrative themes, characters or settings makes it essentially a leitmotif. But I think there are a great number of films where thematic writing in this sense would be totally inappropriate – you always have to think about what the film needs. It’s the same with choosing the right instruments for the project – a grand orchestral score doesn’t always fit – maybe you only need some soloists, maybe you need a big band or maybe you only work with location sounds. I think my forte are orchestral scores with nice melodies – at least that’s what I enjoy doing the most – but I try to first think about the film’s needs and how to best tell the story.
How many times do you prefer to see a potential project before beginning to formulate ideas about the music as in what style and where music should be placed to best serve a project?
That’s a tough question! I think I usually need a couple of watches to get a feeling for the project. It depends a lot on the type of project and if I already read the script, maybe saw some stills, or even had a talk with the filmmakers. But sometimes a scene or something triggers an immediate idea – in that case I take notes about hit points or maybe make a quick voice memo on my phone, anything to get the idea down quickly without fiddling around with the piano too much too early on.
When you are working on a movie do you like to score it in order of how it runs or do you like to establish a theme firstly and build the score around this?
I haven’t done enough films to really have a solid system. But I often start with scenes that are already quite clear to me, ideally, they are already locked, so there isn’t too much editing still in process. Those scenes also help to set the tone of the entire score. Of course, I try and already work on themes/motifs beforehand so that I have a bit of a toolbox to work with.
I understand you are working on a feature film, when will we see this in theatres and what style of music have you composed for it as in is it symphonic or synthetic?
It is already finished! It is a documentary with enacted passages called ”Erdnase“ is the pseudonym of the author of a very important book on slight of hand and card magic, a very elusive person – he wrote this book at the beginning of the 20th century but nobody knows who he actually was. The film explores the different theories on who he was and brings them to life in a very entertaining and gripping way – even for people who are (like me) not part of the magic community. It had a short theatrical run in Germany and is now on its festival run. But it can also be streamed online
My score was inspired by themes of magic, Sherlock Holmes and western, so it’s a funny mixture. It is orchestral in style but again, due to budget constraints, almost exclusively realized with samples. I hope I can release the soundtrack later on all the usual platforms, but I can’t promise anything yet.
My thanks to the composer for taking time to answer my questions.