How did you become involved on the movie Traces of Madness?
I became involved in the project in a very unexpected way, I was scrolling on a Facebook page specialized in cinema and film industry and I saw a post published by “Independent Movie” (The production company of Traces of Madness). They were looking for quite a few candidates for a lot of different jobs for their new film including a composer. I decided to candidate myself, I sent some of my previous works and my CV. After a few weeks I received an e-mail which informed me that I’ve been selected for the next phase of the job selection. I was asked to score a couple of scenes from the movie (which was still in production phase). Then, after a phone interview with the director, I got a call from Daniele Marcheggiani (the producer) telling me that I’ve been chosen to score the movie Traces of Madness. Later I discovered that over 150 composers auditioned to get the job!
The score is wonderfully lush and has to it a haunting and emotive persona, at times evoking romantic Morricone and then lush almost luxurious interludes that could come from a vintage Hollywood love story, or film noir. What size orchestra did you utilized for the score, and did the director or have any specific ideas relating to what style of music the film needed?
I used the full-size symphonic orchestra: strings, woodwinds, brass, and percussions; I used a bit of synthetic sounds as well for thickening the sound when needed. The director Michele Di Rienzo had very clear ideas about the sound of the score, he is a fan of Hans Zimmer and loves big epic sounding soundtracks, so he suggested that I should check out a few scores written by Zimmer to create a similar sound for Traces of Madness. After watching the “alpha version” of the movie with the director a lot of different ideas came into my mind, I thought right away that Traces of Madness deserved something more than an epic soundtrack, so I decided to work thematically, combining the idea of the modern soundtracks to the lush and romantic sound of the film scores of the past century.
What musical education or training did you have?
I started playing the drums at 11 years old and as far as I can remember I’ve always been into artistic things since I was a child, I was constantly singing and creating, my grandfather used to show me the beautiful movies of Sergio Leone with the scores of Ennio Morricone, that unconsciously made me dive into the fascinating world of music. At 18 years old I moved to Milan to study Drums in a private academy called NAM, in the meantime I also attended the film scoring composition course at the conservatory in Milan. After getting my degrees both in Session Drumming and Composition for Films I moved to Siena where I’m currently studying Jazz drums at Siena Jazz University.
There is 45 mins of music on the soundtrack, and its available on digital platforms, I am hoping a CD will follow, how much music did you compose for the movie?
I wrote around 90 minutes of music in total, the tracks on the record contain all the main themes I wrote for the film, the other 45 minutes are essentially variations of the same melodic and harmonic material.
There are so many themes within the work, how do you like to work out your musical ideas, keyboard, piano, or computer and is a thematic score important for a movie do you think?
My approach on writing film music changes depending on the movie I’m scoring. Most of the time I like to sit on the piano and start to improvise ideas while watching scenes from the movie, other times I’ll record myself singing or whistling some motives that are coming in my mind. Then when I got some material to work on I move to my studio where all my gear is set up, computer, instruments, amplifiers etc, to record everything. In my opinion writing a thematic score is like writing a second dialogue line to the film itself, you can give a different voice to characters, you can tell a new storyline within the main plot of the movie, you can name characters, places, scenes and actions with the melody you’re composing. Writing thematically is a very powerful way to support the plot even more. At the same time, you must be careful to not over-use thematic elements because you should always write music that supports and complements the film, an abuse of the thematic elements results in a very chaotic score that distracts the audience from the actual flow of the story.
Are there any composers or musical artists that you think have influenced you or indeed any that inspired you into following music as a career?
Ennio Morricone is the reason I’m a musician and composer, I started listening to his work when I was a little child because my grandfather used to show me Sergio Leone’s movies. He is my main source of inspiration. Then, at 11 years old, I discovered jazz music and I completely fell in love with it. Chick Corea, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Tony Williams, Elvin Jones… these are just a few artists that I love that influenced me a lot especially from a drummer’s point of view.
James theme is so emotive, filled with a richness and an affecting aura, when working on the movie how did you approach it by this, I mean did you focus on creating a core theme or a sound that you felt would work for the film and then build the remainder of the score around this?
I focused mainly on the character, I wanted to describe James with music. Being a very dark and complex character, the mood of the theme came out basically by watching James acting e talking with the other characters. My main idea, technically speaking, was to write a melody that did not contain a proper resolution, to enhance that effect I chose to use modal harmony avoiding any kind of cadence, this helped me creating the floaty and mysterious mood of James’ Theme.
Did you perform on the score for Traces of Madness, and do you conduct or do you prefer to have a conductor and supervise the sessions to ensure the music is working as it is recorded?
Since it was a low budget independent movie I had to perform and record everything. The orchestra you are hearing in the tracks is actually “fake”, everything was made with samples. So, I played the parts of all the instruments you’re hearing in the score. If had a real orchestra at my disposal, I would have hired a conductor, since I didn’t study conducting, I wouldn’t have been able to conduct an entire orchestra all by myself.
How long did you have to spot the movie, write the score, and then record it?
I had just one month to complete the work, it was very intense but totally worth it.
Where was the score recorded?
I recorded everything in my studio.
There is a female voice on the score, which is more prominent in the cue, Stephanie’s Suite, who is the vocalist or was this realized synthetically?
The vocalist is a dear friend of mine, her name is Camilla Baraggia, she’s a great singer with a beautiful timbre, as soon as I started writing Stephanie’s Theme, I thought to involve Camilla in the project to sing the main melody.
The music for Traces of Madness is like a breath of fresh air, what are you scoring next?
Thank you John, I’m currently focusing on getting my degree in jazz drums, I’m now very busy being a session man playing drums for all different kinds of artists but I would love to get back to film scoring, after my degree I’ll be back at it for sure.
Many thanks to the composer for his time and patience and of course his wonderful music.