Why film music? Was it always film music for you?
I started studying music when I was very young, and at the age of 7, I already had a great piano teacher. I used to improvise and write short pieces. Besides, I was very lucky because I grew up in a family whose members are part of the film industry, so soon after I started studying I was serving coffees and making photocopies at the studios of the people who worked with my father. At the school of music I learned the academic part of music and at these film sets I learned the value real work.
You’ve written for both TV and film. What’s different in writing? Do you have a preference for either? How does your process differ?
Indeed the budget was a strong difference between both mediums at the beginning. But in Spain I feel very lucky because the TV producers I have worked with tend to understand very well the importance of music in their projects. Now, I get to record with wonderful orchestras and soloist for both mediums equally. This was always common in feature film projects, but not as much in the TV projects. So I am grateful I can treat my TV scores almost with the same care as my films.
Another main difference is time, of course. I start composing for most films with the script and continue working to picture. This process could extend from 1 to 5 months, depending on how early I jump in. In most TV projects I have to deliver one episode a week. That means I have to do a lot of writing and orchestration. Then adjust and edit my scores to picture with each episode, as well as keep writing more music for particular scenes or new subplots. This work gets recorded in a bunch of pick up sessions throughout the season.
Of course, there are aesthetic differences also, but only that item would take us many pages to develop. Perhaps the most obvious distinctive element has to do with the audience. TV viewers give you only certain amount of attention and often we have to be more direct. The indirect or metaphorical construction in both script and music writing suits better the movie audience focus.
For me, listening to a composer’s creation helps me get to know him better. Your scores are varied. Which of your scores do you think represents you most as a person? Which is your most honest score so far? What makes it so?
That is a quite interesting question. Milan Kundera says, I think in “The unbearable lightness of being” that he is inside everyone of his characters and he can relate to each of his babies through different aspects of his personality. Thank goodness, we’re not one-dimensional creatures and many aspects wonder inside us. And I think this could apply to any actor or any film composer. We jump from one project to the other, from one tone to the other, from one language to the other, and if we are lucky we are able to connect different corners of our personalities to each score we are working on. In that way we can enjoy writing a deep and dramatic score and at the same time, enjoy the gracefulness of a frivolous comedic score. And that’s also one of the reasons why we film composers, are such lucky folks. We’re able to live all these different adventures through our films.
Perhaps, if I had to pick a only few scores that are, in a way, more connected to my core, I would say Misconduct, Isabel, and The Secret In Their Eyes connect very easily through their darkness, romanticism and drama.
“Misconduct” feels different than what you wrote before and yet it’s my favorite score of yours right now. Tell me more about writing it, what inspired you, how you came up with that sound…
I knew I wanted to write something as sophisticated and classical as the film was asking, so I went to listen to classical music and electronic music. The film is about a contemporary conflict and there is a pulse along the film that is very present, so I wanted to include and blend the electronics in the score because I didn’t want to score to sound – as much as I love film noir-like it’s from a film of the ´50s. My idea was to marry the classical and the contemporary on the same score. Probably the classical being the rhythmic structure, the melodic architecture of the music, certain lyrical gestures of the score; and then within that, the electronics blending with certain lines of the cello and the viola. I would say that the big picture is that it´s a classical score with electronic mosaics stuck on top.
What was your most challenging project so far?
Writing a concert piece commissioned by the Martha Argerich Music Festival was one of my most challenging experiences. Nothing less than a two piano concerto at the goddess of the piano musics’ festival! With Martha playing in the same concert and all the gods and kings of academic music sitting in the audience. And one of the most rewarding experiences was working along Alberto Iglesias, a composer whom I adore, and having to write additional music for Ridley Scott “Exodus.” That was an active collaboration, back and forth. Very few times I felt so inspired. The most amazing combo: Alberto’s artistry and generosity, Ridley’s images and the cherry on the cake, three wonderful weeks recording at Abbey Road with the most wonderful orchestra and choir.
Which project did you have the most fun writing for?
I remember a handful of very fun projects, but still I think working with Alberto Iglesias and Ridley Scott were the most fun and stimulating for me.
Also, writing for the film “Kidnap,” starring Halle Berry, where I felt the urge of doing something a little bit wild and unusual. The main character spends the most of the film doing outrageous things. I ended up writing for string orchestra and solo blender (yes, that that you use in your kitchen to make your morning smoothie). That was a lot of fun. And finally, I really enjoyed writing for my TV shows, specially “Isabel” and “Carlos” where I’ve recorded with the OCRTVE, one of the most amazing orchestras and choirs in Spain.
What’s your dream project?
An opera. In three different occasions I was about to be commissioned to write an opera but, for one reason or another, the different institutions that were taking part in the project ended up disappearing. For the last five years it has been something that wandered around me and inspires me a lot. I’d love to write an opera.
Do you listen to film music, are you also a film music fan? What’s film or TV music composition impressed you lately?
Honestly, I listen more to concert musicians rather than film composers. I’m not sure if I should say so, but when I have to listen to music and put all my senses in it, I mostly go back concert music. If I had to mention a score I got impressed with lately, I would mention the non-orchestra sections of “The Revenant.” It’s really a shame it couldn’t apply for the Academy Awards.
What do you think about playing your music live? Is it an experience you enjoy or you would like to have more of?
I really enjoy playing music live. I developed my career as piano performer and composer at The Manhattan School of Music of NY and the Buenos Aires Conservatory, among other institutions. Although for the last ten years my professional career has been a bit more focused on the composing part, I performed a lot in my 20s doing solo and recital concerts. In 2013 I played a concert at the Spanish Academy of Cinema and Arts including several scores I composed for feature films. I also played in Buenos Aires a concert of “The Secret In Their Eyes” score and played in the Festival de Música de Cine of Cordoba in 2014 at Malaga. At present I´m working with different orchestras such as RTVE Orchestra (the Spanish public TV orchestra) and we are preparing a program to play some scores during the next concert season.
What’s your favorite thing about writing music?
My favorite thing about writing music is that it’s a ticket to freedom, a ticket to playing like a little boy with a toy, a ticket to spending time suspended up in the air, away from cruel and heavy reality. The sense of no boundaries and no limits other than your own. And at the same time, the challenge to complete a task, and to affect a scene in the best way you can, struggling with the all the hurdles, the time frame, the budget, and expanding the films’ frontier, if you are lucky.
What’s the most important thing you learned while writing music?
I learn in every single project I take part of, and I hope this will never change. Every time I start a new project I feel like a child with all the new things I learn and discover. Of course, you get some experience, but talking about the music itself, I discover new things everyday.