Tag Archives: Original composition

Arranging works protected by copyright

Musical works in the public domain can be arranged at will. But works which are still protected by copyright, i.e. whose author has been dead for less than 70 years, cannot be arranged without permission from the rightholders. How does one go about obtaining such permission, and what points must be regulated in the permission in order to be able to register an arrangement with SUISA? Text by Claudia Kempf and Michael Wohlgemuth

Arranging works protected by copyright

To arrange a work protected by copyright whose author has been dead for less than 70 years, permission must be obtained from the rightholders. (Photo: Tabea Hüberli)

The author has the right to decide whether his work can be arranged; in other words, whether a “derived work” or an “arrangement” can be created from his or her original work. This right remains with the author and is not transferred to SUISA under the rights’ administration agreement. A person wishing to arrange a work must contact the author and obtain his or her permission to do so.

Authors generally transfer the arrangement rights to their publishers in the framework of a publishing agreement. On that basis, publishers may authorise third parties to arrange a work, or commission third parties to create a new version of the work. Publishing contracts should regulate whether the publisher may, under certain circumstances, authorise or commission an arrangement directly or whether the publisher must refer back to the author in each case. In the case of published works, therefore, the person to contact for permission is the publisher.

When dealing with successful international repertoires, obtaining permission may be a tiresome procedure, and may not always be crowned with success. Certain rightholders are happy to have their works arranged and more widely disseminated. Other rightholders attach great value to the “integrity” of their works and refuse virtually all arrangements. Either way, before an arrangement can be undertaken, sufficient time should be reserved for ascertaining the legal rights.

NB. If a number of requests have been submitted to the author or the publisher and no response has been received, it is wrong to presume that “silence means consent” and that the work can be arranged simply because “efforts were made” to obtain permission. As a rule, arranging a work without the rightholder’s consent constitutes a copyright infringement and may result in civil and criminal prosecution.

Even once the necessary permission has been obtained, the arranger is not always free to arrange the work at will. The permission may be restricted to a certain type of arrangement (e.g. translation of the lyrics into another language, shortening the work, remis, new instrumentalisation, etc.) Moreover, by law, even if they have permitted an arrangement, authors are entitled to defend their works against “distortion”. In such cases (often difficult to judge), it is the “moral rights” of the author which are at stake.

Key points of an authorisation to arrange

If an author or a publisher grants permission to arrange a work, this permission, consent, or authorisation should be recorded in a short written agreement. The agreement should cover the following points:

a) Name and address of the contractual parties (pseudonyms, if any)

b) Scope of permission: the work to be arranged must be clearly designated, as well as the extent to which the work may be musically or textually arranged. Moreover, the agreement should indicate whether and how the new work can be registered as an arrangement with SUISA.

Good to know: Registering a work as an arrangement only makes sense if the original is already registered with SUISA, and both works (original and arrangement) are to be used side by side (and independently). In the framework of the songwriting process, it is not unusual for “arranged parts” to be attributed to co-musicians although there is no original work which can be used separately. To avoid misunderstandings, it is advisable in such cases to let the co-musicians participate as co-authors rather than as arrangers.

c) Shares: Under SUISA’s Distribution Rules, for unpublished works without lyrics, the arranger is entitled to a 20% share; for published works without lyrics, the arranger’s share is 16.67%. For works with lyrics, the arranger’s share is 15% (unpublished) and 11.67% (published) respectively. In principle, the arranger’s share can be set freely. In practice, the arranger’s share lies between 0% and 25%. SUISA’s Distribution Rules provide for an exception in the case of arrangement permissions granted by publishers: here, the arranger’s share may not exceed the share in the regulatory distribution key. This is designed to avoid the share of the original author from being reduced too far. A rightholder may also permit an arrangement without granting any share of the distribution to the arranger.

d) Publishing an arrangement: In the case of arrangements of published works, it is advisable to specify in the authorisation whether the arrangement must also be published by the publisher of the original work (so that the publisher can retain control over the publishing rights). As a rule, the original publisher will insist on this. In that case, an additional publishing agreement should be signed between the original publisher and the arranger.

e) Rights warranties: Rightholders must warrant that they dispose of the necessary rights to grant the arrangement permission.

f) Place, date, rightholder’s signature

g) Governing law, jurisdiction

Special case: “sub-arrangements”

Sub-publishing agreements generally provide for the transfer of the arrangement rights from the original publisher to the sub-publisher. The sub-publisher is thus entitled to authorise or commission arrangements. In these cases, the arranger is registered as a “sub-arranger” or, with regard to new lyrics, e.g. in another language, as a “sub-lyricist”. Here too, SUISA’s Distribution Rules provide that the sub-arranger’s share may not exceed the share set in the regulatory distribution key.

How to register an arrangement with SUISA

For an arrangement of a protected work, the permission to make the arrangement must be filed – or uploaded in the case of an online registration – together with the registration form. The arranger will only receive a share of the royalties from a work if the permission to arrange explicitly states that the arranger is entitled to a share. If no percentage share is indicated, the arranger will be allocated the regulatory share. If there is no mention of the arranger’s participation, SUISA will record the arranger’s name under the original version, with a note indicating that an authorised arrangement exists but the arranger is not entitled to a participation. Accordingly, the arranger will not receive a share.

When publishers register new versions of works which they have published in the original, SUISA waives the need for an authorisation since the publisher has to settle the arrangement rights directly with its authors. The same applies for sub-publishing agreements.

Summary

To arrange protected works, therefore, you always need the rightholders’ permision – depending on the circumstances, such permission should be obtained from the author, the author’s heirs or from the publisher. Permission is the prerequisite for registering an arrangement of a protected work with SUISA.

SUISA offers its support in tracing the responsible rightholders. In the case of published works, SUISA will give you the publisher’s name and address so that you may contact the latter directly. In the case of unpubished works, SUISA forwards arrangement requests directly to the author or his/her heirs. Inquiries should be addressed to: publisher (at) suisa (dot) ch
Related articles
Good to know: Arrangement of works in the public domainArrangement of works in the public domain Before you start arranging musical works that are not protected by copyright, it is worth being aware of the legal pitfalls in order to avoid costly stumbles. Seeking inspiration from others, arranging existing works for different instrumentation, incorporating all or part of existing compositions into new works … these are age-old practices. Read more
Play abroad, communicate with SUISA at homePlay abroad, communicate with SUISA at home How do I get access to my copyright remuneration for my concerts abroad? What do I need to consider when registering works with SUISA if the co-author of my song is a member of a foreign collective management organisation? Important and frequently asked questions on international musical activities are answered in the following. Read more
Publishing agreements: What do I need to consider?Publishing agreements: What do I need to consider? Publishing agreements in Switzerland are governed by the Swiss Code of Obligations (OR) The respective statutory provisions on it are, however, not very detailed. In the case of music publishing agreements in particular, you cannot simply rely on the law. Besides, the contractual parties may also stipulate their own arrangements in the agreement. So what do you have to be aware of with respect to publishing agreements? Read more
Collapse article

Leave a Reply

All comments will be moderated. This may take some time and we reserve the right not to publish comments that contradict the conditions of use.

Your email address will not be published.

Musical works in the public domain can be arranged at will. But works which are still protected by copyright, i.e. whose author has been dead for less than 70 years, cannot be arranged without permission from the rightholders. How does one go about obtaining such permission, and what points must be regulated in the permission in order to be able to register an arrangement with SUISA? Text by Claudia Kempf and Michael Wohlgemuth

Arranging works protected by copyright

To arrange a work protected by copyright whose author has been dead for less than 70 years, permission must be obtained from the rightholders. (Photo: Tabea Hüberli)

The author has the right to decide whether his work can be arranged; in other words, whether a “derived work” or an “arrangement” can be created from his or her original work. This...read more

Arrangement of works in the public domain

Before you start arranging musical works that are not protected by copyright, it is worth being aware of the legal pitfalls in order to avoid costly stumbles. Text by Ernst Meier and Claudia Kempf

Arrangement of works in the public domain

An arrangement is when a new work is created using an existing work. (Photo: Tabea Hüberli)

Seeking inspiration from others, arranging existing works for different instrumentation, incorporating all or part of existing compositions into new works … these are age-old practices.

What pitfalls have to be avoided when you undertake a musical arrangement? – In a new series of articles to be published on the SUISAblog and in SUISAinfo, we shall try to shed some light on this topic. Initially, we shall examine the arrangement of works in the public domain, i.e. works that are no longer protected by copyright since their authors have been dead for more than 70 years.

What is an arrangement?

According to the Copyright Act, an arrangement is a “derived” (in German, literally, a “second-hand”) work. For an arrangement to qualify for copyright protection, it must satisfy the same requirements as a “work”, in other words: arrangements which are deemed artistic creations of the mind of the arranger are protected by copyright in the same way as an autonomous work. In the case of an arrangement, the artistic creation consists in the recognisable transformation, changing, or extension, of the musical substance of an existing work.

An arrangement is when a new work is created using an existing work in such a way that the latter remains recognisable with its individual character. The newly created element must, however, also have an individual character. Typical examples of arrangements are works orchestrated for different instruments, or lyrics translated into another language.

SUISA’s Distribution Rules (in German) have a section (1.1.3.5) that lists a whole series of works that do not qualify as arrangements for copyright protection purposes. In practice, this list has proven itself repeatedly. The following modifications do not qualify as arrangements:

  • adding dynamic or agogic accents;
  • adding musical phrasing symbols;
  • entering finger positions (fingering);
  • registrations for organs or other keyboard instruments;
  • flourishes;
  • translating an old musical notation style into a style in use today;
  • correcting clerical mistakes in the original and similar changes;
  • transferring music into other keys or pitches (transpositions);
  • editing out individual voices;
  • exchanging or doubling voices;
  • adding purely parallel voices;
  • allocating existing voices to other instruments (simple transcription).

Arranging works in the public domain and registering them with SUISA

Musical works which are not protected by copyright can be freely arranged and altered – no consent is necessary. To register an arrangement of a work in the public domain, you must send SUISA a copy of the new work together with the existing work, so that the music department can establish copyrightability. This applies to works whose authors are unknown or have been dead for at least 70 years. This also applies to works that have been handed down by folklore and are considered traditional.

When it receives an arrangement, SUISA’s music department verifies whether it satisfies the criteria for protection by copyright. This is always done by comparing the original to the arranged version. The musical quality of the submitted piece or movement is unimportant at this stage.

What types of arrangements are there, and what is the arranger’s share of the remuneration?

In its appreciation, SUISA distinguishes between the five following types of arrangement:

(Graphics: Crafft Communication)

1. Normal arrangement

The “normal” case (representing about 90% of all applications) is an arrangement in the strict sense of the word. A popular melody is arranged by adding voices or instruments for a specific ensemble or group (e.g. mixed choir, string quartet, orchestra, Big Band, etc.). The melody or main voice is taken over exactly, only the arrangement is new.

In this case, the arranger’s share is 15% (for works with lyrics) or 20% (works without lyrics).

Normal arrangement

2. Co-composition

Here the unprotected melody is not the upper voice; it is hidden in the musical structure. In this particular case (e.g. choir and organ music), the arranger’s work is of higher value since he has to compose his own upper or main voice and the existing music has to be embedded into the piece with a contrapuntal technique.

The arranger’s share in this type of work is 50% of the composer’s share.

Co-composition

3. Reconstruction

An original work is interrupted in one or several places, or left unfinished by the composer (or lost in handing down), and is then finished by the arranger.

The arranger’s share in this case is 50% of the composer’s share.

Co-composition

4. Complex jazz versions with changing soloists

The piece starts with a short presentation of the unprotected original melody. Then, a succession of soloists or “registers” (saxophone, trumpets, piano, drums) take up the melody with improvised figurations; these make up the greater portion of the work. Visually this is illustrated by the fact that the individual soloists or “registers” stand up for their solos. At the end, the original melody is often repeated all together.

In this type of work, the arranger’s share is 50% or 100% of the composer’s share, depending on the length and importance of the solos.

Complex jazz versions with changing soloists

5. Sets of variations

Variations on historic musical themes (e.g. Diabelli, Paganini or Gershwin variations) are typical examples of compositions where the original takes backstage to the variation. The starting theme is merely a pretext for a completely new work. It follows, therefore, that the creator of the variation is entitled to the full remuneration. For example: “Diabelli variations by Beethoven” etc.

The arranger’s share in this type of work is 100% of the composer’s share.

Sets of variations

What does public domain (“domaine public”) mean?
For further information on the protection period for works we refer you to the article “Erstmals seit 20 Jahren werden wieder Werke gemeinfrei” (article available in German, French and Italian, PDF) in the SUISAinfo edition.
Related articles
The beats from others – but your own songsThe beats from others – but your own songs The melody is a catchy tune but the groove just doesn’t match. For days, you haven’t got rhythm while some ingenious lyrics are on the tip of your tongue. There are many reasons why creators use someone else’s raw material for their own songs. The following legal and practical tips on how to deal with bought-out beats help you keep in sync with formalities. Read more
Personnel changes in SUISA’s Music DepartmentPersonnel changes in SUISA’s Music Department At the end of September 2018, Ernst Meier, Head of the Music Department, retired after 33 years’ work for authors and publishers. His successor is Andres Pfister. Read more
Plagiarism accusations – what does SUISA do?Plagiarism accusations – what does SUISA do? Various media have been reporting on plagiarism accusations against a Swiss artist in the last few days. The topic is not new, but it seems to continue to be shrouded in ambiguity: Who is the accuser? What happens to an artist who lifts from another? How much does he have to pay? And what role does SUISA actually play? Read more
Collapse article

Leave a Reply

All comments will be moderated. This may take some time and we reserve the right not to publish comments that contradict the conditions of use.

Your email address will not be published.

Before you start arranging musical works that are not protected by copyright, it is worth being aware of the legal pitfalls in order to avoid costly stumbles. Text by Ernst Meier and Claudia Kempf

Arrangement of works in the public domain

An arrangement is when a new work is created using an existing work. (Photo: Tabea Hüberli)

Seeking inspiration from others, arranging existing works for different instrumentation, incorporating all or part of existing compositions into new works … these are age-old practices.

What pitfalls have to be avoided when you undertake a musical arrangement? – In a new series of articles to be published on the SUISAblog and in SUISAinfo, we shall try to shed some light on this topic. Initially, we shall examine the arrangement of works in the public domain, i.e. works that are no longer protected by copyright...read more

“Intuition and emotional effect are more important to me than inflexible concepts”

FONDATION SUISA awarded Balz Bachmann the Film Music Prize 2017 for his original compositions for Wilfried Meightry’s film documentary “Bis ans Ende der Träume” (Until the end of dreams). Guest author Markus Ganz in an interview with Balz Bachmann.

Balz Bachmann: “Intuition and emotional effect are more important to me than inflexible concepts”

“Each film is exceptionally unique, that is why I look for a bespoke musical language for each film”, Balz Bachmann explains. (Photo: Patrick Hari)

Balz Bachmann, how did you get to create the film score for Wilfried Meichtry’s film documentary “Bis ans Ende der Träume”?
Balz Bachmann: It was the first time that I worked with Wilfried Meichtry. Plus, it was his début as a director; until now, the graduate historian had only been active as a scriptwriter in the film sector. We started chatting during the Solothurn Film Days and soon discussed film projects in general but also potential collaboration avenues. After further talks with involved parties, I received the script, read it and discussed with Wilfried Meichtry, the producer Urs Schnell (DokLab GmbH, Berne) and the editor, Annette Brütsch.

How exactly did you start your work?
Well, it was the classical procedure at first: I received some film material, sometimes just rough edits, so that I would get a feeling for the underlying mood. After that I started to create musical sketches and sent them to the cutters. We then took a look at the interaction with the image. The result was some sort of a ping pong game between my music and the cut, each of them reacting to the other and vice versa.

What was special about it?
I had to find a certain kind of dramaturgy for a complex combination of documentary and fictional image material. The challenge was to create an overarching dramaturgy for the entire film despite of this. It was a close collaboration between the editor, the director and myself in order to find out what is needed to achieve this. At the beginning we thought that 25 minutes of music should be enough (the film is 82 minutes long). We realised, however, that the image material was relatively static as it contained many photos, and had intentionally been staged this way, also in the fictional parts. As a consequence, we became aware that some sort of movement, another level was needed which co-told and commented on the story: more music.

Did you create a suitable sound library for the film score at the beginning of your work?
That would have been an interesting approach, but I went about it a different way. I have to try out in each case how the image and the sound work together. I try to sense with my intuition what happens to me as a viewer when I use certain moods, tones and musical themes. In the case of this film, I chose a broad tone range in order to make the different times and places perceptible. I also used diverse stylistic elements: classical parts with a viola, for example, but also those which related to the places in question, more musically than from a sound perspective. After all, I did not want to fall prey to the cliché of ethnic music.

“You have to develop a proper musical language for a film and that is only possible if you compose music specifically for this purpose.”

No ethnic Caribbean romanticism for the place where the two protagonists got to know and love each other?
Exactly, the music should be a narrative form in its own right, in which the place is resonating, yet is translated individually and separately. As a consequence, the range of the film score I have used stretches all the way to pure electronic music which creates a rather interesting contrast to the old woman, for example. I have been undecided for quite a while whether this might work, whether this might be plausible to the viewer. This applies to film score, similarly as it does to acting: You perceive a person and are taken in by it, without realising that the character of that person is just being acted. Parallel to that, music has to suck you into a film – that’s my top rule.

Have you used different musical settings for documentary and fictional material in order to illustrate the difference?
No, quite the opposite: I have tried to combine the two types of material and allow them to overlap. I wanted to create a fluent transition between the two, so that viewers transcend from the documentary into the fictional scenes without realising it.

What do you think of the two basic approaches of film score creation whereby it is either created to reinforce or contrast a theme?
I don’t like inflexible or purely theoretical music concepts, I love intuitive elaboration. Each film is extremely unique and represents its own world which is why I look for a proper musical language for each of them. That’s why film scores exist in the first place, even though there is already a plethora of existing music. But that is exactly my point: You have to develop a proper language for a film and that is only possible if you compose music specifically for this purpose.

Do you therefore also not work with “temp tracks” (a provisional soundtrack with already existing music to be able to test the effect of the existing film material)?
For a film composer like me, this is, of course, an emotive term (laughs). Editors in particular support the notion of creating a rhythm for the images or because they are worried that a scene alone is not enough to carry the mood. I do not think such arguments count because, in my opinion, the rhythm of images can be better perceived without provisional music. As a consequence I think it makes more sense if you create it “dry”, without temp tracks. There is, in my opinion, the rather interesting approach to compose film score purely on the basis of a script, without having images at all. As a composer, I can, in such instances, draw from my own vision and imagination which I have created after reading the script for this story. That gives me a lot of room and freedom.

You are then able to create an autonomous level which has not already been pre-influenced by images?
Exactly. The second advantage of doing this, is that you can work with music that has been specifically made for the script during the cutting process, and try out how the music works. The third advantage is that you maintain a high level of autonomy from the very start. After all, a major disadvantage of temp music is that it inevitably becomes a reference – especially for the director and the editor – from which it is hard to break away again. People connect the two levels, image and sound, automatically in an emotional manner, which is why it is so difficult to separate the two from each other later on.

“In a film documentary, the dramaturgy has to be developed in a different manner to a feature film, where the scenes and the dramaturgy are much more pre-established by the script.”

The soundtrack is always a means to support the viewer when the story is told. Do you connect characters and places with sounds and musical themes?
Yes, I use themes in nearly every film, they stand for something and are repeated, which helps the viewers with their orientation. If you have seen a scene with a certain type of music and the music is repeated at a later stage, you automatically and quickly get access to the next scene as it is connected through. As a consequence, it often serves as a starting point for a project that I hook into a place or a character. The more I engage with the character and allocate a certain musical theme to it, the more the film structure gets reinforced by this action, especially on an emotional level.

Does the majority of your work take place parallel to the cutting process?
Yes, that’s usually the case, but not to such a major extent as for the film “Bis ans Ende der Träume”. Here, the music and cutting process took place in synchronicity for nearly half a year, and the work was nearly finished at the same time. The reason for this was that the cut was leaning on the music much more than usual. In a film documentary, the dramaturgy has to simply be developed in a different manner to a feature film, where the scenes and the dramaturgy are much more pre-established by the script.

The collaboration between you and the editor Annette Brütsch was very intensive, I gather?
Yes, as it is a process where cutting and music react to one another. Have to react to one another, because there were extremely different thematic sections: for example the travelling, and the century-old Benedictine priory in the French-speaking part of Switzerland, where the woman later retires to completely – to a certain degree exactly the opposite, as she had enjoyed travelling to countries alone where women did not do so when she was young. We realised that the dilapidated house needed an atmosphere. But it was also clear that a melodic music would take up too much room, tell too much. I found it rather interesting at first how to deal with the ambient sound in the house. But I came to the conclusion that it’s not the room itself that makes the difference. The result was that I created a specific static sound for this house.

How did you meet the challenge of having to keep the suspense going for more than 82 minutes?
It is very important to watch the film as a whole during the screenings, since I only work on individual scenes. This is when you realise if there is something wrong with the rhythm of the film, as that is what matters. And we realised at some point that the viewer somehow fell into a hole when there was no music at all. That is how more and more music was added – now it is 60 minutes, which is a lot, especially as I prefer films with less music. But in this film, it simply made sense as it is an important element to convey emotion.

One and a half hours is not only the usual duration of a cinema film, but also of concerts. You are also active as a live musician, just like in the band of Sophie Hunger: Are there parallels?
Well, one factor that is certainly comparable whether it’s a performance during a concert or a film in the cinema: I am always nervous. I listen to music differently when an audience is present, my feelers are just opened much wider. That is different for a film such as “Bis ans Ende der Träume”: I had half a year’s time to create a dramaturgy.

Does your experience as a live musician also influence your work on sound tracks?
Absolutely. As a live musician, it’s all about moments of happiness where something special is being created. And that’s what I am looking for when I create film score, too.

Balz Bachmann (born 1971 in Zurich) is a trained printer and studied double base at the Swiss Jazz School in Berne. Since 1997, his main job has been to compose music for feature films and documentary films, among them “Yalom’s Cure” (2015), “Die Schwarzen Brüder” (2013), “Eine wen iig, dr Dällebach Kari” (2012), “Day is Done” (2011), “Giulias Verschwinden” (2009), “Sternenberg” (2004) and “Ernstfall in Havanna” (2002). Balz Bachmann is also an active musician and performs during many concerts together with artists such as Sophie Hunger and band. He is also President of Smeca, the Association of Swiss Media Composers.
Balz Bachmann had already received the Film Music Prize by FONDATION SUISA in 2003 (for “Little Girl Blue”) and in 2006 (for “Jeune homme”, together with Peter Bräker who, together with Michael Künstle was also involved in the development of the musical themes for the film in question “Bis ans Ende der Träume”). The award is valued at CHF 25,000 and is presented each year, alternating between the category feature film and documentary film.
The film “Bis ans Ende der Träume” tells the story of the Swiss travel journalist Katharina von Arx (1928 – 2013) and the French photographer Freddy Drilhon (1926 – 1976) in documentary and fictional sequences. They were adventurers, globetrotters and lovers. The couple settles down in a monastery ruin in the French-speaking part of Switzerland and soon faces the question how strong love is. The film is expected to be shown in cinemas in 2018.

Information on the Film Music Prize of the FONDATION SUISA
Video clip on the Film Music Prize 2017 of the FONDATION SUISA on Art-tv.ch

Related articles
Peter Scherer: “The most difficult question is which sound suits the film best”“The most difficult question is which sound suits the film best” At the occasion of the Locarno Film Festival in August, Swiss composer Peter Scherer was awarded with the Film Music Prize 2015 by FONDATION SUISA. He received the prize worth CHF 25,000 for his music to the film “Dark Star – HR Gigers Welt” by director Belinda Sallin. In a conversation prior to the award ceremony, the SUISA member Peter Scherer spoke about the challenges when composing film music, among other things. Read more
“Swiss Film Music features great diversity and high quality”“Swiss Film Music features great diversity and high quality” The box-set “Swiss Film Music”, containing three CDs, one DVD and a book, released by FONDATION SUISA, provides fascinating insights into the history of Swiss film music between 1923 and 2012. A conversation with the musicologist and media scientist Mathias Spohr who acted as artistic director for the project. Read more
Revision of distribution categories 1C/1D and 2C/2DRevision of distribution categories 1C/1D and 2C/2D The rules for the distribution of licence fees for broadcast music in SRG TV programmes and in private TV broadcasters’ programmes are undergoing some partial changes. The relevant amendments in SUISA’s distribution rules affect distribution categories 1C, 1D, 2C and 2D. Read more

 

Collapse article

Leave a Reply

All comments will be moderated. This may take some time and we reserve the right not to publish comments that contradict the conditions of use.

Your email address will not be published.

FONDATION SUISA awarded Balz Bachmann the Film Music Prize 2017 for his original compositions for Wilfried Meightry’s film documentary “Bis ans Ende der Träume” (Until the end of dreams). Guest author Markus Ganz in an interview with Balz Bachmann.

Balz Bachmann: “Intuition and emotional effect are more important to me than inflexible concepts”

“Each film is exceptionally unique, that is why I look for a bespoke musical language for each film”, Balz Bachmann explains. (Photo: Patrick Hari)

Balz Bachmann, how did you get to create the film score for Wilfried Meichtry’s film documentary “Bis ans Ende der Träume”?
Balz Bachmann: It was the first time that I worked with Wilfried Meichtry. Plus, it was his début as a director; until now, the graduate historian had only been active as a scriptwriter in the film sector. We started chatting during the Solothurn Film Days and soon discussed film projects...read more

“If I had made a movie with African music, I would have been freer.”

The Swiss composer Niki Reiser received the CHF 25,000 Film Music Prize of the FONDATION SUISA in the course of the International Film Festival in Locarno. The prize was awarded to him for the film score accompanying Alain Gsponer’s film version of “Heidi”. The composition process for this film score has been a particular challenge for Reiser. The themes “Heidi” and “Switzerland” were rather inhibitive than inspiring in the beginning, as he tells us in an interview.

“If I had made a movie with African music, I would have been freer.”

For the third time, Niki Reiser (in the middle) received the FONDATION SUISA Film Music Prize on 7 August at the occasion of the International Film Festival in Locarno. (f.l.t.r.) Mario Beretta (President of the Jury for the Film Music Prize), prize winner Niki Reiser and Urs Schnell (Director FONDATION SUISA). (Photo: Otto B. Hartmann)

Niki, you won the FONDATION SUISA Film Music Prize for the third time for the soundtrack to “Heidi”. What kind of thoughts crossed your mind first when you heard about this?
I was really happy, of course. In 2001, I received my first award from the FONDATION SUISA. The fact that I still provide quality 16 years later and won a prize with it, has made me very content. It’s a confirmation that I am still a part of the game. And it also means a lot to me that such a competent jury has chosen to award me.

Film composers are usually in the background. The public mainly knows about the actors and directors. Is it important to you that your creations become more known by receiving such awards?
Of course, that is a lovely effect. However, it means much more to me if the audience comes to me after a movie and tell me how the music particularly stood out to them. The fact that people perceive the music in films, that’s more important to me. There is a saying: “You don’t notice good film score”. It is my aim to make people notice film music without it pushing too much into the foreground. The award is now a bit like the icing on the cake. And the great thing about it is that people come to me again and tell me: “The music in this film was really great.” Music was thus not just in the background.

You have also performed on stage as a flute artist in various formations, and thus played your compositions live in front of an audience. Do you miss the direct feedback from the audience?
Yes, I rather miss the opportunity to develop my own pieces and interpret them anew each evening. With film music, that’s different: Once it has been recorded and mixed, it cannot be changed. In the case of live music, you can change a piece, depending on the changing times – that’s something I do rather miss. On the other hand, you are restricted when you play in bands, by the predetermined themes, whereas that is not the case for film music. Each film has a different theme.

In your acceptance speech during the award ceremony, you mentioned how difficult the process of composing was for you. What was special about said process? How did you approach composing said film music?
What was special for me was the fact that the themes “Heidi” and “Switzerland” initially inhibited rather than inspired me. Besides, you are always more critical vis-a-vis your own creations and quickly jump to the conclusion whether “something works and something else doesn’t.” You restrict yourself. If I had made a movie with African music, I would have been freer, as the topic wouldn’t have been so close to me. And the beginning was the hardest. The film starts with a flying scene. The goal: “Now you have to create something light, airborne.” In moments like these, I shut off, as this is a huge challenge from naught to sixty. The core of the music only emerged through constant trial and error.

So you did get specific instructions how the film score was supposed to sound?
Not what it should sound like, but the effects it should have. The music should have had some lightness and elements of hovering. At the same time, it was supposed to express a longing, yet have something healing about it. The more adjectives you have in your head, the less musical ideas will come to you. It usually only works once the rational thinking stops and you start making music. It is via making music that I discovered film music.

Childrens’ films, sentimental films with a regional character, and nice images of the Alpine world – don’t you get tempted to fall back on existing musical clichés?
Of course, the images are really rather out of this world. If I had composed a typical Swiss music to accompany them, it really could have turned into some form of a commercial film. That is why we have decided not to use a typically happy Swiss major key. While I think Swiss melodies are rather nice, I did not want to write a folklore song. By using the minor keys, we reached a more dramatic effect. Heidi, is, after all, a drama, not just a childrens’ film.

There are many film versions of Heidi. There are also some well-known Heidi film melodies. The majority of people in Switzerland thus have a connection – even a musical one – with Heidi. Did this also influence your work?
No. I have, on purpose, not watched any older Heidi films. On the one hand, so that I would not be influenced. On the other hand, so that I would not obstruct myself: It is possible that you don’t do something just because someone else has already done it. I have told the story based on the Heidi character. This means: The music accompanies the emotions of Heidi and reflects her current emotional state. It is thus more an emotional, and not a Swiss story. I have tried to set the music so as if a child is enjoying its very emotions in a moment.

You have composed music for a film for the first time 30 years ago. In the meantime, technology has changed dramatically. How has this influenced your work style when you compose?
It had no influence on my work for Heidi; I have recorded each instrument live and not used any sound generating technology. In the case of other films, especially smaller projects, my work style has changed. I can now record the music in my home and arrange it from there. That way, I can execute the entire film production at home. My way of composing, however, has not changed due to technological developments. The goal is still to search for themes and sounds. Compared to composition, the dialogue process with the cutters’ workplace has changed. If I have composed something, I can send entire files with images via internet and about half an hour later discuss them with people sitting at the cutter’s table via skype. In the past, I had to send the tapes in the post. It took a week until the material arrived and another 3 to 4 days until the director sent their reaction. Communication speed has definitely increased. This does, however, also entail some negative aspects: Back in the day when everything was not digital yet, you had more time to develop something. Nowadays, everything is faster. This means: Ideas also have to be created faster.

You have been a SUISA member since 1986. What are the membership benefits for you as a composer?
I can rely on the fact that I receive a basic income. Well it is actually my main income. I could not live from the films themselves, the fees I receive for them, directly. It’s the royalties that guarantee that the balance sheet works out at the end of each year. Some colleagues say to me that I ought to change over to GEMA because many of my works are shown in Germany. I am not sure whether I would ever change. SUISA isn’t such a huge institution; people can therefore react more quickly.

Niki Reiser was born in Reinach, AG, in 1958 and grew up in Basel. He found his access to music by playing the flute and already started as a teenager to compose works for various bands and musical formations. Once he did his A-levels, he studied jazz and classical compositions with a focus on film scores at the renowned Berklee College of Music in Boston (USA). Especially due to his long-term collaboration with the directors Dani Levy and Caroline Link, Niki Reiser managed to become a household name on the German and international film stage. He has received the German Film Prize five times for his works. Niki Reiser lives and works in his hometown, Basel. (Text: FONDATION SUISA) www.nikireiser.de
The FONDATION SUISA Film Music Prize carries a value of CHF 25,000. It honours extraordinary performances in the sector of film music composition and its aim is to support prize winners and increase their popularity at home and abroad. The prize is awarded each year at the Festival del film in Locarno, alternating between the categories feature film and documentary film.
The jury for the FONDATION SUISA Film Music Prize
• President: Mario Beretta (Stage and film music composer, Zurich)
• Jürg von Allmen (Sound engineer, Digiton Tonstudio, Zurich)
• André Bellmont (Composer, conductor, lecturer at the Zurich University for the Arts, Zurich (Zürcher Hochschule der Künste))
• David Fonjallaz (Film producer, Lomotion AG, Berne)
• Zeno Gabaglio (Composer and artist, Vacallo)
• Corinne Rossi (Managing Director, Praesens-Film AG, Zurich)
• Yvonne Söhner (Production Director Baloise Session, Music Festival Basel, Ehrendingen)
Collapse article

Leave a Reply

All comments will be moderated. This may take some time and we reserve the right not to publish comments that contradict the conditions of use.

Your email address will not be published.

The Swiss composer Niki Reiser received the CHF 25,000 Film Music Prize of the FONDATION SUISA in the course of the International Film Festival in Locarno. The prize was awarded to him for the film score accompanying Alain Gsponer’s film version of “Heidi”. The composition process for this film score has been a particular challenge for Reiser. The themes “Heidi” and “Switzerland” were rather inhibitive than inspiring in the beginning, as he tells us in an interview.

“If I had made a movie with African music, I would have been freer.”

For the third time, Niki Reiser (in the middle) received the FONDATION SUISA Film Music Prize on 7 August at the occasion of the International Film Festival in Locarno. (f.l.t.r.) Mario Beretta (President of the Jury for the Film Music Prize), prize winner Niki Reiser and Urs Schnell (Director FONDATION SUISA). (Photo: Otto B. Hartmann)

Niki,...read more

Kandidaturen für den Filmmusikpreis 2016 der FONDATION SUISA

Sorry, this article is only available in German and French.

hide comments

Leave a Reply

All comments will be moderated. This may take some time and we reserve the right not to publish comments that contradict the conditions of use.

Your email address will not be published.

Sorry, this article is only available in German and French.

...show comments

“The most difficult question is which sound suits the film best”

At the occasion of the Locarno Film Festival in August, Swiss composer Peter Scherer was awarded with the Film Music Prize 2015 by FONDATION SUISA. He received the prize worth CHF 25,000 for his music to the film “Dark Star – HR Gigers Welt” by director Belinda Sallin. In a conversation prior to the award ceremony, the SUISA member Peter Scherer spoke about the challenges when composing film music, among other things.

“The most difficult question is which sound suits the film best”

Happy faces on the day of the award ceremony for the Film Music Prize by FONDATION SUISA on 07 August 2015 in the course of the International Film Festival in Locarno (from left to right): Zeno Gabaglio (Jury member Film Music Prize 2015 and SUISA Board member), Marco Blaser (Locarno Film Festival), prize winner Peter Scherer and Urs Schnell (Director FONDATION SUISA). (Photo: Giorgio Tebaldi)

Many congratulations for winning the Film Music Prize 2015 by FONDATION SUISA. After 2007, this is the second time that you win this prize. What does the award mean to you?
It’s great, naturally, that my work is acknowledged, especially because this prize is awarded by a jury of very competent people.

You have received the Film Music Prize for the soundtrack to the documentary “Dark Star – HR Gigers Welt”. HR Giger was well-known for his dark, apocalyptic images and had a strong personality which polarised people. How did you approach the task of composing music for this documentary?
First of all, I spoke in great detail with the director, Belinda Sallin, in order to find out how the protagonist is depicted and what the film intends to show. An endless number of films could be made about HR Giger, but for me as a musician it wasn’t about the question what my attitude was to HR Giger or his images, but rather: What’s the viewpoint of this film? What is this film about, and what does it really intend to show us?
Then, I attempt to imagine based on a raw concept what type of sound could suit this film. That’s the most difficult question to know where the music comes in. It is usually a lengthy process of searching, sketching and selecting.

HR Giger often appealed to a specific audience which is interested in dark movies or hard rock music. To what extent do you bear the future audience of the film in mind when composing the music?
Of course, you always think of the audience when you make a movie. Whether in terms of the script, the cut, the actors or the concept – you always think about the recipients. You try to imagine what the impact of the film will be and what comes across and what won’t. The viewers are of course important from this point of view. But whether a specific target group gets its money’s worth does not make any difference when the film is made nor when the film music is composed.

Did you know HR Giger?
I didn’t know him personally. Just like the majority of people I knew his images or rather: his most exposed and possibly most evident images. While I was looking into his person when the film was made I learned that he did a lot of other things on top of his art. It was the intention of the director of the film to show HR Giger the person, to show that he was a fascinating human being who had a rich life. She also intended to neutralise a certain prejudice and show new aspects of Giger.

Were there any requirements by HR Giger to the film or the film music or did he leave you and the director plenty of rope?
Unfortunately he had already passed away when I began composing the film music. But I do know from the director that he had a positive attitude to the film.

Apart from the film music, you also compose and play minimalistic electronic music. You do therefore know various facets of music creation. How do you perceive the change in the music business which has taken place in the last years especially when it comes to sound recordings? Does this change affect film music compositions at all?
There are various scenarios and realities. There are, for example, many bands who live mainly off their concerts. The film music sector is not affected so much by the decline of the sound recording market. Sound recordings are only a very small part of what I do.

What projects are you going to undertake next?
I look forward to work on a project with Markus Imhof. He is currently making a new film on the subject of migration, a very current topic which I am rather interested in. He is a magnificent director. I also write music for the documentary by Heidi Specogna about a political issue which affects the Central African Republic. I am not allowed to talk about other projects that I am currently involved in yet.

We wish you lots of success and thank you very much for the interview.

Peter Scherer is a composer, pianist and guitarist. He was born in Zurich in 1953. He received his piano diploma at the Conservatory Basel in 1977 and studied theory and composition at the University of Hamburg for music and performing arts after that. In 1980 he moved to New York where he specifically looked into electronic music and founded the Noise-Pop-Duo Ambitious Lovers. As a studio musician, producer or arranger, Peter Scherer worked with artists such as Laurie Anderson, Arto Lindsay, Caetano Veloso, John Zorn and Bill Frisell. At the end of the eighties he began to regularly compose music for dance and multimedia projects. Since 2010, Peter Scherer has been living in his home town Zurich again and mainly focusses on film music today. For his compositions to the feature film “Marmorera” (Director: Markus Fischer), he received the Film Music Prize by FONDATION SUISA for the first time in 2007. Among his best-known works is the music to Markus Imhof’s “More than Honey”, for which Peter Scherer received the Swiss Film Prize for best music in 2013. (Text: FONDATION SUISA)
The FONDATION SUISA Film Music Prize carries a value of CHF 25,000. It honours extraordinary performances in the sector of film music composition and its aim is to support prize winners and increase their popularity at home and abroad. The prize is awarded each year at the Festival del film in Locarno, alternating between the categories feature film and documentary film.

The Jury of the Film Music Prize 2015:
Jürg von Allmen (Digiton Tonstudio Zurich)
André Bellmont (Zurich University of the Arts)
Mario Beretta (Stage and film music composer, Zurich)
Zeno Gabaglio (Composer and artist, Vacallo)
Corinne Rossi (Praesens Film, Zurich)
Yvonne Söhner (former Swiss Radio and Television SRF, Ehrendingen)

Contribution on Peter Scherer and his film score to “Dark Star – HR Gigers Welt” on art-tv

Collapse article

Leave a Reply

All comments will be moderated. This may take some time and we reserve the right not to publish comments that contradict the conditions of use.

Your email address will not be published.

At the occasion of the Locarno Film Festival in August, Swiss composer Peter Scherer was awarded with the Film Music Prize 2015 by FONDATION SUISA. He received the prize worth CHF 25,000 for his music to the film “Dark Star – HR Gigers Welt” by director Belinda Sallin. In a conversation prior to the award ceremony, the SUISA member Peter Scherer spoke about the challenges when composing film music, among other things.

“The most difficult question is which sound suits the film best”

Happy faces on the day of the award ceremony for the Film Music Prize by FONDATION SUISA on 07 August 2015 in the course of the International Film Festival in Locarno (from left to right): Zeno Gabaglio (Jury member Film Music Prize 2015 and SUISA Board member), Marco Blaser (Locarno Film Festival), prize winner Peter Scherer and Urs Schnell (Director...read more

Filmmusikpreis 2015 wird in der Kategorie Dokumentarfilm vergeben

Sorry, this article is only available in German and French.

hide comments

Leave a Reply

All comments will be moderated. This may take some time and we reserve the right not to publish comments that contradict the conditions of use.

Your email address will not be published.

Sorry, this article is only available in German and French.

...show comments