Tag Archives: Soundtrack

“Orchestral spaces” or if music becomes spatially tangible when you listen to it

In his work, composer Michael Künstle deals with the interplay between tonal dramatisation and dramatic tones. The 27-year-old Basel resident would now like to take the next step forward in his research by making the sound of an orchestra a spatial experience for the listener. FONDATION SUISA is supporting this project financially with Get Going! funding. Text by guest author Rudolf Amstutz

Michael Kuenstle: “Orchestral spaces” or if music becomes spatially tangible when you listen to it

The composer Michael Künstle (left) from Basel at work in the recording studio. (Photo: Oliver Hochstrasser)

Michael Künstle was completely surprised to win the International Film Music Competition in the 2012 Zurich Film Festival when he was just 21. “At that time, I had just begun my studies”, he comments today, adding, “I am only just starting to understand the significance of this prize now. It was a kind of springboard, also because it has always been an award for competence that nobody can take away from you”.

In the competition, Künstle was up against 144 fellow composers from 27 countries who were all set exactly the same task: composing the score for the short animated film “Evermore” by Philip Hofmänner. Anyone watching the film today can imagine what might have impressed the jury back then: Künstle came up with amazingly subtle sounds, which enhanced the story of the film.

“The fantastic thing about film music is that it is the result of a close exchange with others. A film represents an interplay between countless people and it is vital to take all aspects into consideration: camera work, use of colour and setting”, is the way Künstle explains his fascination with the genre. “The biggest challenge in a film is to say something with the music which has not yet been said in words or pictures, but which is essential for telling the story right up to the end.”

Whether it is in Gabriel Baur’s “Glow”, “Sohn meines Vaters” by Jeshua Dreyfus or “Cadavre Exquis” by Viola von Scarpatetti: the list of films for which Künstle is responsible for the soundtrack keeps on getting longer. The enthusiasm with which Künstle expresses his specialist know-how and thirst for knowledge in conversation is contagious. Also if he is talking about the greats in this field: Bernard Hermann’s knowledge of composition, for instance, or the unique capability of John Williams, “whose works clearly sound like orchestral pieces when listened to without the film, even though they suit the film for which they were written perfectly. This is incredibly difficult to accomplish, because symphonic music traditionally allows closer narrative structures than a film”.

“In contemporary music, the space is often just as important as other compositional elements, such as the subject matter or rhythm, but this essential aspect is often lost in the recording.”

Although he differentiates between concert music and film scores in his own work, he admits “that you can never fully give up one if you do the other”. Elements that he developed in collaboration with director Gabriel Baur for the film “Glow” found their way into the piece “Résonance”, performed by Trio Eclipse in 2016. “But in my concert music, it is mainly a question of compositional forms and structural ideas that cannot be expressed in the film.”

The idea for the project, that FONDATION SUISA is now going to jointly finance with a Get Going! grant, ultimately arose from another important aspect of Künstle’s creativity. Künstle follows, as he emphasises, a philosophy of the “real” which is as close as possible to an actual recital, thanks to the most up-to-date recording techniques. In collaboration with his working partner, Daniel Dettwiler, who owns the “Idee und Klang” (Idea and Sound) studio in Basel, and who, for years, has been researching new recording techniques, Künstle would like to create a spatial composition that can be listened to in a way that had not existed before.

“In contemporary music, the space is often just as important as other compositional elements, such as the subject matter or rhythm, but this essential aspect is often lost in the recording”, is the way he explains the starting point. “I want to reach a point where people listening on headphones hear the three-dimensional space occupied by the orchestra during recording, as if they could literally ‘feel’ the music.” For many years, this research and in a specific way also the conquest of these “orchestral spaces”, was just an idea for Künstle, because, as he stresses, “You can only make this happen in a studio with the best possible sound and the best microphones available”.

Thanks to Get Going!, the next step in this audiophile revolution can now become a reality and in no-less than London’s legendary Abbey Road Studios with an 80-piece orchestra. Therefore, Künstle will compose a piece in which the space where the recording takes place will play a central role. “I want to turn the composition process on its head”, is how he underscores the objective of his project. “Just like film music”, he adds. Again here, first and foremost you start with what you hear. Therefore completing the circle.

www.michaelkuenstle.ch

FONDATION SUISA started awarding new grants in 2018. Under the heading of “Get Going!”, creative and artistic processes that do not fall within established categories are given a financial jump-start. Our Portrait Series profiles recipients of Get Going! funding.

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In his work, composer Michael Künstle deals with the interplay between tonal dramatisation and dramatic tones. The 27-year-old Basel resident would now like to take the next step forward in his research by making the sound of an orchestra a spatial experience for the listener. FONDATION SUISA is supporting this project financially with Get Going! funding. Text by guest author Rudolf Amstutz

Michael Kuenstle: “Orchestral spaces” or if music becomes spatially tangible when you listen to it

The composer Michael Künstle (left) from Basel at work in the recording studio. (Photo: Oliver Hochstrasser)

Michael Künstle was completely surprised to win the International Film Music Competition in the 2012 Zurich Film Festival when he was just 21. “At that time, I had just begun my studies”, he comments today, adding, “I am only just starting to understand the significance of this prize now. It was a kind of springboard,...read more

Michel Legrand, a life for music

Michel Legrand died on January 26th 2019. He was 86. The composer leaves behind a prestigious career spanning 60 years that earned him a worldwide reputation. The maestro with a fiery temperament conducted his life by the baton. Obituary by Bertrand Liechti, member of the Board of SUISA

Michel Legrand, a life for music

Michel Legrand, here on 17 May 2017, before the opening ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival, had been a member of SUISA since 1998. (Photo: Regis Duvignau / Reuters)

Michel Legrand was born in 1932, in Menilmontant, a suburb of Paris, into a family of musicians: his father, Raymond Legrand, was a composer and conductor, his uncle was the conductor Jacques Hélian (Der Mikaëlian). He studied the piano, the trumpet and composition at the Conservatoire de Paris, in the class of Nadia Boulanger. He developed a passion for jazz and even recorded an album in New York (1958), alongside jazz greats like Chet Baker, Miles Davis and John Coltrane. At the time, the New Wave was definitively embarking upon its revival of French cinema. Michel Legrand worked with Jean Luc Godard, Claude Chabrol, Jean Paul Rappeneau …

In the 1960s, he met Jacques Demy, whom he was to collaborate with on 9 films, including “Les Parapluies de Cherbourg” (1964), which won the Palme d’or at Cannes, “Les Demoiselles de Rochefort” (1967) and “Peau d’Âne” in 1970. History will recall that the script, lyrics and score of the “Les Parapluies de Cherbourg” and of “Les Demoiselles de Rochefort” were conceived in the Valais resort of Verbier.

“A musical giant, a genius of a composer, jazzman and conductor!”

Michel Legrand then moved to Hollywood where he won three Oscars for the score of Norman Jewison’s “The Thomas Crown Affair” (1969) with the hit “The Windmills of Your Mind”. He repeated this feat in 1972 for Robert Mulligan’s “Summer of ‘42”, and in 1984 for Barbra Streisand’s “Yentl”. At the same time, he recorded with international stars such as Frank Sinatra, Charles Aznavour, Ella Fitzgerald, Claude Nougaro, and more recently, Nathalie Dessay.

In March 2018, I had the privilege of overseeing his composition for Orson Wells’ unpublished last film, “The Other Side of the Wind”, for Netflix. Anecdotally, in a notebook accompanying this unfinished drama, the heirs of the great American filmmaker discovered an inscription with instructions from beyond the grave: “Call Michel Legrand!”

After 20 years of collaboration with Michel Legrand, I will remember him as a musical giant – a genius of a composer, jazzman and conductor.

www.michellegrandofficial.com

Michel Legrand joined SUISA as a member in 1998. In 2002, at the Locarno Film Festival, the French composer was honoured for his life’s work by FONDATION SUISA, SUISA’s foundation for the promotion of music.
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Michel Legrand died on January 26th 2019. He was 86. The composer leaves behind a prestigious career spanning 60 years that earned him a worldwide reputation. The maestro with a fiery temperament conducted his life by the baton. Obituary by Bertrand Liechti, member of the Board of SUISA

Michel Legrand, a life for music

Michel Legrand, here on 17 May 2017, before the opening ceremony of the Cannes Film Festival, had been a member of SUISA since 1998. (Photo: Regis Duvignau / Reuters)

Michel Legrand was born in 1932, in Menilmontant, a suburb of Paris, into a family of musicians: his father, Raymond Legrand, was a composer and conductor, his uncle was the conductor Jacques Hélian (Der Mikaëlian). He studied the piano, the trumpet and composition at the Conservatoire de Paris, in the class of Nadia Boulanger. He developed...read more

Why SUISA members should also consider joining SWISSPERFORM

Composers and lyricists who are SUISA members and are also active as artists and/or producers and whose performances are broadcast by Swiss or foreign radio and TV channels are entitled to receive a remuneration from SWISSPERFORM. For all those authors-composers-artists/producers, a membership with SWISSPERFORM is thus a necessary addition to their SUISA affiliation in order to safeguard their rights and the full remuneration they are entitled to. Text by David Johnson, SWISSPERFORM/SIG antenne romande, guest author

Why SUISA members should also consider joining SWISSPERFORM

It is recommended that SUISA authors such as Seven (pictured), who are also artists and whose performances are broadcast on radio and TV become SWISSPERFORM members. (Photo: Tabea Hüberli)

Are you a musician and do you contribute to recordings which are used commercially or in music videos? Do you perform your own musical compositions or those of other composers on the radio or on TV? Are you a performing producer in the case of recordings? Do you perform music which is used in films, commercials or as main themes of broadcasts?

In that case, you do hold neighbouring rights and are entitled to receive a remuneration for the transmission of your performances. In order to receive such remuneration, you must be a member of SWISSPERFORM.

Neighbouring rights

The reason neighbouring rights carry their name is that they are in close ‘vicinity’ to copyright. Neighbouring rights do not protect the work itself but the performance of the work.

Artists, whether they are musicians, singers or conductors can at the same time be composers, lyricists and/or arrangers of a work that they perform. The performance of their works is therefore protected independently of the work that they perform.

In cases where artists finance their own recordings, they are also economic producers and therefore hold two different types of neighbouring rights, whose owners are remunerated by SWISSPERFORM in separate distributions for the relevant usages and which require artists to enter into a second membership type (producer). The term of protection in a recorded performance is 50 years. For the calculation of the expiry of the term of protection, the date of the first publication is authoritative, provided that the recording has been published for the first time within 50 years. Should this not be the case, the recording date is authoritative as a calculation basis for the expiry of the term of protection.

SWISSPERFORM

Switzerland is the only country in the world that has a collective management organisation which unites all rightsholders in the neighbouring rights realm under one roof: apart from artists and producers from the music and film sectors, broadcasters are also rightsholders within SWISSPERFORM. Members can pursue various activities and therefore belong to several rightsholder categories, for example musicians whose recordings were produced by themselves, played by their band and broadcast on the radio.

SWISSPERFORM’s activities are similar to those of SUISA. Musicians and producers assign their rights to the society for management purposes. SWISSPERFORM then collects the licence fees from the users based on the statutory tariffs and pays them to the entitled parties on the basis of its distribution rules which have been ratified by the Swiss Federal Institute of Intellectual Property (supervisory authority).

SWISSPERFORM collaborates with SUISA when it comes to the collection of the licence fees. They are usually invoiced on the basis of the Common Tariffs which are set for each type of usage if exploitations affect the areas of activity of more than one collective management organisation and simultaneously affect copyright and neighbouring rights.

On behalf of SWISSPERFORM, SUISA collects, among other income streams, remuneration from private radio and TV stations as well as the levy on blank media and storage media integrated into hardware.

Ten percent of the entire tariff collections of SWISSPERFORM are allocated for the support of various autonomous legal entities with socio-cultural character. One part of these subsidies is used to co-finance the Swiss Artists’ Foundation, SIS, which supports professional musicians by providing them with means for concerts and tours in Switzerland and abroad.

Distribution of radio and TV usages

In the case of artists in the phono (audio) category, i.e. musicians, singers, conductors etc., whose performances were broadcast on the radio and on TV, a distinction is made between several distribution models.

SWISSPERFORM directly distributes the licence fees collected for the usage of commercially released sound recordings (sound recordings that are available in the marketplace) and from videoclips used on radio/TV. The income is allocated in proportion to the actual usage of the recordings. Main criteria for the distribution are the duration of the broadcast of a recording as well as the value of the roles of artists who contribute to a broadcast.

The following distributions are made on behalf of the Swiss Artists’ Cooperative Society, SIG, subject to a mandate from SWISSPERFORM. Licensing fees from the following areas are distributed:

  • the direct exploitation of performances and the usage from non-commercially released sound recordings (sound recordings that have not been commercially released or made available). This manual distribution is based on a declaration system and takes into account transmissions of concerts on the radio/TV, own productions of recordings by the radio/TV channels, musical performances in radio plays, commercials, jingles, ident tunes, theme tunes etc.;
  • the usage of music in films: This distribution is based on a declaration system at the same time as on an automatic system (depending on the broadcast on TV) and takes into account the music on sound tracks of films (score music), music from commercial sound recordings on sound tracks of films, music from non-commercial sound recordings (library music) on sound tracks of films, music from TV commercials as well as jingles etc.;
  • the usage of other audiovisual performances. This distribution is based on a declaration system and takes transmissions of concerts and artistic performances in TV shows into consideration, among others.

Please note: If you do not make a declaration to SWISSPERFORM and SIG that you have contributed to sound recordings or the transmission of your artistic performances, in order to receive your remuneration, the amounts that have not been claimed by you will expire after a limitation period of five years and will be re-distributed.

This is how you become a member of SWISSPERFORM

Membership with SWISSPERFORM is free. You can request your membership agreement online:
www.swissperform.ch/en/service/order-an-agreement.html

How do I declare my contribution to commercially available recordings?
www.swissperform.ch/uploads/media/Discography_01.xlsx
www.swissperform.ch/uploads/media/Explanations_on_the_discography_form_02.pdf

How do I declare direct performances, non-commercially released sound recordings, the usage of music in films and other audiovisual usages?
www.interpreten.ch/de/verteilung-ab-2017/info/

Further information:
www.swissperform.ch, SWISSPERFORM website
www.interpreten.ch, Schweizerische Interpretengenossenschaft SIG (Swiss Artists’ Cooperative Society) website

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Composers and lyricists who are SUISA members and are also active as artists and/or producers and whose performances are broadcast by Swiss or foreign radio and TV channels are entitled to receive a remuneration from SWISSPERFORM. For all those authors-composers-artists/producers, a membership with SWISSPERFORM is thus a necessary addition to their SUISA affiliation in order to safeguard their rights and the full remuneration they are entitled to. Text by David Johnson, SWISSPERFORM/SIG antenne romande, guest author

Why SUISA members should also consider joining SWISSPERFORM

It is recommended that SUISA authors such as Seven (pictured), who are also artists and whose performances are broadcast on radio and TV become SWISSPERFORM members. (Photo: Tabea Hüberli)

Are you a musician and do you contribute to recordings which are used commercially or in music videos? Do you perform your own musical compositions or those of...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

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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)
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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

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“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

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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

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