Name: Victor Reyes
Occupation: Film Composer
Current score: The Night Manager
Musical Recommendations: Atticus Ross, Clint Mansell…
Website / Contact: If you enjoyed this interview with Victor Reyes, more information on his current projects can be found on his website.
When did you start composing film music - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I started composing back in the 90’s, with my two firsts films, “A Lightning” and “Lisbon”, and I think that my early influences come mostly through pop music, not so much by means of classical or cinematographic music. My goal was (and is) searching for ways to adapt simple pop harmonies into a dramatic and orchestral/electronic environment.
For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
In my case - and I think is the same for almost all artists - this “phase” of what you’re talking about remains for all lifetime. Actually, you’ll never will end learning. Composing film music is an eternal learning process about how you want to find your own voice, but, at the same time, helping to understand a story. As you work for a director, or an audience if you want, you also work for yourself. You always learn something. That’s the best part.
What, to you, are the main functions and goals of soundtracks and film music and how would you rate their importance for the movie as a whole? Should film music remain connected to the picture it was conceived for or should have it an intrinsic value outside of the movies?
As I was saying, film music has a function, and that’s helping the audience or, if you want, influence the audience in the way that the director has decided to, in terms of understanding the story. If you can do it with a kind of music that eventually ends up having an intrinsic value outside of the movie, that’s great, but it’s not a pre-condition. Nowadays you can listen to a great soundtrack that does not tell you anything if you listen to the score at home. But if the music works within the film, that’s perfect.
Different composers could potentially approach the same scene with strikingly different music. Would you say there can be 'wrong' and 'right' musical decisions for some scenes? In which way can some film music be considered ‘definitive'?
It can be in the sense that the music works fine with a sequence, and makes stylistic sense with the rest of the score. In most cases, the genre, or the style of the movie will have the last word. For instance, if you are making a horror film, you will not be playing games with a solo violin sonata, at least not in the first place. If people want to eat garlic, they go to an Italian restaurant. Also you have a director over you. It is the director who has to determine the style of the lighting, acting and composing.
What were your main compositional challenges when starting out as a film composer and how have they changed over time?
Simplicity and speculation. Simplicity in terms of searching for the simplest way in which I can describe a character’s feelings. And speculation because I like to escape conventional forms. A simple idea against a convoluted instrumental background.
Tell us about your studio, please. What were criteria when setting it up and how does this environment influence the creative process? How important, relatively speaking, are factors like mood, ergonomics, haptics and technology for you?
My studio is located in a peaceful and natural environment. I work alone and I try to focus on what I’m doing. It’s like being a monk in a monastery, but also I like and I need to be conected with the world. The process is simple: you think, you try this, you try that … you find something. And if you didn’t find something, you start again from scratch. Also I watch a lot of movies, I listen to a lot of music, and I try to maintain a connection with current musical and cinematographic tendencies.
What are currently some of the most important tools and instruments you're using? In which way do certain production tools suggest certain approaches, in which way do they limit and/or expand your own creativity? How do you see the role of sound designers and software programmers in the creative process?
As I like to work alone, I do my own research in order to get the best software to “construct” my scores. To me, it’s fundamental to have the latest resources, plugins, etc. I always make my efforts to be “on top of the spear”, as we say in Spain. I don’t use software programmers because I prefer to do it by myself, but I understand other composers need to have it. Also in terms of sound design. I don’t see any differences between sound design and music, nowadays. What I do is a mixture of classical and electronic stuff.
Many contemporary production tools already take over significant parts of what would formerly have constituted compositional work. How has this affected your own production process and its results? Are there any promising solutions or set-ups capable of triggering new ideas inside of you as a composer?
It happens many times that you find a sound, or a texture, or something that helps you to begin working on a score, or helps you to make a first step. You don’t have to be afraid of this. Now is when you have to modulate or change this first “inspiration” in order to achieve something really original. Also you have to remember that there are certain fashionable styles in music, and people who go to a theater expect to hear a particular kind of music in a particular kind of film. You don’t want to approach a 2016 love story with stylistic resources of “Love Story”, the classic movie. Pop music has many things to say about that. Above all things, you must be modern.
Can you take me through your process of composing a soundtrack on the basis of a movie that's particularly dear to you, please? Where do ideas come from, what do you start with and how do you go about shaping these ideas?
I always say the same word: transpiration (Beethoven’s idea). Most people think that composing is the art of being “inspired”. Composing has nothing to do with this concept. You must search, and search until you’ll find something useful. That’s hard work. With all films, television and movies in these days of production, you must find a way to get something original, which puts you in a determinate position as a composer. Maybe it will be a memory of your childhood. Maybe it’s something you heard on the radio while picking up your boys from school. You’ll never know.
How do you see the relationship between image and sound in a movie? How directly are you working with the images in the writing process?
If you want to “understand” a movie, a good one, you’ll turn off the sound and watch. Pictures will tell you the truth about what’s really going on. You can easily make this test with, let’s say, any of Spielberg or Kubrick films. Dialogs are only a dramatic way that the film needs to share an idea, a concept. I you are capable to understand the real story behind the dialogs and plots, you’ll understand what the director is trying to relate. A simple picture is worth as much as a thousand words. Don’t trust language. Cinema is the art of pictures. Music in films must be related to the pictures, not to dialog.
What do improvisation and composition mean to you and what, to you, are their respective merits?
I don’t see any difference between improvisation and composition, talking about film music. You always do improvisation when you’re composing. Unless you are John Williams. Don’t you agree?
How do you see the relationship between sound, space and composition and what are some of your strategies and approaches of working with them?
I like to give my music a certain spatial quality. The audience perceives music as an intrusive element, if you are not being careful. I think it is. Actually, music is an intrusive element. I want to be sure that a particular sequence needs some music, before I start working on it. There has to be a reason. Always. And it’s a dramatic one.
Soundtrack composer typically need to adapt their ideas to the film, the director and the audience. How do you maintain a balance between, on the one hand, artistic integrity and sticking to your creative convictions and, on the other, being professional? How do you find a sense of freedom within these structures?
The soundtrack composer serves the film. There are only a few occasions in which a composer’s personality will be imposed, and they always have to be related to a particular aspect of the film. The composer’s own convictions are not the issue. Communication is.
Over the decades, film music has developed a certain tradition and vocabulary of techniques and creative devices. How would you describe your relationship with this tradition and what roles does it play in your work? Are there compositional devices which you don't find appropriate or wouldn't use right now, because they're too closely associated with a particular era or because they feel like a cliché?
Compositional devices are there to be destroyed, I think. I enjoy a lot when a film plays around with speculation and works in terms of contrast, a contraposition of ideas. Also clichés, most of the time. A sunny landscape will tell you more about the emotional state of the characters with a dark score (if the story needs it) in opposition with a happy music, but always keeping in mind the artistic intention of the director.
The balance between visuals, fx and film music is a delicate one. What, from your point of view, determines whether or not it is a successful one?
A helicopter noise. If you win this battle, you are the man. Some directors prefer to put the helicopter noise in front and over the soundtrack, but others prefer to let the score determine the emotional sensation of who travels inside the aircraft.