Name: Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe
Occupation: Composer, sound artist
Current release: Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe's score to Nia DaCosta's contribution to the Candyman series is available via Waxworks.
If these thoughts by Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe piqued your interest, visit him on Instagram, twitter and bandcamp for more information, current updates and, of course, music.
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?
For me, the score and sound should exist as a character within the landscape of a film. I most enjoy when film music informs, accents and creates a dialogue with the visual and the overall story. This is how I want my work to be considered.
Every part of a film is as important as the next. So the vantage point of the shot, the delivery of the action, the sound, the silence, the edit, all play integral roles in the final work. One without the next could lead to a wildly different result in the context of what the film needs to be. That is of course down to decisions made to cohesively execute the work as it is meant to be experienced. But in conceiving the score, I personally think it’s key to thread the needle to make a work that enhances the story, yet can stand on its own feet as an artwork independent of the film. I believe it can carry the energy and narrative of a film in a strictly audio format.
Each circumstance is different though. There are music works that are not necessarily meant to exist outside of the visual. I would say I’m certainly compelled to make work that lives in both worlds.
Different composers could potentially approach the same scene with strikingly different music. Would you say there can be 'wrong' and 'right' musiccal decisions for some scenes? In which way can some film music be considered 'definitive'?
I don’t think anyone can really say except the film maker and the creative folks involved with the film if something is ‘wrong’ for the film. I’m sure there are many ‘right’ ways to approach musical decisions for scenes in film, and we can all have opinions on those decisions, but ultimately it’s down to that collective authorship with film.
And ‘definitive’ I believe can only be affixed to a work by the author of that thing.
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?
My process for creation of film scores is varied in many ways, but always the same in one way. I come to the project with a proposed intention that I stick to across the duration of the project. This is after reading the script and having conversations with the director and producers to establish a baseline for expectation on all sides. I consider every work dear to me as I only agree to projects that I feel I have a vested interest in. Only the work that compels me do I move forward with.
Each project is specific and each project will have equal consideration for mood, instrumentation and space. Seeing that the voice and modular synthesizer are core instruments in my sound practice, they will most likely always find a way in. But depending on what I feel is important sonically the instrumentation can change. This decision is of course come to as conversations begin to commence.
Communicaton is always most important and the director and I will have a cohesive understanding of what the sonic landscape will sound like. Then I will proceed.
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?
The image and the sound must together have level footing in a film. This also includes silence. It’s about understanding when to remove sound as much as it is to know when to have it in.
My goal in these situations is to be as involved as possible with the process from the beginning. The longer I have to establish a firm relationship with the director the better. If I have the opportunity to initiate my creative process and deliver sonic ideas before anything has even been shot, it allows the sound space to inform the image as much as the image will inform the sound. The more time I have the more potential for complexity in my contribution.
What do improvisation and composition mean to you and what, to you, are their respective merits?
Improvisation is at the core of my composition. I tend not to separate these two words. Improvisation also has taught me to listen, which is the most necessary part of improv. It has only advanced my practice and has helped me to cultivate my own techniques.
I have an aleatoric process that gives me room to discover sounds that I can then take and arrange over time. Sometimes even if I have a specific result in mind, as I play around with sounds I can be met with a sound or a motion that I had not considered and that can absolutely strengthen the end product. Chance is such a fantastic and important ingredient in my work. The ideas never stray from the intention, but the pathway to that intention can end up a different route than I had mapped out.
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?
I think that out of the gate my sound work lends itself to cinema quite well. As I had stated before, I only work on projects that compel me, so the idea of compromising artistic integrity is not on the line.
With film projects there will always be a collective give and take, which I’m always on board for. Having a multitude of voices and ideas that can be bandied about is exciting. Again, having moments where unconsidered paths present themselves is a lovely way to work. But if I don’t have the space to ultimately do what I do, then there’s no point in me being there.
But in that case I don’t think I would be approached in the first place since what I tend to do is so particular.
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?
I love all of these classic traditions and techniques. I think certain things you might find referenced in my work, but for the most part I try to avoid any specific tropes or techniques in composition in general, not only in film.
Again, cultivating technique and finding ways to engage with spaces that don’t tread on these worn pathways can lead to a new or enhanced vernacular for the artist. I’m less interested in doing things that have been done before. And of course there is nothing new under the sun, but we can find ways to execute ideas that are woven into our own ways of thinking.
The balance between visuals, fx and film music is delicate. What, from your point of view, determines whether or not it is a successful one?
Good filmmakers and composers.