Interview with Composer Alexei Aigui (The Young Karl Marx, I am Not Your Negro)

Alexei Aigui.jpgIt was an honor chatting with the multi-talented musician and film composer Alexei Aigui and chat about his one and only passion in life: music!

Listen to his music on Soundcloud

Matthew Toffolo: Where were you born and raised? Was music something you always wanted to do as your career?

Alexei Aigui: I was born and raised in Moscow, as they say, in an artistic family. My father was a poet, and was representing the so-called unofficial art – meaning he was under control of the Soviet authorities, and his works couldn’t be published, so our life wasn’t exactly an easy ride. When I was six, mum took me to an ordinary music school near our place, to play violin. Learning to play the piano was more prestigious and cost about 15 times more, so we didn’t really have a choice in the matter. God bless, accordion didn’t cost less than violin. I don’t remember if I wanted to study music, I think I didn’t even ask myself that question – it just happened. So I studied there until I was about 15, not reflecting a lot on why I needed it. However, in my teenage years, I became a rock music fan – Led Zeppelin, AC/DC, then quite quickly became interested in more complicated stuff like King Crimson, Frank Zappa, etc. Maybe then, through rock music, I decided to become a musician, form my own band. Or maybe it was already late to think about doing something else, after all the years of exercise? Through avant-garde rock, having played in my first bands and already starting to study professionally at the conservatory, I became interested in academic avant-garde – [Anton] Webern, [Gyorgy] Ligeti, [Pierre] Boulez, [Karlheinz] Stockhausen, [Igor] Stravinsky, [Sergey] Prokofiev.

Afterwards, I took to improvisational music and minimalism. In 1994, I set up Ensemble 4’33’’ in Moscow, and we performed pieces by John Cage, Earle Brown, La Monte Young, and others in that spirit. Gradually, mainly due to the fact that there wasn’t enough sheet music available [in Russia], I started to compose music, and turned out one’s own pieces were nicer and easier to play than others’. That’s how I became a composer. The band has existed for 24 years, we play 30 concerts a year, have released a lot of CDs, the band is my foundation for film work, with either the entire band taking part in soundtrack recording, or some of the Ensemble 4’33’’ members.

What has been your most proudest work of your career?

I’m proud of many works, when it comes to non-film-related music – the cantata ‘Salut to Singing’ to my father’s poems, almost everything I do with Ensemble 4’33’’. Of course, cinema works: my very first OST, for ‘Country of the Deaf’ by Valery Todorovsky, and for ‘Wild Field’ by Mikhail Kalatozishvili, ‘The Horde’ by Andrey Proshkin. Of my latest collaborations outside of Russia — ‘I Am Not Your Negro’ and ‘The Young Karl Marx’ by Raoul Peck.

Tell us about your working relationship with director Raoul Peck on “The Young Karl Marx”?

The work took quite a long time, the film was in all stages of production for almost 10 years, with the shooting taking part in 2 or 3 countries. The company’s office was in France, editing took place in Belgium, and mix in Germany. Raoul wanted the music to be, on the one hand, relevant to the demands of period drama, orchestral and melodic, on the other hand, to feel ‘uncomfortable’ and edgy. The first draft of music was far from what you hear in the film, there were a lot of corrections. There were some temporary tracks in the first cut, the scene of police chasing Marx had a Haitian folk piece that, surprisingly enough, worked very well, it wasn’t easy for me to compose new music for that bit, in ‘Irish style’. Raoul, along with the film’s editor Frederique Broos, came to Moscow for the orchestra recording, and made a few corrections during the recording itself. Our following project, ‘I Am Not Your Negro’, was recorded without him, because Raoul was working on the final mix of ‘Marx’ in Germany. For ‘I Am Not Your Negro’, we recorded completely different music, with my band – we recorded a few semi-improvisational takes, and Raoul chose the most suitable.

What are you generally looking for in a director in terms of guidance and tone for your music?

When I was starting to work in Russian cinema, almost no one used references (temporary tracks), and you were, so to say, on your own. Director was only able to use words while describing what he wanted in terms of music, which isn’t always translatable from the director’s language to, well, human. These days the use of references is quasi-total. It makes the composer’s job easier and quicker, but also sets up some borders and limits the composer in his or her work. I’ve seen all sorts of director-composer relations – from close friendship to composing music without knowing the director, and I believe that there should certainly be personal contact, a sort of mutual tuning is supposed to happen. Often, the editor plays an important role, offering his or her opinion.

What do you think a producer/director is looking for when they bring on their composer to score the film?

Often, when I see the result (not in the films, on which I had the chance to work), it seems to me that producers and directors wanted to save money. Perhaps the perfect option is to find the music that would create a unique sound for the picture, the music that would add a dimension to the film, another layer, and wouldn’t just underscore the tension or hint that we should feel sad. Music can be omnipotent, it’s like an undercurrent, sometimes we don’t even realize that it exists side-by-side with the action and tells the story, accentuating some points and adding depth to the movie.

What is your passion in life besides music?

I’m completely handicapped in that respect – only interested in music. Well, maybe also alcohol. I can’t even normally rest or travel – every time I’m at a bar and I see a stage, I go, ‘Why haven’t I played here before?’ and ask the owner is it’s possible to perform at their place.

Anyway, I’m not purely a film composer, concerts take a lot of time, and if I don’t perform for a few weeks, I get a bit crazy. I also used to paint when I was young, but now don’t have time to devote to that.

What movie have you watched the most times in your life?

Usually, I don’t want to re-watch the films that made the biggest impact on me, I kind of want that first impression to stay as it was. So it’s most likely that the films I saw most times are those you come across while watching TV, and just don’t turn off. I can’t say I’m a cinemaholic, I’m not too eager to see everything people talk about, and I skip many films. And this huge pile of ‘to-watch’ movies is growing. Thanks to my 13-year-old son, I finally saw all the Star Wars movies (never watched those before, sorry to say) and the Harry Potter series. We watched all the films in strict order, spending about a week on each series.

What advice do you have for young musicians who would eventually like to compose movies for a living?

Forget about it. Okay, if we’re being serious (although ‘forget about it’ is also me being serious), it’s best if you’re primarily a musician, and then a businessman. However, I’ve always wanted to earn my living with music. A lot of people try to become film or TV composers, having failed at performing their music on stage. This phenomenon stems from how easily available the music-making programs are. Certainly, new talents can emerge, but these programs standardize musicians, unique and interesting sound in cinema has become a rare sight, irony intended. Everybody tries to copy copies, and you wonder where the search for something new is? Last but not least, entering the tricky and rocky path of a musician, be ready to die homeless and poor, how did the best of us composers.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every single month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 3 times a month. Go to http://www.wildsoundfestival.com for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

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Interview with Composer Gilde Flores (Total Divas, The Wolverine)

Gilde has been in the business for over 20 years and has over 80 credits to his name. It was an honor to interview the extremely talented musician and composer:

Matthew Toffolo: Where were you born and raised? Was music something you always wanted to do as your career?

Gilde Flores: I was born and raised in Hereford, Texas. Music was something I’ve always loved and occasionally dabbled in some with a few instruments, but saw no future in. That was up until the age of 14 when my father decided to recruit me into his band. I tried desperately to play awful, in hopes of being booted, but found myself advancing to other instruments. In time, I grew into having this love for music, which eventually led to me play/touring the US with various bands in various genres.

What has been your most proudest work of your career? Or, what has been your favorite project?

My proudest work would definitely be the time a music cue of mine was used in scene for Marvels, The Wolverine. Being a geek, this was instantly a highlight for my career, and I personally consider so…..for now.

You’ve been credited as being a “Composer: Additional Music” on many films. Explain exactly what that means?

A composer for additional music basically accounts for work from someone who’s not the hired/lead composer of the project, similar to taking the role of an assistant Composer. In the TV realm, it identifies as any of my music that is used aside from the main themes or recurring music. I’ve had the honor of working on many projects in this manner, especially when first starting out, which helped earn the credits I’ve received, in turn, opening many door and countless opportunities.

What are you generally looking for in a director in terms of guidance and tone for your music?

What I look for in a director is their ability to give me as much info as they possibly can about their vision. From the emotions of the characters, the emotions that can’t easily be seen by the viewers. I really love to get the full in depth of what the director is trying to portray from the inside out and help being that to life, especially the intangible elements.

What do you think a producer/director is looking for when they bring on their composer to score the film?

I really feel the producer/director is looking for the composer help them tell their story, or to fill in the gaps of what can’t easily be seen. They want the audience to capture/feel the full experience of what’s being put out in front of them, and music can move them in a way that perfectly pairs with what they are witnessing, or guides their imaginations to possibilities and uncertainty.

What is your passion in life besides music?

My passion in life besides music would simply be life and all its experiences. I try to stay passionate with every little thing that makes sense to in life. it’s how I tend to stay on the creative side and always looking for new colors to add to my palette. I know that’s a bit vague, so I would say family and helping others. Family, because they are the ones who cheer my on and help pick me up through this long journey, and helping others, that’s something I’ve always gravitated to, mostly due to my academic studies a few years back at Texas Tech University in Lubbock Texas where I studied to become a counselor; however music pulled me in a completely opposite amazing adventure.

What movie have you watched the most times in your life?

The movie I watched the most times in my life would be extremely hard to try and identify. Being a huge fan of comics, video games, and exploring into different genres, I’ve watched so many titles over and over again; especially in my traveling days. To maybe narrow it down, one of my favorites I tend to watch anytime it’s on, aside from the original Star Wars trilogy, would be the first Matrix; mainly because at the time it was released it completely blew my mind. I remember seeing it in the theater and was so impressed with the visuals, the pacing, the cinematography, storytelling, just everything, that it imprinted on me till this day.

What advice do you have for young musicians who would eventually like to compose movies for a living?

The advice I would give to any young musicians who want to eventually compose movies is to be PATIENT, always work on your skill set/stay teachable, have an amazing work ethic, have consistency, have respect, and learn how to take a “no/pass on your work.

This career, in my experience, is something that takes much time and lots of patience to pursue, and being that passion is usually poured in at some point, if one doesn’t know how to filter a “pass up” on their work, it can really devastate and discourage one moving forward. There are plenty more “no’s” than “yes’s” we all get on projects, and learning to understand that the pass up on one’s work usually comes from the music being submitted does not fit the project, not necessarily meaning it’s bad/horrible. Just feed the passion, knock down the self made barriers, and stay focused and it will eventually happen.

gilde flores

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every single month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 3 times a month. Go to http://www.wildsoundfestival.com for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

Interview with Composer/Musician Michael Abels (GET OUT)

michaelabels.jpgMichael Abels is an African-American composer known for his orchestra works Global Warming, Delights & Dances, and Urban Legend, and choral pieces such as Be The Change and Limitless. “GET OUT” was his first foray as a composer in the film industry, and it definitely won’t be his last. It was great interviewing this extremely talented musician.

Matthew Toffolo: Where were you born and raised? Was music something you always wanted to do as your career?

Michael Abels: I was born in Phoenix AZ, although I lived on a farm outside Aberdeen, SD with my grandparents from infancy through age 6. My earliest memories are of music — seriously, I can remember my grandmother’s recording of Edvard Grieg’s In The Hall Of The Mountain King terrifying me in the crib. Ironically, that’s now my job.

MT: How did you get the job composing the film “Get Out”?

MA: Writer/director Jordan Peele heard an orchestral piece of mine, Urban Legends, on YouTube. It’s a very dynamic piece in which all hell breaks loose, even though it’s also quite tonal. Jordan said this piece convinced him I could bring a fresh voice to film music. He wanted someone who could use the film harmonic language with an African-American perspective.

MT: How was your working relationship with with director Jordan Peele?

MA: Jordan is whip-smart, unbelievable talented, and refreshingly modest. He knows what he wants, and is extremely capable of communicating what he’s hearing and feeling. At the same time, he respects his team as artists, and enjoys the collaborative process. Did I mention how funny he is? A dream to work for.

MT: What are you generally looking for in a director in terms of guidance and tone for your music?

MA: It’s helpful when a director can communicate the feelings a piece of music brings up for them, or the feelings that a character is feeling, or that they want the audience to feel. Most people who are drawn to directing are great at this, since they are storytellers.

MT: What do you think a producer/director is looking for when they bring on their composer to score the film?

MA: The director is looking for someone who can bring the music they are hearing in their imagination to life. The producer is looking for someone who can bring the director’s musical imagination to life on time and under budget. It’s great when these priorities align!

MT: What is your passion in life besides music?

MA: I appreciate home design, I’ve seen my share of home improvement shows. I also love riding my bike, and try to bike at least once a week no matter how stressful the rest of my life is.

MT: What’s next for you? Will you be composing more films?

MA: I have a wind orchestra commission that I’m working on. Yes more film is in the works.

MT: What move have you watched the most times in your life?

MA: The Sound of Music. Do Re Mi changed my life forever. “One word for every note, by mixing it up, like this…” Rogers & Hammerstein taught me that writing music is simple and fun! Been striving to make that lesson true ever since.

MT: What advice do you have for young musicians who would eventually like to compose movies for a living?

MA: Write the music that inspires you, because writing music purely for money will make you hate your creative life. Try to remove your ego from every piece you write. It’s so difficult to be inspired-yet-unattached, but it’s required to remain in a highly creative state. And you are a composer, regardless of whether you have a high profile project to your credit or not. Be the person you want others to see.

GET OUT Movie:

getoutfilm.jpg

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 20-50 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto, and Los Angeles at least 2 times a month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.

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Interview with Composer/Vocalist Dominic Lewis (Money Monster, Batman v Superman)

Dominic Lewis is a pure talent in the industry. He is a master vocalist, and composer of the new film “Money Monster”, directed by Jodie Foster and starring George Clooney & Julia Roberts. I had the privilege to interview him and talk about his career and the art of music in film.

dominic_lewis_3.jpgInterview with Dominic Lewis:

Matthew Toffolo: You were credited at “Featured Vocalist” on Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. What did you do on that assignment for the film?

Dominic Lewis: A lot of vocals!!! Hans had created this incredible texture of a very distressed voice (in harmony sliding up to a single pitch and sliding back down to the chord) It was a long process and I couldn’t talk for a week after.

MT: How many instruments do you play? Do you have a favorite? And/or an instrument you’re most skilled at?

DL: I play a few, my favorite is the cello (which I’m rather rusty at these days) or singing. I also like to mess around on the guitar and keys when I’m in a pop-ier mood.

MT: Generally, how does one compose the music for a feature film? Do you receive the rough cut, and some guide music tracks for influence/inspiration? When do you generally begin working on the film?

DL: Normally its between 2-3 months for a feature. The last couple of movies have been a lot shorter than that. The usual process is that I’ll receive a cut of the movie (normally as its still being edited) and there will be a temp track to give an idea of what the film maker’s want. I’d also spot the film, which is the process of really nailing down where music is needed and what the specific tone and feel should be.

MT: Who do you generally report to when you’re working on a big budget film?

DL: Depends really. Normally it’s the director and towards the end of the process the movies producers will express any notes if they have any. But mainly it’s the director and editor.

MT: From a technology standpoint, where do you see the future of composing in the movies?

DL: We are already hugely reliant on technology in film scoring. There aren’t many left who have a VHS watch and some manuscript. Everything is done on computers and the way things are going I think we are only going to rely on them more. Samples are getting better, computers faster it’s a natural progression in my book.

MT: How did you first begin? Was composing in the movies something you’ve also aspired to do?

DL: From a certain age yes. I started performing when I was young and as I became more and more intrigued with songs and composition I fell in love with the orchestra and film music.

MT: Do you have a favorite experience? What work on a film are you most proud of?

DL: Freebirds being my first big movie is a fond memory but I have to say getting to work with Jodie Foster and so many amazing people on ‘Money Monster’ has to top the lot so far. I’m also really proud of the score, it’s different and I was given a chance to push the envelope.

MT: Do you have a composer mentor?

DL: Many!! Rupert Gregson Williams was the first when I was starting out and then throughout my career I have had the amazing fortune of working with John Powell, Hans Zimmer and Henry Jackman. Those guys have taught me so much.

MT: What film, besides the ones you’ve worked on, have you seen the most in your life?

DL: Weirdly, I think I’ve seen Gladiator and Back to the Future the most out of any films. They were my go to whenever I was sick as a kid.

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Interviewer Matthew Toffolo is currently the CEO of the WILDsound FEEDBACK Film & Writing Festival. The festival that showcases 10-20 screenplay and story readings performed by professional actors every month. And the FEEDBACK Monthly Festival held in downtown Toronto on the last Thursday of every single month. Go to www.wildsound.ca for more information and to submit your work to the festival.