"Writing the score for an animated film gives you more stylistic freedom"
André Luiz Machado is a Brazilian film composer. Having studied in the UK and scoring projects from New York, Machado enjoys working on international projects as well as local films. His recent score for Saturn Voyager, an animated short film, won Best Score at LAFA in September 2018.
We asked Andre to join us for an interview and met a passionate artist who fell in love with music since childhood.
Andre, you recently won Best Score at the Los Angeles Film Awards, and also got a Best Score nomination at the International Sound & Music Festival (ISFMF). How do you feel about these achievements?
First of all, many thanks to all the Los Angeles Film Awards team for the recognition of this work. It’s fantastic to see everything Saturn Voyager has achieved so far, both for the music and the animation. Being recently awarded with the Best Score at LAFA, plus the ISMF nomination, and also the selection for the Film Score festival, was very rewarding for me as a film composer. Regardless of my passion for the music and projects I develop and work with, and the artistic trust on all professionals involved on them, I do not keep expectations on awards here and there. So it’s always very surprising and pleasant to receive the winning notifications and nominations. The film was also awarded as the Best Sci-fi Short Film at the Berlin Short Film awards, and had important screenings in the festivals circuit in 2018, participating inclusively of the Festival de Cannes, as part of the Animation Nights New York Cannes Program. So, the whole team and I are just absorbing the good vibes from our voyager achievements, while keeping the work on other upcoming mutual and individual projects.
Let's roll back to the beginning, please tell us about your background, and how did you get into music and storytelling?
Music started accompanying my life since I was 11, when I started to study classical guitar in my hometown in Brazil. It was hard not to see myself crafting some melodies and harmonies while studying other pieces of music, but at that age I was mainly into rock ‘n’ roll, migrating to a great passion for progressive rock afterwards, which traced my bigger attention to classical/concert music in that near future. Soon I started learning piano and classical singing, which led me to a Bachelor degree in Music Composition and Singing, also in Brazil. My passion for music and storytelling started at the university through my interest in Programme Music, which is instrumental music that attempts to evoke extra-musical ideas or is designed by preconceived narratives, such as the Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. At that time, back in 2006, I was also invited to write the music for a short-film by a visual art student from the same university, which was my break into film music composition and local commissioned works, while studying, teaching music and singing in professional choirs in town. Then, some years later, I decided to quit my work in the symphony orchestra choir I was singing, and focus on my music composition, moving to England to do my Master’s degree in Composition of Music for Film and Television at the University of Bristol (2012). This great step coincided with the initial concept of the Saturn Voyager project by the way, back to the first months living in the UK. Currently I’m based in Brazil and continuously working worldwide within music and storytelling on authorial projects and for production companies in my home country, New York and in the UK.
What instruments do you play?
As a classical singer, my voice is the main instrument I play and perform, but the piano and occasionally the acoustic guitar are the ones that accompany my creative and music composition process.
Who are your favorite composers, and what do you like about their music? In your opinion, what makes a score great?
In regards to concert music, Debussy, Villa-Lobos, Bártok, Britten and Stravinsky are high on the list of composers who influenced my work and fulfilled my inspirations. I might say a blend of etherial and suggestive ideas of the Impressionism, with bits of nationalism and world music, attached with some unique ways to communicate powerful emotions are present on this list of composers. These elements I also try to pursue while I’m composing most of the times. Tom Jobim and Brazilian Bossa Nova had also an impact on my music appreciation and creation, with that unique way of being universal, national and impressionist on the harmonies that has so much of French music perspectives, too. Love that. Also, the fusion of styles, genres and music approaches goes back to the progressive rock I used to appreciate so much, and still is on my music playlist. Film music is also about this… this large range of music composition styles and genres one should have to be successful in this career, and all elements might come together in a score, which is something I love so much about film scoring.
That being said, I might say that regarding film music composers, the work of Dario Marianelli for the film Atonement (2008) was the first that let me mesmerised with the score, and actually, inserted a little voice in my mind saying that film music is what I needed to do a 100% for a living, and that would be what I would professionally pursue. The typewriter as a percussive instrument in the back ground, with the astonishing piano sequences and the orchestration were beautifully unique in that score, and the emotive aspects were perfectly dialoguing with the important narrative concepts for the music. Walking with these side by side is one of the secrets for a great score, I think. I need to say that I aways appreciated film music very much, but this specifically mentioned work had a special meaning in my life and career decisions. Along with D. Marianelli, Alexandre Desplat is one of my favourite composers, too, for the same reasons mentioned before, with his refreshing harmonies, concepts, classical music approach, world music influences, and universality at the same time. On my favourite list there are also Jóhann Jóhannsson, Thomas Newman, Hans Zimmer's hybrid orchestration, Phillip Glass minimalism, and the list continues on and on…. Recently, I’ve been also hypnotised by the work of the jazz pianist Tigran Hamaysian, with all his "cosmopolitan" musical work also influenced so much by the Armenian folk tradition and progressive rock.
You completed a Masters degree in Composition of Music for Film and TV at the University of Bristol (2012) in the UK. What were the best takeaways from this program?
While all the filmic and music knowledge and skills acquired and enhanced while at the Masters degree program, plus the possibility of building a greater portfolio are essentials and very important benefits that I’m so grateful for, making friends, strengthening relationships, having the spirit of mutual collaboration, being supportive, attending great music and film events, or in a few words, staying connected with the world out of the music studio. are the best things I directly and indirectly learned, improved and took away in my everyday baggage from this program. Working hard, persistence, but not missing the chances of having valuable human interactions. Let’s say, then, comprehending the importance of building a strong network.
Why did you decide to return to Brazil?
My residence visa had expired and I returned. Just this. However, It’s been an important step in my career to be based in Brazil in these past recent years, being awarded with important cultural fundings to run some authorial film and music projects. Planning my next move for 2019, though.
In 2015 you released an album called 'Dialogues Between the Sound and the Moving Picture', which features many varied tracks that show you great talent and skill. Tell us about the album, what was the idea behind it, and how did you go about choosing the tracks that would be included?
Thank you very much for the appreciation! The initial idea for the album was to make a compilation of the film music and other cinematic concert music I composed up to that period, so that I could also distribute to film makers I was getting to know in film festivals and other networking events. It was a fellow companion of my business cards sometimes. The album title and art work was very evocative, too, designating everything film music is for me about: conceptualisation and emotion, trying to depict the effectiveness of this dialogue between music and image a film score should have. To choose the tracks, the important thing was to select works that could work well by the music itself, without the images, so it could also be musically interesting to those not linked to the cinematic world exclusively, but at the same time raising new pictures and visuals in the listener’s mind. Thus, I selected music from Brazilian and British short films that I had in my portfolio so far, including some production music, games, award winning documentaries, and works that I also rescored as part of my Masters Degree assignments which I believed would musically fit well with the repertoire. Inclusively, I opted in for two movements of my first programatic symphony which was inspired by the novel One Hundred Years of Solitude, written by the great Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Possibly in the near future, this can also become the artistic inspiration for a film which the initial spark have started within the music itself, being accompanied by the multi-generational story of the Buendia family magically narrated on the novel.
Tell us about your scoring process. How do you usually start a film score? What are the first decisions to make? How do you decide about instrumentation and style?
The first time I watch the film in my home studio, by myself, I don’t have much of a compromise to capture ideas, or taking notes. I watch it and leave it behind for the rest of the day, and start doing different things, but the film remains unconsciously inside my head. Naturally I start to come up with ideas that might be suitable for a musical concept. I sit on the piano and start to elaborate some rough musical ideas that might work well for the first impressions I had about the story, a character, and so on. The following day I’m ready for taking notes and sharpening the musical concepts around the drama or its characters. I usually try to come up with something that is underneath the narrative lines and visuals the audience would be currently seeing, something that is kind of hidden, and you can musically suggest or cleverly enhance by the narrative dance of music. Once I decided to create a unique music theory that reflected the film narrative and its plot about fate, and that was my musical guidance to keep the unity in the whole score. But yes, that’s the way I usually start the score and make the first decisions. Then, the piano is my companion for themes, textures, and etc. If I’m not in a very strict deadlined I usually don’t write directly to the scenes in my digital work station either. The music ideas are born on the piano, then developed on the sequencer following the scenes and the time code. The style and orchestration are usually decided on the initial concept, and it is also generally related to the drama, the characters or the location or time period the narrative is set. The voice in Saturn Voyager instrumentation, for instance, might be interpreted as the inner voice of the astronaut, or his own fears and ghosts tormenting him in the desert he lives, or even a cosmic voice pushing him to go out of his walls and master the elements of his own universe. There’s also a great Brazilian game I have just finished to score which is currently in the mixing stage that I decided to go for a medieval ensemble playing sometimes modern and post modern music, adding even some Brazilian flavour in some of the stages. The game is called Josh Journey: Darkness Totems, and the choices were made due to a mix of sci-fi anthropomorphic heroes in the story, a robot and the main hero being a typical medieval young swordsman, bringing me the idea of a futuristic story being told in the middle ages. In addition to that, there’s another hero who is inspired by a typical Brazilian animal, whose province has some elements of the Brazilian northeast vegetation and rich Afro-Brazilian culture, for instance. There comes the post modern European medieval music with a touch of Brazilian folk reference in a very universal and "cosmopolitan" score.
What is the best way to communicate with directors?
I think the best way to communicate with the directors is amazing them with some narrative perspectives deeply kept inside their minds but which they are wordless to express, so you try to come up with something that he might be astonished with the idea - “Wow, you got it!!". Then, I definitely need to captivate him with the quality of the music and how it can capture that in terms of music narrative and emotion. If it is musically captured wrong sometimes, the collaborative process of changing and rescoring must be always on. And every musical talk is carried on without musical terms, mostly. Usually, I don’t talk only as a film composer either. I want to be the director second hand not only through the music narrative, but trying to support the film in other aspects if we have the possibility of a more opened conversation about it, coming up with ideas and trying to solve problems that will bring an overall better result for the project itself and its film career.
Saturn Voyager is also your first producer credit. Tell us about being involved as a producer. How did this come to be, and what were some of your responsibilities?
Saturn Voyager had its music and movement titles created before the animation itself, trying to depict a narrative storyline that would inspire the filmmaker to join with other narrative perspectives, while playing with the same original concept of the titles and their sonorous universe. With that in mind and the music completed, I wrote and pitched the project for the Federal State of Goias Fund for Art and Culture, where my hometown is, and I ended up being awarded with the prize to produce the animation. Prior to the pitch I invited two animators friends of mine from Província Studio, Guilherme Araújo and Iuri Araújo, to direct and animate the film. We discussed how the animation could be guided by the music narrative, talked about tons of subjects much related to psychology, cosmology and spirituality that we could use as a metaphor to express the perception of the music and the visual story and art concept they would be creating. After I earned the prize I hired an executive producer, Joelma Paes, to take care of all financial bureaucracies while I kept on the artistic side of things, along with the directors and animators from Província, supervising aspects of the story, checking some important hit points and so on. At the end, the film is a co-production between Provincia Studio and my company Buëndia Film Music Studio, with the support of the cultural fund I have mentioned.
What was the biggest challenge for you with this Saturn Voyager?
Undoubtedly, the biggest challenge was the delay in receiving the funds, changing production schedule due to other projects coming in in face of the uncertainty of when the prize would be actually paid to run the project. The issue was that after the final result and awarded producers in the mentioned art and cultural fund were announced, there was a delay of 10 months to have the budget on our account, and the scheduled needed to be changed, other projects were coming in, things needed to be re-planned and then there was a very strict deadline to have all the animation done, and an animated film takes a longer production period, indeed. But, in the end, we achieved our goal.
Great job on also scoring Saturn Voyager! How is writing music for an animation different than writing for live action?
Many thanks again. Saturn Voyager is a very special work for me, and I’m very glad how the overall work has been appreciated. I think that usually I have a bit more of musical freedom and possibilities of sonic motion with an animated work. Although many times there are more instances to be synced than in live action, making you more tightened with the time code while you’re composing, I believe more musical space and stylistic freedom exist in the animated narrative. An animated film already deals with fantasy even in the most realistic drama story being told, and the music can follow this and make its presence more often through the whole drama without hindering the story arc or being cliché. But indeed, the differences and challenges in the music composition aspects are more related to each individual story and project, regardless of being an animation or live action.
What can you tell us about your upcoming projects?
Currently I’m in the mixing stage for the music I wrote for the game Josh Journey: Darkness Totems, which is being developed by the same animators and directors who did the Saturn Voyager film. The game is expected to be released by the end of 2019. Also, in the beginning of this year (February) an album with some of the concert music I wrote for piano will be recorded by the Greek-British pianist and composer Manos Charalabopoulos, as part of another authorial project I was awarded with the fund to produce. The album is titled Espelho Duplo - Double Mirror, and will also contain two pieces of music that were also part of two short films I previously scored. Release date expected for July/August 2019. Another work to be recorded in this album, called l’enchantement des eaux quand ils pleurent, is also in negotiation to become a classical music animated film in 2020.
Two other Brazilian films by the producer, writer and director Roobertchay Rocha, including the first feature film I’m currently scoring, are due to be released next year as well: O Embrolho and O Eremita. Finally, it’s also expected the release of a second work I did for Monticello Park Productions company in New York, that relates to animated poetry by classical British and American authors, which music was composed prior to the animation and based on the poem recitation. The first one, called The Frost Spirit, had a great career last year, and is already available online for streaming. Another upcoming project for November 2019 is the Brazil Game Music in Concert, which I was invited to be the orchestrator and will also feature music from the Josh Journey game.
Is there anything you wish to add, or anyone you wish to thank?
Again I would firstly like to thank all the Los Angeles Film Awards team for inviting me for this interview, and also, all the filmmakers I’ve been collaborating with these past years, mainly the guys from Provincia Studio, for the friendship, the brilliant work on Saturn Voyager animation and the great projects still on the way. Thank you all.
Official page: www.andreluizmachado.com
Provincia Studio: http://provinciastudio.com
Saturn Voyager teaser: https://vimeo.com/264457428
The Frost Spirit: https://vimeo.com/249838266