All posts by Erica Pope

Anne Nikitin: Celebrating Women Composers

Anne Nikitin - Women Cmposers Spotlight | Soundtracks, Scores and More

Anne Nikitin was born in Canada to Romanian and Polish parents. She immersed herself in avant-garde music while studying composition and English literature at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and was also awarded the SOCAN prize for Young Composers of Canada. Nikitin went on to complete her master’s in composition for screen at the Royal College of Music in London, United Kingdom. Her break came in 2006 when she won the BBC New Talent, New TV Composers scheme, which led to composing scores for major United Kingdom and United States broadcasters.

Nikitin is an Ivor Novello-nominated composer who is best known for her work on Bart Layton’s critically acclaimed heist movie American Animals and BAFTA-winning film The Imposter. Her recent scores include Sulphur & White for Modern Films, Little Birds, a Sky Original drama series, Four Kids and It for Sky Cinema, Agatha Christie’s The Pale Horse, and Stardust, a mini biopic about David Bowie’s early years, for which she worked as a co-composer.

We reached out to Nikitin to see how she got her start in film and television music and any advice she has to offer other up-and-coming composers!


SSM: You mentioned in a Film.Music.Media interview with founder and editor Kaya Savas that when you got into music at age 8, you invented your own way of writing it. Can you speak more about what led you to fall in love with music at that age, and how you developed your own musical language at such an early age?

AN: It’s hard to say how or why I was so consumed by music as neither of my parents are musicians, but there was always music in the house: my mum loved classical and pop/rock, my Dad loved jazz, and I loved listening to the latest albums in the charts. Also, MTV had just started, so I was glued to all of the, now iconic, music videos!  I was learning piano at the time, and my Dad had a portable tape recorder that I hijacked for recording myself singing and playing into. So I guess a culmination of all these events made me think I could make music too…

Weirdly, my grandmother was a pianist for silent movies in Poland before the war. So maybe there’s some sort of film music gene in the family!


SSM: You previously mentioned that Jane Campion’s 1993 film The Piano, starring Holly Hunter, Harvey Keitel, Sam Neill and a very young Anna Paquin was the first time you ever noticed music in a film. Can you speak into what about that film’s score made you take notice? 

AN: I grew up watching all the classic 80s family films, and distinctly remember loving and humming those wonderful music themes: Back to the Future, E.T., Star Wars, etc, but I don’t think I was aware that these were ‘film scores’.

While watching The Piano I was, for the first time, consciously aware of the important role that music plays in film, and the emotional impact it has on its audience. And yet, the music is able to exist independently from its film as an equally seductive entity. It was the first time I realized that that was what I wanted to do.


SSM: You attended McGill University in Canada and then later attended the Royal College of Music in London. While attending these schools, is there a person or event that inspired you during your time in school? 

AN: My composition professors at McGill University made a huge impression on me and taught me so much – I was in awe of them!  The composition class was small, so we all bonded and felt that we were going on a journey together. Montreal has such a rich music scene from contemporary music to indie and jazz – it felt like a melting pot of creativity and inspiration.

At The Royal College of Music I ventured into film scoring, and realized that everything I needed was on the doorstep – from studios to top notch players and collaborators – I felt very fortunate to be there.

But the most important people who influenced my path as a composer were in high school: my music teacher, Andrew Wright, who was always supportive and wanted me to pursue my musical dreams, and Vanessa Lann, a dynamic teacher and contemporary composer who opened up my eyes to the idea of becoming a composer and encouraged me to give it a go!


SSM: You composed for several true story- to- film projects, including American Animals and The Imposter. Similarly, Sulphur & White is based on the true story of city trader David Tait who comes to terms with abuse from his past. How did you come to work on this project and, like your previous projects, were you drawn in by the true-story aspect? 

AN: My first commissions were documentaries, which is how I met Bart Layton who directed The Imposter and American Animals. Although I love scoring all genres of film, there is something captivating about true stories.  As soon as I watched the first cut of Sulphur & White and saw what David Tait had achieved, I understood the importance of this film and wanted to play my part.  I was also a fan of director Julian Jarrold’s previous work, so was over the moon when he asked me to come on board.


SSM: For Sulphur & White, which is about a man’s journey who is disconnected due to his past, can you speak into your process of crafting a score to accompany this type of journey? Can you also talk about yours and director Julian Jarrold’s goal with the score? 

AN: Julian and I were always aware that the score should support but not overwhelm this already emotionally-charged story. I didn’t want to add more to the drama, so I tried to keep my music minimal and to follow David’s journey respectfully – using music to delicately enhance the darkness and light that he experiences into adulthood.

I wrote for string quintet and piano, which is my favourite ensemble to compose for due to its versatility and range.


SSM: What do you hope people take away from this film and what would you like audiences to glean from your score in Sulphur & White

AN: From watching David Tait’s story, I hope people have a better understanding of how survivors of child abuse carry the scars well into adulthood and how it impacts family and friends.  But equally to know that there is hope and support, and that wounds can heal. David is an Ambassador and Trustee of the NSPCC and wants to spread awareness of the incredible work that they do to help children.


SSM: You mentioned previously that after you left the Royal College of Music, you struggled with getting started in film music and that it was winning a BBC competition that gave you the push in the industry. What is a piece of advice you can give to women composers trying to get started today? 

AN: Yes, it took a long time before I landed my first commission, and that was through winning the BBC competition. Before that, I was scoring many short films, which I enjoyed and they allowed me to hone my skills, but it wasn’t a viable way to earn a living.

The truth is, it’s an incredibly tough industry to break into whether you’re a man or a woman, but I have always acknowledged that there’s a huge dearth of women who are composing scores for a living, especially at the top level. I would like to see this changed. The advice I can give to women today is, if you have that burning desire to write music and you love film, then write, work hard, and persevere – have the confidence to call yourself a composer and own it!  There are plenty of opportunities these days, as the film industry is starting to acknowledge that they have a responsibility to open up their doors to new and exciting talent.


SSM: What’s coming up next for you?

AN: I’ve finished a wonderfully wild and bold Sky Atlantic series called Little Birds, based on Anaïs Nin’s erotic stories – it stars Juno Temple and comes out this summer.  Also an episode of Soulmates – an anthology series set in the future for AMC created by William Bridges (Black Mirror), coming out this fall. And I’m currently scoring Fate:The Winx Saga, a dark and exciting young adult fantasy series for Netflix created by Brian Young (The Vampire Diaries) – about sassy teenage fairies who fight monsters!

Sulphur & White (Original Motion Picture Soundtrack) out now: [Download/Listen]

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Aska Matsumiya Spotlight: Celebrating Women Composers

Aska Matsumiya is a Los Angeles-based Japanese composer and producer who has excelled across film, television, advertising and music production. Matsumiya provided the score for the Amazon feature film I’m Your Woman directed by Julia Hart.

She partnered with A24 and acclaimed director Kogonado for his film After Yang, collaborating with composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, which starred actor Colin Farrell.

In television, Matsumiya worked on the HBO limited series Betty  with longtime collaborator Crystal Moselle, which is a series based on the original Sundance breakout film Skate Kitchen, starring actor Jaden Smith.

Matsumiya has collaborated with countless brands in the advertising space, including Porsche, Chanel, Hermes, Miu Miu and Prada. Her song “There Are Many of Us” was used in Spike Jonze’s short film I’m Here.

We reached out to Matsumiya to discuss her recent projects and her advice for up-and-coming composers!


SSM: You grew up in the Japanese countryside before moving to Orange County. How do you think being so close to the ocean over the years has impacted your symphonic approach to film and television scores? 

AM: Being close to the ocean impacts my whole being. I started surfing 7 years ago and I don’t know how it directly affects my approach to music but it’s something I can’t imagine living without. When I’m away from the water too long now I feel my mermaid tail starting to dry up.


SSM: I read in an interview you did with Urban Outfitters that you normally watch footage to compose music for film. In an interview with Park City Television in 2018, you said you composed music by reading the script. I was curious how that transition over time came to fruition? Do you compose both ways now or prefer one way of composing over the other?   

AM: When I first started composing it was more visual stimulation that triggered my music since that was such a new process for me to write music but, as I started to get more involved with directors, I would start hearing melodies and develop composition in my head as I read the scripts which made me realize maybe in some occasions the music and the melodies can tell more the story when I’m not so reliant on the footage. Now I tend to do both at different stages of composing.


SSM: I love 37 Seconds and the idea that just a few moments can change an entire life! You mentioned that it was the most electronic composition you have made up to that point. What was it about that film that called you toward an electronic tilt for the score? And, how much did your conversations with the director, Hikari, play into your musical choices?

AM: For 37 seconds, since the subject itself is about a girl who suffers from cerebral palsy and could feel heavy, but the way Hikari tells the story through Yuma is so innocently beautiful and positive. I really wanted to stay close to Yuma with the music. I think me and Hikari spoke about the score needing to have electronic elements, but it just really worked to emphasize the emotional palette of Yuma.


SSM: “Hypnotism” from HBO’s show Betty is the first song by your daughter, and it’s awesome! Do you guys collaborate on music together? Will we get to hear more of her songs on future soundtracks?

AM: Thank you! She normally shows me as she’s working on her music to share and sometimes asks me for advice. I hope we get to hear more music from her!


SSM: Selah & The Spades is an interesting show about high school factions trying to live very grown-up lives. I find your score to be a balance between a music box, especially with the beginning of “Join the Spades,” and a rush of harder drumbeats, like with “Meet the Factions.” Can you speak into your process with creating this amazing score?

AM: When I, and the director Tayarisha Poe had a conversation about music, we really wanted the music to feel like an extension of their world. So, as every film I work on, the first thing I do is to try to find the sound palette for the project. The music box felt appropriate for this twisted psychological school plot and shadowing the mystery, the drums felt appropriate to enhance being in school aspect and youth. I also incorporated lots of production sounds and made music / beats  out of it so the music could be connected with the sounds from the actual school.


SSM: What female film and television composer inspires you? What question would you ask that person?

AM: I love Mica Levi – love that she’s always exploring with sounds and her compositions. I would ask her… will you be my friend?


SSM: Your career has been so diverse – from playing with Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers to working on ads for MAC and Alexander McQueen – what advice would you offer to up-and-coming women composers?

AM: You should always stay open but true to things that comes your way related or unrelated directly to your ultimate dream because you never know how things can weave and come together.


SSM: What is coming up next for you?

AM: I just finished a drama film for Amazon called I’m Your Woman directed by Julia Hart starring Rachel Brosnahan whom I’m a big fan of . . . a very appropriate film for the changes we are going through right now as more women are coming up to claim and express their power! And After Yang, directed by Kogonada produced by A24, is a beautiful drama that takes place in the future … for this film I incorporated music by AI. And next . . . hopefully sometime for me to focus on my own music.






Anne Chmelewsky Spotlight: Celebrating Women Composers

Anne Chmelewsky - Composerr

Anne Chmelewsky is a Los Angeles-based composer who trained at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and went on to do a master’s in composition for screen at the Royal College of Music. Chmelewsky is a 2019 World Soundtrack Awards Discovery nominee for the Where Hands Touch score whose work spans film, television and stage.

Her recent credits include The Looking Screen, a one-woman operetta composed and written by Chmelewsky; Do We Belong, featured as part of The Atlantic Selects; Derek, the British comedy-drama written and directed by Ricky Gervais; and Where Hands Touch, which had its soundtrack released on Music.Film Recordings.

We reached out to Chmelewsky to discuss her process for composing music and to see what’s next for this talented composer.


SSM: I read that Bernard Herrmann made an impact on you in your early years with getting interested in film music. Is there a specific film of his that stands out to you today?

AC: I’ve always been fascinated by Herrmann’s music, and so many of his scores in my opinion are genuinely brilliant. The soundtrack to North by Northwest is perhaps the one that had the greatest impact on me, mostly because it was one of the first Hitchcock films that I watched when I was young. I love Herrmann’s harmonic language in it, his juxtaposition of dissonances with more traditional idioms. The score conveys the tension and suspense of the film, the epic nature of the undercover spy operations at hand, but also Hitchcock’s light touches of humour. It’s a perfect musical translation of the movie. There are similar elements in his unused soundtrack for Torn Curtain too, which I also regard very highly.


SSM: What music college did you attend? And while in college, was there a teacher that had an influence on you in any way that stands out? If so, can you speak into how that shows up in your work ethic or musical stylizations today? 

AC: I did my undergraduate degree in composition at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama and then went on to do a Masters in composition for screen at the Royal College of Music, both in London. My first degree was really focused on standalone concert music and we worked a lot on harmony and counterpoint, as well as the importance of visualising structure in a piece of music. The latter especially is something I still think about a lot, especially when I’m in the early stages of working on a concert piece: the development of ideas, climaxes in the music, and so on.

I also had an orchestration teacher who also taught me about the importance of making every single instrumental part have its own logical shape and direction – extremely useful advice. After I finished at the Royal College I ended up working as an assistant for composer Michael J. McEvoy, who had actually led the screen music course while I was there. He gave me my first opportunities in film music and I’ve learnt so many practical skills from him over the years – I still call on him for advice frequently!


SSM: I can imagine you work with some amazing musicians! Has there been someone or an event that stands out as having positively influenced you over the length of your career?

AC: I’m in awe of pretty much every musician I’ve ever worked with. I’m neither a great sight-reader nor a great performer, so I’m always especially inspired by people who can get up on stage or in a recording studio and make a piece of music come to life. As for my writing, it has definitely been influenced by numerous people in my life. I used to live with brass players and that led me to write a lot of chamber music for brass, which I still do today. Similarly, I started writing operettas because I spent a lot of my time at college alongside some particularly talented singers.


SSM: I am sure life can become myopic when composing for a film within a tight deadline! What things do you do to decompress during those times, and how do they influence your creative process with creating the score for that project?

AC: To be honest, I’m not great at decompressing during projects! Part of my creative process (unfortunately) is to cut myself off from the rest of the world for chunks of time and try to live in isolation as much as possible… During some recent projects I’ve tried to build a daily routine of exercise and meditation which helps a lot, but although my friends are used to me disappearing for chunks of time, I’m still actively working to improve my sociability. Locking yourself in a room for long periods of time isn’t really sustainable in the long run. Once a project is over though, I tend to get back to ‘normal’ fairly quickly.


SSM:I read that improvising is one of your favorite exercises. Can you speak into how that plays a part with creating your amazing scores?

AC: I really like improvising to a narratives. I aim to improvise for an hour each day, which I’ll always record just in case I come up with something interesting. I grew up on European comic books and used to keep them open on the stand of the piano so I improvise along with their stories. I basically still do this today, but the books are loaded onto an iPad. At its core, improvising trains your ability to develop your material: taking a small group of ideas and reworking them in every way possible, stretching them to their maximum potential. I find that this extremely useful for film scoring, where we so often have to compress or elongate material to fit changing scenes and situations on-screen.


SSM:  I find the score for Where Hands Touch to be delicate and yet resplendent. How do you balance the softness and intensity of your scores to craft such stunning music?

AC: Where Hands Touch felt like a precious gift in many ways. The story was so poignant and incorporated the intimacy of an adolescent bi-racial German girl exploring her identity against the enormity the Second World War. So musically, there were really interesting extremes to explore and convey in the same space. Amma Asante, who wrote and directed the film, spent a lot of time with me sharing aspects of the story and its history, both impenetrable in horror and at the same time so deeply human.  While the softer, more intimate themes in the music came first, the more intense and tragic thematic material took a longer time to refine and came together towards the end of the process.


SSM: What is coming up next for you?

AC: I had a few concert performances cancelled due to Covid 19 – think it’ll be a while until they are re-programmed, but later this year I have a new album coming out of chamber music for strings, trombone, harp, vibraphone, and piano, so at the moment I’m writing the follow-up record. And I’m also working on a new operetta, a modern retelling of Narcissus about a woman who falls in love with her own online profile.


Celebrating Women Composers

Spotlight: Women Composers

With the recent celebration of National Women’s Day on March 8, 2020 and Hildur Guðnadóttir’s momentous 2020 Oscar® win for Best Original Score for Warner Brothers’ Joker, Soundtracks, Scores and More honors women working in Hollywood’s world of music through a series of posts – each highlighting five female composers.

Continue reading Celebrating Women Composers