Tag Archives: Erica Pope

Brittany Allen Spotlight: Celebrating Women Composers

 

Brittany Allen is a composer, producer, songwriter and Emmy-winning actor. Her 2018 debut film score, South by Southwest®’s breakout hit What Keeps You Alive, was named ‘one of the ten best horror films of 2018’ by Rolling Stone Magazine and recently landed in Netflix’s Top Ten. Allen not only composed the score but stars in the film – the third she has made with her partner, filmmaker Colin Minihan.

Her second feature score, Z, premiered on AMC’s Shudder and became one of the top films streamed on the service. More recently, Allen scored the 2020 SXSW short Selfie, which is now in development at Netflix to be turned into a feature. She is set to score the third season of the Netflix and CW show Two Sentence Horror Stories.

Along with her work as a composer, Allen is known for her roles in the horror genre. Most notably, she starred in Lionsgates’ Jigsaw, MGM-owned Orion Pictures’ The Prodigy and Dark Sky Films’ It Stains the Sands Red, which was written and directed by Minihan. In television, she left her mark as Popclaw in Season 1 of Amazon’s hit The Boys, produced by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg through their Point Grey Pictures company.

Allen also writes and produces dark pop music under the name Britt.

We reached out to Allen to talk about her new score for Z , released on Lakeshore Records yesterday, her role on Season 1 of The Boys and what’s coming up next for this multitalented artist.

 

SSM: Z is an awesome horror film about a couple whose 8-year-old son begins seeing an entity in the home. Can you speak a bit about how you created the score? 

BA: With ‘Z’, it was important to balance the family drama/ tragedy with the horror. The film deals a lot with very real trauma coming back to haunt a person, and it also looks at the isolation of a mother as she tries to do what’s best for her son, even as he slips further and further away from her. So, firstly my job as a composer is to understand the heart of the story and find a way to connect to it on a personal level. And then it’s about connecting with the director, Brandon Christensen, and getting a feel for the soundscape that he hears the film existing in and having a dialogue where we hopefully find a middle ground between his vision and mine.

Brandon gave me a lot of room to play creatively. He liked the idea of bringing in a classic orchestral sound and I wanted to combine that with dark and distorted and twisted electronic sounds. To bridge the two, I bought a used violin at a flea market and recorded a bunch of takes where I played the ugliest/ most grating sounds I could make, and then those sounds became the basis for a lot of the horror themes.

I work primarily in Ableton, and it gives you a lot of freedom to really rip apart a sound and build something unique, so there was a lot of experimentation to layer and shift and distort the organic violin and have it be the connecting tissue between the strings in the sweeping orchestral movements and the more heavy affected percussive and atmospheric horror.

When I’m building the main themes for the characters and arc of the film, I start with the piano. I approach the material in a similar way that I do as an actor – I lead with my heart and I try to empathize with the characters’ needs and fears and desires, put myself in their shoes, and when I feel like I have a good connection to that deep within, I’ll sit down at the piano and I’ll let my hands guide me. They know where to take me, rhythmically, tempo-wise, and melodically. I’ll put my phone on record and see what I come up with. It’s a pretty magical process, that part of it, and a very exciting moment when you find the notes that properly convey the feeling you’re after.

 

SSM: I read that ‘Imagination’ was the first track you wrote for Z. Can you speak about your process with creating such a soft track that builds to convey the creative mind of an 8 year old? 

BA: I actually wrote ‘Imagination’ as part of a pitch that I built for Brandon prior to getting the job. I made a five minute piece, that started with an early version of ‘Imagination’, then devolved into one of the driving horror themes, and then returned to a more epic and dramatic and dark version of ‘Imagination’ – which eventually became ‘All Is Gone’, the climactic piece at a dark moment in the film.

With ‘Imagination’, I wanted to seduce the audience into feeling safe. The whole crux of the horror is that a child’s imagination can be contorted to something sinister, so my goal was to build some beautiful melodies that captured the innocence of childhood, and that could then be warped and orchestrated differently as the film progressed and the innocence was lost and hijacked by this evil force. That’s something I get a real kick out of, transforming/ deepening the meaning behind a theme throughout the course of a film.

So, you might hear a theme once and feel one way, but then later hear that exact same theme, but there’s a new element to it that gives you a completely different feeling, or points to the loss of that initial feeling. Imagination book ends the film, but by the end, it’s sparse and slow, and resigned and sad, vs at the beginning when it’s full of movement and hope.

SSM: I read in a previous interview that you were terrified to expose yourself in the truest way while shooting What Keeps You Alive, which you also scored. What was the process like with scoring and starring in a film? And how did that play into the development of the score?

BA: “What Keeps You Alive” was the first film I scored, so it was helpful that I had acted in it as well. It gave me a very thorough understanding of the story and the characters, well before scoring – my body had lived through it, so it came fairly naturally to then express what I had experienced, into the score. It took some stepping back when I had to build the music for Jackie (the villain in the film). Because her themes and her rhythms needed to be entirely their own thing, derived from Hannah Emily Anderson’s performance.

To have approached that from the perspective of Jules (the character I played) in the music would have been wrong. So then I had to get into her head. And find her needs, her desires, her feelings – or lack thereof. But again, coming from an acting background, I was able to use the skills I’ve built in that area to sink into Jackie’s essence, really taking all the cues from Anderson, but ultimately with the goal of embodying her mindset so that I could translate that into music. That film is very dear to me since I was with it for so long.

 

SSM: You won an Emmy Award and more recently starred as Popclaw in Season 1 of Amazon’s The Boys. Can you speak about your transition into working as a composer? 

BA: I’ve been a working actor since I was a kid up in Canada. I love acting, and I’ve been fortunate as an actor, but I’ve always felt pulled and inspired by other forms of expression too. It’s pretty rare that a project like “The Boys” or “What Keeps You Alive” comes along, where the thesis of the project speaks to me on a deep level, and where the final outcome is something I really stand behind.

An actor is a pivotal but relatively small piece of the bigger puzzle of filmmaking, and I oftentimes felt hindered by the lack of control over the final product. I studied musical theatre for most of my childhood and during college, so I was trained to understand story through music. And, funnily I see all of that now as the building blocks to me becoming a composer. In musicals, the characters break into song when they are so overcome with emotion that they can’t just speak it. So, I get that. Scoring is the same.

When the emotions get so heightened in a film that music organically has to come in to support that. And as in musicals, characters have themes or melodic voices that are unique depending on who they are and what they’re trying to express. I grew up in love with [Stephen] Sondheim, who is a master at articulating the human experience through music. So I think all of that really forms the basis for how I approach scoring, and why it’s been such a natural transition for me.

 

SSM: Speaking of The Boys, your death scene was pretty iconic! How was it taking on such an amazing character?

 BA: I loved working on “The Boys”. Popclaw is one of the most fun characters I’ve had the chance to play. It was truly an honour to be a part of a project that had so much to say and was not afraid to take a shit on some of the major institutions of society and challenge the status quo in a badass way.  I keep hoping that Popclaw has just been cryogenically frozen and will be revived in an upcoming season to take down The Seven. She’s a mess but she’s a killer!

 

SSM: From singer/songwriter, composer to award-winning actress – what advice can you offer to others with a multiplicity of talents such as yourself?

BA: Don’t be afraid to try new things. And if you are afraid, do it anyway. YouTube tutorials will be your best friend. (Just don’t get sucked into their algorithm and go down an extremist hole). But for real, I’ve taught myself everything so far with music production and scoring, and a lot of what I’ve learned has been from YouTube. The learning curve can be daunting, but if you keep at it, day after day, you will get over the hump. And then you’ll seek out the next hump to get over. And then you’ll realize that’s where the fun is – that the learning never stops and there are so many ways to make music / listen to music / understand music, and it’s just this never-ending adventure.

Also, finish your work. As a creative person who is always bouncing from one idea to another, it’s really important to pick one thing and see it through. Then jump to the next. Sometimes if you try to do it all at once, you end up with a bunch of half-finished projects. But also, different kinds of art can inform each other. I used to think I had to quit acting to become a composer, and though there will be times where I will have to prioritize one over the other, I’ve come to realize that both can complement and inspire each other, and there is no need to put yourself in a box.

 

SSM: What’s coming up next for you?

BA: I’m about to jump into scoring my first TV show. It’s a great horror anthology originally created by Vera Miao, for CW/Netflix. It’s called “Two Sentence Horror Stories”. I also have an EP under my pop alias “Britt” coming out on vinyl through Burning Witches Records. It’s called Khamai Lion and it will be out before the end of the year.

Soundtrack Available Now: [Download/Listen]

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Emmy Nominee Amanda Jones Spotlight: Celebrating Women Composers

Amanda Jones is a Los Angeles-based composer and songwriter. She made Primetime Emmy® history as the first African-American woman to be nominated for Outstanding Music Composition for a Documentary Series or Special (Original Dramatic Score) for her Apple TV+ ‘Maine’ episode of Home.

Jones previously worked on OWN’s anthology series Cherish the Dayproduced by Ava DuVernay; BET’s Twenties, produced by Lena Waithe; HBO’s A Black Lady Sketch Show, produced by Robin Thede; and Shitty Boyfriends with executive producer Lisa Kudrow.

She is also the acclaimed frontwoman of the LA-based Indie rock band The Anti-Job. Jones holds a bachelor’s degree from Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, in music composition and studied both film scoring and orchestration at Berklee College of Music Online, Boston, Massachusetts.

We reached out to Jones to discuss her recent nomination and her advice for up-and-coming composers.

 

SSM: The Apple TV+ series Home is an architectural work of families living in some of the most innovative spaces. But more than that, it delves into the homeowners’ lives. Can you speak about your experiences with home and family and how they shaped your career today?

AJ: In my personal experience and upbringing, home and family are everything. Annual and cultural traditions that are centered around a family members’ home are special moments that are easily taken for granted and you really don’t realize how impactful they are in one’s own life until you’re getting married and building a family of your own. Career-wise my parents were always supportive but slightly skeptical of my pursuit of a career in music —  their traditional values led me to initially pursue a more stable career path in the STEM field but ultimately my heart led to music.

 

SSM: What was the creative process like for you while scoring the ‘Maine’ episode for Home? What instruments did you use to create such beautiful sounds? 

AJ: It all started with creative conversations with the Apple TV+ Music team and executive producers Doug Pray and Collin Orcutt. They really wanted me to lean into a songwriter sensibility and because of that we arrived at a score that was very much inspired by band instrumentation. The score incorporates my voice, acoustic and electric guitars, bass, piano, analog synths, drums and string players.

There are also two distinctive sonic universes – the Maine setting and Japan setting. At the onset of the project we really wanted to make sure there was a clear separation of sound between the two spaces. The Maine setting is more folk-inspired, with warm pads and softer drum and guitar arrangements while the Japan setting featured more angular and aggressive drum parts, and brighter guitar and synth tones.

 

SSM: You’re originally from Virginia but attended Vassar College for music in New York. While composing the ‘Maine’ episode, set in Spruce Head, Maine, was there anything from your time living in the upper East Coast that you drew from while creating the tone of the score? 

AJ: The east coast / northeast hold a very special place in my heart. I was born in Columbia, Maryland, grew up in Virginia, we often visited my grandparents who lived in upstate New York (Binghamton, NY and Niagara Falls, NY) and we often enjoyed summers around Cape Cod, Massachusetts. The seasons are so special and Winter on the east coast is really a magical wonderland to behold – especially as a child.

I definitely tapped into those memories when approaching the wintry settings in the Maine episode of HOME, especially with the cue “A Day in the Life” which is an ode and lullaby really to the most beautiful wintry day spending quality time with family.

 

SSM: You’ve worked with some amazing composers, including Hans Zimmer, Henry Jackman and John Powell. Is there a person that has specifically inspired you throughout your career?

AJ: I’d be remiss to not include a few folks! My classical guitar instructor Terry Champlin at Vassar College was such a guiding light and incredible teacher. In addition to classical guitar he also taught me how to record music which was a priceless tool. There’s also composer Michael A. Levine who I worked with around the same time as Hans Zimmer, Henry Jackman and John Powell. I learned so much from working in all of their studios.

Michael was especially helpful with growing my instrument library, introducing me to the Television Academy and we would have very candid conversations about how Hollywood “works” – definitely a groundbreaking and eye-opening experience.

 

SSM: You and composer Michael Abels founded the Composers Diversity Collection. Can you speak about what that is and how it came to be?

AJ: Michael Abels founded the Composers Diversity Collective and I’m a co-founder along with a handful of other incredible composers. The organization exists to eliminate the entertainment industry’s challenge to find culturally diverse music creators, music supervisors, sound engineers and musicians, to increase our own awareness of each other, and to dispel misconceptions about the stylistic range of any minority composer.

We’re an organization of music creators who are achieving a workplace environment in the entertainment industry as diverse as our society. We offer a variety of memberships that accommodate everyone

 

SSM: You have worked with some great voices in entertainment from Lena Waithe on Twenties, Ava DuVernay on Cherish the Day to Amanda Krieg Thomas on Twenties! What importance do you think forging a supportive community of women in the composing world holds?

AJ: Having a supportive community of women in the composing world makes ALL the difference. In general having more women in the room (recording studios, editing bays, sound stages) it just feels so much more natural. Those spaces feel more inclusive. Groups like the Alliance of Women Composers have done so much for creating opportunities and spaces for female composers to thrive.

The composing world is a male-dominated field so it’s nice to have forums where women can feel safe while building relationships, and asking certain questions ranging from hardware, equipment, gear, music workflow to motherhood, managing stress and keeping a balanced family life.

 

SSM: You stated in previous interviews that activism and mentorship are important with guiding the next generation of composers. What advice do you have for up-and-coming women composers? 

AJ: I think first and foremost, learn your craft. Hone your skill-set whether it’s with classes or putting it into practice and make sure you know how to create a beautiful cue! Also make sure you know how to use your equipment (DAW, VSTs, hardware, software, any instruments, etc). Then see if you can work with or shadow (internships / mentorships) some of the best composers.

Don’t feel bashful about reaching out to your favorite composers and seeing if they have positions available in their studio. Alongside all of this you should be continuously reaching out to any friends, creatives, up-and-coming directors, producers, etc to see if they need a composer for their next project and then finally keep updating your website, socials, visual and audio composer reels with your latest and greatest work.

 

SSM: What’s coming up next for you? 

AJ: There’s lots in the pipeline I’d love to share —  but the most recent is the limited series “Love in the Time of Corona” from Freeform which is now streaming on HULU.

 

 

 

Emmy Nominee Kathryn Bostic Spotlight: Celebrating Women Composers

Acclaimed composer and singer/songwriter Kathryn Bostic has spent her career creating compelling scores for some of the most lauded projects of stage and screen. Recently, she composed the music for Timothy Greenfield-Sanders’ Toni Morrison: The Pieces I Am, for which she earned a 2020 Primetime Emmy® nomination for Outstanding Music Composition.

Bostic previously scored Ava DuVernay’s 2012 Sundance-winner Middle of Nowhere, Justin Simien’s award-winning movie Dear White People and Chinonye Chukwu’s 2019 Sundance Grand Jury-winner Clemency.

She was the first African-American woman to join the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences® and served as vice president of the Alliance for Women Film Composers from 2016 to 2018.

We reached out to Bostic to discuss her recent Emmy nomination and the role musicians play in today’s ever-changing world!

 

SSM: I want to congratulate you on your 2020 Emmy nomination for Toni Morrison: The Pieces I am! For the film, you performed your Oscar 2020 Shortlist original song ‘High Above the Water.’ For the film Clemency, you performed your original song ’Slow Train.’ What importance do you put on including an original song when creating a score? Is it something that you go into the project thinking about or does it develop naturally? 

KB: It happened organically and was a “gift” because I don’t assume that, because I’m writing the score for a film, I also will be writing songs for it as well. In both films I was asked to write the songs to maintain the tone and sonic palette that I had created in the score. There are some of my vocal textures in both scores so the songwriting and performing was an extension of that.

 

SSM: You spoke in a previous interview about the director and producer, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, and editor, Johanna Giebelhaus, giving you free rein with creating the score. Can you speak about the level of importance this type of trust goes into the creative process for composers? 

KB: Trust is extremely important because it frees up inhibitions that might obstruct the flow of the collaborative process. Ultimately the director needs to feel assured that they are going to get a score that will be effective and powerful to further enhance and define their film. This requires a lot of trust and communication because the process can be full of a lot of twists and turns before the right tone and sound for the film are developed.

So there has to be a trust in this unfolding and sometimes you don’t have a lot of time to find this, so trust is imperative. We found the tone immediately with the Toni Morrison film because we were all operating on a very high level of reverence, openness and divination in the amazing energy field of Toni Morrison!  I mean, she is a force so all you have to do is tap into that and you strike gold!

 

SSM: How much of that freedom lent to crafting an organic score for this documentary? 

KB: The entire score and song were crafted from that place of freedom. Once the director and producers saw and heard how my sketches and themes were simpatico with what they needed, they trusted the unfolding of that and gave me a lot of room to experience and create this. The  music “wrote itself” as a result.

 

 

SSM: You grew up in a musical home. Is there a specific moment that made you decide to craft a career in composing? 

KB: Music was and is always about storytelling and for me the way in which it made me feel growing up and experiencing this in my home while my mother practiced piano and composed had an impact on me on a sensory level. I don’t know that I ever actually formalized my appreciation for writing music by calling it “composing”, I just always enjoyed the places listening to music and writing music would take me. So I think it was a  natural fit that I compose and perform music.

 

SSM: I’ve heard you speak about the importance of authenticity. How do you remain true to yourself as a woman working in a male-dominated field?

KB: I’ve always focused on the craft, the gift of being able to create music. My authenticity is in that creativity and that’s what resonates with people I collaborate with. I am starting to see more women composers and more racial diversity in hiring but there’s still a long way to go.

The talent and resources are certainly available. The perception and action have to shift to reflect a much more truthful and universal outreach that reflects ALL people, not just recycle constructed narratives that maintain the status quo.

 

SSM: You have been the recipient of many honors, including the Sundance Fellowship for Film Scoring, BMI Conducting Fellowship, Sundance/Skywalker Documentary Film Scoring and hosted Masterclasses for Columbia University and the Chicago Film Office. What importance do you place on seasoned composers sharing their knowledge to burgeoning students of film scoring? 

KB: I think it’s really important to share what I can that may inspire someone to stay the course with whatever they are passionate about. That’s essentially what I’ve been doing as a film composer , a singer, a creator of music. I think it’s important to share with students that everyone’s path is different insofar as how they achieve success in their career, and that life is not linear, it is an unfolding of experiences and choices.

So there’s a practical overview I like to share as well as a philosophical one. When I was a student it was invaluable to hear from successful musicians and composers who were on the leading edge of their craft as well as down to earth, who had the same vulnerability as I might have and hear how they worked through these moments.

 

SSM: Recently, you wrote and performed ‘Safely Home,’ which is a beautiful song of encouragement and hope. What part do you think musicians play with healing during times of uncertainty? 

KB: Thank you, I wrote that song when I needed to feel that way, so that song “wrote itself” as well. Music touches people and the emotional connection is visceral and powerful. You can hear a piece of music and not know or understand the language it’s being performed in or the instruments that are playing but you can be moved in ways that can immediately change and heal your mind and mood.

Musicians are the ambassadors of the heart and soul. What an incredible gift!! It truly is a universal language. Music has been and continues to be a great teacher and force in my life.

Soundtrack Available Now: [Download/Listen]

 

Anne Nikitin Spotlight: 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]

 

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.