Brief list of credits
Helix, Cloud Atlas, Land of the Dead, Run Lola Run, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer
How is the sound of Helix Season two going to be different than the first season?
Well, because of the completely different setting in which the season takes place, the fully electronic, very drone oriented synth sound of the first season doesn’t really work that well now. It would be very counter to the setting. At the same time, the showrunner wants the score to still be weird. My idea was to use textures that are electronically treated but are more of an organic origin, so I actually use less straight synths. For instance, one element that I used a lot in the first season was soundscapes that I drew in a music painting program that you then render into sounds. I’m not using that as much in the second season; instead I use my own sound design that is based on samples that I did with my instrument collection. For instance, the dulcimers, old pianos and string instruments. But not very straight up, all of them treated in some sort of way so that the weirdness is still there.
Who is your favorite character to score on Helix?
That’s really hard to say because I like to find musical snippets for all the characters. I always want them to stay alive long enough for their musical elements to actually come to full circle. Sometimes the writers surprise me with their untimely deaths, so then the music can’t really be pursued. The main protagonists give you that challenge where you actually need to re-orchestrate their scenes a lot in order to make it not boring but at the same time it’s nice to explore possibilities for these themes because they reoccur. For instance, Sarah’s character is the one doing quite the journey between this season and the last. She has a very distinct theme that is played a lot so we are taking it in some different directions. As the season progresses we realize we don’t have to be to over the top and strict with the limitations. The music is not totally reinvented in season two, but there is a drastic shift with many new elements, which is great. There is another aspect to this season in the fact that we don’t have wall-to-wall music anymore. We actually have sections that are dry and I think that is also nice because you can utilize the moment when the music comes in and stops. Those are very dramatic instruments in themselves.
What is your go to instrument, one that you seem to use more than others?
I do pretty much a lot in the box, even if the origin is organic. I have used my vintage Yamaha CS-80 synthesizer. It’s a very expressive synth. You can also hear that instrument very prominently on the Blade Runner score. I’ve had this synth since the 70’s, since I started out in the business. But of course I’m not doing everything with it because there’s no time to use only vintage gear. If there was more time, I could potentially do it. I also really like experimenting and shaping sounds that I’ve recorded that lead into the direction of samples. So my software is really my instrument.
Can you tell us any secrets about the upcoming season of Helix?
The team is much reduced and there is a new team member that I like a lot. There is a lot of mystery, especially in terms of who is part of the conspiracy and what their motivation is. Also, they are on a very different location from last season. It is very low tech and very sort of past oriented, though the show is always very relevant. Battlestar Galatica was similar in that way, very metaphoric for things that are going on in the world today.
What equipment and software do you prefer to use?
I use Apple’s Logic X, which I have beta tested from its beginning. It is the recording software, a mixing software and the software that holds all my sounds together. I also use a Logic internal sampler and Native Instrument’s Kontakt 5. I have begun using that a lot more since I have been working by myself. There are so many software plugins out there these days. It really helps to get to know a handful of them really well. That handful for me is the Logic internal sampler, Kontakt 5 and U-He Zebra synthesizer, which is probably the most powerful one I know. I am still learning new aspects of it. Hans Zimmer is also a big fan of Zebra and we both agree it is some of the best software available.
You scored the art house sensation “Run Lola Run”. When you were working on that film did you have any idea it would turn into what it did? Where did you get the inspiration for that score?
I did have a sense that it was going to be that big and influential. I had met the director Tom Tykwer right at the time I decided to move to America and leave Germany because I didn’t want to continue producing pop music anymore. Right when I met him, I wanted to work with him and he really made me hesitate moving to America because he was a great artist. As I was moving, he gave me the screenplay to Run Lola Run. When I read it I knew I had to do it, even for free, because it was that amazing. In the fall of 1997, I went back to Berlin and we started doing some layouts. At that time techno music in films was starting to become popular. Trainspotting was one of them and later, The Marix Trilogy. But the difference with these other movies was that the music was licensed and the movie was created around already existing songs. We wanted to do it differently and create songs around the film. We gave Tom a bunch of layouts and placeholders with certain beats per minute that would go into the different sections of the movie because there was a rough cut already. We then went into the studio and did pieces at these precise beats per minute. He was cutting to these placeholders and using the pacing that was already there in the cut, so it was easy to hit these things when we were scoring. The pioneering thing that happened was we were working as film composers but with a different kind of vocabulary. We were actually using the vocabulary of electronica music to score the film. I think that is one of the reasons why people were impressed with how it came out.
Some of your first success came with the Nina Hagen Band. How did your experience with that mold you into the composer you have become today?
It was just one of the many interesting encounters I had in my lifetime that was definitely mind opening for me. The reason why I say this is back then the music you listened to defined you and what group you belonged to. At that time I went through a lot of phases and was always very extremist. I would like one style for two years then move on to the next. So the good thing was I did get very familiar with a lot of different styles of music. The more complicated the music, the better. You find your skills that way. I stumbled upon this band and thought I would fit in. I was still in the music academy and they invited me to jam with them just to try it out. I saw how amazing it was and knew that we were going to be an eclectic punk band so I decided to join. I only stayed with Nina for two years but those were very formative years for me, where anything seemed possible musically. Stylistically, the Nina Hagen Band was all over the place. The music was very expressive and very opposite of the brainiac stuff that I had been into before. It was very eye opening. I got that bug where experimentation trumped everything.
Any specific “lessons learned” on a project that you could share?
I think the way you interact with filmmakers as a composer is very important. I think it is important to realize you are a collaborator, while at the same time not the filmmaker. You are working under someone who has the vision and overview for the whole thing and that’s why they call the shots. The biggest lesson to learn is how to integrate and roll with the decisions and serve the filmmaker and project 100%.
Any tips, hints or motivational speeches for the readers?
Film composing today is hugely dependent on knowledge of technology and computers. The technical aspect is very big in general. You can be a composer with a pencil and paper, but then you are dependent on getting big budget features from the beginning and that won’t be the case. Try to have a broad spectrum of skills. That includes sound generation, mixing, and use of computer programs.