The upcoming master of horror scores: Introducing composer Juan Iglesias
This really is a premiere. It’s the first time that I’ll introduce you not only to a horror film composer but also to a composer for musical theatres.
London based composer Juan Iglesias started his career when he was making some movies and was therefore looking for somebody to compose the music for him. Since he couldn’t find anybody he experienced a bit with his piano and figured out that this kind of work really was what he had to do for a living. Since then he learned a lot about how to arrange different instruments, how to write and read music to move people in a way they never experienced before. Several years later he composed now the soundtrack for “Blackout“, winner of the short horror film section at Shriekfest 2012 in Hollywood!
Juan Iglesias about his score for “Blackout”
In a recent interview (which is actually very divertive! :D) with Denise Gossett, director and founder of the shriekfest Festival for Horror, Scy-Fi, Thriller and Fantasy movies, Juan an Denise were talking about how many can be damaged by the music of a film and Denise mentioned especially how Blackout stood out in an extraordinary way:
Then you get a film like “Blackout” where everything is just in the right spot at the right time and you’re just pulled in and it’s a great ride.
Juan Iglesias told us that he “was given the final cut of this movie less than a fortnight before the Cannes 2012 deadline. This didn’t leave a lot of time, but then that’s quite normal for composers…” I wonder what would change in the film music business if that wasn’t the case. Would there be a huge change in the quality or would it be the same as in any other creativity business where creativity clearly needs some air to breath but also a bunch of time pressure to get it done and to finally be able to say at the end of a day that everything what could be done is done now? Because otherwise many composers maybe would go crazy because no composition would ever be finished without a fixed deadline? Tell me what you think about it and leave a comment :)
Juan also told us how you can avoid to bore the viewer of a horror movie with your score:
One of the biggest challenges with Blackout was that the film has a lot of sequences of possible danger, with a monster lurking in the dark. Scoring each tense moment in the same way would be repetitive, so I had to give it some variety, usually in texture, volume or motifs. Yet at the same time, nothing should stick out like a sore thumb. Every cue had to sound as though it belonged to the whole, so it became a delicate balance of diversity and cohesion.
It doesn’t have a theme in a traditional sense, but it does have certain signatures running throughout the score. One is a four-note motif that is the closest resemblance to a theme: it ‘lurks’ in the shadows with very quiet tremolo strings, or it ‘attacks’ with savage percussion. Another is a single note that wavers in and out of pitch, slowly increasing in volume until it is cut off (like a blackout). I try to think of little trademarks like that, which I can work into the score and develop. It helps in creating the musical world of a film.
Furthermore director James Bushe is a big fan of old-school action scores and Juan wanted to let it sound organic somehow: “nothing too artificial or contemporary”. They both complied in taking Ridley Scott’s “Alien” as an important source of inspiration (particularly the first and third) and if you listen closely to these 4 tracks of the score, you maybe notice the tricks Juan learned from the great Jerry Goldsmith and Elliot Goldenthal :) The entire soundtrack is available on ITunes.
Speaking of old-school scores I’d like to show you now an adventure piece by Juan, inspired by movies like “Raiders” and “E.T.” as he told us. Besides these two influces of his favorite composer John Williams I think I’ve heard some Jurassic Park (also John Williams) out of it. Especially in the ending sequence :) It’s full of retro sounds expressing most of the time the joy and the happy times you have while being on an adventure:
It’s my tribute to that musical escapism and the fun of those types of scores. The themes in this piece are bold and overt. I’ve developed them in quite a variety of ways and tried to make the orchestration as colourful as possible. It ranges from heroic brass fanfares and tribal drums to frantic xylophones, bells and whistles. I thought the textures were just as important as the thematic material for a piece like this. It was a joy to compose.
Juan Iglesias, the composer for musical theatre
As mentioned in the introduction Juan Iglesias is also a composer for musical theatre plays. I’d like to show you another piece which was inspired by a “Dracula” production on stage before we’ll get to his “real” compositions. Dracula is one of Juan’s favorite novels and so he sat down to write his own soundtrack piece:
For me, Dracula is never just about the horror, there’s a lot of empathy in the story so I tried to channel it into the music. A solo violin melody worked like a dream for that. Especially when mixed with more grandiose moments, it gave a blend of terror and tenderness. The theme is quite clearly defined from the outset and I used it as the basis of every part of the composition. The chant is the terror part of the piece. The words are actually just random inflections that I chose because of their ‘attacking’ quality. S, SH, D & T sounds were quite effective (there’s a few ‘Draculs’ and Mortas’ in there). I used them to build up a rhythm (like a heartbeat or hunger) and it sounded quite cool so there it stayed. This ‘chant of blood’ gave me the title.
To introduce you to Juan’s theatrical work and his way funnier side – representing the impression of Juan you’ll get when you listen to the interview with Denise (see above). Juan is not only the composer of the music but also the writer of the lyrics to many musical theatres and they are full of wit! I listened to his pieces for hours now and it really is fun ^^ Here’s the amusing “You gotta lotta Bluster, dick” for you (part of “The Devil’s Disciple” by Eddie Coleman) followed by an example of the lyrics at 0:54:
You gotta lotta bluster, Dick
You gotta lotta muster, Dick
You gotta lot
Such a big shot
Think you’re real hot
But you’re nothing but a hustler, Dick
You’re nothing but a hustler, Dick Dudgeon
In “Oh, Carol”, a musical again by Eddie Coleman, Juan wrote the following passage for one of the protagonists, Dave (you’ll hear it at 7:28):
Succulent lips; grab-able hips
Nice-looking brass; spank-able ass
Ready to go, never say no
Never to shy; gives you the eye
Long curly hair; little to wear
Skirt you can hike, do what you like
These are the things that turn us on
Someone who never says it’s wrong
Eager to play with when we get the urges
After we’re working to excess
After a day that’s filled with stress
We get the urges!
And here’s a slice from the last cooperation of these two which I really like. It’s a bit calmer, performed by Chaz Doyle and Melissa Cox and it is part of “This Side of Neptune”:
There’s also “Between the silence on IMDb“, a theatrical movie, featuring Juan’s music. It’s about “a torn family disintergrating under the stress of their mother’s terminal illness causes each of them to reach out for help from the people around them. …Discovering the truth of what they have right infront of them and those words that lie between the Silence and their loved ones.” Here’s how he describes the feelings he wanted to transfer with his music:
To me, the story of the movie felt obsessive and I always thought that if the characters just let go of a few things, then life would’ve been a little better. So I tackled the music the same way. The composition is rhythmically obsessive, it doesn’t stop. And the rhythm itself is a completely irregular metre. Consequently it became a bit of a struggle keeping time but the ensemble was quite small: piano, guitars, bass and sampled sounds. My cue from director Luke Moss was that he wanted a ‘Clint Mansell’ sound, so I tried a few tricks which hopefully evoke that influence.
There is even more Iglesias music! Based on the libretto by Shaun Gardiner he composed a special piece he’s very proud of: “Wreckage Of Dreams” is about a boat-full of survivors on an unforgiving ocean. It was part of a campaign by the the English National Opera where they encouraged composers and writers to create so called “mini-operas”. You can hear how despaired everyone is in the kind of distructive way of composing it. In the end it reminded me of the Sweeney Todd Soundtrack.
My approach was impressionistic. I decided to ‘paint’ the scenes using instruments from the orchestra. A hovering helicopter had whirling string figures for its blades; the gulls were represented by circling patterns on woodwind; a ship approaching was a wall of brass; and the restless waves were the rumbling timpani and trembling strings. Over all of these sounds was the desolate and dissonant tones from the choir, giving us an overwhelming sense of despair.
Of course, I didn’t have the luxury of a full choir when recording so I cheated by using a few extremely talented singers, alto Stephanie Urquhart, mezzo-soprano Melissa Cox and tenor Leonardo Rossetti. I recorded them performing all the parts and then combined them to form the choir. Shaun’s words actually lent themselves very well to counterpoint, so the singers could sing together or against each other, and the result was quite effective.
Juan Iglesias loves Trailer Music and to experiment a lot
Juan also loves trailer music. “And I love little soundbites of music that can inspire so much.” So it’s my duty to show you two other pieces representing his diversive style:
It was inspired by the sheer love of fantasy. I’ve created a lot of electronic sounds in the piece and I established triple-clap sound as its signature.
This is to get the blood pumping. I was conscious of relentless rhythm throughout and the chord progressions I used gave it a ‘feel-good’ factor. I thought of it as a contemporary type of Rocky tune.
Last but not least to mention there’s also Juan’s experimental movie score for a short film by Gerard Giorgi-Coll. Where “the approach of director Gerard Giorgi-Coll and myself, was to take old-fashioned scoring techniques and apply them to a modern picture.” You can watch the music only version here on Juan’s Youtube channel including an extensive description of his thoughts about the making of the score.