An Interview with Arnau Bataller by John Mansell © 2011
Arnau Bataller was born in Alzira, Valencia, in 1977. Thanks to the influence of his parents, he had an early interest in music, theater and reading. At the age of seven he began studying music theory and violin at the Alzira Musical Society. After getting a professional degree in violin in 1998, Arnau decided to concentrate his efforts in the world of composition. He had always been attracted to the union of music and image, so he decided to specialize in music for film. For this reason he decided to pursue his studies in composition at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles. His three years here helped him grow as a composer and as a person – and also to hate fast food! Arnau finished his studies at the University of Southern California in late 2002. Since then, Arnau has been composing music for several feature films, including 14 DAYS WITH VICTOR, HÉROES, OUIJA and LA HERENCIA VALDEMAR. He has also written concert music, including the chamber piece ‘Tre movimenti alla Rossini’ which was recorded by Josep Fuster and Isabel Hernández. Arnau has been nominated for several awards, including the Jerry Goldsmith Award and the II Gaudí Awards for HÉROES.
You were born in Alzira in Valencia in 1977; at what age did you begin to take an interest in music, and what first attracted you to it. Did you come from a family background that was at all musical?
I did not have any musicians at all in my family. I started studying music when I was just 7 years of age, my parents thought that I spent too much time watching TV. So they decided that both my Brother and I should partake in some extra activities after school. So we both began to study music, English and learnt how to play tennis!
I think I am correct when I say your chosen instrument is the violin, however when working out your musical ideas for film and television what instrument or instruments do you utilize?
I started my career playing violin until I got my professional degree, which was almost 14 years ago. Since then I use a keyboard to play and record all the music into a computer as a first step to have a decent mock-up. Once the director approves the mock-up, I then orchestrate everything so we can record it with a live orchestra.
What musical education did you undertake and what areas of music did you concentrate upon?
I had mainly a traditional musical education in the conservatory first, after which I attended college. I got my composition degree at University of Southern California where I started to study in 1998, which is probably the best place to study film music. I have always loved orchestral music, so that’s my main area of concentration, mixing a traditional sound with more contemporary techniques.
Did you decide to try and make a career out of writing music for film early on in your studies?
When I finished high school, at 18, I decided to study music as a professional career. Since the beginning I knew I wanted to become a composer and write music for the concert hall and also for films. But to get there, first I had to finish my violin studies, so I concentrated on playing as much as I could to finish as soon as possible.
One of your first scoring assignments was a documentary series entitled CASTLES IN TIME, which I think ran for 13 episodes, how much music did you have to write for this series and what size orchestra/ensemble did you utilize for the project?
CASTLES IN TIME was my first professional gig, I never had written for picture or used MIDI instruments, so I started with this huge documentary series… It was crazy, but I did learned a lot quite quickly. I think I wrote more than 3 hours of music for the series…
The difference between working on documentaries, films and also television productions must differ greatly from the point of budgets and also time allowed to compose the score, on smaller productions with limited budgets how do you make a small ensemble sound large if the director/producer feels he needs a grander sound for the picture?
I’ve been very lucky to have all of my music played always by live instruments. One of the first tasks I have to do is try to explain why I need a certain number of players. If I need a big sound I try to get all the players I can. If not, you can make the music sound bigger if you orchestrate in the right way.
ERMESSENDA is an epic television production which centers on the life and times of Ermessenda of Carcasonne, The Baroness of Catalunya, who reigned for 60 years during the 11th century, did you have to undertake a lot of research into the music of the period for this assignment, the sound clips I have heard sound wonderful, what orchestra did you engage for the score and will there be a compact disc of the music released?
The director did not want a pure historical approach, just some instruments to have a certain sound. The music was written for a string orchestra mainly and choir with virtual instruments interpreted by myself. It was recorded with the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra, which is the orchestra that I normally prefer use to record my music. I hope in the near future we can release the CD.
Do you orchestrate all of your music for film, and do you like many other composers who work in cinema feel that orchestration is an extension of the composing process, and allows the composer to fine tune his creativity?
Yes, I think orchestrating is a very important process that can be very creative. I enjoy it immensely. It’s true you don’t have a lot of time to do it, but as I started orchestrating music for other composers, I have had a great deal of practice in the process so I can be quick when I need to be.
You have also composed music for concert hall performance, have you incorporated any of these compositions or adapted any of them and utilized them within your film scores and vice versa?
No, but you could say that influences from both of the worlds are present in both the film scores and also the concert music.
Have you conducted any of your film music in a live performance?
Not as yet, but maybe in the future?
Do you have a preference for any particular recording studio or orchestra when you are scoring a movie?
Yes, as I said, I love the Bratislava Symphony Orchestra. My next move would be to start recording in London, but until I can afford it, I’m very happy working with David Hernando, the conductor of the orchestra.
Your score for THE VALDEMAR INHERITANCE is for me a triumph in film scoring, it is so rich and haunting, how much time were you allowed to come up with the complete score and was the director of the movie have a hands on approach when it came to the music or were you allowed to score the project with out much input from him?
I had three months to work on it, but for the first month I did not have the final cut of the movie. I did not have a lot of input from the director. He gave me a lot of freedom. Almost until the end he did not listen to the music… I was lucky he liked everything!
At what stage do you prefer to become involved on a film score or television assignment, does it help you more to have a script or maybe it is more productive if you do not become involved until the rough cut of the movie is ready?
I do not start writing to picture until I have the final cut, but it’s good to start thinking about the music before, even trying some themes, musical colours, etc.
In your opinion what is the purpose of music in film?
It has so many purposes… It can be there to express feelings, to create atmospheres, just to help to the editing, to make transitions smoother, to emphasize some ideas, objects, phrases… In general, the main purpose should be to make the image better than it is alone. If you can’t do that, then do not put music into the scene!
LA SOMBRA PROHIBIDA is the sequel to THE VALDEMAR INHERITANCE, did you incorporate or re-arrange any of the material from the original score and fuse it with the new score?
Yes, there is some material from the first movie incorporated within the sequel to have continuity and coherence with LA HERENCIA VALDEMAR, since LA SOMBRA PROHIBIDA is the second part where all the mysteries get resolved. But the majority of the music is completely new.
Do you have a set routine when working on a movie score, by this I mean do you begin with the main title theme and work through the film till the end titles, or do you like to create a principal theme or themes firstly, then create and develop the score from these?
First I try to have a general idea about the sound, if it’s small, big, intimate, jazz oriented, more electronic, etc. Then I try to get the main ideas and develop the rest of the music from them.
The majority of the scores I have heard written by yourself sound fully symphonic and grand, do you support the traditional symphonic with electronic/synthetic instrumentation often or seldom, or does this depend on the particular project and its own requirements?
I love orchestral music but also I love more intimate approaches, with small size orchestras. Every movie is different and the most important thing is to find the right colour/size/approach of the music that fits the image.
How many times do you like to see a film before getting any fixed ideas on where the music should be placed and what style of music the project requires etc
It depends, I try to look it as much as I can but normally you don’t get so much time.
What scores are you working on at the moment?
I just finished a movie directed by Jordi Molla and also an historical miniseries for TV set in 1914.