At the dawning of what feels like a new era, I thought I’d take this chance to reflect on the past ten years of my life as a composer and musician.
In 2010, I was a fresh faced, (relative) newcomer to my new home of Vienna. I spoke only a few sentences of German and struggled unceasingly with the grammar of the strange yet colourful new language. These problems were further compounded by the pervading Viennese ‘German’ dialect, that rendered my ‘Hoch Deutsch’ studies rather useless.
I was, thankfully, very quick to make new friends; friends who became colleagues, colleagues who have become much like a second family to me. Through their company and patient tutelage I slowly developed my German skills, even learning some very important Wienerisch phraseology along the way.
City of Excellence
I have often heard, in spite of Vienna’s status as one of the best places in the world to live, how hard it can be for foreigners to settle in. The Viennese are typically shy and reserving, outwardly grumpy and tough nuts to crack. I found the polar opposite was in fact true, but maybe because most of my new found friends were also musicians. We instantly had much to discuss around our regular ‘Stammtisch’ meetings, setting the world to rights over a schnitzl and beer.
The idea for Musitecture actually arose from an earlier collaboration that I had with Kurt and another actor/musician colleague. Sitting on evening on the Donaukanal, we marvelled at how striking the illuminated bridges looked at sundown. We immediately seized upon the name, ‘Build A Bridge Music’, with a view to composing soundtracks for film and theater projects. Our tagline and USP was that we could build bridges between music and narrative storytelling. We started off with good momentum, networking with the local industry and scoring a few short film projects in 2013/14,
The Build a Bridge project’s brakes were slammed on hard however, when Austria won the Eurovision Song Contest with Conchita Wurst’s mesmerising performance. Our fledgling company name was overshadowed by the slogan for the Austrian state Broadcaster’s subsequent hosting of the competition, “Building Bridges”. I like to think that in handing an ORF contact our business card only months earlier had no influence in their decision, but with massive placards all over town it was early doors for our new company profile.
Musitecture sprang out of the ashes of Buid a Bridge Music, the name an amalgamation of music and architecture; My wife, an architect, lent her structured approach to creative work to my business strategy. Like architecture, scoring and producing music for film needs strong foundations, a framework upon which talent can be efficiently presented and ordered discipline to accomplish demanding and time sensitive projects.
Everything started falling into place; I assembled a small team to take part in the 2014 Wiener Komponistenbund Filmpreis (a scoring competition run by the Vienna Composers Society). Finding out about the competition late, and with only a couple of days to compose and produce music to accompany the given 4 minute clip (from ‘Der Fall Wilhelm Reich’), I enlisted Simon Schellnegger on viola, Michael Kroess on contrabass, Richie Winkler on sax and clarinet and Kurt to run the recording session. I blitzed through scoring out the parts for the instruments, dashed to the studio and threw the notes into the hands of the waiting musicians. What happened next solidified my ambition for Musitecture: The guys nailed it. First take.
I was hooked. I knew that from that moment onward I would strive to work with real musicians, recording real instruments and capturing really emotional performances… there could be no better way to work on future scores and soundtracks. Or so I thought…
Fast forward a few years; a few more competitions, a few more short film projects and a constant struggle to get noticed in the hub and bubble of an overcrowded industry. A colleague from my ensemble at my other job with the Vienna Konzerthaus‘s education and outreach team told me about an Austrian Star Wars film in production, ‘Regrets of the Past‘. They were desperate to find a composer to take on the huge task of scoring the feature length film, without a budget (Disney/LucasFilm forbid such). It tickled my curiosity and I chatted to the director, Bernhard Weber, that evening.
Suffice to say, I was absolutely in awe of what this circle of industry professional film makers had accomplished; A work of fandom of the highest possible quality, a screenplay with dramatic cinematic tension and watchable cast and characters. I immediately signed on to work on the score. Torn between compromising my stated wish to work with real ensembles where possible, and the chance to work on a professional quality Star Wars fan, I had to return to my midi programming studio setup. There was no option on the table for money to hire a full orchestra, and Star Wars without a full orchestra sound is not Star Wars.
Working with sample libraries and midi programmed instruments to simulate an orchestral soundtrack is not without it’s difficulties; in order to give a semblance of reality to the proceeding out-of-the-box sounds I had to micro manage the production. The writing part of the project took only a few weeks, the resulting production rather longer. I did settle on the idea of recording a choir for the vocal parts I had written, and Bernhard and I came up with the idea of recording willing choir singers made up of the cast and crew from the film.
Adding the resulting recordings of twenty or so singers, I felt the resulting soundtrack coming alive with the much needed warmth of reality. It was also a kick to manage the recording session, together with sound engineer Andre Schwarz, another long time collaborator.
The Power of Referral
The years following my work on ‘Regrets of the Past’, I realised that my network of industry professionals in Vienna had (at least) quadrupled. I was now in regular contact with a whole host of motivated filmmakers who were all achieving greatness in their respective fields. I am grateful to count myself welcomed in their company, and I have become very good friends with a fair few of them. Through certain contacts from the crew I have been referred and recommended for a number of jobs, both in narrative film and advertising. I have never taken this generosity for granted, I am always grateful for such endorsements.
What Comes Next?
After such an action packed decade, you might assume that I am willing to settle back comfortably and wait for jobs to roll in. Truth is, I do not feel for one second that I could risk this; the world moves so fast and there is always hungry new talent coming up through the ranks. I cannot afford to assume great projects will come knocking, so I am back on the acquisition offensive.
I feel well supported and encouraged by my wonderful team at Musitecture; We are all anxious to make the next decade one of intense creativity, full of exciting film scoring projects and the prospect of making new acquaintances and connections.
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