BEGINNINGS. How does one become a Fashion Film Score Composer? How did your passion for music start?
Growing up in Florence, Italy, I’d always had an appreciation for style and fashion which came through both my mother and grandmother being very well dressed and stylish women, both in their very different ways.
Florence may not be London or Paris, but it still very much has a strong affiliation with fashion and textiles, and I think I somehow absorbed this without even realizing it till later in life.
Fast forward to 2010 when I was living in New York City, while attending graduate school at NYU for Music Technology, that I saw a way of pulling these two things that I like together. A few friends and acquaintances that I had were in the process of starting their own fashion lines, and were struggling to find music that they could afford (or that was any good) for their video look books, fashion films and runway presentations. And that’s when I had the idea to start composing specifically for fashion- and it just went from there.
A year or two into working with fashion more or less exclusively, I realized I finally felt ready to jump back into scoring for all sorts of film which was something that after graduating from college I wasn’t sure I necessarily wanted to do. This lead me to move from NYC to Los Angeles where I still live today working on both fashion, film, chamber music and my own electronic music.
PROCESS. What is your current setup? Can you tell us about your process, solo and as a duo?
I’m currently set up in a very convenient place- my home studio in Los Angeles. My husband, who is also a composer, and I share a front bedroom of the house and a detached garage as our work spaces. The front studio also has my performance set-up for practicing, whereas all recording and playback for directors/producers happens in the garage studio.
Between the two of us, we have a lot of analog gear (synths, drum machines, etc) as well as guitars, pedals and a whole slew of out there instruments such as water phones, Morfbeats bells and bow-able metals. Having this arsenal of instruments, as well as plug-ins and VSTs, is really helpful and awesome.
My process varies a lot between projects, especially since the nature of the projects I work on is all over. One day I could be demo-ing or working on a commercial, the next day working on a feature film followed by a short fashion film. And other days I dedicate to practicing for my electronic set or building sounds to create my field-recording/music concrete based ambient pieces. More often than not though, it’ll always start with some sort of thematic idea or particular sound that becomes the basis of a piece. The process also differs each time depending on whether there is anything to work off of or not- by this I mean that sometimes I’ll be working on something more abstract, such as a piece for a choreographer or off of a script, and other times you get to work to picture (whether it’s just a rough cut or locked cut).
When working, most of the time I’ll spend a good amount of time just procrastinating and maybe putting together a sound palette or collection of sounds to use. Once I get started it can go one of two ways- I either sit and slowly work through something, changing parts and coming back to themes and ideas, or I end up working for 6 hours straight and creating the structure for something right off the bat. There’s not one advantage to one over the other, even though the second approach tends to relieve any sort of anxiety that writing something can give you.
I sometimes also compose with my husband, Ian. The work we’ve done together has been primarily in feature documentaries, and so far we have scored three films together called “The First Monday in May” (dir by Andrew Rossi), “Love & Bananas- an Elephant Story” (dir by Ashley Bell) and “The Gospel According to André” (dir by Kate Novak), with another one in the works for this summer. Our process together isn’t very different than when I work alone, except that you have each other to feed off of and working off of. The beginning of co-scoring is usually a bit rusty every time, but by the end we’ll often be playing on the same midi keyboard together or ‘jamming’ on a cue together. In the case of documentaries, where there’s often a ton of diverse styles and genres covered within a single film, it is really helpful to have a co-composer for both stylistic and time-constraint reasons!
IMAGE/S. You use your image to communicate about design and creativity matters, e.g. the U.S. makers scene and thoughtfully crafted, long lasting products. As an image maker, any considerations about how musicians use their image on social media? Which are your influences as a visual person?
As a very visual person (who also chose to work with visuals as a career), I feel that I’m drawn to color palettes and textures more so than narrative figures. When I see an image I’ll often see it as a combination of colors, or an overlaying of textures whether they be natural ones, fabric ones or other. As might be obvious to anyone who’s seen my social media or seen me perform, I’m very drawn to the color red. It’s not a color that I’ve always necessarily worn, nor is it necessarily my favorite color (purple is though, Forza Viola!) but it’s a really strong color that I feel like my music relates to. I’m also really drawn to images and photos of landscapes and naturally occurring things such as the different colors and textures of moss on a stone, or the petals on the floor left over from the flower market.
In recent years social media has created a way to be able to show what your visual inspirations are, as well as being able to really express your personality through images.
Expressing myself visually, either through fashion or art, has always been important to me
and the popularity of platforms like Instagram has been quite good for me. I spend a long time crafting my visuals for my live set as well as my overall aesthetic, and I think that in a way that has helped not only have people understand more about me, but also stand out. It’s helped me also in that I think my music, both for film and personal, and my visual aesthetic are quite cohesive, which means that people know what they’re looking at and hearing when they hire me or reach out. The opposite could be said obviously, that I’m putting myself in a ‘niche’ of sorts- but I would hope that people would also see beyond what has already been done and see potential for more.
FIELD RECORDING. When you live and work abroad, as in your case, you get more aware of the importance of little experiences and small material things - the taste of coffee, what you eat, wear and surrounds you, because these things all are different from home. How this sphere of experiences impacts your music? Can you tell us more about your passion for field recording?
I’ve always found sounds of nature very interesting, and have always loved nature in general since being a kid. The moment that I really realized that sounds could be ‘music’ or used within a music world was when I first came across musique concrète sometime in college. The idea of collecting sounds to influence a musical idea, or to be used in conjunction with, kind of blew my mind at the time. Now I find myself using sounds that I record on my portable recorder (or phone to be honest) in most of my work either literally or manipulated.
An example of this is a sound in my new track “Vesper”- there is a whirling sound at the beginning that sounds kind of cloudy and textured which is the manipulated sound of a blender. Or in “per:me:ate” some of the percussive elements are hammers and fabric ripping sounds that were recorded in a furniture factory. For my ambient sets, which you can hear mainly on youtube, I use a lot of natural sounds and nature soundscapes. To me these sounds add an organic quality that the use of synths and other gear tend to strip away.
Also, great question in regards to things sounding different where I am now in Los Angeles compared to where I’m from in Italy. There are so many subtle differences with everywhere in the world, and when you’re as into recording environments and sounds of things as I am, you start to realize that. One of the big things that I like to record is natural and city soundscapes, which is entirely inspired by discovering Acoustic Ecology and the work of R. Murray Schaeffer. The countryside where I grew up in Florence, for example, to me sounds like nowhere else. The birds and the way the cicadas and frogs sound together will never be exactly the same as it is here in LA, half the world away. And there’s something fascinating about that! Same with city soundscapes- the sheer difference in language and the way that inflection differs from another, as well as the differences in cars and way things are set-up, make for really interesting contrasts in each city.
GEOGRAPHY. From Italy to U.S. (New York, L.A.). How important is in your job to be in the place where things are happening? Could you ever work from Italy or remotely?
I think that once I arrive to a certain level in my career, where people are seeking me out actively and I have a stronger resume, then the idea of working remotely and living somewhere outside of major cities is definitely a possibility. For now, I have found that it has been so important to be in a major city that caters to the type of creative profession you are trying to pursue.
Los Angeles right now is such an incredible hub and place to be as a musician and especially as a film composer(which it always has been).
Anytime you go out here, you’re bound to meet someone that works in a field that’s directly related to what you do. This, and the fact that there are so many fellow musicians and composers here, helps to create a community or at least a sense that there is a community of like-minded people out there. On the other side, though, cities like Los Angeles and New York here in the US have also become very oversaturated, so as much as it’s great to be here it can also be hard to find those opportunities unless you make an effort.
The dream would be to be able to come back to Italy and open a big studio and recording complex of sorts somewhere outside a major city, and be able to have people come to us. Maybe in the next 15-20 years!
I’m currently finishing up a score for a short film that is part of the Los Angeles Live Score Film Festival taking place here in LA in July. They’ll be playing the movie with the Helix Collective ensemble playing back my score live to picture, which is exciting! There’s also a feature documentary coming up that I’ll be co-scoring that I’ll be starting on sometime late July/early August. In terms of my own music, I just played my big yearly LA gallery show (called Vesper DTLA) last week to celebrate the release of my new double single and cassette “Vesper b/w per:me:ate”. I have also been slowly working on a record of chamber-electronic pieces inspired by a piece I wrote for a concert series called The Echo Society, that I had the honor of being part of. This chamber-electronic project is set to be recorded soon, with hopefully a few audio-visual concerts scheduled for the fall/winter. On the commercial side, I just wrapped up a big international campaign for a brand that will be out in a few weeks (which I can’t say more about for now) as well as working on a few smaller fashion films that are due to be out soon too. One of the films that Ian and I co-scored, “The Gospel According to André” is currently in theaters here in the US and will hopefully play in Europe and Canada soon. And lastly, a documentary I scored about child labor and trafficking, called “Invisible Hands” (dir by Shraysi Tandon) is due to be out in theaters very very soon too!
Definitely and thankfully quite a bit going on as always!
A good playlist you would recommend right now.
Awesome that you ask as I just made one recently to celebrate the release of my new double single “Vesper b/w per:me:ate”. You can hear that playlist >> here