Zhanar will come up with clever text or Karina... Definitely not Darina
Sound as Color




DUSTIN O'HALLORAN IS AN AMERICAN COMPOSER, WHO WORKED ON SOUNDTRACKS TO MANY OUTSTANDING FILMS LIKE SOFIA COPPOLA'S "MARIE ANTOINETTE", DRAKE DOREMUS' "LIKE CRAZY" AND GARTH DAVIS' "LION", FOR HIS WORK ON THE LATTER HE WAS NOMINATED FOR AN OSCAR.

Sound as Color

DUSTIN O'HALLORAN IS AN AMERICAN COMPOSER, WHO WORKED ON SOUNDTRACKS TO MANY OUTSTANDING FILMS LIKE SOFIA COPPOLA'S "MARIE ANTOINETTE", DRAKE DOREMUS' "LIKE CRAZY" AND GARTH DAVIS' "LION", FOR HIS WORK ON THE LATTER HE WAS NOMINATED FOR AN OSCAR.
— Congratulations on the many nominations for the "Lion" score!
— Thank you! Thank you very much. It was a long ride (laughs). We are all finished.

— Were you upset about not getting an Oscar?
— No-no. I think it would have been worse to win (laughs).

— Why?
— Well, because for me "Lion" was the kind of a movie I wanted to do before the Oscars. I think, when you win an Oscar, you start getting offered things you don't necessarily want to do. So, it's great to have a nomination, but I'd like to just go back to doing things I'm interested in.

— Was it your dream to become a composer, or did it happen accidentally?
— It was always in the back of my mind. I started with the band that I created with the singer named Sara Lov, it was called Devics. We met on our second year of college, dropped out and started the band. We put out some records on this British label called Bella Union. That was my first time really writing music. Before that I did some classical piano. The band was the focus, but then I slowly started working on these piano pieces in private. That's how I ended up writing the first record of my own. What I'm saying, is that the desire was always there. I think I just needed time to find it, and when I found it and started focusing on the piano, I realized how much I really love composing and getting away from the band dynamics. After I made my first record, I was contacted by Sophia Coppola to work on her film "Marie Antoinette", and it kind of sparked the second album, because I started writing music for the film, and I was also writing for myself at the same time. I guess it was that little push that you need sometimes to keep going and know that you are going in the right direction. And then I didn't stop.

— Could you tell us about the creative process of composing, because people usually know very little about it?

— I think it's different depending on the instrument. When I'm working on a piano, it is really about sitting at the right piano. I'm not doing pen and paper, notating the piece and going back. So when I'm writing piano solos, it's partly an improvisation that slowly gets moulded into a composition. Usually I'm working with a particular instrument. It really is a relationship with the instrument, the space and the time, where I am. If I'm working with strings, it's a little different, because it's not the instrument that I play, so it goes into the notation. And then, when I am actually working with the string players, it will evolve there. For me composition has always been a very instinctual process.

— When did your interest in music start? Are you coming from a musical family?

— I think a lot of my inspirations started coming from my mother. She was a ballet teacher, so when she had classes, there was always piano music playing, so looking back, I think it was always a big influence.

Dustin O'Halloran
— Let's talk about the production of "Lion". How did you start working on it?

— Well, Hauschka (Hauschka was Dustin's partner in creating sountrack for "Lion" - Étage note) had a show in Melbourne, and he met the director first. The director asked him if he could imagine doing a score with me, but he didn't realize that we have known each other for about 10 years. It was a coincidence. It was actually pretty quick, once he met Volker (Volker Bertelmann is Hauschka's real name – Étage note) and asked him, he sent us the early cut of the film. We watched it, and it was beautiful. I knew it was something really special when I saw it. Two weeks later we started working on it.

— How is writing a score different from doing shows together?

— We were writing music together. Performing, we were doing our own music separately. This was us in the room sitting down, trying to work out the score. But it was great, because we toured and spent so much time together, that there is a lot of trust between us, and no ego. We were able to find a really good safe place to make music. It was nice to have somebody to count on and bounce the ideas off. We started off the first month each in our studios. When we got together, we both had some ideas. We would try a lot of different things. Sometimes he would play something, and the way he played it, would work better, or then I would take it, and he would add a chord. We were really just experimenting. It was definitely a very organic process, and a lot of ideas went through a lot of changes until they came to what they've become. Sometimes it was even hard to remember who started what (laughs).
"Usually I'm working with a particular instrument. It really is a relationship with it, the space and the time, where I am."
"Usually I'm working with a particular instrument. It really is a relationship with it, the space and the time, where I am."
— Why do you think "Lion" got so popular with awards and with the audience?

— It has universal ideas and emotions. Something resonates in it. A lot of people bond with the idea of home or being away from home, feeling this spiritual connection to somebody that you are away from. I think it resonated in a lot of ways.

— Your music channels emotions, both the scores, and your records. Is that something you intend, or does it flow naturally?

— I think I've always been closer to not dramatic, but emotional music. I have always connected with it. In the end of the day, I feel like music should transport something. You know, everyone hears things differently, but I try not to overthink it. I put a lot of vulnerability into my music, maybe that's something that people can feel. I personally love music that creates a world that you can live in emotionally. Maybe that's what I want.
— How is writing a score different from doing shows together?

— We were writing music together. Performing, we were doing our own music separately. This was us in the room sitting down, trying to work out the score. But it was great, because we toured and spent so much time together, that there is a lot of trust between us, and no ego. We were able to find a really good safe place to make music. It was nice to have somebody to count on and bounce the ideas off. We started off the first month each in our studios. When we got together, we both had some ideas. We would try a lot of different things. Sometimes he would play something, and the way he played it, would work better, or then I would take it, and he would add a chord. We were really just experimenting. It was definitely a very organic process, and a lot of ideas went through a lot of changes until they came to what they've become. Sometimes it was even hard to remember who started what (laughs).

— Why do you think "Lion" got so popular with awards and with the audience?

— It has universal ideas and emotions. Something resonates in it. A lot of people bond with the idea of home or being away from home, feeling this spiritual connection to somebody that you are away from. I think it resonated in a lot of ways.

— Your music channels emotions, both the scores, and your records. Is that something you intend, or does it flow naturally?

— I think I've always been closer to not dramatic, but emotional music. I have always connected with it. In the end of the day, I feel like music should transport something. You know, everyone hears things differently, but I try not to overthink it. I put a lot of vulnerability into my music, maybe that's something that people can feel. I personally love music that creates a world that you can live in emotionally. Maybe that's what I want.
Lion, 2016

Lion, is an adoption drama about a young man conflicted about his identity, and the film seems tailor made for him.
I DON'T LIKE
TO REPEAT MYSELF. AND ON TOUR YOU'RE REPEATING YOURSELF ALL
THE TIME.

— How does creating a soundtrack differ from writing your own music?

— With the score, it is always a collaboration between the director, the editor, the story, and the actors. When you are by yourself, there is nothing to inform you, there is no script, no story, it's just a blank page. That can be a slower process, because obviously there is no timeline, nothing to push you, you have to dig deeper, which I think is better in the long run. I think that's why scores to me always feel like they're missing something, because ultimately they're written for a picture. Without the picture there is always something missing. But I enjoy both, and both bring different sides of me. When collaborating, you always create something that would not have existed if it wasn't for the collaboration.

— What do you think is the main goal for a composer creating a soundtrack?

— Ultimately, I think you always want to make the best film you can. And that's what everybody should strive for. If the music is covering too much and too strong, sometimes it can hurt the film. You have to know when to pull back, and when to be strong, and that's the case for everybody. It's such a complex art form.

— Do you ever struggle while creating scores?

— It can be tricky, because there is a lot of different ways to see it. Music is one of the most subjective parts of making a film, because people have different emotional reactions to it. And it's a part of a film that you can keep changing. The edit can change as well, but acting, and the material you have is there, and you have to work with it. If the actor was off that day, you have to figure out the way to make it work. If you have to keep working on a scene, sometimes you feel like you can loose something emotionally, because you are trying to figure out what everyone is looking for. There are moments when you need to be strong and stand for what you think the scene needs.

— When is the right time to stop changing the music? How did you know when to stop when working on "Lion", for example?

— The director is your main collaborator. He is the one, who has to pull the whole film together and decide when the music is right. He had a lot of influence in the score, he was always kind of pushing us to find a very restrained tone, never going really big, but trying to be very emotional, very honest. He was the big collaborator in the score.

— Do you still get nervous before a show?

— It depends. I like being a part of the music, but I don't like the idea of being a persona. Ultimately, when you're touring or playing live, inevitably you get into this space, where you become a performer. If you're touring, it's impossible to be present every night, there has to be some element of performing. I don't like to feel that I am repeating myself. And on tour you're repeating yourself all the time. So I really enjoy moments of creation.
Like Crazy, 2011


A British college student falls for an American student, only to be separated from him when she's banned from the U.S. after overstaying her visa.


— Performing with a band must be different from performing by yourself…

— Yeah, I really love A Winged Victory For the Sullen (composer collaboration with Adam Bryanbaum Wiltzie – Étage note) tours, because we get along really well, and we have a lot of fun. I like that nobody is in the center, we all are sort of equals, and the attention is spread between everybody. I like the idea that people focus more on the music than staring at us. Music can transport people, and it's not always about the performer. Do you know an artist named Tim Hecker?

— Yes.

— He is a friend of mine. Usually his shows are in complete darkness, you can't see him at all. And I really love the idea that people who come to see the concert are forced to listen to the music. You just have to experience it. I think it's really nice, because we live in an age when everybody is sort of self-promoting with Facebook and Instagram. Everybody is living in their personal bubble of wanting attention. And it's nice to get away from that.

— Do you have any plans to compose for a play or a show?

— Yeah, I want to do more concerts. I just have to figure out how I want to do it. I feel that the usual going back and forth with making a record has been done a lot. I am trying to understand what could be different to experience music. I've been entertaining an idea of experiencing a record for the first time as an installation. I really like what Nick Cave did with his new record. The first time you could hear the music was in the film that he released. I always want to try something new.
If you keep repeating yourself, you feel uninspired.

— Are there people who inspire you, or perhaps whose music you enjoy?

— I love Tim Hecker's music. He's doing something really interesting. I like Jóhann Jóhannsson, who is a friend of mine as well. He is an incredible composer. I really love Ben Frost, I think what he's doing is unique. These are contemporary things that I like. I guess, I've been into electronic music more lately. There's a Japanese electronic musician named ENA. I really love his work. There are also tons of old music that I am always going back and listening to. I really like this Ethiopian piano record from the 60's, it was done by Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou. I listen to it all the time.

— Before "Lion" you worked on a film called "Iris". How did you like working on it?

— It was great. I did it with my partner from A Winged Victory For The Sullen. The film is by a French director Jalil Lespert, whose previous film was "Yves Saint Laurent". This film is a sexual thriller based on desire and deceit, and it's a story of obsessive love and betrayal. It's very French (laughs). We did the score with a modular synthesizer and an orchestra, which was really cool. I liked being able to experiment with contemporary sound. I really enjoyed that, it's very modern, very different from what I've done before.
I really like this Ethiopian piano record from the 60's, it was done by Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou.
I listen to it all the time.

— Do you have further plans to compose soundtracks?

— Adam and I are working on a film called 'Chappaquiddick' now, and it's a story of Ted Kennedy scandal that happened in 1969, where he was in a car with a woman that was not his wife, and he drove off into the river. She died and he survived, but he didn't report it for nine hours. It's a true story. It's a political drama, kind of noir. It's good, it actually is a great film.

— Sounds like it's going to be very different from your previous film experiences.

— Yeah. The director's name is John Curran, and he did a really beautiful film that I love, called 'The Painted Veil'. But this is a very different film. It has a great performance by Jason Clarke as Ted Kennedy. It also has Rooney Mara's sister, Kate Mara. It's a kind of slow-moving mystery about these events that happened. He was going to be set up as a presidential candidate in 1969, and then this happened. They were able to get him to be more sympathetic in the eye of the people, when he actually was looking out for himself. But it's about the Kennedy family, about the weight the father put on the children. We are still working on the score, so we are not sure how it's going to end up yet.

— Can we also talk a bit about synesthesia?

— Yes.

— For those, who don't know what synesthesia is, could you explain how you feel it?
— Well, it's a condition of seeing music as color. It's about always seeing and visualizing color, when you hear music or write music.

— It's hard to understand if you don't have it.

— I think that color and music have always been connected. It's a very abstract experience; it's about color and texture. When I'm writing music, I am thinking more about the colors than the notes that I'm playing. I always think about the tone and colors.

— Does that translate into your everyday life?

— Because the music is always there, the colors are always there. too. It's such a natural feeling. Maybe I'm attracted to certain kinds of music and certain tones, because I like those colors. (laughs)

— It's not a condition, it's more of a state, isn't it?

— Yes, but there are variables. Some people are probably more extreme. I would say that it is more of a state, than a condition. I mean it's not disabling. It's really quite helpful. It actually made me feel really good.

— In what way?

— I always felt like it was a strange way to compose music, because I never thought about the notes. I was always searching more for the colors. It made me think that a lot of painters and composers experience the same thing, and realize that …that's OK. And it's not always about analyzing everything in a rational way.

— What would you say is the most important thing in life?

— I think, feeling inspired and being in peace. That can change a lot depending on where I am, but now, I think, it's not taking myself too seriously, but always being serious about my work, feeling inspired and not feeling like there is any end destination.

— The last question does not really connect to anything we talked about. If you could have a lunch with anybody in the world, dead or alive, who would that person be?

— Einstein, maybe. Seems like he would be really funny and super smart. It would probably be a really cool conversation. I would want to talk about all of his theories of relativity and time. É
Interview: Étage Group
Date: May, 2016