Name: Diana Ringo
Occupation: composer, film director
Current release: Diana Ringo's Quarantine (2021 soundtrack) is out now via her own bandcamp store.
Recommendations: Films; Moderato cantabile (1960) by Peter Brook, Metropolis (1927) by Fritz Lang.
Music; Symphony No. 5 by Gustav Mahler, Chi Mai by Ennio Morricone.
If you enjoyed this interview with Diana Ringo and would like to find out more about her work, visit her official website. She is also on Instagram and twitter.
Can you talk a bit about your interest in or fascination for film music?
I started playing piano when I was five years old and have an education as a classical pianist.
Movies have always been an important part of my life. However, I did not know that I would want to work in film until later.
Which composers, or soundtracks captured your imagination in the beginning? What scenes or movies drew you in through their use of music?
Ennio Morricone is my favorite film composer. When I watched Sergio Leone's Westerns as a teenager I instantly understood that I wanted to become a film composer. The perfect way those films use the music still impresses me today.
I also love David Lean's films and Maurice Jarre's music.
What made it appealing to you to score a movie yourself? What was it that you wanted to express and what did you feel did you have to add artistically?
I enjoyed my experience with scoring other people's films and I wanted to continue my musical journey. I also felt that for me to direct and score a film was the only way I could fully express myself creatively.
I had full creative freedom when making my feature debut Quarantine in 2021 - I was the film's producer, director, writer, composer, and editor. It was an incredible experience and I am now in the process of starting work on my second feature film.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to film music? Do you see yourself as part of a certain tradition or lineage?
In a way I see myself continuing the traditions of great film composers such as Ennio Morricone, Dimitri Shostakovich, Lalo Schifrin, John Williams, Vangelis, Giorgio Moroder etc. I am also heavily influenced by classical music, including Chopin, my compatriot Sibelius and of course Beethoven.
However I have my own identity as an artist, and am constantly evolving creatively. I try never to repeat myself and to learn new things.
How would you rate the importance of soundtracks and film music for the movie as a whole? How do you see the relationship between image and sound in a movie?
I consider the soundtrack as the soul of a movie. However, I also see that in the past decades, filmmakers did not place enough value on film music, which I find regrettable.
There are dedicated scores, sound tracks, temp tracks that ended up staying in the finished movie and even scores that were written without the composer seeing the movie first. How do these different premises affect the finished movie, do you feel?
It always depends on the film. For example, I still enjoy 2001: A Space Odyssey even though the film has what was initially the temp track. It all depends on the director's vision.
I definitely believe that a good soundtrack can be written before the movie is made - for example Morricone's scores for Leone were often written before the movies shootings started.
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
For many years I've used the same Kawai digital piano (88 weighted keys) with which I am very happy. I use Logic Pro X and various Native Instruments VST plugins for recording. Sometimes I purchase new plugins and VSTs, but mostly my musical equipment stays the same.
Can you take me through your process of composing a soundtrack on the basis of a movie that's particularly dear to you, please?
The process greatly varies. I compose many hours of music, and I later check as to how the music sounds in the movie, and make appropriate changes. Sometimes I see that some music simply doesn't fit the film and I do not use it. Sometimes I just need to make a few changes and then it fits.
I love exploring different virtual instruments and can spend many hours picking the right ones for my compositions. For now, I choose to only produce electronic compositions which I perform and record myself.
I would assume that a major part of composing for film is the ability of interpreting the images and the narrative at play. Tell me about how this works for you and how these interpretations in turn lead to sounds and compositions.
The goal I have with the music I compose is to make me feel strong emotion.
What, from your experience and perspective, does the ideal collaboration between you and a director look like?
There has to be a complete understanding of each other. The musical style has to fit the director's vision. The composer has to be flexible and be able to adjust their music based on the director's input. Proper communication is key.
How do the other aspects of a movie's sound stage – such as foley and effects – influence your creative decisions?
With the films I direct, I also serve as sound designer. I enjoy working with foley, finding appropriate sounds, and designing a balanced soundscape.
I consider noise and FX to be music too when working.
The balance between visuals, fx and film music is delicate. What, from your point of view, determines whether or not it is a successful one?
The end result is what matters. A great film score not only has to be good music and interesting ambience, it also has to serve the film and the story.
Good editing is very important in order that all parts of the film fit perfectly together.
Once the movie is finished, what is the value of the score you composed outside of its original context?
I believe that my music is also enjoyable to listen to even without watching the movie — I take care to make sure that every track is unique and evokes emotion.
Different composers could potentially approach the same scene with strikingly different music. Would you say there can be 'wrong' and 'right' musical decisions for some scenes? In which way can some film music be considered 'definitive'?
Each composer can bring their own tools and experience to the table. There are countless 'right' ways to score a single scene, no doubt.
Regarding what is 'right' and what is 'wrong', it is up to the viewer and listener to decide, whether it delivers that emotional punch or not.