Name: Isabella Summers
Current Release: Apple TV’s series Physical OST on Lakeshore Records
Recommendations: Prometheus Bound by Peter Paul Reubens
“Nature Boy” by Nat King Cole
If you enjoyed this interview with Isabella Summers, then head over to her Instagram account @isamachine
When did you start writing/producing film music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
My father made mix tapes since before I was born that included a very eclectic mixture of everything and anything from Beethoven to Bob Dylan, rarities, poetry, even the shipping forecast which inspired me from very early on. I had piano lessons when I was a child, which set the foundation of chord
structures. When I was 19 I bought turntables, which led to buying an MPC which then led to purchasing Cubase and the intention was to sound like somewhere between RZA and a James Bond score...
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
Sampling other artists was integral to my process in the beginning. I would set up a mic in a room and hit everything, scream or shout to create sounds which I could then manipulate and turn into music.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I can’t help it, it runs through my veins and out of my hands.
What were your main creative challenges in the beginning and how have they changed over time?
The hardest part of creating at the beginning was knowing how to finish things. That process became easier over time, especially when you set yourself goals.
What, to you, are the main functions and goals of soundtracks and film music and how would you rate their importance for the movie as a whole? How do you maintain a balance between, on the one hand, artistic integrity and sticking to your creative convictions and, on the other, meeting the expectations of the director?
It is an extremely collaborative process between the composer and the director. The music (in my opinion) is one of the most critical parts of a movie or television show. You are the last person to be in control of the whole factory line of film making and you are responsible for the entire mood of the story.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of film music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
It's a case of stumbling around, for me there is no set rule to creating a sonic palette.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with the other creatives involved in a film production?
Collaboration in key on filmmaking and composition. Communication is everything.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Everything is fluid between life and creation. Coffee is an essential start to the day and as long as I get to my desk I can start to make music. I mess around with ideas, listen to a lot of music and focus as much as possible on the task at hand. I look to art for inspiration - I will take myself to a gallery anytime in the week. Painting is so fundamental to how I hear sound I think. I’m currently living by the sea which I find to be incredibly inspiring. I don’t have a fixed schedule unless I’m doing TV and then I’ll have an extremely fixed routine.
Can you talk about a breakthrough soundtrack in your career? Why does it feel special to you? When, why and how did you start working on it, what were some of the motivations and ideas behind it?
Assassination Nation for Sam Levinson was a breakthrough for me. It was special as it was the first time I scored a movie. I sent my friend Sam some music and he used it in the film.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Concentration - I call it truck driving. Once you’re in the chair you can’t get up until it’s done or else you’ll crash or veer off the road.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
Music connects everything - I’m blessed to immerse myself in it every day. Playing songs I've written, live on stage has been an extraordinary aspect to creating music in a dark room. I'm so honoured to know what my music has done for others. Everyone has their own interpretation of healing and planet earth.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
The human race is spectacular and everything you ever wanted in your life is in your mind.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work?
2001 A Space odyssey is a sensory masterpiece, but as equally significant as the North Sea by Mother Nature. Go and look and listen and you’ll understand.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
Looking at art and taking it in is extremely important for the human psyche. I find the story telling behind artists' lives and their subject matter integral to my process in making music.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?