Name: Paul Haslinger
Occupation: Composer, producer
Current Release: Exit Ghost on Artificial Instinct
Recommendations: David Szalay: Turbulence
Markus Fisher: K-Punk
Caroline Shaw: Partita for 8 Voices
Website / Contact: If you enjoyed this interview with Paul Haslinger, visit his facebook account and personal website for more information. He also has a site for Neuland, his project with co-former Tangerine Dream member Peter Baumann.
You can also read 15 Questions interview with other Tangerine Dream members. This includes a Steve Jolliffe interview, a Jerome Froese interview (on our former sister publication tokafi) as well as a Tangerine Dream interview with the new line-up.
When did you start composing film music - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What what is about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I remember borrowing my father’s Super-8 camera and scoring my own films when I was a kid. It was just something you grew up with and it always felt like a natural interest to me, to combine moving images with sound.
For most artists, originality is first 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? What is the relationship between copying, learning, and your own creativity?
If you look at music history, you find many examples of ideas triggering other ideas. I think creative people have always been inspired by the music they come in touch with. Bach ruined his eyes studying his contemporaries at night, by candlelight. And the music we perceive leaves traces … some of which we are aware of, some of which we are not aware of. Therefore, I don’t think there is a clear line or distinction between inception and the realization of something new. In effect, we always alter and modulate ideas, we find new balances, a new spark. But I don’t think we ever 100% invent something new. We always stand on the shoulders of those who came before, and hopefully, in the future, can provide starting points for the next generation.
What were your main compositional challenges when starting out as a film composer and how have they changed over time?
I think one of my main jobs as a film composer is to support the story – or rather, the experience of the story. There is a long lineage of composers who have tried this before and I never get tired listening to some of them, like Bernard Hermann, Ennio Morricone, Jerry Fielding and many others.
In my own craft, it has been a continuous process of educating myself, learning things, realizing things, applying experience towards a better, more effective score. I don’t think this process ever ends, you just have to keep on trying.
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?
Well, it is clear that for film/tv, you are in the service of the project. I actually find this quite liberating. It is a natural ego-killer … you don’t have to achieve all these different goals, you just have to make the film/tv-show better.
I think more than anything else, I look for those points of connection, where a few elements, a piece of music, an acting performance, the way a scene was shot, all start to come into this special kind of synchronization – it’s quite magical when that happens, and every project typically has a few of these moments.
As far as directors, producers go: it’s pretty much like playing in a band. It’s a bunch of people thrown together for the duration of the project, and I like these groups as much as I’ve always liked spending time with bands, going on tour etc. It’s exactly the same dynamic, and forms family bonds for the duration of the project, and sometimes, beyond.
What was your first studio like? How and for what reasons has your set-up evolved over the years and what are currently some of the most important pieces of gear for you?
I started out as a keyboard player and began writing music with pencil and paper. Once I discovered music software, this quickly became my main instrument and is the core of my setup to this day. I’ve worked in the box long before that term was invented.
My setup consists of several networked PC’s: one main Cubase master, and several Vienna Ensemble Pro slaves. I do still enjoy the benefits of hardware instruments, and keep a select group of current as well as vintage keyboards on hand: NonlinearLabs C15, Sequential Prophet X, Arturia MatrixBrute, Memorymoog, Minimoog, ARP soloist, Oberheim SEM.
How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
I think machines simply reflect the state of technology – they are the paper we write on. Yes, it is now quite easy to call up some loops and beats and produce something sounding ok, but music always lives by ideas. If the ideas are not strong, all the technical machinery in the world will not make it better.
One thing that technology DOES allow to much greater extent, is the management of ideas, the keeping of archives, sound-bites, the inventory of ideas if you will.
Production tools, from instruments to complex software environments, contribute to the compositional process. How does this manifest itself in your work? Can you describe the co-authorship between yourself and your tools?
I don’t really consider my tools to be co-authors (and neither does [German collecting society] Gema! ;) They are enabling devices, giving me ‘a vehicle I can drive’. But they don’t chart the course or know my destination or decide mid-way through the project that another approach will work better.
Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives through, for example, file sharing, jamming or just talking about ideas?
I think these are all just extensions of our existing collaborative relationships. I can’t even imagine doing any of my productions without the ease of transfer that drobox and other file sharing services offer. It just expands what we can do, and how fast we can do it. And we take it for granted, it’s normal.
I’m sure when the telephone was invented, it blew people’s minds. Today, it is just something we know is there and never think twice about.
Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? 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?
I don’t really have a routine. Every day is different, and I find that refreshing. Maybe I’ve never liked discipline too much – I always felt I didn’t want to get stuck in my ways, both personally and creatively.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a soundtrack or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
To be perfectly honest, this is always a messy process, no matter which project. If we take ‘Exit Ghost’ as an example, I’ve always been aware that at some point I’d like to release a record that was focussed on piano. But there was no time-pressure and it could take as long as it needed (which, sometimes, can be dangerous).
In contrast, one of my recent TV-scoring engagements, the CBS show ‘Interrogation’, started with a meeting with writer/showrunner Anders Weidemann, discussing the arc of the show, the backgrounds of the story and the musical objectives. For both projects, I first went into ‘creative exploration phase’ – this is a time where I like to throw paint against a wall and see what sticks. Once I find a few creative ankers, ideas that click, a sound, a vibe, a little motive … can be anything, I use these as starting points to create fully formed versions of these initial sparks. And so on and so on … many, many layers and variations later, I usually arrive at something I deem worth delivering.
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?
The ideal state of mind is when you feel inspired to create. This can be due to an external stimulus: somebody sent you a new script, or some footage of a new project, or even something you hear in a concert. Or, it can be an idea that just hits you one day. But there always has to be that spark, that moment where your creative engine comes to life.
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?
To me, sound has always been part of the composition. Which is why I often have a hard time at mixing stages, because a dub mixer can certainly diminish the effect I was after, or, in many cases, actually further enhance it.
Every generation makes use of the tools it is given, and in my generation, composers were able to actually control sound, rather than just writing down playing-instructions and hoping the conductor and the musicians will be in a good mood when they play it …
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? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
That’s certainly an interesting question. I think our brain is pre-wired to assemble our senses into personal constructs, our perception of things. And just as we can attach aesthetic value to individual senses, we can do the same thing for combined experiences.
It is an interesting feature of our time, that we can control aspects of our sensory input. We turn down the lights to focus on music, but we go to an IMAX theatre to be engulfed by images and sound.
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?
I think it is important for artists to speak their mind and to be truthful in their communications. I also believe we live in a celebrity-obsessed culture, and the proliferation of social media has led to an avalanche of unnecessary comments, including comments by artists, about political and social developments. I think it is the artist’s responsibility, in his/her work as well as words, to speak only when it is warranted.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of soundtracks still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what film music could be beyond its current form?
That IS the big question right now, isn’t it? What will our current formats be replaced by? And how will we access, enjoy and experience sound, visuals and infotainment in the future? It certainly seems that our current formats: TV-news and entertainment channels, media formats, even streaming services, will eventually give way to something more fluid and modular – it is a daunting step to consider, but it is a necessary consequence of the global digital access we are driving towards.