Name: Hyesu Wiedmann
Occupation: Composer, orchestrator
Current release: Hyesu Wiedmann has just contributed music to episode 7 of the animated Amazon Studios original series The Boys Presents: Diabolical.
Recommendations: Off the top of my head, I want everyone to know the Korean artist Yun Hyong- keun, especially his Door to Heaven and Earth series. I can’t forget how overwhelmed I was when I first saw his works. If I ever get super rich, I’m going to get one of his painting of that series, size of an entire wall.
As for a book, I’ll recommend the 2 books I just finished: One is Dedicated by Pete Davis. It analyzes what’s wrong with our current ‘swipe culture’ and shows which direction we should move forward in. The other is Crying in H mart by Michelle Zauner, it’s a memoir the author wrote about her mother, while grieving her passing. There’s definitely a factor which spoke to me louder because of cultural closeness that I felt because the mom is Korean, but it was more than that. It was about learning and growing as a person through all kinds of emotional, psychological struggles.
If you enjoyed this interview with Hyesu Wiedmann and would like to find out more about her work, visit her official homepage.
Can you talk a bit about your interest in or fascination for film music?
I’d say I started developing my love for film music around junior high.
I didn’t even know there was such thing called ‘film music’. Back then, I thought anything with an orchestra was classical music, and I found a few pieces of ‘classical music’ that I just loved hearing when they came on the radio. Took me a couple of years to realize that they were in fact film music.
Got me curious, I wanted to learn more about it, next thing I know, I’m answering these questions. (laughs)
Which composers, or soundtracks captured your imagination in the beginning? What scenes or movies drew you in through their use of music?
Off the top of my head, John Barry’s score to Out of Africa. The music over the flight scene, even to this day, makes my heart flutter. It kinda overlaps with the first question, but that’s actually how I found out about film music. I knew the music first, then when I was in high school, I saw the film, and then noticed the piece of music that I loved in it.
Since then, I paid attention, and started collecting tapes and CDs. Back then though, I could only get whatever the record shop nearby had in stock. I got any John Williams and Ennio Morricone that I could get, many Georges Delerue, oh, I listened to Trevor Jones’ The Last of the Mohicans all day for months.
Talking about it now, I can still see Daniel Day-Lewis running in slow motion with the theme.
What made it appealing to you to work on a movie score yourself? What was it that you wanted to express and what did you feel did you have to add artistically?
Just the fact that I’m part of storytelling. I love movies. Always have from very early on. It makes my heart full that I get to be a small part of such great art form, and help tell the story to the audience.
What I want to achieve on a project is always the same: that I want the music to be the unspoken voice, or musical cue of the story. Writers and directors leave so many clues, symbols, and ideas all over the film, hinting more than what we see and hear from characters’ voices and their actions to make it whole. I want music to be that, in a more direct way, I guess, because with music, you don’t have to look for them.
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?
You said it yourself in the question. (laughs) With time, creative goals and styles change. And music should accommodate the change.
And advancement of technology surely helps us composers adapt to the change much more easily. What used to require a huge, expensive machinery now comes in a small digital package that you can download onto your computer at a fraction of the price it used to cost.
What inspires me to look for better sound is, I think more than anything, when I listen to a very cool score, and I go ‘oh, I want that sound’, or ‘what is that sound? I’ve never heard anything like that’, then I go do my research to find the sound patch.
You have made a name for yourself as an in-demand orchestrator. What drew you to this particular aspect of film music – and what, simple terms, does it entail?
I was a classical pianist before I turned to film music. So naturally, I listened to a lot of classical music. It came very natural to me to study orchestration and when I started studying, I found it fascinating and so much fun. To paint a general idea of what orchestration is or does, I think it’s coloring. Over a picture that’s already sketched out.
More technically speaking, orchestration in film music particularly means that we take the files from the composers and basically flesh it out on the score paper. Most of the times, everything is already there, but the nature of composing in sequencer still needs redistribution or reconstruction of musical lines into each instrument.
The biggest focus point, at least for me is to balance out the sections through right dynamics and descriptions to match the demo track as close as possible.
Can you share your view on some of the great orchestrators of the trade, both from the past and the present? What did you learn from studying the masters?
I’ve so badly wanted to steal Prokofiev’s orchestration skills so long, and I still study his scores from time to time. Every time I go back to them, my jaw drops at how brilliant he was. The recent one that I’ve been listening to with the score a lot is Bernard Hermann’s North by Northwest. It’s so good that it’s intimidating to a point that I felt ashamed that I was in the same business that he was in. (laughs)
What I want to learn from their work is how to color differently the same sketch, so to speak.
What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to orchestration? Do you see yourself as part of a certain tradition or lineage?
To keep the integrity of the music the composers intended for it to sound, and if they allow me to add more creative input, add an additional stroke of color when needed, or take out something that clashes.
Hmm. I didn’t consider myself in a particular school, I’m for learning good ideas from anywhere and everywhere.
Are there specific aspects that are different when orchestrating for a movie, compared to, say, a concert hall performance?
One major thing would be that it shouldn’t get in the way of dialogue.
So for example, I wouldn’t use French horns as main instruments over a scene with men conversing, because they have similar frequency.
One of the things that makes your work stand out is that you are equally at home with orchestras and electronics. I know this is a very broad question, but what kind of different results do these two worlds yield, how do they contrast and mutually complement each other? If you're asked to orchestrate a scene or if you're scoring your own film music - how do you decide which is best?
First of all, thank you for noticing. (laughs) It’s not necessarily my decision to go either orchestral or electronic, or hybrid, but what the film asks for. It’s related to the change of style that we talked about earlier.
When you watch the movie for the first time, dry, it gives you a rough idea for a possible sound palette. And which direction to take in terms of instrumentation and musical style is usually decided during the first meeting with whoever talks to me during the musical process, be it the director or a producer.
Can you take me through your process of orchestrating a soundtrack on the basis of a movie that's particularly dear to you, please? How much are you in touch with the other artists, including the director?
Oh, every project is like a child to me, they’re all dear to my heart. But of recent projects, what was interesting in terms of orchestration and worth mentioning was The Lake House by Ben Lovett.
There were many, many layers of sound created by strings for some cues. It reminded me of ‘Atmospheres’ by Ligeti. So, I orchestrated those cues thinking ‘how would Ligeti have expressed it?’ It came out beautifully, and I felt very proud when I heard it come to life at the recording session.
As orchestrator, I’m not in touch with the other side of the creative team, like directors or producers so much. If I meet them, it’s usually at a recording session when they visit. The only encounter I can think of was when I orchestrated for John Swihart on How I Met Your Mother, Neil Patrick Harris came in to sing his part with the orchestra.
I would assume that a major part of composing and orchestrating 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.
You’re absolutely right. But this too, changes from project to project.
What I mean is, a lot of times, director or producer has an idea how much they want the score to tell. Sometimes they want to hint what’s about to come with music, other times, they want us to entirely stay away from narrating more than what’s already shown. Or fool the audience by going the opposite direction than what we see.
All these intentions are what eventually determine instrumentation and orchestration of the cues.
How do the other aspects of a movie's sound stage – such as foley and effects – influence your creative decisions?
I would write music in a way that music and sound effects don’t clash.
For example, when there’s a gun fight in the scene, especially machine guns, I would probably utilize more low register and high register than middle because middle register will completely drown under the shooting sound.
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?
When one isn’t completely drowned by the other, then I’d consider it a successful one.
Once the movie is finished, what is the value of the score you composed outside of its original context?
(laughs) I think this is more a question for the audience than for me. First and foremost, my job is to serve the film with its narrative, but if the music happens to be interesting enough for people to listen to on the soundtrack outside the movie, I guess I’ll be very happy.
Different composers could potentially approach the same scene with strikingly different music. Would you say there can be 'wrong' and 'right' musiccal decisions for some scenes? In which way can some film music be considered 'definitive'?
As long as they tell the same story and in accord with the rest of the film in style, I don’t think you can rule one tone of voice, and means they use to deliver it better than others.
I think the only way film music can be definitive for a given scene is when what we see has no room for other interpretations. For example, when there’s a car chase in the scene, we will definitely hear some sort of drive in the music.
When there’s a scene where two people kiss for the first time, we will probably not hear action drums, or ‘Carmina Burana’ type of choir over it.