Name: Rüdiger Gleisberg
Occupation: Composer, multi-instrumentalist, producer
Recent release: Rüdiger Gleisberg teams up with Bernd Scholl for five contributions to the compilation Secret and Mystery, out now via BSC/Prudence
Recommendations: When it comes to film music, you will find a lot of great and, above all, varied work with Hans Zimmer. But there are also many other great film composers ….
If you enjoyed this interview with Ruediger Gleisberg and would like to find out more about his work, visit his official website. He is also on Instagram.
Or head over to our 15 Questions interview with Rüdiger Gleisberg for an even deeper look into his thoughts on music.
Can you talk a bit about your interest in or fascination for film music?
The combination of image and music has always fascinated me. Music has the great ability to add depth and emotion to the image.
Even as a child I noticed that I only had to turn down the sound when there were scenes in a film that were too exciting for me and the tension immediately lost its dramatic emotion.
Which composers, or soundtracks captured your imagination in the beginning? What scenes or movies drew you in through their use of music?
In the history of film music there are reference examples that probably everyone knows. With Jaws - although it's not the type of film I like to watch - there are those scenes where all the viewer sees is water. But then comes the famous theme of John Williams, one of the really great film music composers, and he manages to create an almost unbearable tension with these few notes.
Or a completely different example: I don't know anyone who doesn't know the "Pink Panther" theme by Henri Mancini, or the harmonica theme from Céra una volta il West by Ennio Moricone - brilliant compositions!
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?
It was this act of balance to give the picture the right emotions and this in the greatest possible density through the music and at the same time to remain true to his compositional ideal and to be recognized as a "trademark" of "typical Gleisberg music".
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?
Since film music began more than 120 years ago, there have been a few techniques that have survived to this day, e.g. that the composer develops different themes for characters in the film or certain situational options and can thus "lead" the viewer through the film.
But actually you have all kinds of freedom and if you watch an episode of German crime series Tatort today, it's usually more sound design than composition, which is fine if it serves its purpose.
I try a mixture of both, traditional composition and "sound collages" - ultimately the direction of the director is crucial.
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 know people who are asked about the music after looking a movie with "what music?" answer - which I can't imagine. But even those people who are not consciously aware of the film music would notice if the music was missing.
I contend that depending on the genre, the music can be up to 30% of the film, maybe even more.
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?
There is this famous example with 2001 by Stanley Kubrick: Kubrick didn't use the music that was composed for the film, instead he used music by Richard Strauss and György Ligeti - which of course came as a shock to the composer. Music that is not actually related to the film and was not written for the film may fit, as in the 2001 example.
Nevertheless, I always think music that was written for the film is the better choice, since the composer also depends on the editing and cut of the film, among other things. For a while it was fashionable to include unconnected well-known songs in the films - sometimes it fits very well, but it can also be annoying if overdone.
How did you get started scoring for films and what were some of the specific challenges?
In fact, I started with music for the theatre, then came the first small film jobs. The first major orders then came with nature films for a German television station.
The challenge here was that I had until recently been on a "playground" and suddenly had to measure myself against a usual professional standard, e.g. also in terms of the quality of the sound. I still had a few things to learn about that. There are a lot of good film musicians who all work at a high level, so you have to make an effort to keep up.
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?
That is absolutely right. When I started out as a musician, I still tried to find new sounds: I recorded everything, initially only with the microphone and then later sampled it to get new and interesting sounds. It was like an exciting journey of discovery.
Today I have hundreds of sounds from instruments from all over the world in my studio PC. This makes the work easier, but it is also difficult to discover new sounds. And my colleagues mostly have the same new programs and tools.
Since time pressure in film productions is usually intense, one usually chooses the fast route and falls back on sounds that one already has and does not invest many hours in creating new sounds.
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 last film I did the music for was the short film To meet Esther, which is about a Jewish girl who is still struggling with her identity as a Jewess.
The director had specific ideas which, according to him, you could apply, but you shouldn't use "typical Jewish instruments", but preferably only the piano and cello.
For most commissions I start with the piano, although I already have an idea in my head of the finished piece of music. Only then do I go to the studio. I then play the cello part with a digital cello sound and it was later replaced by a cellist.
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.
Yes, understanding the images and interpreting them is important and depends heavily on the context.
A film sequence showing a forest could be accompanied by nice, romantic music when it comes to the beauty of the forest. But when it comes to a film about the forest dying, the music can be completely the opposite, etc.
It's exciting as the music can also influence the interpretation of the images.
What, from your experience and perspective, does the ideal collaboration between you and a director look like?
The most important thing is mutual respect and cooperation at eye level.
Unfortunately, there is also the type of director who considers himself and his film to be the hub of the world and of course has precise ideas about the music and also makes it clear to you that there are five other musicians standing behind you in the row if the music is for him he don't like.
But if the "chemistry is right" between director and musician, great moments of cinematic art can arise.
How do the other aspects of a movie's sound stage – such as foley and effects – influence your creative decisions?
The final sound impression and the volume ratios have to be right.
For example, it may be that the pitch of a voice of one of the actors clashes with an instrument that the film musician used. Or a noise is so concise that the music has to take a back seat. And then there is the question of whether I can enjoy the film in the cinema with good sound conditions or watch the film on a mediocre television.
Ideally, the final sound is mixed so well that the sound is still consistent on a smartphone.
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?
In large cinema productions, the sound is mixed very "densely", which then works very well with the sound system in a cinema. The mixing by the sound designer is a virtual sound reality, just as we ourselves subjectively perceive our environment.
I think the perfect balance between the components visuals, fx and film music is determined by the desired emotion to be created.
Once the movie is finished, what is the value of the score you composed outside of its original context?
If I am personally satisfied with the film music, I ask the publisher I work with if they want to publish the music.
But there is also film music that is so strongly connected to the film that it is not of the kind that I would like to release as a standalone.
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'?
Interesting question! I seem to remember that studies with indigenous cultures, who are not familiar with our musical tradition, have shown that there are actually tone sequences and sounds that people, regardless of their culture, perceive as more sad or more happy. So there seems to be a tonal "primordial language", e.g. a deep tone is equally threatening. It's similar with the tempo: music that is faster than our pulse is more likely to be "danceable", music that is slower than "relaxed".
To get back to your question, film music by different composers for the same film sequence should at least show clear similarities. That would be an interesting experiment ....