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Six Strings with... Panu Aaltio

I wanted to save this for the end of the year, because I knew Panu Aaltio was releasing his latest score and wanted you to know he has become one my favorite new composers in my book this year. I wanted to thank him for all his help... his great sense, passion and talent. This is also a great thank you to "MovieScore Media" for providing a great year of great music, their dedication to details... thank you!
-Jeremy [Retro-Z]

-  How did you get started in the field of music and how did that lead you to composing?

Panu Aaltio: I've been playing the cello since I was six years old. By that time I was already a computer enthusiast as well, so eventually I became interested in combining my music and technology hobbies. It was a nice way to get into composition, trying things out with the sounds and programs on the computer. So I continued doing that throughout high school and when it came time to apply to a university, I got into Sibelius Academy to study Music Technology. So that's when the idea of making music more than just a hobby emerged.

- Please tell us your latest score release “Dawn Of The Dragonslayer” with your inspiration, getting involved, best parts of being involved, interesting stories you can share and how much musical freedom did you have?

Panu Aaltio: I had composed music for a fantasy-themed video game called Saga in 2007, and Dawn Of The Dragonslayer had many key people in common with the game. So they were familiar with my music in this genre, and fortunately felt I could do a good job on a fantasy film as well.

For me it was great to be able to make this kind of epic music. That's what got me into film music in the first place and it's always inspiring to work in that style. It's a lot of hard work doing a big orchestral score all by yourself, with no orchestrators or anything like that to assist you, but it's of course worth the effort.

We discussed a lot of other film scores as references, but at the end of the day I try to create my own thing out of those core emotions and concepts. With the central themes I worked closely with the director, getting feedback about all the theme tests I did. After we picked the best ones, I basically went into my studio for a month, doing a run through the film. At that point I'll have the first draft of the full score, but then you start the process of getting notes from the director and making both big and small fixes. This is often the most challenging part, because you're sometimes kind of trying to dig yourself out of holes you've dug yourself, and it's just not as fun as the initial composing. But it's always worth it to put in the extra effort at this stage, because it can get so much better through some iteration, even rewrites, and the director's input.

- If you work with other composers or music artists, whom do you work with and what is the best part of your contributions?

Panu Aaltio: It's great working for other composers, because it helps in breaking your habits. It's a very different situation when you're not starting from scratch, but trying to understand someone else's work and trying to put yourself into those shoes.

You have to then put on your musicology hat a little and get into analyzing what is appropriate for this style. I always feel like I return with new tools in my kit after working like this. For example I've assisted Tuomas Kantelinen on various projects for ten years and learned a great deal from his impeccable orchestral technique.

- Who inspires you musically and whom do you listen to [composers or music]?

Panu Aaltio: I used to listen to a lot of film music when I was in high school, Hans Zimmer being a big influence. The kind of hybrid scores he was doing in the 90s were really interesting to me, because I've always had these concurrent musical interests in classical and electronic music. When I got more into orchestral music, I really got into Jerry Goldsmith, because his range was just staggering and all of it is consistently amazing. I try not to listen to too much film music these days though, because I feel having a unique identity is the most important thing in such a saturated market.

- Out of all your released work, which gives you the best feeling of accomplishment and why?

Panu Aaltio: So far I've gotten the most amount of great feedback about The Home of Dark Butterflies. It was my first feature and I did it in way too little time. And the recording of the music was my first visit ever to London, under a very tight schedule, with no other scoring session experience except what I had during my year at USC. So it was kind of a like big scary gamble that just worked. Quite happy about that in hindsight!

- Walk us throughout a typical day or not so typical?

Panu Aaltio: I've actually had to build a weekly schedule for myself, because I tend to focus on single tasks so entirely that I'll completely forget to do things like eat. Also psychologically it helps with writing to have these time slots where I force myself to write and I can't do anything else. So I fall back on that whenever there's all these worries about things I haven't taken care of, because there's so much more to a film music production than just the writing. Not to mention life in general!

It's kind of a relief to just go "well, I have a coffee break at 4pm -- then I can look into that other stuff, but now it has to wait". Also it helps in not giving into a writer's block. I might be doing completely useless cues to the point where I'm ready to call it a day, because it's just all turning into really bad music. But I force myself to continue because the time slot is still going, so I kind just have to muck around in the sequencer or at the piano to get the time passing. And then suddenly the extra 30 minutes I took produces something usable. It's weird how that works.

Of course, when the deadline is looming and you get to 16-hour work days, then you don't really need the schedule to remind you anymore!

Panu Aaltio


Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

Where can I watch Dawn of the Dragonslayer so I can hear his score?

Unknown said...

Alex, here is the link to score samples...

I don't know about the film, I had seen it at Walmart for 10 bucks...

DEZMOND said...

great interview, and great banners, Zombie! I'd also love to see the film