My music is unorthodox – an interview with For Lovers Only music composer – Kubilay Uner by Katarzyna Godycka for Kultura.wp.pl
Polish language version of my interview with Kubi is available here: http://kultura.wp.pl/title,Moja-muzyka-jest-nieszablonowa,wid,13762827,wiadomosc.html
Except of those who saw Polish Brothers’ film “Stay Cool” two years ago during “Off Plus Camera” film festival in Cracow and “For Lovers Only” earlier this month during the first edition of Transatlantyk Film Festival in Poznan (at the end of which “For Lovers Only” got the Best Film Audience Award), you’re rather unknown to Polish cinema goers. Could you introduce yourself to our readers and tell us something about you?
I write and produce music in Los Angeles, California, mostly for film – although I also write plenty of other music, for concerts, for commercials, for albums, etc. I like to keep it varied! I was born and raised in Munich, Germany, to a Turkish father and a German mother. I also lived in Canada and Brazil at various times during my youth. After first studying composition in Cologne, Germany I came to Los Angeles to get my Master’s degree at CalArts. Within a couple of months I knew I wasn’t ever going to move back to Europe. A few years later I met my wife Jen, and we’ve been married for over fifteen years now.
When did your adventure with music start? When did you know that you want to write music? And what was your first piece?
The first piece that I wrote down, on paper, was a piece for solo recorder, at the age of eight. I performed it at the first communion celebrations in our class and after that I was hooked on music. From the age of twelve I knew I wouldn’t ever consider doing anything else with my life.
What have you been guided by when choosing films to score? What’s the most important factor determining that you want to score this particular movie?
That’s a difficult question to answer – I guess I just feel whether I have something to contribute to a particular film or not. But I don’t think I am faced with this question very much: My music is a bit “unorthodox”, so generally speaking it’s only those people with whom I share some sort of “artistic overlap” that decide they want to ask me to score their film in the first place. So I guess when I see their film it already comes from a similar “place” as my music.
Where do you take your inspirations from? Who are your “masters”?
Oh, I don’t even know where to start, there is so much music that I love and that influences me! I guess that’s why I like writing for film, it allows me to work in a wider range of musical languages than most other areas. But there are so many musicians that changed the way I think about music: concert composers like Ives, Ligeti, Stravinsky, or more contemporary writers like John Adams and Esa-Pekka Salonen. Italian avant-garde composer Luigi Nono became a big influence when I studied with him in a workshop in France. Jazz orchestra composers like Duke Ellington, Gil Evans, Charlie Mingus and Bill Holman shaped my writing a lot. Maria Schneider is a current favorite of mine in that area. A lot of the more “artistic” pop bands are a big influence as well – the Dirty Projectors, TV on the Radio, bands like that. Among film composers some of my favorites are Angelo Badalamenti, Thomas Newman, Carter Burwell, Cliff Martinez. I also listen to a lot of non-Western music, which is a major source of inspiration for me – when I was at CalArts I studied a bit of Afro-Carribean percussion, Javanese Gamelan music, South Indian rhythm, and music from Ghana. So I have a huge pool of music to draw inspiration from – and I regularly do!
How did your cooperation with Polish Brothers start?
A few years ago I released an album, “Cinematic”. After the release I put together an international film competition, asking filmmakers around the world to shoot a film to a track of their choice from the album. Kind of the reverse of film scoring. We received almost a hundred films from all over the planet. Of course I needed to have a good jury for the competition, so I approached Michael Polish through CalArts and asked him to be on the jury. That’s when my relationship with the Polish brothers started. A couple of years later they asked me to score Stay Cool, and now we worked together on For Lovers Only.
Tell us how the scoring process for “For Lovers Only” looked like. Did Polish Brothers have a clear idea of what they wanted or did they let you experiment?
They knew WHAT they needed the music to do, but they let me work out the musical details, like the instrumentation, so they left it to me HOW to do that. Of course we knew there had to be some link with the music of the French nouvelle vague, but just like the film isn’t a literal copy of that style, the music shouldn’t be either. Anyway, I ended up picking a scene to start with (the bathtub scene) and started writing different sketches. I did about three sketches, but none of them conveyed the full emotional depth of the story. So I decided I had to dig deeper – I went through my old sketches and found a melody I wrote a week before I proposed to my wife Jen – of course I already knew I was going to ask her when I wrote that melody. I used that melody as a basis for a new sketch and emailed that to the Polish brothers. Within minutes Mark emailed back and told me that was the one. So there must be some extra magic in those notes! That melody is now in almost every single piece in the score.
One of the pieces in “For Lovers Only” score is called “Pour Frederic” and is a very beautiful tribute to Frederic Chopin. Tell me more about it, where this idea came from?
I needed music for the restaurant scene, that had to feel different from the score – it had to feel more “of the place” (the restaurant) than “of the story”. But of course it still had to fit in. So I imagined who would be playing in that restaurant, and I decided it would be a pianist (a student at the conservatoire, perhaps?) making some extra money playing classy music in the restaurant. And Chopin was the perfect influence for this – his style fit the scene perfectly, and just like the characters he had a close relationship with France without being French.
I’ve already said it to Mark Polish in Poznan during Transatlantyk Festival, but will say it again, for me “For Lovers Only” soundtrack, and I’m talking about your music, is literally the first ever film music where I can tell honestly that I love it from the first to last second. And many people after watching the movie during Transatlantyk festival decided that they love the music very much.
Thank you very much! I’m very happy at the response to the film, and of course also the music, and I can say without reservation that it is my proudest work to date. So it’s wonderful to see that it means so much to so many people!
“For Lovers Only” soundtrack is currently available for download only on iTunes (but only in these countries where iTunes sells music) and on CD Baby – http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/kubilayuner2 Are there any plans to release it as a “normal” CD in the future?
Maybe at some point, but not for now. (I did have the thought that this particular music would be great for a limited edition release on vinyl…? We’ll see!) With everybody listening to music on their iPods and cell phones, a digital release felt like it could reach the most people – no concerns about international shipping etc. Of course I find it surprising how difficult even a digital release is – some countries have it on iTunes, others don’t, etc. But thanks to CD Baby, everyone can get the album at least at one website.
Have you ever considered doing completely something else in life?
What are you working on at the moment?
I just finished the music for four TV commercials – big, orchestral pieces, was a lot of fun. As soon as the commercials are airing I will put the music up on my site, sometime later this fall, I believe. Right now I am back working on the follow up album to Cinematic, what I call “music for the stories unfolding in your head.” I am also talking with a few people about an idea for a live ensemble that I have been developing for quite some time. I’ll be sure to keep everyone up-to-date on my website! (http://kubilayuner.com)