Category Archives: International Musician

Putting the band First: Zhenya Prokopenko, One of Russia’s Most Celebrated Rock Drummers

Drummer Zhenya Prokopenko
Zhenya shot by Hakueizm Photography


Nestled at the very back of a darkened stage, a band’s drummer is probably the most overlooked and least romanticized member in the band, and yet it remains that they are the most integral part of the entire act. Responsible for keeping the beat, a drummer must act as the metronome for the whole band while also generating magnetic charisma and displaying an original and refined technique to excite the audience. World renowned drummer Zhenya Prokopenko does just this – and he makes it all look easy.

Originally from Russia, Zhenya grew up with a deep love for music. As his studies in music became more refined, so did his love for the drums.

He explains, “The first thing you hear when you listen to any modern track is a drum beat. You just can’t miss it. It’s powerful, loud and beautiful to me.”

A student of Belgorod State College of Culture and Arts, Zhenya has studied privately under acclaimed sound producers, but attributes still some of his success to the simple element of rehearsal. “No one can practice instead of you,” Zhenya says. “The most effective training for your growth is daily practice.”

Zhenya Prokopenko
Zhenya playing with his band Drumcast shot by Anna Ulianova

When most people think of Zhenya, they first think of his widespread success in Russia, particularly with his pop-punk band Velvet, which quickly became a household name in 2008 with their unforgettable hit songs ‘Follow You’ and ‘Beat the Drums!’. Velvet gained attention on the airwaves and by the summer of 2009 the band was in frequent rotation on every major radio station. Radioplay soon turned into televised concerts, and the bands popularity grew astronomically.

In fact, since its inception, Velvet has released three chart-topping studio albums, four unforgettable singles, a live concert album, and eight cinematic music videos. Two-time winners of the Golden Gramophone Award, Velvet was also awarded multiple times at the Song of the Year festival, and named as Best Pop Rock Band in Russia at FUZZ Awards in 2008 and again at the RU.TV Awards five years later.

While the success of the band can be deservingly attributed to each member, it is important to look at Zhenya, the backbone of the group, as a critical part of the equation. Not only a session member of the band, he is also is the band’s studio musician and the co-author of the rhythm section of the music. Zhenya brings a fire and energy so radiant that even the most aloof person in the crowd can be caught tapping their foot.  

“The drummer should be the anchor of the band, the reliable reference for others, the most experienced member of the band,” Zhenya maintains. “The rest of the musicians have to depend on you for every aspect of the song– tempo, volume, expression, structure, energy. So, a good drummer is a team drummer who knows that. You need to be professional and willing to work hard. You need to leave your ego and selfishness aside, and put the music first.”

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In Ukraine Zhenya also served as the drummer for singer and actress Valeria Kozlova’s solo project, Lera Lera. Kozlova put herself on the map drumming for the rock band Ranetki, which gained such popularity it became a TV series of the same name. Soon, she and her bandmates became idols to young girls across Russia, Ukraine and other ex-Soviet republics. In 2008, Kozlova received the People’s Prize of Ukraine, the Telesvezda, in the nomination Opening of the Year. She then went to form her own solo project, where she recruited the talents of Zhenya. With Zhenya on drums, they released their 2010 debut album “Give me a Sign”, which gained such notoriety that it was acknowledged as one of the best albums of the year and took 6th place at the Russian Top Awards and Kozlova was named Singer of the Year by the music TV channel RU.TV. As drummer and rhythm co-writer, Zhenya helped carry the band to remarkable success with his impeccable timing, brilliant technique, and impressive stamina.

Both Velvet and Lera Lera were undoubtedly lucky to have Zhenya backing them on the drums. His signature feel for the music combined with his identifiable groove sets drummer Zhenya aside from the rest. A truly diverse and technically studied professional, Zhenya could surely sit behind any drum set with almost any band of any style and create a memorable, natural and flawless beat.

While Zhenya is an incredibly intelligent and talented musician, his humble heart is quick to remind us that no one can be measured by his or her own talents alone. He offers the kind reminder, “You are not a person, you are part of something bigger, part of the team.”

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Master Violinist Carlos Felipe Silva Makes his Mark as a Film Composer

 

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Carlos Felipe Silva at The Latin Grammys in Las Vegas (from left to right: Stefano Melillo, Sophie Maricq, Luis Tellez, Oscar Stagnaro, Calros Silva, Manuel Lara and Marco Flores.) Photo by Nora Gonzalez

Venezuelan composer Carlos Felipe Silva was born a prodigy. He received his first music lessons when he was just 5 years old; by 7 he’d begun formally training in the violin. Silva took to it like a bird takes to flight, but a mind like his could never be restricted to a single instrument. In the young virtuoso’s head rang entire symphonies, and as he grew older it became clear what he was born to do.

“At 18, I had the opportunity to come to the States to attend the Interlochen Arts Academy in Michigan,” said Silva, recalling how music went from being his passion to his career. “It was during that time I realized how important music was to me. I knew from that moment on that I had to spend the rest of my life making music.”

Silva spent the next five years as a violinist with Venezuela’s world-renowned Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra, led by world-renowned conductor and violinist Gustavo Dudamel, who has since become conductor of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.

“[After that], I got to study at my dream school — Berklee College of Music in Boston, the best place on earth to learn music,” Silva said. “I studied with world class instructors, and I was immersed in an environment that breathes music 24/7.”

By the time he earned his B.A. in Film Scoring from the ultra-exclusive Berklee College of Music, Silva already possessed more experience than many musicians gain in a lifetime. He immediately set out to prove his brilliance as a film composer, captivating audiences with his score for the 2015 thriller “Skye.” At the heart of the film is the titular Skye, a girl who is abducted for ransom by three of her male classmates. As the action intensifies and the plan goes south Skye finds herself walking the line between survival instinct and Stockholm Syndrome.

“‘Skye is a great thriller with fascinating turns. It shows the complexities of our society, and of how we react to life’s greatest challenges,” Silva said. “I wanted to create a score that could portray those complexities… In the first talk I had with the director we agreed upon a sonic landscape full of provocative elements and electronic pulses, with a lot of tension and suspense.”

Following the success of “Skye,” Silva didn’t waste a single second continuing his work. Within the year he had finished composing and recording his next masterstroke, “Clocks.”


“This piece and other cues were commissioned and produced by Moai Films, a production company based in L.A. I’d previously worked with them on the film ‘Matthew,’ and I developed a great relationship with Lukas Colombo, the head and creative mastermind behind Moai Films Productions,” Silva said. “It was an incredible opportunity to record and conduct a full orchestra…  [who] brought the score to life, and we were all very satisfied with the results. The session was incredible, and I got to work with some of the best musicians in town.”

When writing “Clocks,” Silva drew his inspiration from the beating pulse of the sprawling cities he’d spent his life in, starting in Caracas, then Boston where he mastered his craft, and ultimately Los Angeles, where he currently spends each day creating and performing.

“‘Clocks’ was written to portray the intensity of modern lives in big cities, where we all strive to achieve our dreams, but forget about the simple things that make life meaningful,” he described soulfully. “We used a traditional instrumentation, where the trumpet has the main melody line which sits on top of a provocative string ostinato; the choir adds an emotional layer to whole composition.”

In a way, however, “Clocks” represents the exact opposite of who Silva is as a person. Though he’s led a metropolitan life, Silva has never been forced to choose between reaching his dreams and finding meaning in life. Through his music, he has captured both in equal measures. In that sense, Carlos Felipe Silva, the Venezuelan virtuoso, has discovered the true meaning of life.

“Music is everything in my life. It’s a gesture of love which must be shared with others. It’s an act of faith and spirituality, and it’s the best way for me to communicate,” he explained. “As Nietzsche said: ‘Without music, life would be a mistake.’’’

Ivan Copelli talks winning Rally MTV’s gruelling competition

Ivan Copelli + Motores 3 - photo by PATRICIA CECATTI
Ivan Copelli and Motores

Ever since Ivan Copelli was a young boy, he has been bursting at the seams with creative talent. When his older brother played in his first band, Copelli would tag along for all of the group’s adventures, admiring their sound and the freedom they had to express themselves. It wasn’t until he turned 10 years old, however, when KISS performed in his hometown, that he realized that his life was pushing him to make music. He was consumed by this desire and he was ready to rock. From that night forward, his life changed forever and now, while others are out working to feed their families, Copelli is out working to feed his soul. He has a hunger within him that most aspiring professionals could only dream of having and it is what pushes him to exceed all expectations. He makes his living by simply living.

“As a musician, I get to immerse myself into many different manifestations of art and music. Especially live music. It is so magical. In developing myself as an artist, I get to collaborate with other artists and together, we get to build something really unique. The real gift, however, is getting to see the audience consuming my art. Watching them interact with the atmosphere I create and seeing them jump, scream, dance, vibrate, etc. It’s indescribable. We feed off of each other and it is such an amazing feeling. It makes me love being a musician,” said Copelli.

In 2004, a close friend of Copelli’s recommended that he audition to drum for a band called Motores. Unsure of whether or not the band would be the right fit for him, Copelli attended a few of their shows and found himself instantly drawn to their music. He was addicted to their energy and their authentic sound. Following a flawless audition, the band knew they needed Copelli’s talents to carry them to new heights and they immediately invited him to drum for them.

For the Brazilian drummer, this opportunity presented a new set of challenges. Motores was a punk rock band, and at the time, Copelli was used to playing pop/rock songs. Rather than letting this obstacle set him back, Copelli jumped at the opportunity use this new experience as an artistic challenge and he dove in head first. The benefits were mutual and while the band were able to share their punk rock knowledge with Copelli, he was able to adapt and to strengthen their music with his combination of experience and raw talent. That’s simply part of who he is as an artist. When he is presented with challenges, Copelli rises. He has a keen interest in expanding his musical knowledge wherever possible and does not limit him to specific genres or styles. It is this versatility that draws a vast array of audiences and other artists toward him.

In 2007, Motores was invited by MTV to take part in their hit reality television series, Rally MTV. Rally MTV is an eight-episode documentation of five original Latin American bands competing for international recognition, as well as the chance to film a music video to be aired on MTV networks across Latin America, Brazil and the United States. The competition was fierce and gained a lot of attention from rock music fans. After 21 days of filming in three different countries, Motores swept the competition and won the show, bringing the band a new level of fame and opportunity, a feat they wouldn’t likely have achieved without Copelli’s artistry.

When Brazilian entrepreneur and customer-focused development advocate, Paulo Ramos, worked with Motores, he experienced first-hand how invaluable talent like Copelli’s is for an, at the time, up-and-coming band. It became evident early on in Motores’ partnership with Ramos that the band’s success could be traced back to Copelli’s leading role.

“Motores has a full roster of supremely talented musicians and Ivan’s leading role as the drummer for the band makes him stand out as one of the most accomplished musicians in the Brazilian music industry. The combination of Ivan’s unprecedented skill, as well as his solid and consistent playing style made him a clear choice for the band, as he is able to repeatedly deliver top notch performances, whether it’s for the band’s albums, their live shows, or even their television performances. His pristine style of drumming not only expertly reflects the tone of the band as a whole, but also stamps their albums with his iconic style of drumming, creating a masterful blend of two truly excellent styles of music. It was inevitable that Ivan found his way to the spotlight based on his success with Motores and I am certain that his leading role in the band was influential for him in more ways than one,” told Ramos.

Winning the show meant wider international recognition for Motores and consequently, for Copelli, it opened several new doors for him to grow his presence in the industry. In fact, it was his great success with Motores that drove Kiara Rocks to seek his talents in 2010. With Kiara Rocks, Copelli recorded and released one of the biggest Brazilian rock albums in several years and he put his heart into the album in ways he hadn’t ever before. He was so inspired by this experience and overwhelmed with motivation to continue to bring excellent content to the realm of rock that he started his own band, Burlesca.

Having achieved such great success drumming in Brazil, Copelli is ready to take his talents all over the world. Whilst some drummers may be content with the milestones he has achieved, Copelli is always thirsty for more. It is not uncommon for him to be balancing several projects simultaneously and determining how best he can accommodate requests from other artists to lend his skill set. No matter which band he is playing for or which artists he is collaborating with, he is just fortunate to be able to do what he loves and to do it well. He aims to release as many records and work on as many albums with as many other musicians as he possibly can because for Copelli, music is who he is.

“It’s the only thing that has always stuck with me since I was a kid. It is the real me. It’s the magic that makes me feel complete every day,” concluded Copelli.

Musician Jose Roman captures the feelings of film ‘30 Days with My Brother’ in song

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Jose Roman at the premiere of 30 Days with My Brother

When Jose Roman thinks of his childhood, growing up in Quito, Ecuador, he recalls being exposed to a great variety of different music genres, artists and styles. As far back as he can remember, his dad would play him classical music, from Bach to Chopin. His mother, a self-taught pianist, inspired him to try playing the electric organ in his house. Later, when his parents purchased an acoustic piano, Roman experienced for the first time, the sensation of falling in love. He knew, no matter where life took him, the piano would be his driving force, and now at 27 years old, this remains his truth.

Roman has become an internationally successful musician, gaining fame as a member of the rock band Daphne’s Roots. He has always been a strong composer, writing hit songs and catchy melodies. His keyboard skills are instantly identifiable on a track, and his classical roots are an evident source of inspiration, no matter what genre he is playing.

“As my musical background grew while I aged, I listened to more keyboard driven bands such as Deep Purple, Pink Floyd, Queen and Dream Theater, just to name a few, the transition to play the keyboards was a given. My love for music was then solidified,” he said. “But now, I always try bending different flavours in my playing from my classical roots to blues, rock and even some electronic music.”

Despite his success with Daphne’s Roots, Roman’s versatility lends itself to all mediums, from accompanying individual artists, such as Sahandra Sundstrom’s Thinkin’ Out Loud, and even films. The 2016 drama 30 Days with My Brother, features an original song accompanied by Roman, as the producer Omar Mora, had heard the pianist’s previous work and knew he needed him to be a part of the music department.

“Once I heard how the concept of the song related to the movie, I knew exactly what I needed to do in order to make a top quality compelling work as a keyboardist. I realized that the style of the song was right on my ally. I was very inspired the whole time I was working on my keyboards part and I felt very comfortable doing it. I really liked the song so working on it was very pleasing and the keyboard arrangements came to me very naturally,” Roman described.

The song titled “Never Too Late” was written by Andrea Sandoval, the singer. When Roman started working on the track, the melody and basic structure were already taken care of, so his job was to enhance the harmony, write and perform all the keyboard parts. The song was mainly piano and vocals driven with some strings arrangement that Roman also wrote and recorded. It was vital to the film’s story and the film’s success.

“When I first heard about this movie I was immediately fascinated by how original and interesting the plot was. Then when I was asked to be part of the music department and record and arrange the keyboard part for the main song featured in the movie I was very excited. It was a no brainer for me since I love to collaborate with these amazing talents. When I heard the demo of the song and how it relates to the film I knew this was an amazing opportunity to create something memorable,” he said.

With a 92 per cent on Rotten Tomatoes and a 5-star rating on Fandango, 30 Days With my Brother has resonated with audiences. It tells the story of Alexis and Jonathan, two brothers from Puerto Rico that were separated after a terrible family tragedy. After 17 years, Alexis has become a doctor while Jonathan has become entangled with a dangerous group of people. One day, suddenly, Alexis packs up his things and moves to Los Angeles on a mission to reconnect with his long-lost brother. The two brothers meet and are forced to face their past, themselves and try to restore the bonds of brotherhood.

“It’s always satisfying to know that good movies are recognized and well received. It is particular rewarding to be part of such an extraordinary project that is highly celebrated. I always knew from the very beginning that 30 Days with My Brother was going to be a great success, since it has heart and top-quality production. I feel honoured to have been part of this project,” said Roman.

After premiering at the famous American Cinematheque’s historic Egyptian Theaterin Hollywood in April of last year, the film was picked up by AMC for national distribution across the United States. The song was essential for the film, and Roman’s contributions greatly affected the feeling, encapsulating the story and the struggles the brothers were going through. The song is piano driven, with intimate vocals. It has a memorable piano hook at the beginning, and a very sensitive keyboard interlude in the middle of the song.

“I believe that the balance between the vocals and piano accompaniment was essential for the song success within in the film. It is a very simple, but at the same time very touching piano ballad,” said Roman.

Producer and writer Omar Mora could not agree more. When he first heard the song, he was ecstatic, giving Roman the confidence to know that they had accomplished something special. Mora was so impressed, in fact, that he asked Roman to work alongside him once again on future projects.

“Jose is very easy to work with, and he is very professional,” said producer Omar Mora.

The next short film Mora is producing, titled White Orchid, is expected to premiere late this year. Audiences once again will be privy to Roman’s original music while watching that film. It is definitely something to look forward to.

Musician Yasutaka Nomura is living his dream while touring the world

 

Being a musician was a natural career choice for Yasutaka Nomura. Not only does he love what he does, but he is exceptionally good at it. He has a formidable career at only 24 years of age, working around the world, showing international listeners what he is capable of. As a professional musician, playing both guitar and bass, he is extraordinary.

Originally from Japan, Nomura has made music in many different genres, in many different countries. He has impressed in the United States audiences in progressive rock/fusion trio Mammoth, Indie Rock/Alternative band Smokey Lenses, and Alternative/Progressive Rock band Squanky Kong. However, it was when playing Guitar with Voodoo Kungfu, an Extreme Chinese Folk Metal band, where Nomura’s international presence truly took off.

“It was great being in Voodoo Kungfu. Everyone in the band is very professional and serious about music but also easy-going and open minded. They are all at least 10 years older than I am but I think we got along very well. I had such a fun time with them on the tour,” said Nomura.

Voodoo Kungfu’s music is a mixture of Extreme Death Metal and Chinese, Mongolian Traditional Music. It was definitely something Nomura had never heard or seen before, making working with the band even more intriguing. He liked the songs and their performance style.

“When we play shows, we play with the backing tracks behind. Those tracks are mostly made of orchestra instruments with some Asian traditional instruments which make the whole atmosphere dark, oriental, and epic. I think it helps us play and perform better because it gets us into the right mood,” said Nomura.

Nomura and the band went on a European tour with Orphaned Land, Imperial Age and Crisalida. They played 18 shows in 11 countries. They performed in the U.K., Germany, France, Italy, Switzerland, Holland, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Belgium, and Denmark.

“Touring in Europe had been one of my dreams since I started playing music. It was such an amazing experience and definitely an unforgettable event in my music career. I cannot wait for the next one hopefully with more countries and cities,” said Nomura. “These bands were all amazing and the members of the bands and staffs were all such cool people. It was such a fun tour.”

The band also received many awards. This list includes: 2006 World Battle of the Bands – Chinese Championship, 2006 World Battle of the Bands – World Runners-up, 2008 Metal Battle of China – Chinese Championship, 2009 MIDI Awards – Best Metal Performance Nomination, 2010 MIDI Awards – Best Metal Performance Nomination, 2011 MIDI Awards – Best Metal Performance Nomination, 2011 MIDI Awards – Best Live Performance Nomination, 2011 MIDI Awards – Best Male Rock Vocal Nomination, 2011 Mao Livehouse first annual awards – Best Metal Band, 2014 MIDI Awards – Best Live Performance. The unique Asian sound makes the band stand out.

“I tried to imitate the sound of Asian traditional instruments on guitar such as guzheng and shamisen. Also in guitar solos, I used some Japanese traditional scales, such as In scale, Yo scale, and more, which fit very well in this kind of oriental sounding music,” said Nomura. “We also use the Asian traditional percussion “Dagu” in live shows. I love the sound of it. It sounds huge and epic. It also makes me recall my childhood, because in Japan, we always have people to play it in festivals. (Japanese call it “taiko”.) Because of it, playing with “Dagu” feels very special to me. I feel very related to the sound.”

Nomura was asked to join the band by the singer Nan Li, who had just moved to LA and was looking for band members to start playing live shows. Nomura was friends with the drummer that was joining the band and he introduced Nomura to Nan, knowing his talent. After a few meetings, Nan asked Nomura to join the band.

“Yasutaka is very quick at learning tunes and has an ability to arrange them effectively and creatively. Working with him is very smooth and also inspirational. He has an outstanding technique and stage presence. He is also a great improviser, using the traditional Japanese musical scales. That makes Yasutaka very unique as a guitarist,” said Li.

Besides Li, Nomura is the only person in the band that is from an Asian country. This understanding of Asian traditional music, the musical influence he has from the culture and his childhood, and even his appearance are very important for the sound and the image of the band. Nomura also believes Li’s vocals truly capture the sound the band aims for, and compliments his guitar work.

“I really like the way Nan sings and performs. He uses a lot of screams, growls and throat singing techniques from Mongolian traditional music. His voice and singing is just very intense. I can confidently say that there is no one else that can sing like him. Also, he writes all the music for this project, he has an outstanding song-writing skill as well,” Nomura described.

This is evident on Nomura’s favorite Voodoo Kungfu song, Born on June 4th. It starts with insane vocal scream, and then has a lot of fast chugs and riffs with odd meters that are fun for Nomura to play. Also, the chorus part is very melodic and epic with orchestral sounds.

“I love songs with this kind of dramatic changes. It’s not just a fun song to play but also a great tune to listen to.

Voodoo Kungfu will be releasing their newest album later this summer. You can find out more information by following them on Facebook.

Be sure to also check out Nomura’s YouTube, Instagram, and Soundcloud

MASSIMILIANO LOMBARDO ON THE SWEET & SALTY SCORE OF NOCTURNALLY YOURS

Storytelling has been with mankind for as long as we can remember; yes…that’s humorous. Whether it began as a means of oral history or entertainment (it was likely both) it has captivated people. The means have changed over time, what was spoken by a single orator or actor in front of the cave’s fire is now a vision manifested by the most skilled artists and advanced software. Filmmakers have returned to the keystone of imagination and its limitless possibilities. Whether it be rocks and a drum aiding Cro-Magnon man or current day symphonies and music software with composers, the relationship between music and stories is one of the longest enduring marriage in the arts. 2017’s Karma is a CGI animated film of a cautionary tale. This recent release has already been nominated in over 30 film festivals all over the world and has won 8 awards, including Best Original Score: Honorable Mention at the Asians on Film Festival (US, 2017) for its composer Massimiliano Lombardo. Director Peter Zhou directly reached out to Lombardo (also known as Max) after seeing bits and samples of other animated movies he had previously scored. Because Karma contains very little sound FX and no dialogue at all in the movie, the music would become a main character. The film also has a wall to wall score, meaning that the music is present from the opening scene through to the final credits. Keeping the music interesting and effective all the time without being able to hide behind sound fx or dialogue required an inventive and assertive composer like Max. Zhou requested a score that would engage the audience but not pull their attention away.

A film composer’s task is to write music to picture in order to enhance the emotional impact of the movie and help tell the story. Karma is a traditional 3D animated movie (like Pixar’s movies). After meeting and discussing the music with director Peter Zhou and animator Franklin Okike, Max decided to write a classical full orchestral score with memorable melodies and motifs. The first step was to write a theme for the main character, from which the whole score would be developed. Lombardo recalls, “I watched the picture twice and then shutdown the computer and focused on music for an entire day. Once I had a theme I started composing the actual score to picture, adapting the theme to it. During this process I wrote entirely on the piano in something called sketches.” Sketches are reductions of what will be the actual full score. They contain the main ideas, the rhythm, and the harmony but without orchestration. From there Max began the orchestration, choosing the right orchestral colors and arranging for an ensemble. Given the size of an orchestra, writing for it without a sketch can get a bit dispersive. Max used this method to focus on one thing at the time: rhythm and dramatic impact of the music first, then orchestral embellishments, textures, and finally colors.

Lombardo had an immediate affinity for this film and its message, which greatly aided his role as composer. He confirms, “It really makes a big difference when you fall in love with the movie you are scoring. With Karma it was love at first sight for me. First of all, the movie is incredibly well designed and animated. Characters and landscapes are incredibly detailed and evocative. Furthermore, the movie is very well structured and has a built in rhythm to it. All these elements together are the perfect backbone to a score. The characters would suggest the themes, the colors and textures would inspire orchestral colors and arrangements, while the structure would dictate the rhythm of the score.” Karma tells the story of a boy who meets a fish in a mysterious forest. The boy starts feeding the fish and the fish grows exponentially. He gets carried away and feeds the fish everything he has with him regardless of whether this is good for the little creature. The fish keeps growing until he eventually turns into a monster and eats the boy. The movie is a metaphor for the way we are treating our planet and the animals in it. Actions without conscience lead to disaster for us and all who inhabit Earth.

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Upon viewing, the music in Karma seems so perfectly matched and obvious…yet, prior to Max’s compositions there were a myriad of possible ways that the score could emotionally affect the audience. Carefully taking this into consideration so that he might deliver the intended impact of the action, Lombardo delicately crafted the music for Karma. He explains how his work colored scenes stating, “There are two scenes in which I think the music really added a layer to the movie. One is when we first realize the fish is getting bigger. In this moment the score gets majestic and magical taking the point of view of the boy, but then goes into a darker tone as we start sensing that something is wrong. Here the music really anticipates and creates suspense before the big reveal when the fish turns into a monster. The other moment is at the very end when the fish eats the boy. Here I didn’t want to make it too dramatic as the movie had to be playful overall. I decided to build a dark orchestral piece that ends with a silly resolution that almost sounds like a Tom & Jerry cartoon, leaving a smile on people’s face when the end credits come in.

Contemplating Lombardo’s score for Karma, Peter Zhou relates, “We were really trying to go to some new places with this film. We straddled a line to deliver a message while making it entertaining and not heavy handed. I’m sure that it is frightening for a composer to play their new creation to someone for the first time; it’s a very delicate moment. As soon as I watched the film with Max’s score, I couldn’t stop smiling. It was perfect! He perfectly captured the message and the mood of the movie, adding an extra layer to it that made it complete. I think he really captured the essence of the movie.” Whether he is working with the finest LA musicians, the London Symphony Orchestra, or digital music software, Max Lombardo continually brings a fresh and creative approach to modern film composition and orchestration.

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In Pursuit of a Dream: Esteemed Film Composer Michael-Alexander Brandstetter

Michael-Alexander Brandstetter
Austrian Film Composer Michael-Alexander Brandstetter

Composer Michael-Alexander Brandstetter, 24, first discovered his love for film scores as a young boy at home in Eggenburg, Austria. Brandstetter, who recently composed the scores for the films The Path, Gnossienne and The Pamoja Project, began his musical journey by learning to play classical music on the piano, but for him, becoming a classical pianist was never the goal. He set his sights on becoming a film composer from the start and he wasn’t going to let anything stop him from reaching the top.

“I remember that it started when I was around seven or eight years old. I actually developed an interest in film music right from the get go. I guess, since classical music is sort of all around you in Austria, I didn’t take particular interest in it. Film music however was something different… You couldn’t just listen to it on the radio, and it wasn’t performed anywhere, so you had to either go to the movies to listen to it or buy the score album,” recalls Brandstetter.

While his contemporaries at the time were more preoccupied with listening to mainstream bands such as Slipknot and Green Day, because that was the cool thing to do, Brandstetter was busy familiarizing himself with the work of great composers like Hans Zimmer, Danny Elfman, Franz Schubert, Michael Kamen and other pivotal artists who would come to influence his future career as a film composer.

Within months of taking his first piano class he was already moving outside of the box and creating his own compositions, a telling sign of what the future would hold for the then budding 9 year old.

“I started playing my own tunes instead of practicing. I always hated to practice, or even to play what was written on the sheet. To me it felt like it was limiting my creativity. I would much rather take musical phrases out of the composition I was supposed to play, and improvise on it,” explains Brandstetter.

In 2004, only three years after he took his first piano lesson, Brandstetter composed the score for the sci-fi feature film U.V.O  directed by his older brother Wolfgang Brandstetter, who has become known throughout Austria for his work as the screenwriter behind the films Medcrimes – Nebenwirkung Mord, Tod in den Bergen, Wer hat Angst vorm schwarzen Mann?, Die geerbte Familie and others. In 2006, at the age of 14, Brandstetter composed the score for Wolfgang’s dramatic feature film Winter. To compose such elaborate scores for two lengthy feature films at such a young age definitely put Brandstetter in the spotlight, earning him rightful recognition as a musical prodigy in Austria.

“My parents bought me a casio keyboard and a mini disc player and I put together my musical tracks and recorded them either all together or separately… The whole thing ended up being a true art project, and it worked. I still wear a Casio digital watch today to remind me of that time when I started, with nothing more than one keyboard,” admits Brandstetter.

At the age of 14 Brandstetter discovered renowned composer Hans Zimmer’s company Remote Control Productions (RCP), which is based in Southern California and has been responsible for some of the most epic scores of our time, including those for the Pirates of the Caribbean movies, Iron Man, Gladiator, Mission: Impossible 2, The Last Samurai, Transformers, Kingdom of Heaven, The Da Vinci Code, Inception, Sherlock Holmes and more. Floored by the powerful work of the company, Brandstetter’s sights were set on becoming a part of RCP from that point on.

With steadfast dedication to making his dream of becoming a film composer a reality, he laid a strong foundation for himself by studying audio engineering and musicology in college in Austria, and then moving stateside where he attended USC’s screen scoring program, which is regarded as the number one school in the world for film scoring. While at USC Brandstetter was awarded the annual mentorship program with composer James Newton Howard, as well as the the Betty Rose Collaboration Award, which is determined by faculty and student votes.

Earning quite a bit of attention for his ingenious talent, his time at USC was beyond fruitful; and shortly after graduation he was tapped by Adam Michael Schiff to join Bleeding Fingers Music, a joint venture between RCP and Extreme Music as an additional music composer and junior music producer.

A defining moment in his career, being asked to join a world renowned company such as RCP was proof that Brandstetter’s hard work paid off– he had made it to the top.

“It is where I’ve always wanted to be, and I think this is what makes my story unique, that I had a goal, I made a plan, and sticked to it as much as possible and simply tried to circumvent any and all obstacles,” says Brandstetter about joining RCP.

Within a year, Brandstetter has written, arranged and orchestrated several original musical compositions for projects such as Starz Global’s Insomnia, Sony’s Snatch and Discovery Channel’s Alaskan Bush People.

As a film composer Brandstetter’s unique compositions have been integral to driving the emotions and stories of a great many films in recent years. In 2015 he composed the score for Abhijit Gajwani’s (Wabi Sabi, Mangata, Tapori) dramatic film Gnossienne, which revolves around Jeremy, a man who disconnects from the outside world after the loss of his wife.

With the difficult emotions dealt with in the story, and the fact that most of the film centers on a dialogue between Jeremy and his maid, who tries to help him move past his grief, the music for Gnossienne had to be delicate, emotive and give space for the conversation for the two main characters to unfold– something Brandstetter nailed perfectly.

He explains, “I really tweaked all the instruments I used in the score. Reversed piano sounds, distorted strings, ambient long and ominous pads, every sound was essentially custom made… I then brought in a solo violinist and recorded her on top of the rest of the music, which really brought it to life.”

Starring Manuela Osmont (Bite Me), Paula Bellamy-Franklin (I Got the Hook Up) and Matthew Michael Collins (Thin Lines) Gnossienne had an altogether positive reception on the film festival circuit taking home the Honorable Mention Award at the International Film Awards Berlin and the Certificate of Excellence Award at the Dada Saheb Phalke Film Festival, as well as screening at the prestigious Cannes Film Festival Court Metrage and many more.

About working with Brandstetter on the film, director Abhijit Gajwani explains, “Before composing, he sat down and talked the tone of the story… Michael’s ability to understand the story, the characters and their conflicts sets him apart from other composers. His music feels pure and true to them… I was trying to do the impossible with this film and Michael actually pushed me further and helped me make a better film.”

The Pamoja Project
Film Poster for the “The Pamoja Project”

Brandstetter also recently composed the score for The Pamoja Project, a touching documentary from director Audrey Emerson that follows three Tanzanian women trying to uplift their community and create a change when it comes to dealing with global poverty. The word “pamoja” means “together” in Swahili, and much of the film is about how when we unite and work towards a common goal, we can overcome difficult obstacles and achieve what once seemed to be impossible.

As the composer of The Pamoja Project Brandstetter did a brilliant job of helping to set the pace of the film with his original score. His strategic use of certain musical devices were essential to both heightening the inspirational energy and driving the deeply emotional aspects within the film’s key scenes.

“I first set out to create a ‘Pamoja Theme,’ something that incorporates the essential thought that great things can only happen together. Once I had that, I created three different, but closely related soundscapes for the three women the documentary follows,” explains Brandstetter.

Released in 2016, The Pamoja Project has been praised for it’s uplifting story and has been viewed by international audiences as an Official Selection of the Chicago International Social Change Film Festival, Sunscreen Film Festival West, Rhode Island International Film Festival, Yonkers Film Festival, Massachusetts Independent Film Festival and more.

Director Audrey Emerson explains, “Michael stood out from the beginning as the obvious choice as a composer. He was not just talented, but kind, hard-working and dedicated… I felt that Michael really cared about the story and his score reflected that.”

Over the last few years Michael-Alexander Brandstetter also composed the scores for a long list of other films including Eric Baird’s (Injection) sci-fi film Time to Leave, Tiffany Danielle Brooks’ Sharing Day, the animated film Disappearance, the 2016 drama The Path starring Raleigh Cain from the series Longmire, and many more.

While Brandstetter has clearly become a highly sought after film composer in recent years, his genius compositions are definitely strong enough to stand alone– in fact, come September 16 some of his original compositions are set to be performed during the highly anticipated “Welcome Home: Walter Arlen in Concert” at the Vienna Konzerthaus, where the Vienna Symphony and the Vienna Philharmonic also perform, in Vienna, Austria.

The “Welcome Home: Walter Arlen in Concert” is a pivotal event that will welcome home composer Walter Arlen, a 96-year-old exiled artist and Holocaust survivor, whose music will be performed in Austria for the first time.

Michael-Alexander Brandstetter
Michael-Alexander Brandstetter (left) & Walter Arlen (right) at the LA Opera

Brandstetter, who organized the concert with the help of his father, a minister in the Austrian government, explains, “I met Walter at the Residence of the Austrian Consulate General when I was studying at USC… He told me that his last wish would be that his only orchestral work, ‘The Song of Songs’ would be performed in Vienna.”

Thanks to Brandstetter’s diligent efforts, Alren’s “The Song of Songs” will be performed for the first time in Vienna by musicians from  the world renowned Wiener Symphoniker orchestra, and the concert will also feature Franz Schubert’s Symphony No.5, as well as Brandstetter’s original composition “Righteous Among The Nations.”

“This piece is especially important to him since it is based on the Jewish poem ‘The Song of Songs’… He started to work on it to prove himself, and that he and his culture are not ‘inferior,’ to put it mildly, as the Nazis suggested. Working on this piece gave him strength in difficult times. So, it is an emotional homecoming,” explains Brandstetter about Arlen’s piece.

From playing a key role in Hans Zimmer’s company RCP and composing powerful film scores that touch audiences on an emotional level and effortlessly drive the visual story as it unfolds on the screen, to having his original compositions performed by one of the most notable orchestras in the world, composer Michael-Alexander Brandstetter has made more of an impact as an international composer than most will in an entire lifetime.

Brandstetter is also currently working as a composer for Extreme Music from his hometown, Vienna, where his skills in musical composition, arranging, orchestration and music editing are undoubtedly being put to good use. With an impressive library that boasts music from artists and composers such as Quincy Jones, Hans Zimmer, George Martin, Snoop Dogg, Xzibit, and Junkie XL, Extreme Music is the production arm of Sony/ATV Music Publishing, which creates and licenses music for television, film, advertising and online media.