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.”
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.
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.