I was originally approached by Eirik from Castimoniae in July last year. He introduced himself and sent me some samples of his stuff, which I really liked. Over the following months the relationship grew in a very organic manner. He’d send me some theme ideas or a partial track, I’d give him some advice and feedback and he would then revise the tracks. The first tracks we produced together were released on ‘Fearless’ the second album from our Silver Screen series. We got along very well and the writing and production quality of the Castimoniae team was fantastic and so we started working towards doing a full album together: Northern Lights, Southern Darkness.
After a couple of articles about Film Music it was about time to feature another Trailer Music company: Dos Brains. Being in the industry for a while now they gathered plenty of big credits including just recently the advertising campaigns for Boyhood, Halo 5, Edge of Tomorrow, Assassins Creed: Unity and Gone Girl. In this article we will mainly cover the process behind the album Northern Lights, Southern Darkness. Which is, in addition to Dos Brains’ co-owner and Creative Director Guillermo De La Barreda’s introduction to this post, a very special album as Guillermo told us:
We invested the best part of the year working back and forth as we produced the tracks. It was a very nice collaboration that kept growing as time passed by and we got to know each other a bit more. One of the most important things with this album is that neither of us wanted to rush things, we didn’t care too much if it was gonna take us two months or two years. We knew we wanted to put out a special album and so we were gonna let the album and the whole production process dictate when it was going to be released. We were all paying attention to every little detail, and I think you can really notice it on the final result.
While getting more into detail about this final result, you can listen to the album here:
Let’s see who’s behind this
You probably wonder who exactly is behind Northern Lights, Southern Darkness which has been released under Dos Brains’ “Silver Screen” catalog. So why don’t we let it be explained by Eirik Jacobsen, founder of Castimoniae, the Norwegian music production company working under Dos Brains now:
When Sindre [Hotvedt] and I started working, I hired him in the first place to orchestrate a few tracks of mine – this goes back to 2004 when I was very found of live recordings. Our first recording was in 2005 with The City Of Prague Philharmonic Orchestra. Since then, his involvement has expanded from being an orchestrator to a co-composer. Working with Sindre is one of the things I value the most, and in time we’ve become really good friends. He’s extremely talented and I admire his work. The same goes for Lorenzo [Castellarin]. He’s like a brother to me. Lorenzo got in touch after reading an interview/article about Castimoniae on the internet.
Furthermore Eirik Jacobsen told us that – apart from Sindre Hotvedt being co-composer the first time for Castimoniae – the creative process behind Northern Lights, Southern Darkness was fairly similar to other projects. Generally there has been a change when Castimoniae joined Dos Brains as a catalog though.
In general, I’ll come up with the main themes, while Sindre and Lorenzo are involved in the production and arrangements. But there’s a great deal of interaction as well, and everyone of us influences one another. For instance Lorenzo has written several parts as well. Previous to ‘Northern Lights, Southern Darkness’ we’ve probably been less critical, and set out on a trailer mission (impossible) to conquer the world with poorer samples, weaker production and less catchy melodies. So there was an overall revision before we joined forces with the Dos Brains label.
Boundaries, freedom and inspiration
Asking if they ever feel caged within the general structure of trailer tracks, Sindre and Lorenzo both agree that a specific structure always helps creating a new piece of trailer music. Summing up his own opinion about how “limitations and freedom are defining each other at all times”, Lorenzo quoted Igor Stravinsky, one of his favorite composers: “My freedom will be so much the greater and more meaningful the more narrowly I limit my field of action and the more I surround myself with obstacles. Whatever diminishes constraint diminishes strength. The more constraints one imposes, the more one frees one’s self of the chains that shackle the spirit.”
Though Sindre thinks that the genre has opened and more various approaches are possible now than it was a couple of years back. But if he still gets to the point that he is really frustrated and feels like the formula is holding him back he just goes off and works on something else for a while to then come back to the project “with my avantgarde “untraileristic” ideas out of my system”.
Speaking about your emotions getting in the way while composing we asked how the personal mood really affects the overall project. For Eirik and Lorenzo “no blood, sweat and tears” are involved. In recent years Eirik has “learned how to tune into this mood, and likewise how to turn it off.” Lorenzo added that “when I think about music, I find myself displaced in a new dimension, quite far from the joys and pains of life. I’m not saying I’m unemotional when I compose, it’s just that those emotions are somehow filtered in a different way, drifted to a different language.” Also Sindre agreed on that: “I try to keep a strict schedule and write music from 9-4 every weekday, so I don’t have time for mood-swings.” Eirik threw in that his mood “would probably affect which cue or track to start the day with.”
This lead to the question how everything gets started and what their personal sources of inspiration are:
Before we start writing new music we go through structures, instrumentation, the main “setting” – and how to implement sound design into our work. This is a fairly thorough process involving Lorenzo, Sindre and I [Eirik] along with Guillermo at Dos Brains. When we start recording, Lorenzo and Sindre work as producers while Dos Brains remains as executive producer. Parallel to this the music takes shape as we go along, nothing is carved in stone – my personal mantra is to always adapt to the environment around you, an everyday version of Darwin’s survival of the fittest. These preparations of ours are very important, as they set the standard for the end result. The rest is just melodies and ornaments.
At the same time a new melody can strike you everywhere. In the words of Eirik:
For some reason, the music just starts playing in my mind. At first it may sound a little undefined, but after a while it comes alive and I can hear the main instrumentation. If this occurs while driving my car, I often end up trying to turn up the volume on my stereo, as it’s mistaken for being played on the radio. I always end up whistling into my iPhone at awkward times and places – my fiancée has gotten used to this strange behavior of mine, so we’re still getting married. I guess synesthesia is the closest I get to a rational explanation, at the same time I might not fit the category as well.
One reason might be that inspiration can come from multiple sources. As Sindre puts it, it can be “anything from my 3 year-old throwing toys at my piano, or a passage from The Firebird to a new synth or sample library. Eirik is also great with titles and there can be lots of inspiration coming from just the working title! The mood, the pulse, the key (!) – anything can be derived from a good title!” He often starts playing the piano “to look for rythmical ideas or a new harmonisation”. Then he gets into orchestration and sound-design. His first ideas often come from “a little motif or a concept (often discussed with Eirik).” Eirik added the following to it:
The inspiration for doing it in one way or the other, is personal preferences – looking through the crystal ball has never been my cup of tea. We do what pleases us the most, what we fancy, and what feels like natural selection/progression. That’s very important to me. From a broader perspective – I’m chasing a dream of making something larger than life (metaphorically speaking).
Looking for the unique sound
Mentioning personal preferences we wanted to know what extraordinary instruments they used so far to let their songs sound special. As for Lorenzo he really loves to create some custom instruments by “morphing and ultra-processing field recordings or instruments from the commercial sample libraries” he got:
For example, if I want a particular synth pad sound, I prefer to sweat a bit more and work it out from, say, the sound of a mallet hitting a heater of my living room, than going straight to a soft synth. After a few years of recording strange noises from the oddest sources I found myself with a collection of pretty sounds. The funny thing is that those sounds are constantly re-programmed accordingly to the music I’m working on, it’s sort of a living thing.
Coming from Norway, Sindre is really into his home country’s instruments:
I particularly like norwegian folk music instruments like langeleik, harding-fiddle or bukkehorn which is the horn of a goat made into some sort of wind-instrument. I guess they clean it before they blow into it… It´s highly limited in it´s noteproduction, but magical when you get it right. They used it a bit in the score for Disney’s “Frozen”! Other than that; my neighbor builds his own instruments from scratch so we’ve had some really strange things – like a birch twig with built-in contact microphones. It didn’t sound too good…
The “desert island” software
For putting everything together, everyone has their own personal favorite software of course. Lorenzo picked Sibelius 7 as his “desert island” software, he often finds himself “firing it up whether I sketch some new ideas or orchestrate for live ensembles or large orchestras” because he finds that his ideas “are thought out more clearly if I notate them first.” Speaking about sequencers and virtual instruments his chooses Logic’s stock sampler EXS24 as it’s “so easy to sample and edit sounds with it: it’s a pity most developers haven’t developed new libraries for it for a long time.” Sindre on the other hand goes with SoundIron’s Apocalypse Percussion Ensemble: “I use it in some way on almost all of my productions. I love the arpeggiator and the ability of getting a cool groove that sounds good going right away.” Generally, as mentioned above, he is” always looking for new sounds, especially orchestra instruments.” But also finds himself “using 8dios HybridTools (all of them) more often than you would think for a classically trained composer.”
The essence of collaborations
Summing it all up we asked how the collaboration went and Eirik was fully positive about everything and mentioned how important decency is:
First of all, I consider Guillermo as a good friend of mine, secondly a great businessman. He’s very reliable, very polite and always very understanding. These are qualities I cherish the most, either if it’s related to the music business or not. People who don’t show common decency – well, I haven’t got time for people like that. You know, apart from my family music is the most important to me, so I do everything I can in order to keep the spirit alive.
A big thank you came from Guillermo, firstly to the composers and secondly to the other important side of the industry:
First and foremost a big thank you to our composers. All our writers are doing an amazing job and they really are the most important part of the Dos Brains family. So I want to thank the Heavy Melody team and all the other composers that have worked and are currently working with us on the Silver Screen and Third Rail catalogs.
Secondly, even though I’ve been working in this business for quite a few years, Dos Brains is still a very new company in the trailer music world. So I’d like to thank all the music supervisors, editors, trailer houses and studios for given us a chance in such a competitive business. There are a lot of well established and high quality trailer music catalogs out there, so we’re just very proud and thankful we’ve gotten the attention of the industry and are constantly getting great placements.
Before the end of this article, I would like to share Guillermo’s, Sindre’s, Eirik’s and Lorenzo’s favorite soundtracks of 2013 and 2014 with you. Here’s some pleasant homework for you guys in case you haven’t listened to these scores yet:
- Gone Girl by Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
- The Grand Budapest Hotel by Alexandre Desplat
- Divergent by Junkie XL and Hans Zimmer
- The Theory Of Everything by Jóhann Jóhannsson
- Gravity by Steven Price (“brilliantly carved”, “the sound design was excellent”)
- Captain Phillips by Henry Jackman
- The Boxtrolls by Dario Marianelli (Lorenzo: “His use of orchestral colours is superb, and the themes are beautifully crafted”
And as I began this article with a quote I would also like to end it with one. this time with Eirik’s words:
In the end of the day it comes down to one thing: having fun and enjoying what you’re doing. Having ambitions is one thing, and achieving them another – the way I see it, the latter only complicates it (setting new goals harder to achieve than the previous). That’s not my quest. I don’t need to succeed in number of licenses. We focus on the music. On the friendship it creates. On sharing some of the greatest moments in our lives together on the same mission. And on top of that we’re working with one of the best companies in the world – what more could I ever ask for?
There will be a good bunch of news coming in 2015 from Dos Brains: A new Sound Design album is in the making by Heavy Melody which will be released under Dos Brains. Their Silver Screen catalog will also come out with several new albums covering a wide range of styles as well as the Third Rail catalog has a couple of albums in the pipeline – all for 2015! So make sure to follow Dos Brains’ updates on Facebook and get acces to their website here. Castimoniae’s website will be online by next year but you can already follow their updates on Facebook and Twitter. Furthermore you should check out Dean Ogden (drums) and Sissel Heibek (vocals) who have been part of the album.