In a time where going to the cinema is equivalent to covering your ears to avoid going deaf, Argentinian composer Sebastian Pecznik’s music feels like a relaxing aural massage from your favourite audiophile spa. Not overblown just for the sake of it but rather very intimate and close to the heart, his scores always involve as many live musicians as possible to really help bring his notes to life. However, this doesn’t mean that Sebastian Pecznik only works with the biggest budgets imaginable. It only shows that his scoring always focuses on capturing the core human element of the projects he is working on. Over the past year, I have been opportune to meet up with Sebastian Pecznik several times in Berlin and today, I’d like to shine a light on his creative process.
I met Sebastian for the first time in August 2016 during last year’s Soundtrack_Cologne. He had only been living in Europe for a few months. With a thriving career in his home country, he had decided that it was time for a new step; he obtained letters of merit from the Argentinian Chancery and the General Bureau of Cultural Affairs, and then he jumped into the cold spring water of the German capital at the river Spree. With his background as a classical guitar player, music producer of various styles, orchestrator, arranger, and composer, he was very well prepared – and yet, when he told me at the end of 2016 that he had received the “best soundtrack award” at the local Berlin Brandenburg Landes Film Festival I could sense how much that meant to him after the big risk he had taken by crossing the pond.
When you meet Sebastian Pecznik, his passion for the arts and musical craft immediately becomes apparent as soon as he starts to speak about his views on various creative approaches to film scoring. While he always immerses himself and expends basically all of his energy on his projects (and would barely be considered alive by the end of them), three things are always paramount to Sebastian: achieving his clients’ vision no matter the circumstance, honing his craft whenever possible, and challenging his performing musicians while keeping them excited about their involvement on a project.
On the benefits of studying music
“Sometimes you’re working in conditions that are not optimal,” he pointed out at one of our encounters. “Short films usually have a small budget. To decide what to do with the music budget is where experience and both techniques and having studied music really come in handy. I know a lot of talented people who haven’t studied music or orchestration and they are doing quite well; they write really nice music and I love working with them. But at the end of the day, when you have studied and you do have a certain set of experience in the field, you can apply that technique to any situation and you’re not just hoping and waiting for the muse to come.”
Enter Replique, a French short film Sebastian scored and which is currently making the rounds on the festival circuit. In the early stages, director Yohann Vorillon had thought of having a bigger orchestral score – but as it often does, the budget did not allow for a full live orchestra. Sample libraries would have come in handy at this point but instead, Sebastian had a different idea in mind: “I said, why don’t we just get three top-class musicians and make them record and write some music that goes with the setup. From there on, for me, it was about re-remembering the three voices motet by Bach and this type of writing technique. I wrote a piece for cello, bass clarinet and violin which is a weird ensemble but when the soundtrack came out… It had this wow-effect, it was something else.”
Watch a clip from Replique below:
“I’m just in love with the bass clarinet,” he told me as we spoke about the film. “I think it’s an instrument that’s completely underrated. I wrote a lot for cello and violin, which is also quite common, but in addition, I discovered that the clarinet serves very well because it’s so suiting the low register and you can really do some baselines with it. Then, when it goes high it gets more pushy and drive-y. But you need to have a really good clarinet player, and so for Replique, I was fortunate to collaborate with Alexander Glücksmann who is a member of the Berlin Philharmonics. He’s amazing.”
As he told me, both Alexander Glücksmann and Martin Smith (cello) came to his studio and ended up playing much longer than planned, simply because everyone had a lot of fun with the music: “In the conservatory, you study where to put the breathing marks for the clarinets or which bow direction you want the cello to make but then at the end of the day the musicians are professionals in their instruments and usually it doesn’t happen that they get too carried away. That’s why it was so beautiful for me on Replique, that they came to the studio and were like kids again. In the end, instead of two hours, they stayed for five hours even though the budget was very small.”
The longer you speak with Sebastian Pecznik, the more often you will hear “I love what I do.” Him feeling grateful to work day in day out in the field of music becomes obvious by the infectious amount of energy that he transfers onto the people around him. If he gets an idea, come what may, he will definitely try it out and find a way to pull you on board; sometimes in English, sometimes in German, Spanish, Italian, or French.
On cultural differences between Argentina and Europe
Reflecting the cold water he jumped into here in Germany, when it comes to movies, emotions and drama are seen and also creatively directed differently in Germany when compared to his home country. Heading a bit further north, Scandinavians are known to be even more reserved; Sebastian told me how that became obvious during his collaboration as orchestrator, arranger, and conductor for composer Jimmy Lagnefors on the Swedish drama Jag Älskar Dig (I Love You):
“We only had one moment that we needed to change. When I asked him to let me receive the picture as well, he told me, ‘Well, I’m going to send it to you but I prefer to send it to you later. I don’t want you to be so inspired by the film. I only want to see your input.’ When I told him that my input would depend on what the film needs and what the scene wants, he said that he’d still like to make an experiment. And so the briefing went like “dramatic moment that will turn into something melancholic later – but start with the dramatic moment.’”
“I think you went all John Williams-latino. There’s a lot of passion and blood in your drama but we are Swedish.” – Jimmy LagneforsSebastian gave it a shot, sent back his take on the scene without having seen the footage, and was then taken by surprise about Lagnefors’ response as Sebastian told me with a chuckle: “Jimmy said, ‘We loved it and we want to use it in another project that I may have with this director but I think it’s overdoing it for this film. I think you went all John Williams-latino. There’s a lot of passion and blood in your drama but we are Swedish. Our drama is much more like Charles Ives.’ – In the end, we toned it all down and it worked nicely.”
Listen to “It Is What It Is” below:
On writing for violas and an emotional surprise
Coming back to his great appreciation of what live musicians can bring to a project, there was another anecdote he shared with me from the very same project. It is also another example of what great surprises can result from a well-crafted score and good chemistry between all collaborators:
“Violas tend to get out of tune and so sometimes they jump. I discovered a trick that if you write a really nice viola line they will hang onto it and pay attention. So in a very soft choral moment, I would keep a little viola counterpoint here and there for the recording session. Then, in the middle of a take, suddenly one of the viola players started to cry and we were all watching each other. Of course, in the end, that take couldn’t be used but it was such a powerful experience to have one of these musicians from the Rundfunk Orchestra – which are playing Strauß and Wagner and Tchaikovsky like it was nothing – share a tear during a little choral piece.”
Watch a video from the recording session of “No, But I’ve Hear It’s Great” below feat. the Berlin Music Ensemble:
On a lighter final note
At the moment, Sebastian collaborates again with Swedish composer Jimmy Lagnefors but cannot say too much about it yet. Thus, to end our little journey into Sebastian Pecznik’s world, please have a listen to another of his upcoming scores: The quirky yet sincere documentary Operation Liberland thematizes a curious story that itself needs to be told in a different article at some point in the future.
You can listen to some tracks from the Operation Liberland soundtrack below: