This past year you’ve been a composer in residence with the Canadian Film Centre (The Slaight Family Music Lab) chaired by award-winning songwriter Marc Jordan and internationally acclaimed composer Lesley Barber. What sorts of projects have you been working on throughout the residency, and how has the overall experience been?
Being a composer in residence with the Canadian Film Centre (The Slaight Family Music Lab) has been a wonderfully enriching experience thus far. I have had the pleasure of working on film projects with extremely talented directors, producers, editors and writers, helping bring shared visions to fruition. Additionally, throughout the residency program I have had the great opportunity to connect with and learn from seasoned veterans of the music industry, including music mentors who have shared their own experiences working in “this biz we call show.” I’ve followed the careers of many alum who have gone through the residency program generally, so when the opportunity to apply presented itself I knew it was something I wanted to pursue.
Over the course of the residency, I’ve worked on a fairly wide gamut of projects, which has been very beneficial in terms of “exercising brain muscles” and exploring the spectrum of sonic spaces. The one commonality across all project and genre types has been the shared desire of all creatives involved; from the director, producer(s), composer, etc. in bringing a story to life. Collaboration has proven to be one of the most integral elements of composing and creating music for screen, and in the art of telling stories through musical support. From alternative electronic synth spaces, indie popular contemporary, classically leaning, orchestral, acoustic and vocalize-infused stylizations, there has always been a consistent thread of collaborative conversation throughout all film projects. The last film piece project of the residency (which I am in the midst of now) is based around a concept which the composer in question comes up with. The script for this short is based on a story outline from, well, me – the composer – and I have been working with the director selected for this story (who is awesome) in bringing all of its pieces together. Without giving too much away (we are actually shooting the showcase film this Spring), the concept for this short is something personal to me, and something I felt was right for this type of project. It’s not every day that one gets the opportunity to shoot a film for a story they’ve created (especially as a composer and music maker in general), never mind the chance to craft a score specific to their sole creative vision. (It may be a tricky balancing act between supporting the story and plain ol’ self-indulgence!) I would also say that one of the particularly cool and memorable moments of the residency was hearing my music at TIFF Bell Lightbox; the Toronto International Film Festival theatre, for the CFC Industry Showcase. (As a TIFF-goer over the years myself, it was extremely cool hearing my work in a setting which I have frequented many times before.) Ultimately, this residency has been a great platform to explore more of the score-to-screen landscape, broadening my own circle of collaborators and peers, providing the ability to hone my craft and define my voice as a composer and maker of music.
Your artist project, FJØRA, involves cinematic and electronic music styles, which you’ve coined the genre “cinematronic.” But you’ve also been composing, writing, and producing musical styles from full symphonic orchestral works to choral ensembles, hybrid-synth and polytextural acoustic spaces, contemporary pop, alternative, trailerization and vocal music. Can you talk a bit on the wide gamut of musical styles you cover, and your overall background/influences in music?
My own trajectory throughout working in the music industry (like so many others) has not necessarily been a “straight, direct path.” In fact, it has proven to be a lot of “zigging” and a lot of “zagging.” (I believe these are the professional terms for it, yes?) I grew up in an extremely musical household. My father, a Macedonian immigrant, was a successful touring musician turned music producer, and introduced an early interest of music to me from a very young age. My mother, the most Canadian woman you’ll probably ever meet (in a cool way, Mom) was a lawyer who worked in government municipalities but simultaneously had gone through the Royal Conservatory of Music levels of piano when she was a child. Suffice to say, music was a focal part of my upbringing, as both my parents had a deep appreciation and love of it. As a result, myself and my two sisters grew up learning piano, music theory, harmony and music history, and by age twelve I had completed my Grade 10 piano, all theory, history, and harmony levels. (*Nerd alert, nerd alert*) My classical training aside, I also spent a lot of time occupying the blues and jazz genre spaces. I discovered my love of improvisation, which I believe translated into my love of making up songs, music themes, and compositions generally. Fast forward, I attended an arts high school as a piano performance major, then obtained my Bachelor of Music degree for piano performance and music composition, followed by my Master of Music (also in composition). While beginning my studies at New York University in pursuit of further post-graduate action (at Steinhardt for film scoring) my work in the music industry began to increase significantly, and I made the executive decision to focus all my attention on industry work full-time. My artist project, FJØRA, really came into full effect as a result.
The styles of music that I was creating as FJØRA; vocal, cinematic, electronic, alt-pop, were received very well within the Film/TV and advertising spaces. To be honest, I never really thought I could make a living in this way. Creating music for film trailers, in-show series, promotional videos, commercials, etc. really taught me the importance of time management, organization, and prioritization. It was also very interesting working in spaces much more commercially leaning than my initial musical training and background. I attribute my work as FJØRA with the vocal presence I inject throughout a great amount of the work I create generally as a composer. I love experimenting with the human voice, both physically and via technological manipulations, in conjunction with cinematic, electronic, acoustic and polytextural spaces. I also feel that now more than ever the concept of “song” versus “score” are merging, and the ways in which we think about each are a fluctuating, evolving entity. The structure of a song, for instance, may inspire the structure of a cue, or vice versa. Respectively, the perimeters for what a particular music genre entails are ever-shifting, and the definition for what a music composer is or where they come from is no longer a strict, specific set. This is what excites me about the current music industry landscape. Some of my personal favourite film composers have artist and/or band backgrounds. It’s what makes their signature sound so unique. I believe that the “zigging” and “zagging” of my journey thus far has ultimately shaped my current compositional voice, and will undoubtedly continue to do so as I embark on future projects and endeavors. Hurrah for continued development!
How does your artist persona / sound impact your creative process in the studio when creating songs and cues for media projects or other composers?
As I touched on a bit earlier, I have found collaboration to be one of the most fruitful and beneficial elements of creating music for the screen. I love how one singular story or scene or moment can be approached in so many different ways, depending on the eye of the beholder. All collaborative work and projects have helped shape my personal lens, the avenues in which a story can be told. My artistic persona and overall sound impacts my creative process across all project types as it provides a “creative-well source” that I can draw from. My own compositional instincts often lean towards delving into harmonic complexities, creating distinct motifs and/or thematic content, and covering a wider range,sonically (give me that high to low contrast!) Like I mentioned earlier, I love infusing vocal layers and presence when it feels appropriate. Textural motion thrills me, but especially when it is in stark contrast to minimal, static sound. I’m attracted to both warm and cold musical settings, it really all depends on the story that is being told and how the music interacts with the picture. Throughout all instances, the act of problem-solving brings me great satisfaction and enjoyment. The feeling of finally getting something to work in a scene or highlight an emotional nuance is truly awesome. Further, when I’m creating a song or cue I do think about the structures of each in a “hybrid manner;” crafting a sonic push-and-pull, tension-resolution sort of dynamic. Overall, I’d say it’s been a balance between signature “artistic voice” and supporting the story of the project(s) in question. Especially when collaborating with fellow composers and/or providing additional score to a project, I have learned that at the end of the day it is all about serving the vision of the story, and working together in bringing it to fruition.
What are some of your favorite and/or most meaningful projects that you’ve worked on thus far, and what made them stand out?
I’ve had the pleasure and opportunity to work on a myriad of really special projects over the course of my career so far. My first film music trailer experience was for Disney’s “Maleficent II: Mistress of Evil” which was just supremely cool – especially whenever I saw the billboards for the movie around the city (it made me feel like a baller). When Linda Perry (the great, ever prolific Linda Perry!) approached me with the idea of reimagining her iconic hit song “What’s Up?” for Blumhouse Productions’ film series, Welcome to the Blumhouse, I was both immensely excited and anxious (the whole “don’t botch this up, kid” voice that kept repeating over and over again in my head, kind of like that “It’s A Small World” ride at Disney World). This reimagination actually led to a whole host of incredible “firsts” for me, including my first interview with Rolling Stone, Clio Awards win, and being on the Grammy’s FYC ballot. I had the opportunity to write the theme song for PlayStation’s video game series, Deathloop, entitled “Déjà Vu.” This was a really fun, cool experience as it allowed me to channel my inner James Bond and general love for all things Old Hollywood/big brass, and resulted in multiple Hollywood Music in Media Awards nominations, Music and Sound Awards nomination, and ended up being remixed by massive artists like Steve Aoiki, Future, and Madison Beer (yeah, super wild… I still don’t fully understand how that happened).
In the vein of especially meaningful projects, I had the chance to create the trailer music for Stacey Lee’s feature documentary, Underplayed, in a reimagination of Doris Day’s “Que Sera Sera.” This documentary follows the careers of females working in the current music industry, as music producers, performers, multi-instrumentalists, DJ’s, and I was grateful to be able to play some part in promoting awareness for the film generally. Recently, the feature documentary More Than Robots (directed by Gillian Jacobs) released on Disney+, following its premiere at Sundance 2022, which I had the wonderful opportunity to contribute additional music for to film composer Stephanie Economou. Finally, over the past several months the release of Adidas Women’s International Campaign, Support is Everything, has been a very meaningful project for which I created custom music for. This project has been a great example of female collaboration – working with co-composer and pal Angela Sheik on creating custom music for 24 campaign videos, all centered around the female voice, equality, and diversity. The campaign features (role) models like Ellie Goldstein, Jessamyn, and female empowered artists like Anitta, all of whom I have a great respect for.
We would love to know about your current projects too – as well as what excites and challenges you most about them and how you balance those two!
So right now I’m actually in the midst of working on a massive-scale project close to my heart. Without giving too much away (not yet, anyway…) it is an orchestral choral reimagination project based on the music of a great, prolific composer and songwriter whose music made a significant impact on my life. Actually, for my Master of Music thesis project I wrote, cast, recorded, and produced a musical in the style of this great man. With his passing near the end of 2021, I felt compelled to put into motion an idea that had been ruminating with me for some time. It has been quite a large undertaking; arranging, composing, orchestrating and producing the project, recording with full orchestra and choral ensemble internationally (as the orchestral ensemble is based in Europe), and handling all prospective marketing and release components (again, more to come on that soon). Actually, one very challenging element that presented itself regarding this project was catching Covid-19 and testing positive literally the day before I was supposed to fly out to Europe to record with the Macedonian Philharmonic Orchestra. I’m still very gutted about it to be honest. However, these things happen, and the experience really underscored how important collaboration is, and how significant having people you can rely on can be. As a result of this I was able to livestream into the orchestral recording session (literally from my sickbed, ha) and via technology was able to dialogue in real-time regarding recording elements and the orchestral performance in general. Yes, it was a less than ideal situation, and definitely was not the original plan, but when curveballs are inevitably thrown your way, the only real choice you’ve got is to proceed to the best of your ability. (Keep on going! Make it work!) This project has already taught me so much more than I had initially anticipated, regarding problem-solving, delving further into my orchestral orchestration wheelhouse (or rather, brushing up on…) and tapping into areas of music that I deeply love but have put on the backburner due to “paying gigs.” The concept and question of intersectionality between commerce and passion overall has been brought to the forefront as a result. But I digress. With all of its challenges, what has really been exciting for me has been the ability to work with live instrumentalists and vocalists, something that I really do not take for granted.
Other projects I am excited for involve music collaborations with composers for projects like a new upcoming series to be released on a major streaming platform (can’t really say too much on it at present, sorry for the super vague outline here), a recent custom commercial campaign I scored for Amazon, and the present process of shooting and scoring my final film project with the Canadian Film Centre. I also had the pleasure of writing an article/creating video tutorials for New Music USA on time management in the music industry, which was released earlier this month. Next week I’ll be flying to Chicago to speak on a panel for Female Composers in the Film/TV/Ad world. All in all, there are so many wonderful projects in the works, and I can’t wait to see the unfolding of all of them. I am also excited to continue exploration of prospective collaborative projects and build meaningful creative relationships on my journey to come. Thanks so much for allowing me the chance to share a bit about my professional and personal journey working in the music industry as a composer, and maker of music generally!
Check out Alexandra’s AWFC profile.
Interview by Esin Aydingoz
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