Martina, you’re a prolific composer, with more than 55 film and tv credits to your name, including two features that were nominated for the International Feature Award at the Oscars. What makes you passionate about film music, and how did you bridge the gap between a student at Baden-Württemberg Film Academy to a fully-fledged film and tv composer?
I’ve always loved inventing new music to inspire people. When I started studying classical composition in Munich at 15, I found a divided society, a very German thing: it was the serious arts versus the entertaining arts and I was expected to take a clear stance as a composer. I was searching for examples of open-mindedness in contemporary music and found it in film music. Anything inspiring is allowed, and everything is taken seriously. For example, writing the right music for comedy, is recognized as a particularly virtuosic achievement. And, even more importantly, I felt that audiences were open to anything new and unusual, even to unique and complex approaches, as soon as a story put these into context. This kind of creative spirit, sending immediate inspiration to people on a virtuosic level, never let me go.
After completing my classical studies in Munich, I went on to the Film Academy, where I learned so much about story telling in music, but where I discovered a new mission for me as a composer as well. I love it that there is a need, an honest requirement for my work: the story needs to be told.
I love to exchange ideas with other creative departments. We share visions, serving different senses. There is a need to create something that doesn’t already exist. At some point at the beginning of every new story, there is this spark in me, growing to a fire. It’s like the feeling you have after waking up from a dream: even though you can’t remember what you dreamt, you still have a gut feeling about it, and now the search begins. It´s like doing a puzzle – you can´t stop until you finally see the picture. And it’s this sort of addiction that has taken me from story to story. I just love what I do. It definitely wasn´t that one project that took my work, or my success, to a new level. There were many projects, many stories, many years – learning with every new idea, bringing it to life, always running with time constraints. And step by step, my projects became bigger.
Alongside your outstanding film career, you’re also a prolific performing artist. Together with your partner, drummer, and sound artist Wolfgang Lohmeier, you released multiple albums and concert programs, often including unusual instruments. Can you talk a bit about your inspiration for this music and the use of non-traditional elements? How do you develop these unique sounds?
Most of musical history is absolutely familiar and associated in people’s ears. Many film scores reinforce this impression as more and more libraries and modules are used. Much of it is just too smooth, far too clean for me. Sonic stereotypes can even become satirical. But it’s true that film music does require known language. When I’m performing in concert, I notice that the audiences appreciate anything unexpected and refreshing. At times I sit in a film mixing, and suddenly I am fascinated about an atmosphere or a particular sound design element randomly coupled with my music. Or discovering old instruments, with some defect part. Suddenly it’s more than just music and sound – it´s something else, and it´s magic. I want to capture that, and so I have a great desire for haptics in my musical soundscapes.
Our house is therefore filled with sounds – watering cans, tin cans, oil barrels, radiators, shutters, blocks of wood, cowbells, meter-long copper rods. From egg cutters to tire rims, we don´t stop collecting sounds and building new instruments. We connect tuned skins to 12-foot pitch bending piano string, and can’t walk past a kitchen lamp in someone else’s house without trying to to play on it. We collect impulses and textures that trigger something in us. Most sounds only turn to an emotional mood when they´re processed further electronically, or when they are placed in certain reverberation spaces. We also collect special rooms, atmospheres, natural sounds, experiment with water, or place sound bodies in the mouth of a cave to catch the movement of the wind. Everything has a sound. In the end, it might be just this small element that brings its own special mood to a score.
Together with your ensemble, you played over 1500 concerts in Europe throughout the years. What do you enjoy the most about being on stage, and how do you combine this demanding career with your other commitments, such as writing for theatre productions and composing commissioned works?
What you need most in any kind of creative work is inspiration, plus something authentic of your your own that you have to share.
Composition work is only one side of the coin: in my quiet little room, introverted, thoughtful and constructive, comparing and optimizing, timeless and solitary. An arduous Journey from an empty sheet of paper to new horizons. So the search as how to feed this begins: how do I want to sound in the most honest way?
Contact with an audience, on the other hand, is immediate, emotional, intuitive, and grounding. Concrete and communicative, it is about being in the moment. That’s why I regularly give concerts. Some imagined little seedlings only come to life on stage. They bloom the moment they are dedicated to a listener.
Again and again, playing on stage reminds me in a healing way that it doesn’t always take complex musical structures to touch the audience – often it is this one single note, played in a special way, nothing less, nothing more. I love feeling this truth on stage, to dive into it, and carry it back into my work as a composer.
In 2018, you were the first woman to be granted the German Film Music Award in the Best Music in the Film category for your score to the Tatort Waldlust by Axel Ranisch, followed by another big win in 2020 where you received the Best Music Award at the German TV Academy awards. Congratulations! What are your biggest takeaways from working on these high-end productions?
Above all, I really enjoyed the possibilities that working on these projects with two brilliant directors provided. This gave me the chance to bring some pretty special ideas to life.
For Tatort Waldlust, I had the joy of composing a whole program symphony, which was recorded with the Deutsche Staatsphilharmonie Rheinland-Pfalz: four movements for orchestra, based on the film’s dialogue-free screenplay by director Axel Ranisch. My music accompanied him from the start of, and throughout the filming.
For “Time Of The Wolves”, directed by Pia Strietmann, we recorded a weird acoustic ensemble of strong individual musicians, with the sounds of dobro guitars, gun shots, chains, viola and a creaking double bass. We had some special effects and unique ways of playing these string instruments.
In both projects, most of the music was there before the films were edited. That allowed my music to do more than illustrate a finished assembly of pictures, but to be an independent part of the movie. Editing is all about timing, and so is scoring. I love to be a guest in the editing suite with my ideas very early on, discussing temperatures, dynamics, and rhythms of the movie, bringing visuals and music together to something new.
For me, the most essential thing is having a trusting relationship between director and composer, and for both to be open to each other´s ideas. That’s when the possibilities become endless.
How did you first get involved with the children’s aid organization, Plan International, and can you share a little bit about your work on charity concerts that support children in need?
One day I met a group from Plan International at one of my concerts. Among the audience were about 30 young children from Romania. They were spending the holidays with their German godparents and had been invited to come to the concert. I got to talk to some of them. This touched me so deeply that I wanted to learn more about Plan International. For more than 80 years, this international children’s charity has been working to ensure that girls and boys can lead a life free from poverty, violence, and injustice. The organization is currently active in over 70 countries. As part of development cooperation, Plan International finances sustainable and child-oriented self-help projects through sponsorships, individual donations, and permanent donations. I now give concerts dedicated to Plan International in certain cities every year. Apart from the income which is generated for the charity, an even more important aspect here is the chance to introduce people to this organization and to inspire them to give sustainable help. Be it through small, regular donations that ensure planning, or with taking on a sponsorship for a child in need.
- Do you usually conduct your symphonic works? Do you have any tips for young composers?
Conducting! What a big field. The more I study, the more I realize how little I can conduct. This is not a part-time job, it is a high art on its own, and needs more than a lifetime to master. So, I don´t feel like a conductor, and when I write symphonic concert works, with preparation time and rehearsals, I am more than happy to hand them over to brilliant conductors.
But, as we all know, film music production is special. There is barely any preparation, no rehearsals. Often some of the sheet music is wet-ink-fresh, printed in the hotel during the night before the recording session, or even during the recording session. At times I am the only one who knows the score, with an idea of what I want in which part. And there is so little time to record. I´ve had some big recording sessions where I felt helpless talking to conductors, who translated my notes to the orchestra in their own way. My Music was not sounding as I had imagined at all, while time was running away. In such situations, I really wish to lead the musicians directly with my feelings. So I started to learn conducting.
Especially in film music, it´s all about music production. Composition is 50 percent. To transpose it into sound, is the other 50, and you should not give this chance away. What I think is, the world already has all kinds of perfect music, but what might just be wanted is your own, unique authentic handwriting.
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