Amanda Lee Falkenberg

UAE-based Aussie composer Amanda Lee Falkenberg

Interview, Music feature

Congratulations on being nominated! How do you feel?
It’s just incredibly surreal, to be perfectly honest. I’m just madly preparing to fly out to Hollywood now. The calibre of this event is outstanding and to be nominated alongside such a phenomenal group of musicians is thrilling.

This is a Hollywood award, but your submissions weren’t exactly film scores, were they?
They weren’t written for a specific film, but they were written as film scores. I wanted to explore epic, Hollywood sounds with Middle Eastern influences in there, something with real drama and energy. I didn’t have a film to write for, so I wrote music for a film that only existed in my head; a trailer for a big, epic war movie. Then the competition came about and I submitted them and, to my delight, they were accepted. ‘Forgotten Arabia’ was accepted in the best new composer category and ‘Coral Garden Dance’ was nominated for best classical/orchestral.

So you composed these tracks in your own time?
I own a music studio, HF Studios, and its computer scoring equipment. We were quite busy scoring corporate videos as well as TV and some films, until the recession hit. But I thought to myself: You know what? I’m not going to twiddle my thumbs – I’m going to create something for my own fun. I should enjoy this recession and use it as a chance to fine-tune my craft and push the boat out on my compositional technique and style. And that’s how ‘Forgotten Arabia’ was created; it’s a product of the recession.

What are your long-term aims?
Ultimately, I would love to be writing full-time for feature films, but while the market is still developing in Dubai you have to be careful about how you source income. HF Studios does a lot of corporate films and TV commercials, and I’ve done feature films – I did the full orchestral score for the film of Arabian Sands by Wilfred Thesiger that came out a couple of years ago. That was a lovely gig.

Why do you stay in Dubai, though? Wouldn’t it make more sense to move to LA or London, or somewhere where more original TV and film work is being made?
I can answer that very easily: there’s something really exotic about this part of the world that really resonates with the creative side of my artistic spirit. I just need to look at the culture, the architecture, the sweeping landscape, these gorgeous sunsets, the people – there’s something that really invigorates me on a spiritual level. I love using my classical training as a concert pianist and fusing that with these elements of Arabia. There’s something quite exotic about them, especially to a Western ear; there’s something really magical about painting those colours into an orchestral landscape. And Dubai never seems to go into hibernation; there’s constant sunshine, which is very energising.

It seems like an odd thing, composing for film. Aside from those few moments where the theme is the focus of attention – say, over the opening credits – it’s as though the most important thing is for the music to be completely unnoticed.
Exactly. If you don’t notice the score, that’s a good thing – it shouldn’t be competing for that same space [as the visuals], it should be enhancing and elevating them to levels that one element can’t do by itself.
That’s the wonderful thing about the collaborative process; it’s really about a team of people and their creative energies fusing to make a believable experience. It takes quite a lot of intuition to pull off that kind of subtle subliminal message on a musical landscape.

But surely you’d relish being able to command the screen, like John Williams with his Indiana Jones theme.
They’re both great because they offer completely different headspaces for artists. John Williams is one of my heroes, and Alexandre Desplat, who did the score for The Golden Compass, is brilliant. That score is very intricate and dramatic, but then you have something like [his score for] Coco avant Chanel, which has the most beautiful simplicity. He’s so versatile, and I think composers generally are happy to explore both of those musical approaches and would be happy for both opportunities. But I must say I do like the drama!
To hear Amanda’s music, see www.tiny.cc/farabia and www.tiny.cc/cgarden. For more on the Hollywood Music in Media Awards, see www.hmmawards.com.

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