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Composer Ceiri Torjussen Uncovers The Musical Secrets Of "The Canal"

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For those who don't know who composer Ceiri Torjussen (pronounced Kay-Ree), he is a very talented composer and orchestrator who has gotten his feet wet in Hollywood for more than a decade now. His musical talents have been on display and featured in the work of Academy Award nominee Marco Beltrami's exceptional scores during the late 90's and early 2000's that include "Live Free Or Die Hard", "Repo Men", "Dracula 2000", "I, Robot" among many others.

Ceiri has branched out on his own for the last few years working in both television and film. Lending his great talents to indie films and television shows such as "Dead Like Me", "Flash Gordon" and many others. Providing great drama and action to each of his projects with great success. His exciting music is now featured in latest film, "The Canal" which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival last month with great success.

For this special interview with Ceiri, he candidly shares with me his experience working on the film, why he became a composer, how he composed the score for the film and working in television. So please sit back and enjoy the musings of this excellent composer.

Please tell the readers about what made you become interested in music.

CT: I grew up in quite a musical household. The practical musical side came from my mother, who plays piano and likes to improvise on Welsh folk tunes. She inherited music from my grandmother who used to play organ in her chapel. My father was not trained in music, but he's an avid music-lover and had a great vinyl collection which I started discovering from the age of 9 or 10. Everything from Mahler to Miles Davis to the Mothers of Invention. He had (and still has) very eclectic tastes in music, and I'm positive that I inherited that 'wide-eared' instinct from him. I used to devour his records and gradually built my own collection, getting seriously into modern jazz and late romantic/20th Century classical music from my early teens onwards. Many of these albums would still be my 'desert island discs' today. I started playing trumpet and piano at about age 8, and continued (adding the saxophone for a while also). I played in countless youth ensembles (orchestras, bands, jazz groups etc), until I found my true calling which was playing jazz trumpet. I started some combos with high school friends (who are now professional players in their own right) and we gigged a lot around South Wales and England. We even played at the Vienne Jazz Festival which was a real highlight. The improvising (on trumpet and piano) is one of the things that really inspired me to compose music, so those I guess are the seeds of my interest in music.

Let’s talk about your recent work on the horror-thriller “The Canal” which is being released theatrically at the Tribeca Film Festival currently. What got you interested in this project?

CT: I was introduced to Ivan, the director by the co-producer, Vaughan Sivell, who has a Welsh production company as was involved in the film from the beginning. Vaughan sent me the script and I thought it was excellent, so he recommended me to Ivan Kavanagh, the director. It turned out that Ivan and I had very similar tastes in music, and so I think he felt very comfortable hiring me.

How did you and Director Ivan Kavanagh collaborate in terms how the music should sound and add to the films’ storyline?

CT: I was brought on in Pre-Production, which is really a gift for any composer because it gave me plenty of time to gestate ideas and figure out a sound for the film. Ivan said that he wanted the score not to sound like anything else he'd heard before, but at the same time not sound electronic. He wanted me to use real / 'acoustic' sounds but in a completely new way. This was a very exciting challenge for me. I decided to base the score on just three main instruments: cello, bass clarinet and a 1907 Edison wax cylinder player. The film is about a haunted house and a man loosing his mind. There's a backstory where there were murders committed in the house a hundred years ago, and so Ivan and I both wanted an 'old' sound - i.e. acoustic, wooden, organic, but have it largely unrecognizable as regular musical instruments. The Edison Cylinder player was an obvious reference to that era (it was the first commercially available sound reproducer, reflecting also the very early camera used to collect the footage of the gruesome murders in the house in 1903. I recorded many 'noises' from this machinery, in addition to a little collaging of some old wax cylinder songs. The Cello and Bass Clarinet were used in completely unconventional ways. I recorded each player individually, going through many unusual techniques such as (on the cello), bowing the wood, tailpiece, bridge etc, and all sorts of scrapes, snorts and growls, usually not associated with the sweet, lyrical sounds of the cello. The same went for the bass clarinet: Though I did use some of its velvety low register, I focused primarily on multi-phonics, overtones, and weird whispering and popping sounds, i.e. anything that DIDN'T sound like a bass clarinet! I then edited all these sounds and programmed them into various samplers, which gave me a whole brand new sound palette for the film at my fingertips.

In regards to putting together the score, were you and Ivan on the same page from the very start in regards to how the film sound in particular moments that didn’t need that full bombastic horror stinger sound after spotting the film together?

CT: Yes pretty much.

After watching the film for the first time, did the themes come to you quickly or did it take a little time for you to come up with the material that you ultimately came up with?

CT: It took time, but I knew straight away the kind of 'sound' I wanted. There really aren't any conventional "themes" in the film. The score is almost entirely textures, dissonant chords, noises, and a heavy use of tone clusters (a la Ligeti, Penderecki), but (hopefully) done in a new way. I was really interested in exploring new sounds but avoiding any overtly 'electronic' sounds.

How much music did you end up recording for the film?

CT: All the actual 'recording' was really 'pre-recording' - i.e. I did long recording sessions with the instruments (described above), then manipulated and mixed them in the computer.

What were the recording sessions like?

CT: A lot of fun!

Will there be a soundtrack released for your score?

CT: Yes. An excellent soundtrack label has expressed a desire to release it, so, fingers crossed, we can make that happen.

In looking back on “The Canal”, how do you feel about the movie and do you feel your music has made it a success?

CT: The response at Tribeca was amazing. The film really seemed to resonate with people on a very visceral level, and it's actually a joy to see people terrified out of their wits due to something I worked on. People were often commenting on how the music and sound design really contributed to the underlying creepiness of the film, and its get-wrenching shock value. From these reactions I guessed my music had done its job. :)

You’ve also been involved in television as well with shows such as “Flash Gordon”, “Dead Like Me” and “Dive Olly Dive”. What were your experiences like on those series?

CT: "Dive Olly Dive" was about as far from "The Canal" as one can get musically. It was a kids' animated series about two little submarines and their underwater adventures (a la "Finding Nemo"). I scored 104 episodes of the show, so I guess I'm as experienced in kids animation as I am with gruesome horror! Animation music is a great discipline to work in since it's quite musical challenging. There were constant shifts in character and musical style, often split-second shifts, and lots of 'hit points' to picture etc. I suppose in that sense, the discipline is strangely similar to horror, in that the music reacts in an immediate, visceral way to the picture, though of course with widely different results! "Flash Gordon" and "Dead Like Me" were both additional music jobs. One was working with the very talented composer Michael Picton, the other with Stewart Copeland (another very talented composer, and legendary drummer of "The Police").

Do you find it enjoyable to work on television as opposed to writing for a movie?

CT: They are quite different disciplines in terms of workflow, though just as challenging on a musical level. While the daily grind of TV writing can be hard work, it's just as hard having to reinvent the wheel every time I score a new film. It's all hard work but very enjoyable.

You got your start as an orchestrator to Academy Award nominee Marco Beltrami. How did that come about?

CT: I was in my final year of my Masters (in composition) at USC and realized that I soon needed a job otherwise I'd be shipped back to Wales. I thought that orchestrating would be an amazing way to learn the craft, and get into the world of film music. I sent a CD of mainly my concert works to Marco, and to my surprise he actually called me and said that he liked my work. A few months went past and I invited him to my final recital at USC. Again, to my amazement, he turned up. He offered me some orchestrating work on his next film, "Dracula 2000", and of course I jumped at the chance. I was suddenly faced with a 90-piece orchestra at Todd-AO studios in LA and it was amazing. I learnt a lot having to orchestrate someone else's music and hearing those sounds live in the studio.

You’ve also contributed additional music to some of Marco’s films. How did that happen?'

CT: I sort of graduated to writing after doing a lot of orchestrating. It was a completely different challenge since i was now required to 'produce' the music, not just translate Marco's music to an orchestra. Again, I learnt a lot doing this for someone as experienced and talented as Marco.

What is it like working with someone of the caliber of Marco?

CT: Very humbling and very challenging, but overall very inspiring. Marco has been a great mentor for me, and without his trust in me early on, I probably wouldn't be where I am now. I'm very thankful that he hired me with so little experience. It's probably the best education a young student of film scoring could have asked for.

Do you enjoy orchestrating as much as you do composing?

CT: Orchestrating can be very enjoyable, but it depends what one's working on. If the music is very interesting sonically, and/or you're asked to really put something new or creative into the mix, it can be very rewarding creatively. Of course, there's the 'just doing the job' element of orchestrating which can be more tedious but all jobs have their tedious sides now and again. In the end, they're quite different crafts but both can be very creatively fulfilling.

What is your favorite film score that you’ve written to date?

CT: My three most recent ones: TEST, BIG ASS SPIDER! and THE CANAL.

Who is your favorite director that you’ve worked with so far in your career?

CT: That's a tricky one, but I can honestly say that it was a pleasure working with all three of the above films' directors: Chris Mason Johnson (Test), Mike Mendez (Big Ass Spider) and Ivan Kavanagh (The Canal).

What is your favorite film that you’ve personally scored to date?

CT: See above. :)

Please tell the readers about your future upcoming projects.

CT: I'm working on a couple of doc films right now, which are stylistic worlds away from the previous films. Following those are a couple of feature projects, neither of which I can mention right now.

I really want to thank you once again Ceiri for granting me this interview and I am really honored to meet you and everything.

CT: You're welcome, and thank YOU.

Very special thanks to Ceiri for being so gracious with his time and sharing his experiences on the film and as a composer. You're great keep it up! Also special thanks to Beth Krakower, a fellow Mets fan and awesome composer rep. You're the best!

Please feel free to visit Ceiri's official website for updates on his current and future projects @ http://ceiri.com/

Here Is Ceiri Torjussen's Bio:

"Welsh-born, but based in Los Angeles, his credits run the gamut of independent films, documentaries, network TV, animation and numerous large-budget studio films.

Among Torjussen’s recent projects are his score to The Canal, premiering at Tribeca 2014. This creepy psychological thriller features extensive sound manipulation of acoustic instruments and an original 1907 Edison wax cylinder player. In 2013 he scored two award-winning films. Test (winner of the 2013 Outfest and featured at the 2014 Berlinale) is a drama set during the 80s, and features a moodily ambient electronic score. On the other end of the stylistic spectrum is his score to Big Ass Spider! (premiered at SXSW, 2013), a bombastic, comedic, action romp featuring full orchestra with a hard-rock edge, and a nod back to the classic monster-movie scores of the 1950s. He composed additional music for Repo Men, heart-thumping action music for the blockbusters Live Free or Die Hard and Underworld Evolution, and orchestral action comedy music for Scary Movie II. He received a Daytime Emmy Nomination for Best Original Score for his music to the hit animated series Dive Olly Dive.

Being an accomplished composer of concert music, he has been commissioned by groups such as the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, The Vale of Glamorgan Festival and the Henry Mancini Institute. His work has been recorded and released commercially and performed worldwide, including the USA, UK, Germany, France and India."

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