Supe Trooper Chris Piccaro talked to Agatha Kaspar about film music scoring and the Netflix film, Kodachrome, on which they worked together.
Supe Troop (ST): Is there a particular score that inspired you to be a film composer?
Agatha Kaspar (AK): I grew up listening to a lot of James Horner scores because he was writing music for several 80’s fantasy and animated films that I loved viewing at the time (An American Tail, Land Before Time, Willow) but it wasn’t until I heard Jerry Goldmith’s score for Alien when I was a teenager that I started to think that this might be something I’d want to seriously pursue. It was one of those films that changed movie-watching for me – the sounds that Goldsmith created felt like they were conjured up from some hidden inner depths of the soul… there are so many raw layers that move between romantic and petrifying. I still get goosebumps when I hear the opening track.
ST: What is an example of where you think another composer nailed a project or a particular scene?
AK: Mychael Danna’s score for The Ice Storm. The use of gamelan and Native American flute along with a traditional orchestra transforms the music into its own character, observing and commentating, almost ironically, on these dysfunctional families in 1970s Connecticut (and during Thanksgiving break no less!). The ending cue is so haunting yet cathartic – I love how the melodic strings play on into the first few seconds of credit roll, giving you one last long breath after a devastatingly emotional scene.
ST: How do you start on the score for a new project?
AK: I put together a music template specific to the film after watching the rough cut (or reading the script) and having an initial conversation with the director. At that time I have a ballpark idea of what instruments and sounds would possibly work best to accompany the film’s tone. Sometimes I also like to step away from the computer and just think about the film in a different space… melodies or themes occasionally come together a little easier that way. If anything does pop up, I quickly jot the ideas down, head back over to the computer and expand on them.
ST: What is your favorite instrument?
AK: I’m falling in love with different instruments all the time! I visited the state of Chiapas in Mexico a few times this past year and everywhere I went I would hear marimba music that had this buzzing sound, as if a bunch of paper was placed underneath the instrument. It sounded so strange to me at first but the more I listened to it, the more I enjoyed its timbre. In the town of Tuxtla Gutierrez, they have an area called Marimba Park where musicians would play this Mexican marimba all night and people flock to listen and dance. It’s their unique sound. So I’d say that’s my favorite instrument for the time being.
ST: What do you look for when you are spotting a film?
AK: Several things… it depends on what’s happening in any given scene. Do we want the audience to know something before a character does? Do we want the music to help convince a character of a particular matter? I like asking a lot of questions during spotting – it really helps get into the director’s head.
ST: Most directors and producers don’t have a technical background in music and therefore don’t speak the technical terms of musicality. How do you break down that barrier?
AK: As composers, we understand the language and theory of music. In addition to writing, our job is also to translate the director or producer’s words into musical ideas. I often tell my directors who worry about this tricky line of communication to give me the best word or emotion that hits what they’re looking for. Even a single word such as “full” can go a long way in telling me what a certain scene needs. And if the cue’s not quite there, well… you try again… and again… and again! Trial and error is part of the work. And yes… temp music does help at times as well.
ST: It was great working with you on Kodachrome! Is there one cue or one scene from that film that you really enjoyed creating?
AK: It was a pleasure working with you as well! I’d have to say the last cue, “All the Buzz”, sticks to me the most. It’s a very emotional scene, with little to no dialogue, and there’s a reveal that I wanted to hit just right… not too subtle yet not too sentimental. By the time the cue reaches its climax, there are a lot of guitar lines and ambient pads and I made sure each of them had their own color without feeling too cluttered. It was actually one of the first cues I wrote for the film, and I’m so glad it made it to the end.
ST: What music are you listening to now?
AK: Let’s see… Toru Takemitsu, La Negra Graciana, and Thepporn Petchubon, to name a few. Oh, and James Horner’s Commando score… because it’s awesome.
ST: What is your favorite soup?
AK: Kimchi soup….. with twice the spice.
Kodachrome will be available to watch on Netflix and in select theaters 4/20. The soundtrack will be released by Varese Sarabande.