03 Nov Film Doctor’s Interview with Kim Allen Kluge
‘Silence’ composer – Kim Allen Kluge – In Conversation
Kim Allen Kluge is the the talented composer behind Martin Scorsese’s period drama Silence starring Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver.
He wrote the score with wife Kathryn Kluge.
Today he joins us for another Film Doctor In Conversation.
Ladies and gentleman, meet Kim!
What is your musical background and how did it contribute to your work in film?
I feel like my entire artistic life has been built on collaboration— I’m even married to my principle collaborator, my co-composer, Kathryn Kluge! We’ve collaborated with and composed for musical legends ranging from jazz legend Branford Marsalis to classical icon Midori.
I have also collaborated with many of the finest orchestral musicians on the East Coast through my role as Music Director/Conductor.
I have collaborated with great stage directors in my capacity as founder of an opera company in Washington, DC. It’s always been about collaboration, which is why the collaborative experience with film directors comes so naturally to us.
Did you become a film composer intentionally or did it happen by chance? What was your first project regarding film scores and how did you come across it?
Friends in the film profession knew we were cinephiles, so they asked us to compose music for their movies. We loved it and are now hooked!
You’ve struggled a lot to build your symphony orchestra in Washington DC. Looking back, what is the conclusion of the efforts you put? Did the orchestra lead you to your future collaborations with Marsalis, Midori and several filmmakers or was it something else?
Those were thrilling and heady times for us! Kathryn and I were pioneers of the inter-arts movement in Washington DC. Together we forged innovative and exciting partnerships amongst DC’s top arts organizations. We are fortunate to have such deep connections in the arts world, which gave rise to our compositions.
You are a music advisor for the Hollywood Film Festival and CineCause. Tell us more about your work there.
Though I am no longer serving in that capacity, I am very proud of having worked with those organizations. They are truly dedicated to building a global connectedness and synergy amongst filmmakers.
As a conductor and composer, you’re very good at collaborations. Do you have some techniques for approaching your colleagues, or is it a matter of personal communication?
Well it’s actually very simple— we always gravitate towards artists we most admire. So we enter each collaboration with a sense of true humility and an earnest desire to learn.
Who was the musician that changed your doomsday mindset regarding classical music and what did he tell you?
The legendary clarinetist Richard Stoltzman said: “If orchestras are struggling, then let them die. Something better will be born in their place.” Meaning, we constantly need to be reborn as artists. We constantly need to be responsive to the world around us.
How did you get into Silence?
When I met Mr. Scorsese I felt an immediate and deep connection. He is a musical genius and he was envisioning a totally new kind of music. It was a very bold vision from a very bold director.
Let us know more about how you delved deeper into the themes and atmosphere of the film. Your task was to recreate the sounds of nature and you worked off the book because the film was in a rough cut.
Mr. Scorsese wanted to mine the depths of nature to discover it’s musical voice. So we needed to find a way to make nature sing with the full gamut of human emotion and feeling — to make the music emanate from the mists, from the rocks, from the very landscape.
We wanted it to sound “of the earth”, but also like it was coming from the spiritual realm. We felt perhaps this music of nature was God’s voice that Rodrigues was unable to hear, but was with him through his whole journey— and life.
Mr. Scorsese’s inspired vision was nothing short of creating a new kind of “Shinto music”, a new kind of music that emanated from nature itself. It was an exhilarating challenge!
What did the process of composing look like? Who were the people from the crew you’ve mostly communicated with?
My face-to-face meetings with Mr. Scorsese were unforgettable and were the driving force behind the vision of the score. Then Kathryn and I worked with Thelma Schoonmaker, Scorsese’s legendary editor who, like Scorsese, has phenomenal instincts for music. Later on, Jennifer Dunnington, Scorsese’s world-class music editor, became involved.
Scorsese surrounds himself with geniuses who also happen to be wonderful human beings. It’s such a privilege to be working on their team!
What kind of prep/research did you do and how long did it take to finish the score?
I was lucky to be the very first person to see the rough cut. It was immediately apparent what a masterpiece it was going to be. The score really came from the Scorsese discussions, the rough cut and our readings of the book— from which we took many notes! Ideas flowed very quickly thereafter, and many of the “rough drafts” we came up with ended up in the film.
A soundtrack CD of Silence will be released by Warner Records on February 24th. It will soon be followed by a commercial release of Kathryn’s and my American Concerto. On the surface they seem quite different, but they are both conceived symphonically. In Silence instead of using orchestral timpani, we used the sounds of the ocean. Instead of using flutes, we used cicadas, etc.
What have you learned from working with Scorsese and the crew of Silence?
Scorsese and company inspire others to take artistic risks to achieve singular and compelling artistic visions. They keep the artistic process very pure ad they are unwilling to make compromises. That inspires us.
You’ve said your goal is to create transcendental experiences. What are your observations on audience’s reactions to soundtracks?
Soundtracks compliment and enhance the movie by creating a singular and immersive sensory experience. In my experience as a conductor, audiences seem to connect with film scores in a way that combines visual, oral and imaginative experience— that is powerful indeed. I truly believe film scores are the “classical” music of our time, carrying on the traditions of the great masters— speaking to today’s world and audiences.
When it comes to film score, how do you make your selection? What kind of production could be interesting to you? Is it the themes or people that are decisive for your choice?
Certain subjects are more attractive but often it comes down to the people creating the stories.
If I’m a filmmaker and I’m interested in hiring you for my future production, how can I win you over?
Being brought in at the optimal time. That varies from project to project — it’s where the music can have the maximum impact not only on the sound of the movie, but often on its very structure.
Tell us more about Kluge Virtual Orchestra. How indie filmmakers can benefit from it?
My colleagues often comment on how much passion and poetry my Virtual Orchestra communicates. I take the same obsessive delight in stretching the musical capabilities of my virtual musicians as I do from my live orchestra. It might appeal to directors who don’t have a million dollar orchestra budget!
You’re also coaching fellow composers. Which is the biggest barrier to their success as movie composers?
Second-guessing one’s own instincts. Not being true to one’s inner artistic voice.
What pieces of advice can you give to young composers who want to make soundtracks?
Have a clear vision and don’t ever give up!
Which are your favorite movie scores or composers that have an impact on you?
Kathryn and I have an enormously wide range of tastes — from classic film scores to experimental scores. We find so much inspiration from our colleagues ranging from Morricone to Williams to Glass and so many others. I was watching “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” recently and exclaimed how much I admire directors and composers who “take a chance”.
I love the work of my neighbor, Cliff Martinez.
Is there something new you want to work on and haven’t reached out yet?
There are so many projects that Kathryn and I would love to do. However, it’s often the surprise projects, as was Scorsese’s Silence, that end up being the most gratifying.
Thank you, Kim!
Interview by Danny Delcheva