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Alex Somers: "I like not having rules. You never know what you might stumble upon..."

08 July 2016, 13:00 | Written by Laurence Day

US-born, Iceland-based composer Alex Somers tells Best Fit about working on the score for Captain Fantastic.

Captain Fantastic is directed by Matt Ross and stars Viggo Mortenson as a father "who attempts to reintegrate into society after living in isolation for a decade."

Somers' score is a mesh of ambient textures, wide-open soundscapes, and beautiful moments of clarity. It's an impressive assembly of sounds full of wonder - there are even a few special guests, with Sigur Rós frontman Jónsi and Sin Fang's Sindri Már Sigfússon contributing to "Funeral Pyre".

The soundtrack is released as an album separately, and we spoke to Somers about what to expect from the release, how it came together, and his next steps.

What does the score sound like?

It's not a million miles away from the stuff I've been doing the past few years. Using piano, dulcitone, glockenspiel, guitars, strings, voices... it enhances the ideas in the film, I think.

How was it recorded?

I developed most of the sounds by recording to picture, the old-fashioned way... getting sent the film and working on the piano. I took my time – the director, Matt Ross, was super nice and never put me under any pressure. There was never really a deadline and I had a lot of time to write and record, and re-record, and experiment.

Did you do anything in particular to prepare?

Not really. I improvised and wrote and saw what happened – some days it all comes really quickly, and others you have to move on because it's just not coming.

Were there any moments in the film that really inspired you and were easy to write for?

The first thing I wrote was the very first scene of the film... but we ended up deleting the music! We all agreed it sounded nicer with just the nature sounds. The first two minutes of the film, there's no dialogue, it's just really pretty sounds of nature, and shots of the forest in the Pacific North West, and then of the family. I wrote this ambient piece which fit in so well, but in the end it was cool to have it dry. But that bit came fast!

Lots of the film centres on this forest, and there's a real strong sense of freedom – did you try and get this across in the music?

Definitely. The drums and percussion – there's not a lot of it, but when it's there I had it be as organic as possible. I used wire brushes scraping on snares and pencils on boxes, rubbing drum skins with my hands – not cheesy and tribal, but to get the right rhythmic textures. I wanted them to sound like they could've been made in that forest.

Are there any moments that stand out for you?

I haven't thought about it! I'm very happy I was able to put together the soundtrack album. Lots of that music isn't in the film, so that was a fun thing. Where Matt gave me so much time to experiment and record and re-record I ended up with loads of music. For the album I took the parts I was most happy with and assembled them into a thing. It was a fun experience.

Where does “A New Beginning” fit into the film?

It's actually a small piece of another piece from the very end of the final scene. I took the orchestra and fucked around with it... we went forwards and backwards so that we could get this weird ascending/descending thing. It's sorta in the film, but not exactly.

Did this project give you the chance to explore any new things you'd wanted to try out?

Yeah I think so. Voices, maybe. I had a few of my friends sing on the soundtrack.

I think having Matt's input was great – sometimes I'd send a piece of music and he'd be like 'yeah, this is really cool, but how about if they went there instead? Got more intimate? More rambunctious?' and he'd kinda guide me. Having many months to work on it was really cool – lots of scoring stuff I've done has been totally different and had to adhere to a crazy schedule. I'd maybe get one or two months, but this time I was able to make way more music than was used because we kept noodling and augmenting...

I found some weird new things. I used a guitar amplifier choir, which is something I've never done. I'm really happy with that – wanna do it again.

So do you prefer working without the time constraints?

At least at first. When I'm scoring, I prefer to begin doing something just totally on my own in the dark, but then I like to focus it down with the director... but yeah, to start with I like not having rules. You never know what you might stumble upon.

What's next? Do you have more scoring in the works or are you looking at doing something more personal?

Both! I'm working on a project with a film-maker called Bill Morrison which I'm really psyched about, and I'm also just working on music for myself in my studio. Hopefully collaborating with some choir arrangers soon... I wanna work with more choirs. I really like to not be in one thing – I love to surprise myself, whether that's producing bands, making music for picture, or working on my own stuff. If I can keep it all happening, then I'm gonna be happy.

Somers' score for Captain Fantastic is available to order now from Invada/Lakeshore. The film is out now in the USA.

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