It’s all around us. Sometimes it’s subtle, other times it takes a more “in your face” approach. It can tug at your heartstrings… and it can make you smile and laugh. Sometimes it helps add pace and momentum. It’s a skill and craft that manages to marry emotion, technology and – for want of a better word – “vibe.
This is the world of the composer who matches visuals to sounds they create. In recent years, video gaming has also become a key part of this profession. Of course, film and television have been the core genres for years.
Close your eyes, imagine a scene from The Godfather. Can you not help but hear the iconic haunting melody playing along to the visuals in your mind?
Insight was lucky enough to catch up with Gibraltarian Hollie Buhagiar, who is currently in London – a centre of excellence in the mysterious world of composition for TV, film and gaming.
GI: To the uninitiated, what exactly is it that you do?
HB: I am a film and TV composer, in a nutshell I write the original music heard within a project. This generally includes conceptualising, writing and recording the soundtrack as a whole. Most of this tends to be extremely collaborative as it takes a village, I typically work very closely with the director of the piece to fully realise what is needed to complement it.
What’s been your favourite thing you’ve worked on?
Hard to say, I’ve worked on everything from documentary, fiction, animation and VR all of which have varied across genre, from psychological thrillers through to romance. What I would say is that the projects I tend to love and gravitate towards are the ones that feel like they have a narrative that deserves to be seen, one that feels like it will broaden people’s minds and perspectives on various subject matters in a positive way. That being said, I do very much adore all things weird and wonderful too, so those in combination are an absolute dream!
Do you get an idea for the musical concept first, and then doodle? Or do you sit in front of the video rushes and get inspiration from there? Or both?
Every musical idea feels different to me in some way, I’m always trying to find an element of uniqueness to each piece I write, so I find they naturally tend to form in different ways. Sometimes I’ll hum a melody to myself and it’ll excite me into writing something that finds a filmic home later down the line or perhaps I’ll have a film in front of me and that will directly inspire me. As I say it’s always different though, even when starting from a similar position as each narrative too is its own entity, sometimes the dialogue or the general concept, the sound or even the title card font and conversations I’ve had will inspire the final results.
What does your setup look like?
I would say my set up is really quite modest. I believe that depending on the person of course, it can be very easy to get lost in a Scrooge McDuck level of gear and options. I have mainly invested in a few beautiful, crucial bits and pieces like my monitors and microphones. That being said.. I am slowly hoarding instruments as I go and you could argue that it’s slowly becoming quite extravagant. Personally though, I’d much rather invest in real instruments and record them so that they are unique to themselves, even if the space itself isn’t perfect and has quite a character rather to it, I generally take this route rather than purchasing sample packs [software that emulates sounds and instruments] as I have found them to be quite recognisable and that is something I’m always looking to avoid.
How long does it take to complete a project?
This is next to impossible to quantify really. I’ve spent a very long time, years even, on some of the shortest pieces mainly due to scheduling changes and occurrences that are beyond control, in contrast some features have taken just a few weeks so it’s really hard to say. It does often depend on the type of project and at what stage I’m brought on board. If I’m on a project from the start, that tends to take quite a lot longer for my role to be completed than it would say me writing the music for a picture locked film. An animation too tends to take longer than a fiction film as a shoot will happen and then one can immediately edit whereas the animation equivalent takes time to be built from the same stage.
You’ve recently won an award. Can you tell us about that?
Yes! ‘Father’, a track of mine was very recently awarded the Gold at the LA Motion Picture Festival for ‘Best Music Track’. I was so astonished and thrilled to receive recognition for my music, especially having it be from across the pond. I’ve had various incarnations of this track hidden away and it felt like the perfect moment to reveal one of them to the world, I’m so overwhelmed to have had such a positive response. It was released in collaboration with the wonderful Sister Music under Sister X, there’s a full album written by different artists called Salience. It’s up online on all the major streaming platforms, I very much recommend giving it a listen!
How did you get into such a specialist field?
To be completely honest, whilst I feel I’ve been involved in music in some way, shape or form since the dawn of time, I actually stumbled rather unexpectedly into film. I grew up with a brilliantly artistic mother and a very creative household, so visuals had always been at the forefront of my mind, especially as I dabbled in them myself. It was when I took a film composition module during the first year of my bachelors at Leeds College of Music (now Leeds Conservatoire) though that everything changed for me, it was a real lightbulb moment in my life. It was the catalyst that moved me to pursue a career in combining my love of both music and visuals, since then I’ve truly never looked back.
What would be your dream project?
I’m extremely fortunate to say that I’ve worked on quite a few projects that have been absolute dreams and currently am too at this very moment! In the future though I’m very much looking to move more consistently into long form. Whilst I will always have time for a piece that has an honest and positive purpose for the world no matter its shape, there is nothing more exciting and rewarding for me than being able to develop musical ideas across greater lengths of time and moulding them in various forms and interpretations.
What’s it been like in London during lockdown?
It’s been, interesting. Quite dystopian at times I would say ha, the incident of the disappearing loo roll was an extremely curious and historic event to witness across the United Kingdom too, but all in all I’ve been very very lucky and have fortunately been working quite consistently throughout the year. Emotionally it’s been very tough, but I’m so very thankful to have such wonderfully strong and awe-inspiring people in my life, be they near or far, together I think we’ve built a rather strong fortress.
When will you be visiting home again?
I’m very sad to report that I have absolutely no idea. London is in a “Tier 4” lockdown, so within this fortress I sit, watching and waiting for any realistic and safe opportunity to do so, fingers crossed it will be soon!
We wish Hollie continued success!