Bertelmann uses the unique “prepared piano” technique, involving resting objects on the strings of the instrument whilst playing it, and has pioneered a fresh and exciting take on film scores. His film credits include the Best Achievement in Music Written for Motion Pictures Academy Award nominated score for “Lion,” the London Film Festival screened “AlphaGo,” and the BBC hit show “Gunpowder.”
Interview by Sneh Rupra
When did you decide that you wanted to pursue a career in music, and how did you go about making it a reality?
I never thought about becoming a musician as my profession. I was making music since I am 9 years old and somehow it was on off my very early obligations that where a part of my everyday life. I tried to study medicine and economics to have a proper job and I did music for the pleasure. So the connection of pleasure and job was not in my DNA but it slowly took place and I felt that I have a talent to make steps towards an artistic career in a lot of ways I was very lucky.
What sparked your interest in composing for film?
-When I was a teenager I was already interested in cinema and I listened to a lot of film music….especially music by Ennio Morricone and Lalo Schifrin. The connection between composing and film was always an option and when it was approached to me I straight away said yes. It is also an interesting challenge how music is influencing the picture and I love working on that.
What has been the biggest hurdle you have faced on a project?
-I think it actually to find the right language between the director, producers and the composer. This means you go three steps forward and two back and move slowly towards a kind of agreement. Sometimes this is very hard to get and the time is running against you…so my main challenge is to stay relaxed.
Describe the process behind composing for a film. At what stage do you usually get involved in a project?
-This is from film to film different….in the idealist case you are asked when the film is cut…..I love to be involved earlier but that also means that you work on something and get soaked into something that is not yet clear….this is not always good for the creativity.
What is your favorite genre of film to compose for, and is this different from your favorite genre to watch?
-I love actually thrillers and kind of action movies ….and I also like to watch them…..I haven’t done a sci-fi movie yet which is also one of my favorite genre.
But I think it is also good to have surprises and being challenged and that means I am open to many options. I think life is about learning and I learn every day.
What do you look for in a script or film that inspires you to compose for it?
-It is always good to read the script to see if it is a good story. The good story is half of a good movie……but also hear I read great scripts and the film did not turn out that well and the other way round ….a good script is no guarantee.
What makes a film easy or difficult to compose for?
– I think every film has its difficulties and easiness about it. I think it is always difficult as a musician to have mostly underscore cues because then the writing is dictated by the dialogue and the frequency of the language. I think it is also a difficulty to find the right dynamic in the music….let’s say for LION for example it was very difficult to find a sensitive but also powerful tonality.
Who are your inspirations?
– I am inspired mostly by nature and life in general….that sounds maybe a little superficial but I am more inspired by jogging or wondering through the forest or driving bicycle than by a specific musician…..in a way you want to avoid of copying other people.
What is your favourite film score and why?
My favorite score is THERE WILL BE BLOOD by Johnny Greenwood because it is representing for me a new era of connecting indie music with film music…..I am a big fan as well of Mica Levi’s scores.
If someone wants to pursue a career as a film composer, how would you recommend they go about it?
– I think it is always important to find first your own language….I needed 30 years to find that and of course there are many other ways. You can study film composing or sound engineer and go from there. So there are many ways but you have to work a lot and hard and it is important not to get frustrated by people saying “no” to your music….you have to steady continue working on your own ideas and style.
What would your three top tips be for aspiring composers?
– Never give up.
– Search for good teachers and advisers amongst the artist that you admire.
– Work on your own music and work on your independency.
Is there any other advice you would like to give to help the next generation of composers?
– You should always work in the first place on your happiness and this can involve being a composer or not.