First-time director Glen Mack brought his feature film Brujo to San Francisco’s Studio Trilogy to record scoring sessions with musician PC Muñoz. The sessions were led by chief engineer/co-manager Justin Lieberman. Muñoz is known for scores that stretch the boundaries of classical, funk, hip-hop, and the avant-garde.
Brujo (Spanish for sorcerer) revolves around the activity at a modern dance workshop. The story, one of jealousy and disaster, also chronicles the creative intensity of artists coming together to collaborate on a project.
Mack had been using a classical recording of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” as a temp score for the film and went to Muñoz for a new recording. “When I do interpretations, I always pretty much radically reimagine them,” explains Muñoz. “I said I’d like to do something completely different, almost render it in a jazzy style. I suggested to him that we do a drum set and cello rendering.”
Muñoz met at Trilogy with former Kronos Quartet cellist Joan Jeanrenaud. “We brought Joan in and had a brief discussion about it. Here’s the Vivaldi. We both know it, but we’re not going to try and play it as a strictly classical piece. We’re going to do it the way we do the music that we usually create. We talked a little bit about switching the time signatures and the kind of pulse it would have. Fortunately, for that session, Glenn was there. He’s super great to work with and we just wanted to make sure that the vibe was right for his picture.”
They had the picture on the big screen and ran through different ideas for the arrangement until they landed on something. “Especially in terms of the drums, because, obviously, there are no tracks of drums on the original Vivaldi. I had to figure out a way to make it rhythmically cool, useful for the scene and something that Glenn would dig. We just sat there and knocked out a few takes.
“The way Joan and I often work is with a beat that I make either acoustically or electronically,” continues Muñoz. “In this case it was all acoustic, and then Joan started to layer different cello parts — some rhythmic stuff, some long, legato stuff, some pretty stuff, and some stuff that evoked different types of moods for the scene.”
According to Lieberman, “We output the video to the two isolated recording spaces via our Blackmagic video cards. Both PC and Joan watched the video play while performing to make sure certain musical cues landed in the right spaces. I helped to find a good tempo that supported the musical cues landing in good spots. After we got a good basic track we overdubbed a few cello parts and a percussion part or two.”
Lieberman mixed the piece on an API console and gave Chris McGrew stems and a mix.
postPerspective decided to throw some additional questions at Muñoz to find out more about how he works and about his process on this film.
You have an eclectic background. Do you tackle each project in a similar way? How do you begin your process?
Each situation is different, but I think the one thing I try to do in every project is establish really clearly what my role is. Especially in very fluid artistic environments where there is constant give and take and exchange of ideas. It can be easy to lose track of who is actually responsible for what. I’m able to dig into the work much better after I’ve been able to assess the situation and consider what I can best do for the project. That goes for projects that I’m leading, as well.
Whether I’m producing a song, developing a multimedia stage production or working on music for film and dance, I do tend to begin the same way: I try to understand the big picture first and envision what the final product ought to be. After that, I start looking at details, and often let the details present themselves organically/improvisationally.
How did you work with the director on this film in particular?
Glenn had very specific ideas for what he wanted to hear in certain sections of the film. I’m not sure how he worked with the other music creators, but my role was typically to come up with unique versions of classic pieces of music.
He would tell me the piece he wanted — in this case, Vivaldi’s “Summer” from the Four Seasons — and I would get back to him with the instrumentation context and arrangement I was imagining. We would discuss it a bit then we’d go make it happen. He was present for this Vivaldi session, which was great. I loved working with Glenn; he’s very open and collaborative.
What stood out about this one? What part are you most proud of?
I really love re-imagining established pieces of music, and I don’t always get to do that, so it was great to be able to focus on that, which is a different kind of thing than composing or sound design. I’m proud of all the things I worked on for the film, and it’s always great to work with Joan Jeanrenaud, all the folks at Studio Trilogy, fellow music producer/sound designer Chris McGrew, and the film’s editor, Kirk Goldberg. I also like that the film is very much centered around dance, since I’ve done a lot of work in that area and always enjoy the task of matching music to choreography.