Joseba Beristain is an old friend of SoundTrackFest, and we already interviewed him extensively some time ago to talk about his origins, trajectory, and career, in an article from 2016 that be read here:
Today we come back to Joseba to talk about his last project, the animation movie “Elcano & Magellan, The first voyage around the world (Elkano, Lehen mundu bira)” – Dibulitoon Studio – (2019, dir. Ángel Alonso), with an exclusive interview for SoundTrackFest conducted by Gorka Oteiza.
What did you know about the history of Elcano and Magellan before starting the project and what do you know about them after the movie? I imagine that you have learned a lot during the process…
I knew very little. I knew they were the protagonists of the first voyage around the world, but I did not really know the scope of what they did. Watching the movie and talking to the director, the producer, and other people on the team, I’ve learned a lot of things. First, that it was an amazing trip of 3 years, which is what it took them to go around the world. And when I say amazing I do not mean amazing in the sense of magic and wonder, as it was a full-scale odyssey, something very complicated, because of 239 people who left Spain, only 18 came back. It was very hard with many deaths due to illnesses, internal fights, desertions, or people who stayed on the road…
From our perspective right now, going around the world doesn’t seem to be a big challenge, but in reality, going around the world at that time, 500 years ago, on boats that were little more than floating pieces of wood, was a great odyssey in which you were risking everything. Now we see them as if they were adventurers, but in reality, they were businessmen, because what they wanted was to find an alternative route to reach the Moluccas, the island of spices. It is difficult from our point of view to visualize what they did or why they did it, but all these things and some more are what the film has taught me.
Anyway, although the film is based on real events, it does not pretend to be a documentary, since it is an adventure film based on real events aimed at the children/family audience. There are some facts that have been invented to help the narrative, and the real hardness of that trip is not shown in the movie. The story is adapted to the target audience.
How do you get to the project? How do they contact you and decide that you are the right composer for the film?
The film is from the Basque production company Dibulitoon Studios, and I had already worked with them before, composing the music of a short film in 2000. At that time they were already trying to do the project, but due to technical limitations of the 3D of the computer equipment of the moment, it was postponed, and now it has coincided with the 500th anniversary of the trip [Note: The journey of Elcano and Magellan was from August 10, 1519, to September 8, 1522].
The celebrations of the 500th anniversary will begin on September 2019 and will last for 3 years, which is what it took them to go around the world, so we will have Elcano for a while (*laughs*). We’re going to have an animated film, there’s going to be a documentary, and if I’m not mistaken, a real action movie with actors is being prepared.
Coming back to your question, since 2000 I had already worked with Dibulitoon Studio on several occasions, in several shorts such as ‘Historia de Elam’ and ‘Involución’, or composing a theme for the movie ‘Mystikal’. I also worked on ‘Teresa eta Galtzagorri (Elf on the Run)’, which was their previous animated film, for which I did the whole soundtrack; so we already knew each other and they trusted me to score Elcano.
So your story together is not new, it is a relationship forged over time.
That’s it! And it is a very nice relationship I have to say!
The soundtrack is not released yet, and people have listened to music for the first time in cinemas. What can we find in the soundtrack? What did you want to achieve with your music for the movie? What can you tell us about the score?
It is a film based on real events and does not pretend to be a documentary, so the objective that was clear from the beginning at the production company and at the director is that it had to be an adventure film. Thus, with the music I have mainly tried to convey this adventurous spirit.
For this purpose, we have used classical sounds, with a symphony orchestra and choir, and being faithful to this idea we have completed the entire soundtrack structured in a concept that is widely used in the world of soundtracks: the leitmotifs, clearly identifiable by the audience.
These leitmotifs are associated with 4 main ideas that are: the great adventure that involves going around the world, the “evil bad guy” who is a Portuguese called DaCosta that seeks to sabotage the trip (and his minion Yago who shares his music but in a more grotesque version), the theme of love for Elcano and a girl he meets during the trip, and a more subtle theme, which is partially hidden, for the plot that is being forged between the sailors and that ends in a riot.
The entire soundtrack is structured on these 4 leitmotifs, which vary, repeat, and help the audience to understand what is happening. Some things are anticipated with music, such as the love story or the riot, and others are quite clear such as the music for the bad guy, which is shown every time he appears and something remarkable happens.
On the one hand, we have the expedition of Magellan and Elcano and on the other hand, there is the expedition of DaCosta, who was a Portuguese ambassador and who pretends to arrive in the same place. But DaCosta wants to sabotage the trip and sends his minion Yago on Elcano‘s ship, and that’s when the most grotesque version of the DaCosta theme, the one that is not scary, is played. Thus, the main enemies of the trip are always present through the music of DaCosta.
In the beginning, I was thinking who should I score… do I create music for Elcano? for Magellan? But then it seemed to me that the most important thing was the trip, the adventure, and so that adventure has one theme, which is threatened by two other musical themes that are an internal threat, the riot, and an external threat that is DaCosta.
In addition there is a lot of music that serves to accompany the action that we see on the screen; moments of adventure, risk, persecution… which are usually shown with other music, but where there is always some detail that refers to the main theme of the great adventure, and which is the one that varies the most.
We can see that you have spent a lot of time thinking about what music to compose and how to structure it…
I dedicate a lot of time, before I even start writing a single note, to think about how I am going to structure the musical script, so that it makes sense and has coherence. It is one of the things that concern me most when I tackle a project. In the beginning, it is usually a hodgepodge of ideas that little by little take shape…
It’s good to know that both the producer and the director have accepted that way of working without problems, right? Since many times, either they are in a hurry and there are many changes to be made, which makes everything more difficult, or they have a very clear idea of what kind of music they want and where they want to place it, and that can go against that whole musical script that you have created…
Well, regarding that, thing there are two strategies (*laughs*): first, I try to anticipate, I try to go with a clear proposal and explain what should be done and why, and second, if they tell me they want specific music in one place… Well, I try to explain my point of view…
For example, the great journey begins after 20 minutes in the film, and before that moment, the main theme is not heard, it is insinuated a couple of times, but it is not played. Could that theme be well-received in any sequence of action? Yes… but it is not used. So if it is explained well, and you offer the director the music he needs for each moment and each sequence of the movie, there is room to reach a musical agreement. If there is a relationship of trust between composer and director, as it has been the case, these things are easier.
Let’s talk now about the recording of the soundtrack, which was with the Basque National Orchestra / Euskadiko Orkestra and the Orfeón Donstiarra choir, in September of 2018, under the baton of Fernando Velázquez and with you controlling the whole process.
That’s right, and the truth is that Fernando did a great job, because I do not have any idea of conducting and to lead an orchestra you need to know a lot about music, time management, and dealing with people, and Fernando knows the Basque National Orchestra very well and he was the right person for this job.
Also, that leaves you with more time, allowing you to be pending of the final result, right?
Indeed. The recording was frankly very well. In a recording session, you have very limited time, and as I like to have everything under control, we had a Plan B in case things were not as we expected, or in case we did not have time to record everything. But in the end it was not necessary. Everything went very well, the Basque National Orchestra played beautifully, and we recorded a lot of music in a very short time, so the experience in that sense was very satisfactory. I am very grateful to the orchestra, the choir, and Fernando for their good work.
I must also say that the score parts were very well written and very well prepared, something that was done thanks to Jaime Gutiérrez, avoiding reading difficulties, possible difficulties when turning the page, difficulties interpreting what was written, or the punches that were very well prepared… Both Jaime and Fernando are used to recording soundtracks, and we anticipated all the possible problems, so in the end, everything went great.
By the way, in addition to your original soundtrack, the film also has a song composed by the band “La Oreja de Van Gogh” entitled ‘Confía en el Viento (Trust in the Wind)’, and it is curious to see how the media gives them the credit of the soundtrack, when the biggest amount of work happened with your music, that is integrated into the movie. But this is not something that happened only with your movie; it is something that unfortunately happens on many occasions…
The proportionality of exposure in the media does not depend on the proportion of the work in the movie. But I understand that it is part of how things work and I would like to emphasize that ‘La Oreja de Van Gogh’ has created a great song. As we have previously commented about the musical coherence, one of the doubts we had was where was that song going to be inserted, so that it did not break the musical script… and I think we have solved it well.
It goes in the credits/at the end as in ‘Titanic’ and that’s it, right? (*laughs*)
(*Laughs*) Well, it goes a bit before the credits, with the arrival of the expedition to Seville. First, you can listen to brief portions of other themes, then it continues with the theme of the great adventure, and then it goes to the song composed by “La Oreja de Van Gogh – Confía en el Viento”, which fits very well.
An edition of the soundtrack in physical/digital format is being prepared at this moment, right? What can you tell us about it? Who will edit it? How has it been prepared? How do you decide what goes in or not? And the order of the tracks? Has additional material been recorded for this album or is it the same as the one we can find in the movie, with no extras?
In the recording, we focused mainly on the movie. There are about 53 minutes of symphonic music, so we expressly stick to recording all the music for the movie, without extras. Luckily, everything that has been recorded has been used in the film, so the whole soundtrack will be on the CD, except some very brief fragments that are repeated and that do not make much sense.
We are going to maintain the chronological order of the film, in such a way that if you listen to the soundtrack, you can understand the movie without even seeing it, just following the music. There are many times that the main theme or other themes are repeated, but they are almost never exactly the same themes; they are variations, so the listening becomes very fluid and the different types of themes and their tones are well contrasted.
The recording was made by Marc Blanes and Ernesto Maestro, which includes additional percussion by Alfred Tapscott, flutes by Ivan Allue and old guitars performed by Enrike Solinís. All this has been mixed by Mikel F. Krutzaga and I think that the end result looks very good.
The CD edition is going to be with Quartet Records (José María Benítez) and I do not control how the digital version will be released, as it is something that they will manage.
Do you have an expected release date?
I cannot tell you a specific date yet, but the idea is to release it late-July, after the premiere of the movie.
With the being so symphonic, with so many nuances and details, and that it should sound great performed by a live orchestra… Is there any idea of bringing the soundtrack of ‘Elcano’ to a live concert at any time?
Yes, but if I told you I would have to kill you (*laughs*). There are plans, but I cannot tell you anything until they are closed and can be made public. If we are lucky, we may even have the option to enjoy it live on more than one occasion this year.
Perfect, we will continue waiting for more news then! Eskerrikasko (‘Thank you very much’ in Basque) Joseba for your time, and good luck with ‘Elcano & Magellan, The first voyage around the world’, both with the film and with the soundtrack. Let’s see if we are lucky and we can enjoy your music live soon!
Many thanks to SoundTrackFest for writing about us, and don’t worry, I’ll keep you posted when there’s more news!
Interview by Gorka Oteiza