With the premiere of the film “Elisa and Marcela” yesterday, June 7th on Netflix, directed by Isabel Coixet, SoundTrackFest has set eyes on its young composer Sofía Oriana. Here you have this interesting interview by Rafa Melgar.
Elisa and Marcela is a story set in Spain in 1901 and based on real events, where Elisa Sánchez Loriga had to adopt a masculine identity to marry the woman she loved, Marcela Gracia Ibeas.
Sofía Oriana Infante (Santiago de Compostela, 1989) is a composer who currently lives in Ferrol (A Coruña). She studied composition at the ‘Eduardo Martínez Torner’ Conservatory of Oviedo, and specialized in audiovisual composition.
Throughout this interview we will introduce a highly talented composer whose courage and self-confidence has led her to a dream debut in her first feature film. A soundtrack that as you will read below, has transferred a tornado of feelings to help tell this love story.
Hello Sofia. In SoundTrackFest we like to know composers a little better, so tell us first, what was the turning point when you decided you wanted to be a musician? Why did you choose the piano?
Actually I always played the piano on my own, but at the conservatory I studied percussion. It was a bit by coincidence. There were no vacancies left on piano, this was when I was 8 years old, and my mother wanted me to go to the conservatory and she asked, “what do you prefer piano or drums?” And I always said “drums, drums”. But then you arrive at the conservatory and at the end you don’t play drums very much. But I always liked the piano and basically I learnt by myself, on my own. I did not specialize academically. And with music my passion comes to me as a very cinematic memory. At 8 years old my father died of cancer and my mother, as a distraction, took me to Disneyland Paris and it is something that I have engraved in my mind as if I was seeing it right now. Imagine, 8 years old and entering the park with the soundtrack of “The Lion King” and I remember that as the first time in my life I got goosebumps listening to music. I still remember that chill that ran through my body. It was a tremendous visual stimulation because it was all full of children and the park was amazing. But I remember perfectly the moment of the soundtrack playing. Then you enter the conservatory, and with the exigency and the pressure, it gets out of your head. It was later when I decided to go into audiovisuals… “Come on, let’s give this a shot”.
You tell me that it was your mother who insisted on getting you into the conservatory. Are/were any of your parents musicians?
My father was the one who had the real passion for music. He was a very cultivated man who devoted himself to books and always had a very specific musical taste. He listened to “The Doors”, “Janis Joplin” and music of that style. I remember his LPs that I still have here. He also had symphonies by Beethoven, Wagner or Mahler and it was a bit of all that. My father was really the one who played the guitar, and he had a keyboard with which I played as a child. So that passion for the music came with my father, but then my mother contributed to all the academic part, let’s say; to study and to work.
Doing a master in composition for film and television (2015) at Kingston University in London… Was it something vocational, an experiment like “let’s see what I get out of this” or was your mind already set?
Well, I had the typical crisis that we all have like “what I want to be” and my mother insisted that I should do nursing and I listened to her because she told me; “You’ll have a job for sure” and I’ll swear to you I lasted 4 days (*laughs*). I did not get to go to class. Only to the presentations. And I said: “I’m sorry mom, I want to be a composer”. And it was that clear. I left the faculty and lost a year of my career. But I told myself that in that year I would prepare the entrance exams for the higher-grade of composition, and I got it, and in the last years I specialized in audiovisual composition. At that moment I had pretty clear that I also wanted to be a film composer. When I went to London, I had a composition degree and the master was to specialize, to know how to move in the world, to meet people who were also dedicated to this, to know different points of view. You know, London is the center of culture in the world. There you meet people from all over the world and that enriched me a lot.
So when you arrived there, you knew clearly that the cinema or audiovisuals would be the means by which you could express yourself, right?
In the movies, whenever I have had the opportunity to speak with a composer, it is said that you have little freedom when it comes to creating. You are at the service of the images. How did you feel that you could express yourself with your music, but following guidelines set by a director?
It has happened to me in both ways. There are directors for example in shorts who told me “you have total freedom and do what you think you have to do” and give me very few guidelines. But with Isabel Coixet it was a bit different because she already had it very clear. But of course, many directors do not have a technical vocabulary. They do not tell you I want a composition in LA MINOR or compose in such a scale that suggests “X”. It is rather the use of some terms such as “melancholic”or “very delicate” and of course, in those terms music is very subjective and abstract. Finally, you need to sit on the piano and see what comes out. When it is sad or happy it is easier but when they ask you to do something heroic that is more complicated. Isabel for example gave me reference tracks.
¿The famous temp tracks?
Yes, exactly. They are those tracks that give you a sample and then they tell you to do something similar, but more specific. And the tracks that Isabel used were Sakamoto and composers that were easy to deal with. But you start testing and things work out.
If I tell you the name of Sergio Moure de Oteyza… (NOTE: * Sofia attended recordings of soundtracks from the Goya-nominated composer, Sergio Moure de Oteyza, such as ‘All Is Silence’ by José Luis Cuerda and ‘Time Rojak’ by Isaac Kerlow, where she worked as an orchestration assistant*) How do you get to embark on different projects of one of our most prolific Spanish composers?
Yes, I met Sergio, but it was very brief. I went a couple of times. I was studying and wanted to learn how this world worked and he told me to go to the recording of the soundtrack of the movie “All Is Silence” and I went as an orchestration assistant with Alejandro Román where I basically was dedicated to review scores and print them. The best thing was to be there, attend the recording, see how he worked and see how the world worked.
You finished the degree in Primary Education. Do you contemplate the possibility of unifying your two passions? That is, do you see yourself as a teacher? And I take for granted that you would choose music.
Right now I’m doing it for survival. I love teaching in an elementary school, but maybe I do not see my whole life working there. Yes, I see myself as a teacher in a conservatory. In primary school, if you are a teacher, you have to dedicate yourself fully to doing it well. And I am a person who, if I do a job, I want to dedicate myself totally to that job and do it the best I can. I’d like to be a teacher at the conservatory, because there are fewer teaching hours and I would have more time to compose. Then I would go as a teacher because I love it, but I would see the way to combine it as much as I can with film composing, that is my true passion. At the moment I cannot live from composing soundtracks. I hope I can get there in the future!
Surely you will!
I wish! (*laughs*).
A short film is said to be pure learning. Do you agree? Tell us a bit about your experience and if in any way, those works were the trigger to say, “this is my thing”.
The truth is that they served as a kind of rehearsal, although I took them totally seriously. The works in short films gave me the security for when I went to interview with Isabel and she hit on the table with her hands, she looked at my face, and said; “Sofia, will you be able to compose this soundtrack?” That was the first thing she said and I replied “Of course. Of course”. The short films gave me confidence to know how to have that relationship with a director and work with them. It would not have been the same if I had not done anything. Yes, they were useful and I loved it.
Of course, that previous experience undoubtedly was good to give you that security before your work with Isabel. What music does Sofia listen to, and if they are soundtracks, who is the composer(s) you listen to?
HaHaHa! (*laughs*) That’s the typical complicated question that we never know how to answer. I listen to everything, absolutely everything. I can tell you from Pop songs to Wagner operas. I think for example about Rosalia, which is a very popular Spanish singer at the moment that I love. Because I think that from styles that do not belong specifically to an intellectual or elitist music, things can also be learned. For example in the electronic music about how they treat the textures. So I can get things from any style and then use them for soundtracks. I have contemporary works for string quartet, soprano, and piano that I have sought inspiration in “Led Zeppelin”. I mean, I listen to everything. But if I have to tell you references from the film music world I love James Newton Howard, because with very few notes, like in “Signals”, with a three-note motif he makes a great orchestration and he works very well. I like his music very much. In addition, he works with everything, the melody, the harmony… everything. He is very complete. I also really like Nico Muhly, who is somewhere between the movies and academics. I do not know if you know him, he’s an American composer, do you know the movie “The Reader”? I love it, I had the opportunity to meet him in Madrid and I follow him a lot and he inspired me to compose. He has minimalist nuances when composing similar to Philip Glass. The truth is that basically I love both of them.
Very good and I love your contributions of different names to the usual “Williams and Morricone”. And it is true that a musician or artist is enriched by different styles or disciplines.
I think that a person who is closed-minded to certain styles, for any prejudice, is losing things. I’m always very open-minded because I think that I can get something interesting. Except from reggaeton! I can’t learn anything there (*laughs*). But of the many different new styles that are coming out, I always listen to them, in case there is something that interests me.
The premiere of “Elisa and Marcela” is imminent (June 7) where you debut with a feature film, and since we saw the announcement and your name on the credits for the OST, many of us asked who is Sofia Oriana? How does this story begin, where a young composer from Santiago de Compostela (Galicia, Spain) gets to make the music of Isabel Coixet’s latest film?
Well, in the stupidest way possible. I was just sitting with my laptop and read the news that Isabel Coixet was shooting or was going to start shooting a movie about “Elisa and Marcela”. I think it was about 24th of February, because it was my birthday. I do not believe in God, or anything like that, but I swear there was something, like if the stars aligned or I do not know what (*laughs*). I only thought when reading that news; “I would love to be the composer of this movie!” And there are two types of people. Those who sit in the sofa and dream of “how cool would it be”, or those who take a step forward and say… I’m going to try! I saw myself very determined from the beginning and I told myself; “Hey, if it does not happen, I’m not going to lose anything and if it happens, I’ll win everything.” Then I did everything possible: I sent mails to all the producers that I found online and I researched. They never answered any email. A couple of days passed and I called directly the producers “Rodar y Rodar” in Barcelona. I told them I wanted to be part of the selection process. And everything started there. That same day in the afternoon I got a message from Isabel Coixet in Instagram. We started talking and I sent her my portfolio of compositions. She tested me and well, I convinced her and she said yes.
You are a clear example of risking and winning. Aren’t you?
Well, I could not do anything else. What was I going to do? Wait for Isabel Coixet to call me? (*laughs*)
It would be great if, like with Alfonso Vilallonga, you become one of her main composers.
Let’s see. I already told her that I would always be available to her (*laughs*).
Well, debuting with Isabel Coixet is something very big.
You are right. I’m still in a cloud.
“With great power comes great responsibility” Uncle Ben (Spider-man). In your case, when doing this OST, what responsibilities or risks did you assume?
Good question. Responsibilities during the entire composition process, since I was in constant tension thinking that I was going to be fired at any time. Like “she’s not good enough, let’s fire her”. And I had the responsibility that I had to reach a certain level. We are talking about one of the most, or the most important director of this country. I felt that I had a big responsibility to achieve a certain quality level, and that influences you when you are composing. The first thing that comes out from your mind is not worth it. You have to polish it a lot and spend many hours. Listen very well and analyze the references. Study her and what music she likes. And of course doing the best you can at 100%. And well, assume that you are going to be criticized, both good and bad critics. I have never been exposed to this level.
What references of other composers did the director give you?
Ryūichi Sakamoto, Max Ritcher, and some Nico Muhly. She made a playlist of ITunes and there she had many things.
Those composers make a very beautiful music.
Yes, it was a very delicate music. There was also electronics and we were defining the music step by step. At first the thing was very much in the air and we were trying things out. It was not a definite thing either. We were experimenting according to what was being filmed. Because one thing is what you have in your head and another is how it is later materialized with the images.
What you are telling is very interesting. What was the process of creation and joint work with the director?
The first time she sent me the opening sequence of the film, I made five versions with different instrumentation and styles. Of those she chose the one she liked the most. She loved it and it is the one that is definitively in the film. From there we already defined the instrumentation, that would be string quartet, piano, and electronics. With that base I was looking for the theme and the stylistic unit. For example, with string quartet and electronics you can do practically any style. Therefore, it is a mixture of my academic heritage, with classics such as Beethoven, Chopin or references to Bach as well. And then I try to modernize all that with the electronics and look for some original style. I also left a lot to improvisation. I sat in front of the piano and it told me “get inspired, get inspired”.
And I was also in a state of extreme sensitivity because it gave the fatal coincidence that just when I started composing my mother died, and I found myself in one of the most complicated situations of my life. Because I had the greatest tragedy on the one hand and the greatest joy on the other. I was into a sea of emotions, and things came out of there… I think that this soundtrack is so special not only for being the first, but also for the sentimental load it carries. That is precisely what many people who have heard it tell me; “Wow! It carries an incredible emotional charge” and I tell them that it is normal because it is in the situation in which I was. Somehow it contributed to the theme of the movie, because the protagonists carry that double emotional burden. On the one hand, love and on the other, the anger and pain of being repressed. So I think that… well I already told you that it was not a believer… but many surreal things have happened to me.
No doubt this music has a lot of you for what you are telling me…
Everything. Also, I did not tell Isabel at any time, until we finished everything and they gave me a definite yes. I told no one on the team because I also had some fear that they would see me incapacitated of not getting this job done. A dedication to my parents has been included at the end of the credits. So the soundtrack is dedicated “in memoriam” to my parents. It’s what I tell you. Not only is it special for being my first soundtrack, but for everything.
The truth is that it must be like that. It is already quite emotional to listen to what you are telling me… so the music must carry a brutal emotional charge. I’m looking forward to watching the movie and listening to that music.
What did you think and how did you live the presentation of the film with its controversy included in the Berlinale? (*NOTE: Due to being a Netflix production, the film is broadcast in ‘Streaming’ on the platform, in addition to some limited cinemas). In my point of view, it’s an absurd controversy. Because it does not stop from being a film, it does not matter what medium is broadcast or projected on.
It’s totally what you’re saying and that’s what Isabel said. Because she had to clarify it also during the press conference, and it is indeed ridiculous because the platforms adapt to the new times. It is still a movie, why does it matter where it is shown?
And that experience in such an important festival, where Isabel Coixet is so beloved, how was it?
The truth is that it was incredible. I got there and I could not believe it. First it was the shock of seeing the actresses, because I was so used to seeing them on screen like two hundred thousand times, over and over again, hours and hours, that when I got there I saw them in flesh and blood, I said; “Oh!!”, You know? Isabel already presented them to me in a previous catering before arriving at the theater and there we were all talking. I could not believe it, and then go through the red carpet, see that my music was in a room full of people, and those same people clapping in rage. Because yes, they talk about Isabel a lot, the critics I mean, but then the audience or the normal viewer, will simply appreciate the art, and they were applauding exactly three and a half minutes at the end, and this I know because it is what my end theme lasts at the final credits.
In short, that’s the important thing, that people who attended the screening liked it.
Yes, people liked it and the opinions I’m hearing around here are positive. Then the specialized critic said bad things; “The Hollywood Reporter” or “The Guardian”, things that I found quite unfair because I believe that a review anything should always bring positive and negative aspects. And these reviews were very destructive and unfair. The movie has very good things, and you may like it or not, like everyone. But there are many positive things there, even if you did not like it.
It is true that with Coixet’s cinema I have an eternal romance, because I really like her entire filmography and I always find something. The seal of the director is in all her films, and even on “Mi otro yo”, which is a teenage thriller and apparently far from her style, I find many virtues and I recognize the director. However, here the critics in Spain have been more diverse.
But no doubt that with the launch in Netflix, there you are going to be able to test the success of the film worldwide.
How was the recording? I suppose that from all of your compositions this will have been the most special technically speaking…
Not really. The recording was as usual. What was special was the place that we recorded in; the “Hostal Reyes Catolicos” next to the cathedral, where they have a piano that sounds great. It was done in a chapel and had that religious meaning carried in the acoustics of the space. It was very good. We recorded it in one day, and the truth is that I was very lucky because I could have some spectacular musicians who made a great job, and I was very happy with the result of the recording.
This interview is prior to the release of the movie on Netflix and we have not yet been able to listen to its music. So nobody better than you to describe the music that will accompany “Elisa and Marcela” in their love story. What can you tell us?
I would say that it is a precious music. It looks for those delicate and melancholic sounds a lot. And in the technical aspects there are solo piano parts that have been compared with Erik Satie. But in reality it is a very eclectic style and there is everything. It is my vision of what I am in music. From what I have studied while learning the most classic composition. It has a lot of romanticism and impressionist parts. It’s a mix between those two styles.
Can you tell us if your music is going to be edited with a record label, either physically or digitally, or if it can be found on channels such as Spotify or YouTube?
Yes, it will be on that kind of platforms, but Netflix is responsible for that. And I’m sure it’ll be on Itunes. Now, if it’s going to come out on CD or not? I have to ask for it.
Has there been any proposal by any record label?
Yes, they have written me and have contacted me from some agency in London, but I don’t really know. Being Netflix the distributor, they should certify it. We will have to investigate to see if it can be done. But it will be on Spotify.
To end this interview… What new projects does Sofia have in the immediate future?… If you can and you want to share with us…
Just a week or two ago I was called from the Filarmónica de Galicia and they commissioned me a work. So in October we will have a premiere at La Real Filarmónica de Galicia. This is the most immediate.
From SoundTrackFest we wish you the best. Thank you for letting us know a little bit more about you and about your work. Thank you very much! … And I hope I have not taken too much of your time.
Well many thanks to you. And nooo, do not worry!
Interview by Rafa Melgar