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Composer Interview: Atli Örvarsson

posted Feb 12, 2011, 10:24 AM by Kaya Savas

Atli Örvarsson is on the rise and with each new score his music is becoming more defined as a prominant voice in the industry. Atli has worked on a number of Hans Zimmer's scores from Pirates Of The Caribbean: At World's End, Angels & Demons and a few more. He wrote additional music for the hugely popular Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and he played the accordion on Hans' score to Sherlock Holmes as well. Some of his solo works include The Last Confederate, The Fourth Kind, Babylon A.D., Vantage Point, Season Of The Witch and now his music can be heard in the new Kevin MacDonald film The Eagle. I asked Atli a few questions about his background and methods.

Kaya:

Firstly, thank you for taking the time to do this. It’s a great honor.


Atli:

You’re welcome, the pleasure is mine.


Kaya:

It’s a standard question that I’m sure you’re always asked, but how did you get into music and what led you to film composition?


Atli:

There was a lot of music around me when I was growing up, my dad’s a musician, my mom sang in the church choir and several other family members were and are professional musicians.  I guess it’s the family business!  What led me to film composition more than anything was the desire to write instrumental music that wasn’t concert music per se but not pop either, plus my love for film.


Kaya:

What kind of music did you listen to growing up? Were there any movies or particular scores that made you want to compose for film?


Atli:

I listened to all kinds of music.  Like I said my mom sang in a choir and as a little boy I’d go to rehearsals with her, I started playing in orchestras when I was very young so I got exposed to classical music early on.  My dad plays the accordion so I grew up with that and then my older siblings were listening to Pink Floyd and Queen so it was all mixed up I guess!


Kaya:

Growing up in Iceland do your musical roots stem from traditional Icelandic sounds and styles or have you absorbed different styles along the way?


Atli:

I suppose there is some inevitably some “Icelandic-ness” in my music but like I said I was exposed to all kinds of stuff from an early age and continue to seek out as many different influences as I can.


Kaya:

As a composer where do you draw inspiration from on a project? Do you work solely from the images, story and characters?


Atli:

I think it just depends on the project.  On The Eagle for instance it’s hard not to be inspired by the beautiful scenery of Scotland and obviously Celtic music is a strong character of the score.  On other projects it might be something completely different and possibly unrelated to the film even.


Kaya:

What moves you more; the story or a character?


Atli:

Again, just depends on the film.


Kaya

I think my favorite score of yours is The Last Confederate, which is probably relatively unknown. How did you get involved with the project?


Atli:

I got involved with that through my friend Billy Fox, who was the editor on that.  He introduced me to Julian Adams who liked my music and it all just clicked.  I think Julian liked the fact that I’m not from the US originally so I was more or less neutral on the question of North vs. South.


Kaya:

Just released was Season Of The Witch, which was a film that ended up getting pushed and had to go through re-shoots. I think every film has to do re-shoots. Hell, even I’ve had to do re-shoots on my short films. Filmmaking is a slow building process and when something like this happens what kinds of challenges does it pose to you who has to compose new music?


Atli:

Probably the biggest challenge was to try and maintain some sort of continuity in the score.  The film went through many twists and turns in terms of direction and tone and during each of those stages we recorded a part of the score.  I’m quite amazed that it actually sounds as coherent as it does!


Kaya:

Let’s say some of the music you previously composed is no longer used. What do you do with that music? Do you store those ideas for a rainy day and maybe build on them to make new ideas for future films?


Atli:

My motto is: Leave no theme behind!  :)  A decent tune is a decent tune and most likely they’ll find their ways into something else... if they’re decent, that is!


Kaya:

The Eagle just came out. How do you compose music for a story that takes place in 140 A.D? Do you try to bring in genre elements or try and clear your mind by starting with a blank slate?


Atli:

Yes, how do you compose something for 140 AD?!  It was a great challenge and loads of fun.  I suppose the trick was to do both, bring in elements of Scottish and Irish music but do so with a new slant and try to come up with something fresh.


Kaya:

Looking at your body of work what’s something you’ve done that you are really proud of and look back on with a smile?


Atli:

I’m quite fond of Aurora’s theme from Babylon AD but also very excited about The Eagle.


Kaya:

Temp tracks. Enemy or friend?


Atli:

Frenemy.


Kaya:

What’s the most challenging part of writing a score?


Atli:

Each one is different.  What they all have in common is that they’re hard work and you have to keep the inventive part of your brain on until the last minute.


Kaya:

And I guess to wrap things up I’ll finish with my favorite question. If you had the chance to re-score any film ever made with no disrespect to the original composer which film would you choose?


Atli:

I wouldn’t really want to re-score anything, with the possible exception of some of my own cues!  However, if I had a time machine, went back about ten years and was offered to score The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I wouldn’t say no! 


Kaya:

Well, again thank you so much for your time. It’s been a real pleasure and I wish you all the best. Thanks Atli.


Atli

Thank you Kaya!



Atli's score to The Eagle will be released on February 22, 2011 by Silva Screen Records. Check back soon for a review of the score!

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