Changing Soundscapes

Interview with BUMA composer Aisling Brouwer by Young Film Critic Alonso Aguilar

There probably hasn’t been another time in human history where the world has felt as small as it does now. I grew up in Central America – a region of the world that rarely comes up in cinematic discussions, and even less so when it comes to film criticism – and for some reason I still saw myself following jury decisions from festivals I never believed I’d attend and seeking raved-about arthouse films that were certainly not going to screen anywhere near me. Even with the humble bandwidth of my tropical internet connection, I had film history and contemporary cinematic movements at arm’s length, yet that hyper-connectivity wasn’t really making up for my blindspots. It all felt close-by, and simultaneously kind of isolated. That’s why I decided to embark on this uncertain journey called film criticism, and also why I applied to IFFR’s Young Film Critics programme; as a personal quest towards narrowing those gaps and connecting with other realities through and around the moving image. 

At IFFR, my first encounter in that regard happened when I interviewed Dutch/Irish musician Aisling Brouwer, one of the six composers part of the 2021 edition of the IFFR Pro x Buma programme at CineMart. She’s worked for numerous TV shows and short films, and recently made the leap towards feature length scoring with White Riot, director Rubika Sha’s acclaimed documentary feature on the intersections between the UK’s punk scene and the protest movement of the 1970s. She also has her own musical project, AVAWAVES, where she creates neo-classical cinematic soundscapes along artist Anna Phoebe. 

Berlin-based, Brouwer has found that the influence of the German city’s rich electronic scene has permeated some of her film work, where she explores minimalistic textures and industrial sounds, and also notices how this contrasts with the more classical orchestral elements and dreamy aesthetic that come out of the collaborative process with Phoebe. With her participation with IFFR, she hopes to expand her frames of reference and share with other exciting up and coming talents. 

Naturally, the current global situation has shaken up most of the processes we’d grown accustomed to as a society, and despite admitting her approach to composition hasn’t really been affected, the situation does bring to the forefront some discussions the film scoring industry has had in recent years; particularly the growing trend towards self-recording and digitalisation, which Brouwer believes comes with both positive and negative implications. 

“The rise of electronic and ambient scores is something that I’ve seen happen during the last five to ten years. In a sense, because technology has become so accessible, anyone can really buy a laptop and some musical programs and you can do anything from there It opens up the landscape more; it definitely makes it more accessible, but I also think it made a way for certain productions to drive down the price of some works thinking they can get away with something cheaper. I write mainly electronic music now, but that’s also because a lot of the productions didn’t have budgets anymore for full orchestras, or at least didn’t want that type of Classic Hollywood Score.”

This given situation makes it especially important to distinguish oneself in the field, something Brouwer has done by meshing together different backgrounds and inspirations in her work; from synth-heavy electronic music to early surreal films and political documentaries. Coincidentally or not, she’s had the opportunity to dwell in the latter with both White Riot and an upcoming feature non-fiction film she’s currently working on, a trend she hopes will continue no matter where her career takes her next. 

“All of these (recent experiences) have made me realise I want to work more on longform films. I love collaborating with people and I’m always looking forward to meeting other artists and creatives and working together. The ideal career for me would be to do a few films a year and then tour, if that ever goes back to being a thing. I’d like to always be involved in projects commenting on today’s world.”

Alonso Aguilar
Written for the Young Film Critics 2021