Composing Intuition (In the Time of Corona)

An interview with BUMA composer Merlijn Snitker by Young Film Critic Łukasz Mankowski.

My name is Łukasz Mańkowski and my corona-crisis days I spent in Warsaw, Poland. I’m a film critic, Japanese Cinema researcher, festival consultant and Japanese translator with a soft spot for Asian Cinema and in-depth interviews. In these interviews, I seek for a filmmaker’s inner raw and the infinity of one’s body of work’s contexts. Tackling the private while vexing social wrongs, but with the vast affection to the cinematic medium – that’s me. During the 50th edition of IFFR, I intend to delve in the process of self-actualisation as a writer. First step? The encounter with BUMA composer, Merlijn Snitker, where we’re discussing approaching work in the atrocity of Covid-19, jazz, the intimacy between the composer and the audience and what the future may unfold.

First of all. In these disturbing and bizarre times, I’d like to ask – how are you?

Indeed, we’re living in very bizarre times. For me it’s not so hard to stay inside, because we – film composers – are always in a sort of quarantine, hidden in our studios and making long working days. Despite the Corona crises I had a lot of work in the past year, so given the circumstances I feel pretty lucky.

Do you think the pandemic changed your perspective on getting ideas and inspiration?

I do feel that there is a tendency in film scoring that music is getting more intimate with a
‘close to the skin’ kind of feeling, that also has a practical outcome because during the
pandemic you don’t want to be with a lot of musicians in a recording studio. At the moment I am doing a lot of musical experimentation in my own studio without other musicians. From that perspective, it is not the pandemic itself, but rather the situation that brings me new ideas and inspiration.

In your film scores you seem to be very close with the narrative and the characters. How do you work on understanding the premise of the story and then building it up through the score?

I’m very happy that my music communicates that way. For me as a film composer, it’s very important to show your empathy for the characters. It’s not about your music, it’s about the connection. Do I have to enhance a feeling or should I bring in something that isn’t there yet? Once you find the way to do that on an emotional level, then the next step is to do the same on a production ground: by choosing the right musicians, recording space and instruments. They also have to connect to the story and the characters.

You graduated from the conservatory in saxophone, but it’s not your dominant
instrument. Don’t you think that there is too little jazz in film soundtracks?

Jazz is actually slowly coming back. I’ve had few jazz scores in the past, but it’s absolutely true that it is not dominant. The saxophone is very close to the human voice and the instrument itself can be very obtrusive, so you have to be careful that it’s not competing with the dialogue. After hearing Daniel Pemberton’s music for Motherless Brooklyn, in which he used a lot of reverb, making the saxophone a lot less obtrusive, I was very inspired to pick up my saxophone again. I used the same approach in my music for the TV series Turbulent Skies (2020). The microphone in my studio was miles away from my saxophone, which gave it an indirect and soft sound, not competing, but supporting the dialogue.

I’ve read that one of your ambitions is to compose for international projects, that may be an artistic challenge for you. Do you have any expectations from IFFR’s initiative?

I don’t know yet what to expect, every new step always brings unexpected surprises or sometimes nothing. [laughs] It would be great to make a connection with a potential director and a producer to find new inspiring and challenging stories.

Is there anything you’d like to try in the future?
I’m not very familiar with VR, so it would be fun and challenging to explore this territory. I’ve seen Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s VR installation Carne y Arena and I was immensely moved by the totality of experience. It’s simply groundbreaking. If I were to work on something like that I’m sure it would bring a new perspective to my musical horizon as a composer.

Łukasz Mańkowski
Written for the Young Film Critics 2021