Paul Haslinger on Scoring with Spectrasonics
by Mark Hiskey
Paul Haslinger has had a prolific career as a film composer, game composer, sound designer and recording artist. Well known as a key member of the pioneering electronic band Tangerine Dream, he went on to showcase his gifts for sound design on a number of feature films including Blow, The Negotiator, The Seige and many others. He received his first composer credit on the 2000 movie Cheaters, and has since scored a number of hits such as Blue Crush, Into the Blue, Crank, Shoot Em Up, the Underworld trilogy, and Takers, to name a few. Paul is also a well-known contributor to the gaming industry (Rainbow Six—Vegas) and television (Showtime’s Sleeper Cell). His latest project is the new feature film release The Three Musketeers, directed by Paul W. S. Anderson.
A long-time fan of Spectrasonics, Paul took a few minutes to sit down with ILIO to reveal some insights into working with Spectrasonics instruments and how they’ve become a major part of his workflow.
ILIO: You recently finished work on the new Three Musketeers movie. How did that go?
Paul Haslinger: It was a beautiful experience. We recorded and mixed in Berlin, which marks the first time since my days with Tangerine Dream I’ve been back there working on music. I lived in Berlin in the 80’s before the fall of the wall. So I can appreciate the enormous change the city has gone through since German reunification.
ILIO: Change for the better, I presume?
Haslinger: It (reunification) allowed Berlin to resume its place as one of the cultural capitols of Europe, while at the same time developing into a hub for everything that's new and exciting, including electronic music, architecture and digital media. The city also has a fantastic music and theater tradition, with a total of eight professional orchestras within its borders. It's a truly unique balance of old and new, unlike any other city I know.
ILIO: How much interfacing with the director did you do while bringing the Three Musketeers score to life?
Haslinger: I’ve worked with Paul W. S. Anderson before, on Death Race in 2008. He told me about the Musketeers project early on, so I was playing with musical ideas for this pretty much from the script stage on. Later in the process, I had a chance to visit one of the sets in Germany, and Paul would keep feeding me art-design and storyboards. So it was a gradual process from conception to eventual sketching of some rough music ideas to the full music production, which started early 2011.
ILIO: It’s great that you could begin work so early during production. Did you use any of the Spectrasonics stuff?
Haslinger: Of course! Always (smiles). Omnisphere, Stylus RMX, Trilian; they are part of my start-up template in Cubase.
ILIO: How are you using Spectrasonics instruments, currently?
Haslinger: Stylus RMX has been a staple of my writing workflow for quite some time, and continues to allow me to manipulate loops in a way that nothing else can. I use Trilian for a lot of custom bass and granular sounds. I use Omnisphere to create custom ambiances and atmospheres, but also just to cover synth needs and to quick-adapt sounds to fit a given purpose. It’s fast to use, but you can go pretty deep if you want to.
ILIO: What sorts of unique or unusual things are you doing with these instruments?
Haslinger: With Stylus RMX, I’ve been building rhythmic libraries from custom REX files, then adapting them to cues with TimeMachine; triplet versus straight, et cetera. With Omnisphere—I have yet to find a thing that I can’t do with it! With Trilian I found a lot of the bass sounds work quite well in high ranges and with processing, in particular granular on the Chapman Stick.
ILIO: You're well known as an electronic music pioneer. Given that perspective, is there anything about Omnisphere you find particularly special?
Haslinger: It’s the range of access. You can use it to get and customize any kind of traditional synth sound, and you can just as well take it into current areas of more radical design, like granular, bit crushing, and so on. Aside from that, I think the built-in FX section is extraordinarily well designed, to the point where I’m trying to convince Eric Persing to make it available as a stand-alone audio processing plug-in!
ILIO: You often use a mixture of electronic and live elements in your scores. How does that work? Does one guide the other, or is it a parallel process?
Haslinger: There is no formula—the process has become very fluid, where development and production of music happens in many stages and on different levels. Live recording is just one of them. The most important aspect for me is to retain creative control down to the final mix. With hundreds of tracks going inside a Pro Tools session, that can be a challenge at times (smiles).
ILIO: Do you think differently about composing for live musicians vs. electronic instruments?
Haslinger: Not really. It’s all part of the same process—it always starts with an idea that will have to be evaluated as to how effective it is in context, against picture. Once I am sure of the effectiveness, I then play with arrangement options, that is, which type of arrangement or performance will work best for this particular purpose.
ILIO: How will you be using Spectrasonics instruments on future projects?
Haslinger: They are just extremely well built instruments, and just like a favorite guitar or hardware synth, you keep coming back because of the way they sound and because they’re inspiring to play. And with the development of new features, they will allow bringing more and more production methods into the real-time performance aspect.
ILIO: What's next for you, Paul?
Haslinger: I’m currently writing the score for the fourth installment of the Underworld series, Underworld: Awakening.
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