Interview with Paul Haslinger
8Dio Artist Spotlight. Answers by Paul Haslinger / Questions by Troels Folmann. January 2014.
You may remember a band called Tangerine Dream or the Underworld movie series – you may have watched Cheaters on HBO or played video games like Far Cry Instincts or Rainbow Six. Chances are you have come across Paul Haslinger’s innovative music universe in more then one way. In this interview we explore Paul’s extraordinary background and versatile career, including his approach to composition, mastering, samples and general career advice.
1. Tell us a little bit about your musical background- and influences?
My background is a little bit of everything: I grew up in Austria surrounded by traditional/classical music my parents would play. At the same time my sisters (8 and 10 years older) would introduce me to Ike and Tina Turner and the Stones. They were babysitting me quite often, and on one of these occasions they took my to a band rehearsal of some of their friends. I guess I caught the bug right then & there…
2. You studied classical music in Vienna. What inspired you to switch into electronic music?
I would not describe it as a switch. It was more an expansion… From the start, to me all music is in nature symphonic: like architecture… you can build in different ways. And the concept, to come up with new ways to build a structure or combine elements, is one of the really interesting parts.
It also applies across styles, to me… and it doesn’t depend on size. You can do amazing things with 2 instruments/colors, just as you can with 200. And first the studio, and then music software, seemed like logical extensions of that general idea.
3. How did you end up joining Tangerine Dream?
They were looking for a fast replacement for a UK tour they were starting. Since they had a studio near Vienna, they were auditioning people down there. I guess I was the lucky one who got the gig, and then after the tour was asked to stay on as a member of the band.
4. You obviously did a lot of live touring with Tangerine. Did any of those experiences help you later on as a composer?
Definitely. Not just as a composer… It’s the best form of general education: to see the world. To meet people. That being said: being in an established band like that, was also in many ways like wearing shades: you see everything through a filter.
After I moved to LA the filter came off, and I discovered a LOT of new music and new influences I was not aware of before.
5. How did you make the switch from Tangerine to the world of movies/soundtracks? How did it all begin?
Everything is gradual, at least in my life. I did not come to LA to write film music. Originally it was a recording contract (remember those?) with Private Music for an album project with Peter Baumann that ‘financed’ my move to LA. Over the 90’s, I explored a lot of new music and started releasing a handful of solo albums. On the side, I would help out friends like Chris Franke with some programming and writing, but nothing serious. Sometime in 96-97, a friend of mine introduced me to Graeme Revell. We hit it off and I worked with Graeme on a series of films, including The Negotiator, The Siege, Chinese Box, Tomb Raider, to name a few. This was the time I really started considering film scoring more seriously. I just saw how much fun you can have, and what a great opportunity for music experimentation film scores are. In other words: you get away with a lot more, when it’s part of a movie…
6. How does your versatile background (from classical to electronica) impact the sound of your music today?
I get bored easily. So coming up with new and unusual combinations is the fun part. It’s one of the main reasons I’m still doing what I’m doing.
7. You are obviously known for all your work on the Underworld movies. How did you get involved with these projects?
It started with a coincidence: I ran into a producer friend of mine at a party who told me they were looking for a composer with a EU passport for an upcoming movie and whether I could write a demo for it. Since it was an up and coming director (Len Wiseman) and a cool sounding project, I put a demo together for it and apparently Len responded to it and picked me for the film. It’s been wonderful working on these films over the years… they have their own look and their own sound.
8. How do you approach a movie like Underworld: Awakening from a compositional point of view?
You have to start with the sensibilities of the creator, in this case Len Wiseman. We had a lot of talks about music, and it was apparent to me that he loves bands like Tools, Perfect Circle etc, but he also loves epic, big film music. The trick to any stylized approach is to know exactly what NOT to do. Len knows that on the visual side, and I had to figure it out on the musical side (Len hates any cliche action score elements and in general, theme-based traditional film music…) After a few runs, I think I figured it out for the most part…
9. You have also done a variety of soundtracks for video games? Do you approach these different then soundtracks? How do you deal with interactivity?
Obviously, every format has specific requirements and offers different opportunities. Games are fascinating from the aspect of 3D storytelling, and they are a maze of music content. Personally, I love systems and system design, so this is always guilty pleasure. The interactivity depends on the audio implementation: I’ve seen everything from 2-layer 20 minute compositions, to 30 second partials. Generally, the crowd (executives, producers) is younger, so the music references will be more current – less traditional requests. That being said, they also quite often hire me and other film composers because they want ‘that big cinematic sound’…
10. Most artists face writers block in their careers. Have you had one and how did you overcome it?
I don’t know writer’s block per se… what does happen over time, is you become more critical, both of the works of others and your own. Which then makes it very hard to appreciate anything you write… this can become an obstacle, but it’s also the reason we keep working.
11. You are known for your unique and experimental approach to sound. Dare to share a trick or two with us mortals?
Nothing much to it. I just go in and play… like I said before: architecture is great fun for me. It’s all symphonic… but I get as excited about a drum treatment, as I do about a string arrangement, as I do about synth programming. In a way, I rehearse a lot… but ‘I rehearse sound’, rather than an instrument. Or maybe this is just another instrument?
12. You always have a very clear and present sound. How do you approach mixing and mastering?
‘Change it if you don’t like it’… I just happen to not like it a lot of times 😉 And I consider it a blessing and a curse to be able to build studio configurations in the computer… everything I learn and discover in mixing and sound production, gets used in the constant, ongoing re-design of my template. To me, the mix starts with the writing.
13. Let’s talk samples for a bit. How have the world of samples impacted your compositional process?
I don’t distinguish between samples and recordings… it’s part of what recording technology offers as creative opportunities: it gives the process of discovery an additional dimension, in that you can try out ideas and let their realization feed back into your process. It’s a form of creative dialogue, and sample libraries enable that dialogue to be expanded.
14. How do you integrate 8Dio samples into your work?
I customize every library, including 8dio titles. After I’ve done my round of tweaks, I will write shortcuts and Kontakt quickloads, to access particular patches. It is definitely a challenge to keep in mind all the options you have with a big library like the Adagio strings. But like with everything else, there usually are a core group of patches that will emerge as my ‘go to’ choices, and it starts building from there, and expanding per project, subject to specific requirements. On a gut level, I just like the sound of the Adagios… as well as many other 8dio titles. They simply appeal to my sense of sound and composition.
15. How/when do you decide when to use live instruments vs samples?
well, as mentioned above: it’s a blurred line for me. That being said, I love working with musicians and after 20 years of programming, I know EXACTLY how it can take you one week to program something, which a good musician/ensemble can play in a couple of minutes. So, for certain parts, both solo and ensemble, there simply is no better way than to record live. Now, I have also had situations that were the opposite: parts that are better realized with samples+computer. It should ALL be part of the vocabulary, without any accusations towards either side.
16. What is next for Paul Haslinger?
Just starting a new TV show for AMC, called Halt and Catch Fire. It’s about the beginnings of the PC industry, set in the early 80’s. Very exciting project and complete license to go all out electronic. Later this year I will be scoring No Good Deed for Sony. Psychological Thriller starring Idres Elba, directed by Sam Miller. Very exciting project as well, hoping to work with lots of eclectic orchestral choices on this. Last not least, there is an album project in the works. Tentatively titled ‘Lost Signal’ I am working with Eidur Snorri on a music+visual concept. Hoping to get it ready for release before the end of the year.
17. One of the things that I (Troels) love about your music is your unique voice. You have a sound that no one else has. How important is it to develop a sound/voice as a young composer?
Thank you for the kind words. I think this is always a result of your dispositions and your obsessions. It’s beautiful to work on sound in music, because it never ends. Just when you think you figured it out, something else will pop up and you start over. There is some Greek tragedy in there somewhere, but it is also the reason we keep doing what we’re doing. I’ve been a student of sound and music history all my life. I talk about it the way other people talk about sports, or their cars or whatever. It simply is the one thing that’s endlessly fascinating to me. That’s why I put in the time, and I guess that’s what helps me to get ‘a sound’.
18. Any words of wisdom for the aspiring composer?
Do what you love doing. Have fun. And always remember that success depends on two factors: coincidence and persistence.
Paul Haslinger uses the following 8Dio products:
Adagio Violins, Adagio Violas, Adagio Cellos, Adagio Basses, Dupstep Vol. 1, Ambient Guitar, Basstard, Bazantar, Rhythmic Aura, Hybrid Tools Series, Requiem Professional, Epic Percussion Series