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“Berklee allowed me to become the musician I always wanted to be.”
Originally hailing from Lisbon, Portugal, João Bruno Soeiro M.M. ‘14 has developed his career between his home city, working as a composer for film and television, and Moscow, Russia, where he works as an audio engineer at CineLab SoundMix, Russia’s leading audio post-production house. After graduating from Berklee’s campus in Valencia, Spain, with a Master of Music in Scoring for Film, Television, and Video Games, Soeiro wrote the music for a show that aired on Portuguese’s main national channel, RTP 1, while setting up Russia’s first full-cycle Music Department for Film and Television at CineLab. Earlier this year, Soeiro was also contacted by filmmaker Leonel Vieira, who commissioned him to work on the original score of his feature film Alguém Como Eu. A co-production between Portugal and Brazil, it will premiere in Portugal in October 2017.
What can you tell us about the full-cycle Music Department at CineLab in Moscow, and how did Berklee prepare you for it?
The full-cycle Music Department at CineLab is something I'm beginning to dive into right now. We opened our scoring stage about half a year ago, and we'll offer music editing, composition, arranging, orchestrating, contracting, recording, mixing, mastering, and delivery services; most of these are already available, so I'm now focusing on the ones that are not, like music editing, music contracting, and remote recordings. I didn’t know how to do any of those things before Berklee, but once there, we frequently approached music editing in class. Music contracting was part of music business seminars, extra classes, and lectures with guest professors that I attended, and [it was] even discussed in our visit to Air Edel in London, where we met top music professionals. The remote recording sessions were one of the most prominent areas during the whole program, which included two remote recording sessions with an orchestra in Budapest, Hungary, from the campus, so it became a natural concept for me.
Nowadays [remote recording sessions are] a very common practice in the industry, and one of the things I'd really like to achieve in Moscow is to put the city on the map of top places for remote music recordings. Some of the best musicians in the world are there, and we now have state-of-the-art conditions to achieve it, too. I think the international film industry will benefit hugely from such a place, and I'd be immensely proud if I could be one of the people responsible for making it happen.
Watch Alguém Como Eu's film trailer, with music composed by alumnus João Soeiro:
Can you tell us about the process of writing and composing the music for the film Alguém Como Eu by Leonel Vieira?
The process was done remotely since I wasn't in Portugal. The director pretty much guided me through to where he wanted to go with the music, and there was a big team involved, so I always had a support structure during the process. This is a classic blockbuster romantic comedy that already had a significant amount of previously released music in it, so the idea was for the original score to blend in by seamlessly contributing to the emotional narrative of the main characters and providing that extra spark in certain situations, both comic and dramatic. I started out by watching the cut they sent me and taking notes. Then I Skyped with the post-production supervisor for an initial discussion and, later on, with the sound editor for a more concrete understanding of what was needed from a sonic point of view. After, I developed a few specific themes for certain characters or moments, and some instrumentation/arrangement sketches until I had nice blocks to work with that could be structured to the pace of the scenes. Bit by bit, things started to take shape, and I had several cues ready to send to the team for discussion. Fortunately, they liked everything from the beginning, so from that moment on, it was really just a back and forth with them to make sure everything made sense to everyone.
The other cool thing about working on this project was the fact that I had the chance to make a lot of different music for it since the film has a lot of dramatic variety: some cues were more classically "cinematic," with an orchestral flavor, while others were very funky, others 100 percent ambient synths, and others simply for solo instruments. The film will later on be shown on the Portuguese RTP 1, so they also wanted me to write something for the opening titles, which were set on a Brazilian beach. Inspired by that, I ended up writing an instrumental Brazilian reggae song. A few months later, they asked me to write the music for the trailer, and that’s a piece of work I'm particularly proud of because the main musical chunk was a pure improvisational moment that I just recorded out of nowhere, for piano, guitar, and double bass, inspired by the film and some of its characters. I thought it turned out funny, dynamic, and strictly to the point of the film, so I kind of felt like a basketball player who swishes a game-winning shot at the buzzer.
What is the expected release date for the television show you’re working on now, and how is the experience going?
I can’t disclose too much about it yet, but the show is expected to be released in the summer this year, although the actual date is yet to be determined. So far, the experience has been quite unique since I've been writing music for the script, which is honestly something I love because I can imagine I'm writing the music from a libretto to an opera. I’m working on highly abstract music with lots of guitars, synths, and dozens of effects coming together to create very particular atmospheres. At the same time, the main characters will have their own theme, which will undergo variations through the season as the events unfold. Because the characters are really multidimensional, I can wander around musically in terms of the mood and the dramaturgic effect the music has on what’s happening on the show. I'm very excited about it and about the fact that I'm working with people who are really passionate about the project and want to make something great with it.
How do you manage to develop an international career between Portugal and Russia?
That's the beauty of technology. These days, you can have meetings, spotting sessions and even recording sessions remotely with any given producer, director, or sound engineer in the world. It's crazy, but it's the reality we live in, so I feel very privileged to be in a position where I can seize that chance. If you're working on different projects for different countries at the same time, the only thing you really need to be able to manage well is your schedule.
There's the occasional weather change punch in the gut, like when I leave Lisbon at +20º C and Moscow greets me at -20º C, but as they say, that comes with the territory!
What opportunities did you have, being at Berklee’s campus in Valencia, that you may not have had otherwise?
The array of incomparable opportunities I had, like conducting and recording with an amazing orchestra at AIR Studios' legendary Lyndhurst Hall in London or being one of the speakers at the very first TEDxBerkleeValencia, [were] both dreams come true, among many others.
At the same time, being on such a unique campus set in a stunning location with unparalleled facilities is something you don’t get anywhere else.
And of course, the faculty: everybody was so good at what they did, and they taught it so well. Every class was a plethora of information, with new approaches to the topic. It allowed us to grow exponentially as musicians every single time. And because they were all so good at what they did, it was really inspiring; they became like your new heroes. I sometimes left a class thinking "Whoa, I hope one day I’ll be like him/her"; it was just that good.
Lastly, all the visiting professors and guests we had: we were in permanent contact with people who are at the top of their game in their respective fields, which allowed us to not only get a lot of real inside knowledge about the music and film industries, but to understand what the standard of a high-quality job in the professional world is—from perfectionism to work ethics—through the real cases they referenced. By the time we had to leave for the real world, we had gained a lot of confidence thanks to this.
Of all the projects you are doing or have done, which ones would you highlight and what was the experience you had?
I'd highlight two: The first one was the documentary Vizinhos Vicini Buren Nachbarn Neighbours, which was my first feature as a composer. It was a film commissioned for last year's Venice Biennale, and it was a homage to one of the greatest architects of our time, Álvaro Siza Vieira, and particularly to the social architecture projects he developed in four European cities. The film follows him as he goes back to these four cities 30 years after he designed the buildings and meets their residents.
The outcome is surprising. The film also had a great deal of significance, since many of the people living in his houses in Berlin and the Hague are immigrants, which, as you know, is such a central issue in contemporary Europe. I was just fortunate to have been invited by the film director, Cândida Pinto—who's actually a very famous journalist in Portugal, and an amazing example of a strong, independent woman, too—to be part of such a unique project. She didn't really know me, but she took a shot with me, and we ended up doing something we're all very proud of. We also went to Venice together for the premiére, so the whole thing was very memorable.
They wanted most of the score to be heavily electronic, so I was messing a lot with a huge amount of synths and effects processors, both physical and virtual, which was great. I was so inspired by the whole thing that I wrote much more music than was necessary for the film, so now I'm in the process of releasing an album with the full soundtrack, which will hopefully come out in a few months.
The second one was Life, a more recent project. I had a super small role as the ADR engineer and recordist for the remote ADR they needed at the iconic De Lane Lea Studios in London. It felt great to be part of a project of this magnitude, and it was really interesting to see them working at a sonic pace with such a sense of detail and perfectionism. All of a sudden, I felt like I was back at Berklee, which was just the sweetest feeling. It reminded me of where I came from and where I should aim to be one day.
How has your Berklee experience influenced you as a professional?
Berklee allowed me to become the musician I always wanted to be; that's how paramount the Berklee experience was to me as a professional and as a person.
I arrived at the Valencia campus as a classical pianist and a part-time composer, and I left feeling like a fully prepared music producer. I could now play, write, arrange, conduct, record, produce, you name it: no challenge was impossible. That feeling has followed me everywhere I’ve been, so whenever I'm invited to a new project now, I'm always ready for it, regardless of the kind of project it is or the kind of music I’m requested to work on, and that's because of all the tools that Berklee provided me with.
The discipline of paying attention to detail and perfectionism that Berklee cultivates in you has also been extremely important for me. Thanks to that, I feel like I'm usually one step ahead in the production process, which allows me to work in an organised way without too much-added pressure and to always deliver before the deadline.
I also learned that there’s actually no right or wrong in music. Of course, there are rules and techniques that you need to know and master, without a doubt, but at the end of the day, there's you. Your body, your ears, your heart and soul are what should guide you. If you feel it, do it. If it sounds great, record it. If it touches you, then you're doing something right.
What is your fondest memory of your time at the Valencia campus?
The people I met there: everybody was so warm from day one, from the folks in the reception giving you a big smile as you stepped through the door every day to the teachers, faculty, and the amazing staff, who were always there for you. It made you feel like everything was in the right place and that they had your back so you could just focus on growing as much as you could as an artist and a future professional. In fact, you always felt like everybody really believed in you. There was so much positivity and constructive energy on campus it was crazy, although not the kind that will spoil you, but enrich you and give you strength for the future.
That feeling came, very particularly, from my classmates, who are the biggest component of these memories. I feel like there I met some of the most talented creative minds of our generation and, at the same time, some of the nicest and straight-up coolest people ever. They were people I know I could hang out with for the rest of my days and I'd never get bored because of how witty, profound, bright, and just incredibly interesting they were. I miss them a lot, and I regret that I didn't spend more time with them, but I hope that we'll see each other a lot in the future.