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An evening at the phone with Jan A.P. Kaczmarek

Versión en español

Jan A.P. KaczmarekJan A.P. Kaczmarek is labouring a brilliant reputation for himself as a film composer. Many thought he was confined to write only unconventional music for independent films, but the beauty of his scores captured the attention of very well-known Hollywood producers and directors. In fact, he lives and works in Los Angeles, where his latest score for Finding Neverland has been praised enormously. Nevertheless, Kaczmarek still thinks and feels as a Polish musician. He has just started an alternative music academy in his country in order to encourage young musicians to open new sound paths... "Music doesn’t come from the composer’s head; it floats out there, somewhere, waiting to be captured by any creative mind... It is a mysterious process".

Seville on a warm early fall night.
The telephone is ringing...

Jan A.P. Kaczmarek (JK): Hello, this is Jan Kaczmarek.

BSOSpirit (BS): Good evening, Jan. This is Sergio, from BSOSpirit. How are you doing?
JK: I’m OK, thanks. What about you?

BS: Jan A.P. KaczmarekI’m doing fine, and very glad to have you at the phone... This is a long distance call, so let’s go started. You came to play your music a very long way out of home...
JK: At the time I did so I was still very young and fond of adventures. It was about 20 years ago, Poland was still a socialist country, where chances to start a diplomatic career –which was what I first planned to do- were as hard as writing innovative music. I didn’t have any idea at all about my future, but I was very lucky to meet theatre director Jerzy Grotowski. He was teaching drama as well as freedom of expression.
Theatrical movements in the late 70s considered music to be very important, and I thought that my most acceptable talent in order to exercise freedom of expression was music playing and writing. I started to write music for an underground company, the Ósmego Dnia Theatre, and then formed a mini-orchestra called The Orchestra of the Eighth Day (TOED).

BS: Why did you settle in the United States?
JK: It wasn’t just at once. The first time I visited America was in 1982, on tour with TOED. I was undertaken then by the martial law declared by the government in Poland, and at the same time I was about to record my debiut album: Music For The End...

BS: What a weird apocalypse...
JK: That’s right! Many thoughts and strange feelings were floating in my mind at that time. I attempted to go on touring through Europe with TOED, but that "gipsy life" came to an end in 1989, when I decided to move back on my steps and settle in the USA.

BS: So this was the end for your mini-orchestra days... What kind of music were you playing, by the way?
JK: As I told you, it was the smallest orchestra in the world, with only two musicians. I was playing a sort of string instrument called Fischer’s fidola, which has to be performed with two archs... Our music could be filed between jazz and I don’t know what.

BS: And how did you come to write music for the movies?
JK: It all began with some requested scores for Chicago´s Goodman Theatre and Los Angeles Mark Taper Forum. I was then awarded with the Obie and Drama Desk Award (1992) for my music to Tis' Pity She’s a Whore, directed by JoAnne Akalaitis for the New York Shakespeare Festival / Public Theatre.
All I had to do was to use a few phone numbers given to me by friends in Europe, and I soon came to be known as an avant-garde composer in a particular time in which film makers were loking for very new esthetic approaches...
The USA is still a land of opportunities, and I remember that I suddenly became very optimistic about my future as a composer. I called my parents to say I was given a grant from the Federal Government to write music for films...

BS: Agnieszka HollandThen you met Agnieszka Holland...
JK: I loved her working style. She was a European director working in the United States, what means she was always opening doors to creative freedom. She was also a person with very clear ideas of what she wanted to do, so this helped me a lot...

BS: But strong creative characters are sometimes difficult to deal with.
JK: To me, the worst scenario comes when you deal with a director who doesn’t know what he or she wants. This is confusing and it always leads to unpleasant ends.

BS: Total EclipseTotal Eclipse was a strange lyrical oasis in a very electronic and song-bursting soundrack environment.
JK: Agnieszka wasn’t worried at all about being commercial. She wasn’t looking for easy sounds or conventional scores. She had in mind a fatal love story between two intense poets, two men… We met in San Francisco a year before the film was made, and I felt it was a pleasure to write very intimate music for a project such as hers. The leit motiv was, in this case, fatality.
I was given a script so I could work with only a very few delicate pieces to be developed by a quartet with some orchestra and choir filling to enlarge the landscape portions of the story.

BS: Some directors feel reluctant to bring a script to the composer. Do you thing that music for films should be always written in a script-based fashion?
JK: If music needs to connect with the film, it is indispensable. The script is always the connection.

BS: You worked again with Agnieszka Holland in Washington Square.
JK: Again, a beautiful drama about an impossible love.

BS: Washington SquareImpossible love is somehow the topic of most of your film soundtracks, and your music develops in some unique sad ways, with piano and strings progressing in a clumsy atmosphere…
JK: You’re absolutely right, but I feel this very inspiring… Going back to Washington Square, we met there two worlds entering a conflict; it’s a classic conflict, for which I developed a very classical score.
Many musicians, here in the States, have grown within an easy listening environment. But I grew up and was educated in an almost totally classical music surrounding. My culture and my emotions are then rendered to classical music. I developed a contemporary sensibility from a romantic tradition, like many other Polish musicians. In some way, our work is also intellectual.

BS: Is there a place for intellectual film music writing in Hollywood?
JK: Want an anecdote?

BS: Please.
JK: The first time I listened to the score that Philip Glass wrote for The Hours, I felt like listening to my own music. It had been written and developed the way I do… I was very amazed.

BS: How do you write and develop music?
JK: There are no mathematics, no scientific formula. I simply attach myself to the creative process. I go and hunt a music that floats invisible in many places. It doen’t get out of my mind, it just penetrates into my irrational self.

BS: BlissBliss may be a good example of what you talk about.
JK: Certainly. It was a very erotic film, very intense and very risky. It was difficult to score music for a film like this. I needed an emotional engagement. I just couldn’t compose a conventional soundtrack… Notions such as vagina or orgasm demand a very emotional music, emotional chords. Beauty has a lot to do with erotism, and music can also reflect so… Well, that is how I felt, and I must proudly admit that I liked the result. I think I intellectualized erotic music.

BS: Aimée & JaguarDidn’t you travel back to Europe, at least emotionally, when you scored Aimée and Jaguar?
JK: This film came to me like a happy accident: One day the film's director, Max Faberböck, got a CD with my music from one of his friends at a time when he was looking for a composer…

BS: What music was it?
JK: Bliss. Max immediately fell in love with it, and he even came to Los Angeles to meet me. We immediately understood there was a connection between his film idea and my music. Have you seen the picture?

BS: No, but I know the music. It may be different from other works, in a sense that contains many songs.
JK: I guess the director was searching for authentic material from that period. So the film would sound more real. But, at the same time, he wanted a score which could create a strong emotional drive behind it.

BS: In many soundtrack records, the score is obviated by the presence of songs that are not contained in films…
JK: In some cases, two records are edited: one with the songs, another with the score; perhaps it is somehow better this way. In Aimée and Jaguar, I was the CD’s producer, so I was kindly asked to include some songs (not enough for a separated record) in the soundtrack. It was OK.
Nevertheless, film music is the one originally written for a particularly picture. I strongly believe that’s how it should be interpreted.

BS: Film composers are not always happy with the pressure put on them by film makers. Some even quit… But you seem to avoid conflict.
JK: Don’t be so sure. I often fight for certain solutions to my confronted ideas, and if I have won many times it is not because I’m good on doing this, but because I’ve been lucky to work with people with very open mind. Artists should be flexible with the forms, but not with their principles. Whenever I deliver serious support for my ideas, that means I’m being accepted, and that is a great thing… Nothing brings you more satisfaction in Holly-wood that taking part in a battle and making film makers accept in the end that you are right. That is really a tremendous satisfaction.

BS: The Third MiracleIn Lost Souls and The Third Miracle, your intellectual side must have been put to challenge by religious perspective.
JK: You cannot write emotional music unless you are emotionally linked to the film. Identification is needed. In fact, the magic process by which I develop a score it is not a rational one, is very mysterious; just like religion itself.
Religious faith has raised a lot of music sounds. But, just like in Bliss, I wanted to explore a new music to identify with belief. I explored the songs of Slovakian gypsies and felt they were very obiquous in the kind of emotion I was pretending to express… It was like a jam session of ancient folklore and contemporary music, what I really had in mind.
In America they put too much sugar in everything, also in music. So I wanted to deepen in the original taste of religious beliefs. I remembered I developed this music the way you develop a chess game. To me, every change in life and in work is refreshing.

BS: Lost SoulsThis Slovakian gipsy folklore also marked a connection between Lost Souls and Quo Vadis (TV series). Both scores seem more musically complicated than the rest.
JK: Both pictures attempt to take over a large part of ownthe viewer's imagination. Lost Souls differs from Quo Vadis in the sense that is totally fantastic (the devil tries to conquer the souls, and there is a call for an exorcism). Quo Vadis pretends to place your imagination 2,000 years before, when Christian religious beliefs were prosecuted.
But both works resemble in a more materialistic view. Both were big resorce spending productions. Due to the big budget of Lost Souls I decided to experimentally use prominent musicians from The London Symphony Orchestra, together with the Sinfonia Varsovia, which played wonderfully. The choirs were taken from Poland, but also from England and Ukraine. The whole was recorded in the legendary Abbey Road as well as in few other famous studios where one could still perceive the scents of the grand scores recorded there in the past…

BS: In both films you could work as well with Polish film directors.
JK: Janusz Kaminski, the director of Lost Souls, helped me to reduce the stress and fear I had of my work being finally rejected after many efforts… We both know that it happens all often in a place called Hollywood.

BS: That's right.
JK: Quo VadisThe fact that the director belongs to the same culture can be very important. In this case the pleasure was twofold since Janusz turned out to be a wonderful guy with a great sense of humor.
However, in Quo Vadis I dealed with a very young director who had strange ideas about the place of music in the movies… In fact, he wanted the score to be recorded in mono so not to interfere with film action.

BS: But the soundtrack is a very powerfull one...
JK: It is, indeed. I am proud of the music I wrote fot this series, but I cannot say the same about how it was finally used. I remember the premiere of that big production in the Vatican. I was sitting close to Pope John Paul II, bearing strange feelings about it all.

BS: Even Miklos Rosza would have felt very embarrassed.
JK: I was disappointed. That is all. Fragments were put in very different sections, so I could not recognize sometimes my own score.

BS: Unfaithful
JK: Yes, it was a bit like that.

BS: I mean the score written for Unfaithful. How was it?
UnfaithfulJK: Sorry (laughs). This was a great opportunity for me to work on that scope to the picture that the picture doesn’t have…

BS: I have seen the film, and I think your music tells the story better that the picture itself.
JK: Well, it was a very risky idea. It is true that marriage in America is not a strong thing, so people can divorce a la carte, but Hollywood is very conservative.

BS: Your music was nominated for an Academy award, so was Diane Lane with her magnificent performance.
JK: Yes, but the film was somehow condemned… Americans are very liberal with marriage, even with sex, but not with betraying someone you supposedly love. That was the controversy in that film. Both husband and wife loved each other, they are living a happy life and "betrayal" comes in a very metaphoric way, like the gust of wind that was evoked in one of my favourite film scenes. Another revolutionary aspect of Unfaithful is that the interpretative weight is for the woman "betraying" the man (it is usually the husband who is unfaithful in such dramas). The piano leads a sad music for an intimate drama… I wanted music to be like a wind that can shut a door just by blowing, accidentally hurting somebody, mysteriously overpowered and, at the same time, calm. Like a destiny.

BS: Nevertheless, your most celebrated score, according to critics, does not seem to be Unfaithful, but Bliss.
JK: Kaminski and Faerberboeck mentioned music to this film as the main reason for hiring me. Perhaps, Bliss has been my key to know very interesting people. But Agnieszka Holland's scores also meant a lot to me. In fact, my web homepage is receiving many good impressions about my work in Aimée and Jaguar and, curiously, about a song contained in the Washington Square soundtrack: "Tu Chiami Una Vita".

BS: How did you find Neverland?
JK: Finding NeverlandIn Finding Neverland, my leit motiv has been innocence. Innocence is a clue to this film, and my music is delivered in a very different way than in any other film. It was like and introspection in the world of children and innocence. To me, James Barrie was emotionally like a child, and that was his secret to finally find Neverland.
This was my first "innocent" soundtrack, so I wanted innocence to be the very soul of the score.

BS: How close is Poland, now, from Neverland?
JK: Poland is far, but quite closer than Neverland. Lately I have been involved in some projects that have brought my mother country again to work.
Once I got a letter from a music student in Poznan (Poland), who was working on her master degree thesis about film music. She said that during her lecture the students were listening to a second-rate copy of Total Eclipse because there was no way of obtaining the original CD… I felt embarrassed. But Poland is still an old country in some aspects. This is why I decided, like actor Robert Redford, to promote a sort of Sundance Institute for music development.

BS: The Instytut Rozbitek...
JK: It was founded as a center for development of new work in three areas of the arts: film, theatre and music. Located in western Poland, Rozbitek will be open to participants from around the globe. It will also support artists of independent vision, and, at the same time, will introduce methods of American filmmaking and successful marketing, particularly important to survival of central European artistic communities. Developing new talent will be the primary purpose, but the Instytut also plans to follow up with the production and exhibition of new works.
Jan A.P. KaczmarekSet on the outskirts of Poznan, almost straddling the fading Polish-German border, Instytut Rozbitek is nestled on 85 acres of idyllic landscape surrounded by forests and lakes. Participants will live and work in a 19th century castle and surrounding buildings, which are currently under renovation. All of this will serve as a rich backdrop for the Instytut’s focus on future creative goals. Its activities will include programs modeled after the Sundance labs, also opera and musical development, which will all culminate in an annual festival. Outstanding and accomplished professionals in the various artistic fields will lead these programs.

BS: Then, many happy returns, Jan, and we will look forward seeing you some time in our film music yearly meeting in Seville.
JK: I would love to visit Spain again. I was there in the 80s, and I will be happy to bring my music with me. My congratulations for your BSOSpirit web page work.

BS: Bye.
JK: Bye.

Interview by Sergio Benítez
Transcription by Jordi Montaner

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