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Get to know composer Petra Salsjo
Posted on 20 Mar 2013
Recently signed composer Petra Salsjo, composed, orchestrated and mixed the original music for the short film 'The Telegram Man'. On the day her new EP 'The Telegraph Man' is released, we thought it was time to learn more about this superb Australian talent.
Introducing Petra Salsjo
1) You played the majority of instruments for the score? Can you list them? Did you struggle with any of the instruments?
Yes I played most instruments for ‘The Telegram Man’ and for most of the scores I have written for , I play and record myself. I use voice and piano as my main instruments but can dabble in other things too. Sometimes I don’t play them that well, but because of that, I can get different sounds from them that I have found inspire me to go to a different place musically.
2) Where did you record your music? Can you describe your studio?
I recorded everything in my workroom at home. I had a smaller room, originally as my music room but when the projects became more demanding I unceremoniously swapped with the lounge room and temporarily took over the biggest room in the house! It was worth it. I managed to pull half decent sounds. I have a fairly rudimentary set up - but I know how it works and i am building it slowly. I do not consider myself a whiz in the studio, no way, but I trust my ears and instinct, so that's how I know...
3) If you had your time again, would you make any changes?
I did everything to the best of my ability and with the most considered approach possible. The budget was small, so I had to be creative with that. If I had more of a budget I would have hired a full string section - that would have been unreal!
4) Do any of the compositions reflect the characters in the film?
I wrote a theme for every main character from the script before it was shot. It was wonderful on set because each actor had their own piece to listen to as well as the themes of others
5) Did you visit the set? Can you describe what you saw and did it change or influence your composition/music?
I spent 2 days on set. It was really amazing for me to watch the incredible way the actors worked and how contemplative and smart Jack Thompson was. I wanted to immortalize him!!! Which I tried to do at the moment he is heading up the road to talk to John. I think by the time I got to the set I felt quite confident with where the music was heading and my thoughts were confirmed by being there. If anything I felt encouraged to not be afraid of my melodies because of the raw emotion in the movie.
6) Do you ever read the scripts or books which movies are based on before you write the score? Is this an important process?
I always read the script and try to imagine what I am going to see before I watch the film. Sometimes I find my reaction to this brings about the best bits of music. It's like an internal dialogue is ignited and the psychology of the words inspires in a different way to seeing the visuals.
7) Talk us through the writing process? Did it happen in a few sittings or over a long drawn out period?
I wrote the main theme in bed in my head in the middle of the night. I got out of bed and worked till 3.30 am till I had it. ‘Bills theme’. After that, I wrote for a few weeks before the shoot. I then completed it over a 4-6 week period. I worked with excellent musicians and I did a lot of the playing as well as recording and mixing.
8) What were your inspirations for the music pieces? Were you influenced by other pieces of music, the landscape etc
I was inspired by the great spaghetti westerns - Ennio Morricone -
9) What have you been listening to lately?
I have been listening to ‘Life of Pi’ soundtrack
11) Did you have writer’s block, how did you overcome it?
I haven’t had writer's block I don’t think. However, recently I did find it hard to get working again under pressure after having a year off. I felt that I was coming back to music and I had changed when my ‘sound’ hadn’t - it was very strange and I am still trying to understand it. I explained this to a very close and trusted musician friend who recommended i do this thing called the morning pages. Where you wake up and write stream of consciousness thoughts for three pages every morning without judgement or reading back what you have written. This helped me immensely. I was able to work with this in my music making. I also try different musical techniques if I am ‘stuck’. Like adding different colours to the canvas - I do that with harmony, rhythm, melody, instrumentation, and dancing.
12) What are you working on now?
I have just concluded work on a pilot for a TV series - ‘The Eldest of None’