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An Interview with Composer Albert Syeles


Please tell us a little bit about yourself and what sparked your interest in music.

My Father was born in Austria-Hungary. He taught me to love the Viennese classics, authentic Hungarian folk songs, and gypsy music.


How did you learn music and when did you become interested in film music?

I was hooked on film music from an early age. Disney’s “Fantasia’ and Bugs Bunny’s “What’s Opera Doc” made a big impression.

I learned to play several instruments; performed in my high school marching and concert bands, and in college jazz and country bands. I started writing pop songs as a teenager, and classical pieces in college.

But I was never a confident performer. Much later, I discovered DAWs, Digital Audio Workstations with integrated recording and notation software, and orchestral sample libraries (synths). I was no longer limited to creating my music by live performance! That led to an explosion of creativity.

Finally, social media for musicians, like AcidPlanet, IndabaMusic, and Kompoz, have provided proving grounds, constructive feedback, friendships, and collaborations.


What role do you think composers play in the visibility of short films? Is a short film a proper field for presenting music?

Most musicians and composers have their own networks and followers. When we get involved in a film project or event, we spread the word to an audience that might not be reached by a film’s producer. Involvement in a short film project can also enhance the composer’s own stature and reach.

Film music can be useful to create atmosphere, emphasize movement, parody dialog, etc. And it can be perceived as a character-in-itself when it’s emotionally powerful.

Short films especially can benefit from music that expands the 4th dimension, time, from within.

Even the shortest 15-second commercial can deliver so much more meaning with music.


Please explain a little about your work Christabel Rhapsody for Violin and Orchestra to our readers.

Christabel falls under the spell of vampire Geraldine, who inevitably sates her own lurid lust.

I first conceived of a musical line, the opening “spell” theme. It is actually a 12-tone string, but it unfolds in a seemingly diatonic sequence, seductive yet mysteriously uneasy. Then what I am calling “Christabel's theme” emerges at the close of the introduction. It is a fully diatonic variation of the opening “spell” theme. I surprised myself and was delighted that it came out so lovely. Then I realized those contrasting moods could portray the two lead characters of Coleridge’s “Christabel” quite nicely. So, I developed the rest of the piece based on those concepts as a tone poem that could be adapted into a film.


The bones of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's 1797 epic poem "Christabel" are ripe for a modern screenplay with female leads: Christabel, who may be impetuous and naive, or rebellious and cunning, and Geraldine, who may be a vampire, or a misunderstood lesbian, or both. There is great potential for both allegory with contemporary themes, and for inter- and intra- character dynamics.


Do you think that the composer getting restricted to one subject or theme causes their limitation or creativity?

On the contrary, restrictions and collaborations can challenge and inspire exploration in areas not previously considered. I once wrote a tone poem, for a contest, that both followed and embellished the meaning of a spoken word poem, it is now one of my favorite pieces. I also enjoy weaving my own meaningful phases, with new instruments and even full orchestras, between and behind many different collaborator’s melodies and lyrics, augmenting their intent without stealing the focus.


How do you evaluate the role of film festivals in the short film score being heard or not heard?

Film festivals are a powerful focused social medium for filmmakers. We all learn from each other. We make connections with people who have different experiences and perspectives, sometimes we develop new collaborative partnerships. All of that leads to more creativity.


Please tell us about your artistic inspirations and the composers who have had the greatest influence on your work.

For pure music, “the three B’s”: Brahms, Beethoven, and the Beatles

For film music: Bernard Hermann (Vertigo, North by Northwest, Psycho), Max Steiner (A Star is Born, Casablanca, GWTW), Maurice Jarre (Laurence of Arabia, Dr. Zhivago, The Longest Day, Ghost), John Barry (Somewhere in Time, Dances with Wolves, Out of Africa)


What connection do you think today's audiences make with classical music?

Pure “classical” music has a strong niche audience. Most of them prefer “the Warhorses” like Beethoven’s 5th, The Nutcracker, Rhapsody in Blue, Appalachian Spring, etc. It should however be apparent that much of today’s film music is actually classical music, in traditional, ethnic, and atonal styles. “The 10 greatest composers of the 21st century” all have film credits.

Often, music can “brand” a film, just as much as a striking image of an actor can, or the name of a familiar Director. Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” is obviously James Bond pop music. But most instrumental film music can be considered classical: When you hear Max Steiner’s “Tara's Theme” you know it’s about “Gone with the Wind”. John William’s themes instantly evoke, Star Wars, ET, Jaws, etc. Listen for Maurice Jarre’s “Laura’s Theme” leitmotif in Dr. Zhivago and you’ll understand that it’s not pop music, even though it was later made into a pop song.


If possible, tell us about your next project.

Musically: “Quietude Jazz Rondo for Orchestra” - A portrait of chaos in our world… passion, hate, traffic, war, disease, vaccines, flooding, wildfires, hunger, greed; opulence, technology, innovation, privacy; ambition, self-righteousness, disrespect; news, perspectives, opinions, biases, politics, religion, …and the need for calm. Quietude Jazz Rondo for Orchestra - FilmFreeway

But most of my time these days is occupied as President of EpiCentre Alliance. We are building St. Augustine, Florida's $100+ Million Performing Arts Centre “The Shell” dedicated to the City's creative community.


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