Born in Germany in 1990, Stephan Eicke writes since 2007 for the film music magazine Cinema Musica. He has also written for the websites Filmmusicjournal, Original Score and Film-Rezensionen, and for the magazines Splatting Image and Ray. He also is an orchestrator and composed the music for several audio plays. In 2013, he announced the creation of a label dedicated to film music, Caldera Records. Today, he answers our questions about the editorial line of this new outsider…
First of all, tell me about your background…
After I went to school, I started an apprenticeship in a German publishing house for books and magazines, while I continued to write for the film music magazine Cinema Musica, writing articles, essays, reviews and conducting interviews with several artists. I started writing for this magazine back in 2007, became an editor in 2011 and editor-in-chief in 2012. So apart from working full-time as an editor in the German publishing house, I am the chief of Cinema Musica as well. Furthermore, I find enormous joy in writing music for several audio plays which are distributed in German-speaking countries on CD and digitally, quite successfully.
What are your first or strongest memories about cinema and music?
I have always loved watching movies since I was a small child, watching movies which were definitely not suited for boys of my age. I remember adoring the Georges Simenon-adaptions from the 70s with great scores by Philippe Sarde which bewitched me when I was not older than 11 or 12. The earliest memories I have about film music are the strongest scenes from these movies. One of the last scenes from Pierre Granier Deferre’s Le Chat with Simone Signoret still haunts me today, where you can see cats jumping around on a scaffold with Sarde’s depressing piano music. I quickly fell in love with French film music and discovered soundtracks more and more.
At the end of 2013, you announced the creation of a brand new label, Caldera…
Despite the fact that there are several caring film music labels which release interesting current film scores beyond the usual Hollywood-mainstream, there are still tons of great unreleased scores from countries all over the world. It puzzled me why no label approached these composers to release their works because to me they were obvious choices for CD releases. When you are exposed to film music all day, you come across works which deserve an elegant presentation but are unreleased. I found this extremely disappointing and thought to myself: « If no one else is interested in releasing them, why don’t you do it yourself? » I had written booklet texts for Alhambra Records, a well-established German soundtrack label for German scores and the owner John Elborg had become a good friend of mine. Then, in 2011, I met composer Guy Farley accidentally after a concert in London and had long, interesting discussion about film music with him. We noticed that we share the same taste and I visited him whenever I was in London and he made me horrible coffee in his studio, where he played me his recent score for Mary Of Nazareth. I was very moved by his music and asked if there was already a label working on a release. As it happened, there wasn’t and he asked if I was interested in putting it out. Of course I was! I talked to John Elborg and we agreed that this score doesn’t fit well into the portfolio of Alhambra, so we set up a new label which we dedicated to recent international film scores. We started working on Mary Of Nazareth immediately but had to endure several problems regarding the publishing rights. As of today, we are still taking care of this issue and hope to release this score this year, after two years of hard work.
« Caldera » has many meanings. It may be a volcano, a city from a famous videogame…
Our Caldera has to do with the volcano. We did a lot of brainstorming to find the right name for the label and had several suggestions. One of my ideas was to call the label « Cinématheque » but it is quite difficult to write and strictly a French word while Caldera is fairly easy to remember and universal – it works in every language. This was John’s idea and I am glad we went for Caldera and not Cinématheque. John’s other labels have similar names that may sound cryptic at first: Alhambra and Torus. So Caldera fits quite well in there.
The first Caldera release is Guy Farley’s score for Secret Sharer. How was it to collaborate with him?
As already mentioned, Guy and I became friendly quite quickly due to our shared tastes in film music. While John and I already worked on Mary Of Nazareth, Guy was kind enough to invite me to the recording sessions for his most recent score, Secret Sharer, which was directed by Oscar-winner Peter Fudakowski. Guy loved my booklet text for Mary Of Nazareth, so he was quite interested in having Secret Sharer released on Caldera and it was actually very helpful to attend the recording sessions to get the most precise feeling for the music and the CD release. The recording took place at Abbey Road. I have to share a funny anecdote here which I haven’t told anybody yet: one would assume that Abbey Road is the most exciting place to go for a film music fan and it is indeed, but I could barely make it there. As it happened, I had met with some good friends the night before in London and we had shared some drinks. Unfortunately, I had a few drinks too many and could hardly make it out of bed the next morning as I woke up with a terrible hangover. I still do not know how I was able to make it to Abbey Road that morning, feeling as shaky as a tiny ship on stormy sea, but I was rewarded with a fantastic experience. I don’t think Guy noticed anything of my hangover as he was busy preparing the recording, fortunately! We recorded the music for eight hours with the most fantastic musicians. I became friendly with director Peter Fudakowski and worked quite closely both with him and Guy on the CD release of Secret Sharer. Both Peter and Guy were wonderful to work with and it was an experience I will treasure for the rest of my life. Guy and I use to do a lot of brainstorming and exchange a lot of ideas when it comes to assembling the cues for the release. As with every release, the composer sends me the complete score first. I listen to it and decide which cues should be left off the album because they do not work as a standalone listen. Some composer wish to have lots of creative control and bring in their own ideas, others let me do whatever I wish and with Guy, it is a healthy mix of both : we discuss the production quite detailed so that in the end everybody is as happy with the finished product as possible.
The album is completed with parts of the rejected score for Tsotsi…
Tsotsi can’t really be described as a rejected score. It was commissioned by Peter Fudakowski, who directed Secret Sharer, but the director Gavin Hood did not agree to a new score. He never listened to it. The movie went to a few film festivals with the old score and in the end, they left this score in. So Guy’s work was unused but not strictly rejected – it was simply a matter of misunderstandings. I thought it would be a good idea to couple Secret Sharer with Tsotsi as Peter was involved in both productions. When I made this proposal to Guy, he told me that he had been talking to a few CD labels about a release of his unused work but both he and the other parties had to find out that the complete score doesn’t work as a standalone listen on CD. So Guy was not convinced of my idea but sent me the complete work anyway to get an impression myself. When I listened to the complete score, I had to agree with him: Tsotsi doesn’t work on CD on the whole, but had some cues that are among the most beautiful pieces of music I had ever heard. When I told him that I nearly started crying while listening to the vocalize, he was convinced to include the highlights of his music – not the complete score – on the release and it works quite beautifully. We are both happy that Tsotsi was finally released in the only possible presentation. Sometimes composers have to be convinced to do something they do not really wish to do. We had a similar experience with Turkish/American composer Pinar Toprak. Her score for The River Murders is our April release and I wished to combine the release with selections from her early work Sinner, which is hauntingly beautiful, and which I actually like a bit better than the gorgeous The River Murders. At first, Pinar didn’t want to release Sinner at all because she thought it sounded outdated and she was quite ashamed of it. It took me weeks to convince her to release at least a few highlights on CD. It wasn’t until I told her that I had constant goose bumps while listening to Sinner that she agreed to it. Composers are the people who are closest to their work, so in some cases they are not the best persons to judge it.
Secret Sharer is completed with an audio interview. Will you try to have extras on every release?
The audio commentary will be a trademark of our label. I am a huge fan of the DVD company Criterion Collection. Their aim is to release the best movies in the best possible quality with deluxe treatments. It is exactly what we do: releasing the best soundtracks in the best possible quality with elegant art-design by the amazing Luis Miguel Rojas, a detailed booklet text by the experienced Gergely Hubai and the audio commentary by the composer. I found this idea very intriguing because on DVDs, there are lots of audio commentaries, but it is very uncommon to do that with CDs. Why not? I found it hugely interesting to listen to the person behind the music. How often do film music lovers have the chance to listen to the composer explaining his/her work? This opportunity is very rare and these audio commentaries bring the listener closer to the artist. With King Of Devil’s Island, we have a 30 minute discussion with the composer, Johan Söderqvist, sound-designer Tormod Ringnes and director Marius Holst, hosted by film music expert Thor Joachim Haga, and it is a very intense, rather academic analysis of the working process for all artists involved. It makes the releases study objects, deluxe editions that no other labels offer.
What were the best and the worst aspect to launch a label, from your point of view?
I think that every CD producer will agree with me when I say that taking care of the rights and dealing with the owners of the rights is the worst aspect, which I loathe passionately. It is a process that takes a lot of energy and time. As mentioned above, we are dealing with the production companies of Mary Of Nazareth since two years now and sooner or later you become frustrated. The best experience is of course to hold the pressed CD in your hands for the first time. All the hard work that you put in the CD is now over and done and you can enjoy the finished product. It is a wonderful feeling when your hard labor gets rewarded in the end with good reviews and kind comments from people who enjoy our CDs.
You’re coming in a reputed saturated market. How will you stand out?
This is a very good question and you are absolutely right: the market may seem saturated indeed, but as mentioned before, there are still tons of great unreleased works from beloved composers which are unreleased yet and which people wish to see released. With our concept to present the best scores in the best possible quality with the audio commentary as a trademark, we definitely stand out. Our CDs are deluxe editions, study objects that no one else offers and we hope that film music lovers will appreciate this concept.
How do you sell your titles? Will you have a store on the website?
No, we won’t have a shop on our homepage. We sell on all available platforms though: Amazon, Screen Archives, Arksquare, all the other special soundtrack retailers, and iTunes for the digital downloads.
How and why did you choose Johan Söderqvist’s score from King Of Devil’s Island?
I watched King Of Devil’s Island in a film festival back in 2010 with a few friends of mine who were all film composers from Germany. They all loved both the movie and the music, while I wasn’t really mesmerized by the score, to be absolutely honest. It served the film brilliantly but I thought it was too atmospheric to work on CD, so I didn’t do anything about it. Furthermore, I expected the CD to be released by some label in the future. However, nothing happened. Two years later, in late 2012, I came across some excerpts of the score on YouTube and loved what I heard! In fact, I couldn’t understand why I wasn’t attracted by the music in the movie. Not to love this music seemed crazy to me! I was so blown away by the cues that I immediately e-mailed Johan Söderqvist to make the proposal to release the CD. At that time, he was very busy with the score from Kon-Tiki which turned out to be our luck because Johan had wanted to release King Of Devil’s Island on his own label. Due to Kon-Tiki, he didn’t have the time to do so which was the reason why he allowed us to release it on Caldera. Despite his busy schedule, he had a lot of creative control over the CD release, was very supportive and knew immediately what he wanted. Discussing all the aspects of the release with him very detailed was a very fruitful process and benefitted us all. It is important to us that the composer is happy with our work.
It’s another beautiful and emotional score. Is that the kind of scores you want to release?
Yes, I guess so. All the releases we have in the pipeline are melodic, quite romantic scores, mostly written for large orchestra. It is very important to us that we only release scores which we like ourselves – we will never release music which we don’t appreciate and would listen to privately. Quality is more important to us than money: if a composer would propose a CD release of a major blockbuster hit-score to us which we don’t like but which would bring us a lot of money, we won’t release it.
What can we expect for the future from Caldera?
Of course I won’t mention any specific titles now, but can give some clues. We have one score in the pipeline which is from 2010, was written by an American composer and which was composed for a movie with very famous actors and actresses, but which didn’t do very well at the box office, unfortunately. Additionally, we are in talks with a big British company to release two scores for television productions which are a few years old but were hugely successful in Great Britain, with music written by one of the most respected British composers. I am also talking to one of the great newcomers in the film music scene who was cherished and praised by the critics last year for his amazing works. He has two recent scores that we are interested in doing and are happy to pursue. I hope that all these projects will work out fine. We will release one CD each month, not more because we need time to guarantee the highest quality. As mentioned above, some projects can take years until they come to fruition.
Interview conducted in April 2014 by Olivier Soudé.
Pictures : © Stephan Eicke.