Author Topic: Gustavo Santaolalla: NY Times article 8/15/08  (Read 1283 times)

Offline Meryl

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Gustavo Santaolalla: NY Times article 8/15/08
« on: August 15, 2008, 07:30:43 pm »
http://www.nytimes.com/2008/08/15/arts/music/15gus.html?scp=1&sq=Gustavo%20Santaolalla&st=cse

August 15, 2008

His Film Scores Are Spare, His Tango Newfangled

By LARRY ROHTER

BUENOS AIRES — As a pop-besotted teenager living in the suburbs here in the 1960s, Gustavo Santaolalla was so intent on becoming a musician that he even designed a logo for the record label he dreamed of owning. The idea that he would some day be able to display a pair of Oscars on his mantel, on the other hand, was so far-fetched that it never crossed his mind.

But in 2006 and 2007, Mr. Santaolalla, who turns 57 next week, won Academy Awards for best original film score, for “Brokeback Mountain” and “Babel.” That made him the hottest film composer in Los Angeles, where he now lives. But he has confounded expectations by returning to his Argentine musical roots and performing onstage for the first time in more than 25 years as a member of Bajofondo, a neo-tango ensemble that will be appearing on Friday at SummerStage in Central Park. “The fact that I do so many things, it really nurtures me,” Mr. Santaolalla (pronounced san-ta-oh-LIE-uh) said in an interview here during a trip to finish production of another tango recording. “It may seem like a schizophrenic scenario, but it makes sense to me and keeps me fresh. One thing cross-pollinates another, so that I work a little bit on this project, then a little bit on that, and then I go back to this one.”

Organized in 2001, Bajofondo, which roughly means underground, began as a one-off diversion in the studio for Mr. Santaolalla, who plays guitar in the group, and some like-minded Argentine and Uruguayan friends. But after recording two CDs, the latest of which, “Mar Dulce,” or “Sweet Sea,” was released on July 15, and touring to acclaim here and in Europe and the United States, the project has taken on a life of its own.

Bajofondo is often lumped with the Gotan Project, a Paris-based collective with French and Argentine members, as an example of electrotango because both groups mix traditional tango instrumentation with contemporary samples and beats. But Mr. Santaolalla, a burly figure who speaks with a somewhat gravelly voice, chafes at that description.

“We don’t consider what we are doing as tango,” he said. “We are doing contemporary music, music that expresses the urban landscapes of Buenos Aires and Montevideo. Obviously tango will be present there. But milonga, candonga, murga” — three other local rhythms — “and rock, hip-hop and electronica are also part of the genetic map of this place.”

Until recently, in fact, Mr. Santaolalla was known here primarily as a rock ’n’ roller. In 1967 he helped found Arco Iris, or Rainbow, a prototypical flower-power band. But feeling cramped and fearful after the Argentine military seized power in 1976 in a right-wing coup, he decided to try his luck in Los Angeles, where he organized Wet Picnic, a group that had little commercial success.

As the dictatorship was collapsing in the early 1980s, Mr. Santaolalla returned home and recorded a New Wave hit, “Ando Rodando” (“I’m on the Move”), still remembered here as a herald of new, more open times. He soon tired of that pop sound and, with his friend León Gieco, the folk singer, embarked on a long project called “De Ushuaia a la Quiaca,” documenting the lives and work of the masters of Argentine folk music. (Ushuaia and Quiaca are the southernmost and northernmost towns in Argentina.)

Around the same time, Mr. Santaolalla moved into producing records and soon emerged as a leading figure in the nascent Rock en Español movement, which was based in Mexico. By his own estimate, he has produced more than 100 records, from rock to rap, and including discs by Julieta Venegas, Café Tacuba, Molotov, Juanes and Juana Molina.

But it was Mr. Santaolalla’s explorations of Argentine folk music that led to his film-scoring career. In 1998, encouraged by some of the traditional artists he had recorded, he released “Ronroco,” an album largely of solo pieces recorded over 13 years. It caught the ear of the American director Michael Mann, who used one of the moodiest tracks, “Iguazu,” at a crucial moment in his film “The Insider.”

The Mexican director Alejandro González Iñárritu also heard the record, which led to Mr. Santaolalla being invited to score the films “Amores Perros” and “21 Grams.” He also wrote music for Walter Salles’s “Motorcycle Diaries,” favoring in all of them a style he described as “minimalist, heartfelt and full of space and air” instead of a lushly orchestrated score.

“It’s a deliberate choice,” he said. “I am a fervent supporter of the idea that you don’t have to have wall-to-wall music in good films. With bad movies, I have this image in my head of the director and the editor in the editing room watching a scene that is not happening, looking at each other and saying, ‘Put some music in there.’ ”

Though he has made his name in Hollywood by incorporating into film music the high, lonesome sound of the charango and the ronroco, stringed instruments originally from the Andes, Mr. Santaolalla has also innovated in the way he works. Usually a movie’s soundtrack is one of its last elements, tacked on after the actors’ performances have been filmed and edited. Mr. Santaolalla likes to write as much music as possible before the film is shot, rather than waiting to compose cues that have to fit the length and mood of a particular sequence.

Ang Lee, the director of “Brokeback Mountain,” said he had never worked that way until meeting Mr. Santaolalla, but found the process to be “very organic.” He told Mr. Santaolalla he was seeking a sound that was “sparse and yearning,” sent him a script, and two weeks later received a CD, which, he said, he initially thought contained samples of Mr. Santaolalla’s previous work. Instead, it turned out to be new compositions intended for “Brokeback Mountain.”

“Usually you don’t talk about the music until after the first cut,” Mr. Lee said, “but with Gustavo, I had music for seven scenes while we were still in preproduction, in fact before we had even scouted for locations. That was a luxury that helped inspire me to visualize the film and find its heart. And when the major actors were rehearsing I shared the music with them, to set a tone for what we were doing.”


For all his eclecticism, Mr. Santaolalla deliberately kept his distance from the tango until recently. Though he recalls being a child “listening to my father singing tangos while he shaved,” for a long time the style did not appeal to him.

“At the beginning it felt to me like adult music, and I was a kid,” he said. “It also had a tremendous amount of melancholy and sadness that didn’t match the energy of youth that I was hearing in the Beatles.”

In addition to Bajofondo, Mr. Santaolalla has also spent time on Café de los Maestros, a project sometimes described as a tango version of the Buena Vista Social Club. It began as an attempt to bring together veteran musicians, some in their 80s, to make a record, but has grown to include live shows, a documentary film and a book from Retina, the publishing house that Mr. Santaolalla and his wife, Alejandra, a photographer, founded.

But Mr. Santaolalla is by no means neglecting new movie projects. He is once again working with Mr. Salles, this time on a film version of Jack Kerouac’s “On the Road,” which is steeped in a beatnik-and-bebop aesthetic that might seem foreign to Mr. Santaolalla. But the same could have been said of “Brokeback Mountain,” and look how that turned out.

Gustavo Santaolalla performs with Bajofondo at 7 p.m. on Friday at Central Park SummerStage, Rumsey Playfield (midpark at 70th Street); (212) 360-2777 or summerstage.org.
Ich bin ein Brokie...

Offline Meryl

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Re: Gustavo Santaolalla: NY Times article 8/15/08
« Reply #1 on: August 15, 2008, 07:34:54 pm »
Alas, I didn't read this article til too late to go to tonight's concert in Central Park.  But it's very rainy and stormy here, so there's a good chance it was cancelled.  We even had a very rare tornado warning for Manhattan today.  :(
Ich bin ein Brokie...

Offline Brown Eyes

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Re: Gustavo Santaolalla: NY Times article 8/15/08
« Reply #2 on: August 15, 2008, 08:02:47 pm »

Thanks for posting this Meryl!  It's really interesting to read about how the music was woven into the film from such an early phase in production.  That seems just right to me, since the music feels so integral to the mood in so many scenes.

I heard about the bad weather in NYC on the national news tonight!  Yikes!  Hope everything is OK there Bud.
 :o

I would love to see a Gustavo concert some day.  I'm sure I would cry like a baby during performances of BBM music.

the world was asleep to our latent fuss - bowie

Offline Aloysius J. Gleek

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Re: Gustavo Santaolalla: NY Times article 8/15/08
« Reply #3 on: August 15, 2008, 08:13:23 pm »
What a nice man--Gustavo, I mean. Lovely.

The rain may have seems to have stopped--maybe the concert is still on? We should check the Times tomorrow.

Meryl---remember our Central Park Bandshell Concert with Rufus Wainwright? And the weather??  Yike!

::)
"Tu doives entendre je t'aime."
(and you know who I am...)


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and Pee-wee in the 1990 episode
"Camping Out"

Offline Meryl

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Re: Gustavo Santaolalla: NY Times article 8/15/08
« Reply #4 on: August 15, 2008, 10:04:48 pm »
Meryl---remember our Central Park Bandshell Concert with Rufus Wainwright? And the weather??  Yike!

::)

I know!  I haven't had good luck lately with concerts in the park.  I actually managed to get free tickets to the "Hair" performance last night, but it got rained out, too.  :'(
Ich bin ein Brokie...

Offline Lynne

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A Gustavo News Update
« Reply #5 on: November 09, 2008, 02:48:43 am »
Nominated for Latin Grammy awards:

http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/6084637.html

Gustavo Santaolalla (two nominations apiece in record and song of the year, best short-form music video)

The Argentine composer is in a bit of a predicament this year. He's nominated against himself in two categories for his work on records from Juanes and Café Tacvba. Blame it on productivity. Santaolalla is the go-to guy for adventurous rock en español acts and has helmed projects for Fobia, Molotov, Calle 13 and Julieta Venegas. His previous pairings with Juanes and Tacvba have already earned him an armload of Latin Grammys. He's also composed evocative, Oscar-winning scores for Brokeback Mountain and Babel. Oh, and there's also Bajofondo, his South American musical collective that earned a nod this year for its stark, electro-tango video.
"Laß sein. Laß sein."