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HomeAwardsContender-Gustavo Santollaolo-music-Babel

Contender-Gustavo Santollaolo-music-Babel


Gustavo Santaolalla’s haunting, minimalist soundtrack for Babel has earned the increasingly in-demand film composer his second Academy Award nomination in as many years. Last year, he was nominated and won his first Oscar for his bittersweet score for Brokeback Mountain, the gay cowboy movie.Santaolalla’s task in scoring Babel for director Alejandro González Iñárritu (also up for an Oscar, along with the film itself for best picture) was to find a way to musically integrate the continent-hopping movie’s disparate but interconnected story lines.This is Santaolalla’s third collaboration with Iñárritu, encompassing the Mexican director’s lauded trilogy about the perils of miscommunication in a more global world, starting with Amores perros, followed by 21 Grams and now Babel. “I have been making records since I was a kid, but I hadn’t been involved in composing film soundtracks very much until Alejandro hired me eight years ago,” says the composer, “so he’s been a big factor in where I am in my career right now.”In Babel, “the great challenge was the division of the plot between places that were themselves so colorful and so diverse,” he says. Notwithstanding a few folkloric and rock music interpolations, “we didn’t want the score to sound like a bunch of picture postcards strung together—I and Alejandro wanted something more global and universal.”As a unifying element, the composer came up with the idea of using the oud, a centuries-old stringed instrument of Arabic origin. The finger-plucked sounds of this ancestor of the lute and guitar “provided a connection between the Moroccan story and the Mexican story,” says Santaolalla, who learned to play the instrument for the soundtrack. “It also had echoes for me of the Japanese koto.”Behind the oud and other prominently-featured acoustic instruments such as the piano, he used a synthesizer to generate slowly-oscillating sine waves that added a contemporary feel. “The sound is so pure, there’s no harmonic content,” the composer explains, “so you get an almost psycho-acoustic effect.”Santaolalla explains his working process: “I usually come in at a very early stage, getting a script before the shooting of the film. I try to get to the core and the early inspiration in terms of story. It feels more like a collaboration—you’re working with the vision of the director and not so much from a particular scene. I did most of Brokeback before the movie was shot.”Born in Argentina, Santaolalla, who has lived in Los Angeles since 1978, is a largely self-taught musician. He neither reads nor writes music, but composes using the numerous instruments he’s mastered, and frequently plays, on his soundtracks. He hires outside orchestrators.Dubbed the King Midas of Latino rock, Santaolalla continues to be a seminal figure in the South American and Mexican music scenes, even as his career as a movie soundtrack composer continues to blossom. Playing in and forming innovative rock bands since his early teens, Santaolalla not only continues to perform, he’s also a successful impresario with his own record label, Surco, that has many hit Latino artists on its roster.Since finishing Babel, Santaolalla has been scoring Things We Lost in the Fire for Danish director Susanne Bier. It’s her first English-language movie and stars Benicio del Toro and Halle Berry. He’s been composing some music for Into the Wild, directed by Sean Penn. And he’s started to work on the soundtrack for On the Road, based on the Jack Kerouac novel, that will reunite him with director Walter Salles, for whom he scored The Motorcycle Diaries. 2007: Nominated, Academy Award, best achievement in music, original score, Babel; Nominated, Golden Globe, best original motion picture score, Babel; Nominated, BAFTA Anthony Asquith Award for film music, Babel; Nominated, Grammy, best compilation soundtrack for a motion picture or television show, Brokeback Mountain. 2006: Won, Academy Award, best achievement in music, original score, Brokeback Mountain; Won, Golden Globe, best original song from a film, “A Love That Will Never Grow Old,” Brokeback Mountain; Nominated, Golden Globe, best original motion picture score, Brokeback Mountain; Nominated, BAFTA Anthony Asquith Award for film music, Brokeback Mountain; Won, Hollywood Film Festival Film Award, composer of the year; Won, Satellite Award, best original score, Babel. 2005: Won, BAFTA Anthony Asquith Award for film music, The Motorcycle Diaries; Won, Satellite Award, outstanding original song, “A Love That Will Never Grow Old,” Brokeback Mountain; Nominated, Satellite Award, outstanding original score, Brokeback Mountain.

Written by Jack Egan

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