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Big Score for the Big Screen

Paul Haslinger Hones his Film Composing Technique

Paul Haslinger at work

In the decade since Tangerine Dream disbanded, Paul Haslinger has launched a second career as a rising film composer. His score for crazy/beautiful met with acclaim and he's got two summer blockbusters on the roster a contribution to Speilberg's Minority Report and the full score for the chick surf flick, Blue Crush.

Haslinger prefers to compose in his home with keyboards and a Mac based system running Cubase and the Universal Audio UAD 1 card with Powered Plug Ins. As the tools in his arsenal grow more sophisticated, Haslinger finds that his approach to composing now encompasses what he terms "pre engineering". "Mixing and composing have somehow merged for me. As I write, I think about engineering; I apply compressors and I apply EQ I apply everything that an engineer would do. I still have an engineer come in to balance the mix at the end for that outside perspective. It used to be that a composer wouldn't touch an EQ or wouldn't touch a mixing board. Now not only are you touching it, you're working with it as part of your compositional system."

The technique begs the question whether Haslinger now composes with a sound in mind or if he's inspired by a given sound. "Sometimes I'm inspired by a sound I get with certain presets or I try out a module and something just happens something sounds really cool on a particular drum loop and I try to write a piece around it because I just like the sound. Other times it's fairly analytical and I really want to get this analog crunch, this warm sound and this would be the drum loop to do it and this would be the plug in to do to and you go about it that way. So sometimes it's planned and sometimes I just enjoy and roll with it."

Because Haslinger is now composing with compressors and EQs in mind, he was challenged to find plug ins that met his sense of quality, "I need things like the UAD 1 card to get better results than with standard plug ins." He relied heavily on the UAD 1 for both the pieces commissioned for Minority Report. "For a scene set in a cyber club of the future, they were looking for a pumping track. The difficulty with cues like these is in the mid range we don't know the final levels and it shouldn't compete with the sound effects. In this case, we gave them heavily compressed versions and less compressed versions with all of the elements separate, giving them control over the bass separately. A lot of the warmth resides in the bass and by dialing into or out of the bass; you can affect the whole track."

The trademark analog warmth and "crunch" of the classic Universal Audio hardware were just the sounds Haslinger sought for the Blue Crush score. "This is about girls who live on the beach, so we're using guitar and electric piano like a Wurlitzer a dirtied up and smushed sound. Whenever I needed to create some extra warmth I'd dial up an 1176 or an LA2 and play with them a little bit. For the surf competition scenes, the director's instruction was to work psychologically let the waves be the big impact, let the music drive her inner demons and the psychology of the audience. That led me into the old problem of warming up what is essentially a bunch of sequences, and that's where the UAD 1 came in to round out the sound with the 1176 and Nigel.

As a keyboard player, Haslinger is delighted with the sound of the UAD 1 plug ins. "It's always been a dream to have any number of 1176s and LA2s in any combination you could want. That alone is dramatic. Also, the Nigel plug in is enormously useful for me. Distortion is where it's at, especially for keyboard players like myself who need to compensate for the fact that we're not guitar players and we can't get that nice warm crunch. Nigel is so complex, I'm using it with a Swiss army knife approach to get that sense of running through a guitar amp, something that is easily missing in keyboard centric music. I've been using it on different piano sounds and it's amazing, the three dimensionality that the sound gets once it runs through Nigel as opposed to plastic sounding." Concludes Haslinger, "I'm thinking like a sound engineer these days. I think that it's has become part of the writing process and any musician that says it's not is basically a traditionalist hanging on to the ideas of the last millennium. Don't quote me on that."


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