Not Just Background Music: Interview with Composer and Orchestrator Lorenzo Carrano

We probably don’t need to explain in detail how important music is when it comes to making a movie, a video game, or even a commercial.

Music has the unique ability to transform visual media, either contributing to the overall tone or sabotaging it completely.

This is why a project always needs a talented composer, talented arranger, and a huge number of talented musicians ready and willing to make the best score music possible.

We were fortunate enough to speak with the highly talented Lorenzo Carrano, a composer and orchestrator originally from Italy.

A Prestigious Resume

Carrano has a massive amount of experience in the realm of creating and finalizing music for various forms of entertainment.

While some composers choose to focus solely on movie music or video game music, Carrano has been able to do both with incredible success.

Carrano has worked on some huge projects over the course of his career, including the Netflix original series Maniac, starring Jonah Hill and Emma Stone, Ant-Man & The Wasp, starring Paul Rudd, and Far Cry 5 from famed video game studio Ubisoft.

He has many, many more credits, but to see a full list you’ll have to check out his IMDb profile.

And since we don’t often have the opportunity to speak with score composers, we jumped at the chance to interview Carrano and pick his brain about his beginnings with music in general and how he feels about the lengthy process of taking music from a simple idea to a finished product.

Can you tell us about your beginnings with music in general? What sparked your initial interest? 

Carrano: Neither of my parents are musicians, but they are both avid music listeners. When I was a kid our family went on many road trips. Among many other things, our car didn’t have a stereo, so I was stuck in the back seat with a Walkman for many hours.

All I had was The Police, Prince and Paul Simon. Then my dad gave me a Jimi Hendrix cassette, he said, “these are just three dudes, but they make enough noise for a whole orchestra.” I was pretty much sold!

Do you feel that the rise of DAWs has contributed to progress in the area of composition? 

Carrano: I see writing “on paper” and producing in a DAW as separate arts. Like oil painting and watercolors. Composing without a computer in a way forces you to be more detail-oriented, especially when dealing with orchestral music. I think it has to do with having it all there, laid out on paper.

In contrast, DAWs give you greater freedom to experiment with sound itself. Plus, you can program virtual instruments that you wouldn’t necessarily have access to. Personally, I’m much more fascinated by the production aspect of working in a DAW. I just love coming up with unique processing and blending sounds together.

We’d like to hear about some of your favorite movie scores, perhaps from your childhood. 

Carrano: Sometime in the 90s, the original Star Wars trilogy was re-released in theaters. I went to watch those movies an embarrassing number of times. John Williams’ music was just unforgettable. I also have a soft spot for Spaghetti Western scores, especially Morricone, who holds a special place in my heart. Recent favorites are Johann Johansson, Atticus Ross, and Jon Hopkins. I also love the music of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

You also have a background in jazz. How has that affected your musical sensibilities, even when playing or composing within different genres? 

Carrano: Jazz has been the most important chapter in my growth as a musician. Much of the writing and orchestrating I do these days isn’t necessarily Jazz. However, the techniques I learned helped me to form an incredibly useful toolbox for approaching any genre of music.

At its core, Jazz is a mix of different musical styles. Understanding how that works is helpful when working across genres. When I write “concert” music, Jazz is still very much at the center of everything I create. Weirdly enough, there’s a common denominator between blues and the folk music of Naples (Italy), my hometown. I try to bring these two together as often as I can, like in my piece L’Alba sui Quartieri.

Do you have any favorite instruments or effects units of your own that have inspired you to create innovative music? 

Carrano: Synthesizers are a big part of what I use to write nowadays. Software instruments can yield similar results, but there’s just something about fiddling with knobs and patch cables that makes me think outside of the box. I own a few different synths, but my Moog Grandmother is the one I keep going back to. I’m slowly building a modular system around it. Generally speaking, when writing for media I like to experiment with raw sounds more than taking a traditional approach. There’s a fair bit of recording random samples, and mangling them until they fit what I have in mind.

Do you have any pet peeves about cookie-cutter movie scores that may sound generic?

Carrano: I don’t, really. Composing for film, television or games is about providing a service. You are hired to write music for something that has its own genre and narrative. There are a lot of creative decisions that go into a score that aren’t necessarily in the composer’s hands.

Sometimes I’ll have a good idea, but it’ll get canned. Other times I’ll have a bad idea, it’ll get canned, and then I’ll write a better one. I might disagree with others on whether something works with picture or not, but I have the utmost respect for all of my colleagues. In the end we’re all wearing our hearts on our sleeves, trying to do the best job possible.

Do you enjoy working with studio orchestras? What are some of the issues that arise?

Carrano: I am both a composer and an orchestrator, depending on the project. Working with orchestras is one of the best aspects of my job. The sense of camaraderie on the recording stage is just contagious, plus there’s something magic that happens when 60-80 people make music together. When I lived in Boston I directed my own Jazz Big Band for three years. We were undergrads and not always on top of it, but it was all very exciting.

I get a bit of nostalgia whenever I am at a studio session with an orchestra. As an orchestrator, I get to flesh out music that was conceived in a DAW. A lot of the job has to do with troubleshooting each cue, finding out what can and can’t be played, and then adapt it to make the most of the recording time and personnel. It’s a fun job that requires a good dose of creative thinking and attention to detail. Of course recording is the final and most expensive part of the music making process, so everything needs to be bulletproof by that point.

What has been one of the most important lessons you’ve learned since beginning your career in music? 

Carrano: Working in music has taught me to operate within a team. This is the lesson I cherish the most. Even if you’re the main act on a project, you have a role with specific rules that you have to stick to. As conductor of my Big Band, for instance, I learned what it means to lead by example, and when to delegate what and to whom.

Working in a support position, in contrast, requires a fair degree of sensitivity and diplomatic skills. These are only a few examples, but I feel like they all are important lessons that can be applied to any activity, be it business or personal relationships. Understanding these “soft skills” has been tremendously important for my career.

What do you enjoy most about the composition process? 

Carrano: I find the process itself a bit of a rollercoaster. You just have to embrace it. In time I’ve learned to manage the different creative stages. More often than not it’s expectations, more than creative lulls, that get in the way of enjoyment. Experimenting, developing an idea, and adding the finishing touches can all be very exciting, or very frustrating depending on a variety of factors.

All the creative people I know of go through the same phases. I find this thought very comforting whenever I am stuck on something. I think sometimes our society tries to sell us this idea of instant success, that, just like technology, everything is plug and play. Even though I don’t personally believe in this idea, it’s a slippery thought that can sneak in the back of one’s mind. I find I have the most fun composing when I just kick back and embrace the process, fumbles included.

by Giorgio Chang

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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