Composer Interview with Michael Hennig

Posted at 09:00 on 20th March 2017 by Cinephonix in Music

Cinephonix Composer Michael Hennig

Michael joined the Cinephonix Composer team back in 2009 and his tracks have proven very popular ever since. Based in Rio De Janeiro, Michael writes in a variety of different styles for soundtracks, commercials, theatre productions and dance performances. Some of his original scores have been used for popular feature films such as 'The Neighbour' (written and directed by Academy Award nominated filmmaker G.Spielmann). Aside from this, he also arranges other songwriters' music for stage and recording sessions. With Michael being such a long standing composer with Cinephonix, we thought it was only right to catch up with him and see what he's up to this year and find out all his secrets!

Hi Michael, it's great to see you & thanks for taking the time to chat to us. Let's cut straight to the chase, when did you start composing your own music?

Good question! I cannot say exactly, I started playing the guitar at the age of 10. My first guitar teacher I had at the time was an old man, slightly irascible and impatient so I didn't stay with him very long. This was in the late 60's, early 70's but I continued playing the guitar, teaching myself, learning chords, all that stuff. My father had a big tape machine at home that he used to record classical radio programs and never listened to it later. It was a high-tech machine for that time with various speeds and the ability to do overdubs in mono. I started to experiment with it, first playing a guitar part, then changing the record speed to use the guitar as bass, and over that an improvised drum set consisting of kitchen utensils. One can consider these experiments as my first compositions. At that time I was around 13 or 14.

Later on, I played in a school band where I started to write songs which were more instrumental. At that time, I was a big fan of bands like Yes or Jethro Tull. To make our band's music stand out of the crowd, I started to write it down on paper, however, my fellow band members could hardly read it, if at all. When I began to study music at university, I fulfilled myself a dream that I had since my tape experiments and since I have heard Mike Oldfield's 'Tubular Bells'. Through a friend of mine, I've got to know a publisher who was also the owner of an analogue 16 track studio so I decided to invest into a real multi-track recording where I would play various instruments.

In fact. this project (a piece for string quartet and jazz combo with a length of about 20 minutes) was a huge undertaking. To bring the quartet together for rehearsals was a nightmare. Every time, someone and always someone else was missing! But in the end, it worked. Besides the quartet, I had someone playing a Fender Rhodes and a drummer. I myself played classical and electric guitars, piano, bass guitar, glockenspiel and a small Moog synthesizer that was there in the studio. When I listened to the final master a few months later, I was really happy and decided to give copies of it to my friends and family as a present. But at the same time, the publisher, who was somehow impressed by this project, decided to put it into his catalogue and it sold well. I would consider this track to be my first serious own music, and also, unintentionally, as my first production music.

What inspired you to begin composing music?

Well it started with experimenting with tapes. I'm the type of person who learns by doing and I like to understand how things that I like work. I always liked music so it wasn't enough for me just to play the guitar, but how the combination of chords and melodies can create something new. I think, I always have been more the composer than the reproducing musician. I also came across Bach's music quite early, when my father (listening only to classical music), once came home with a copy of Wendy Carlo's 'Switched On Bach'. This was a revelation for me of in how many different ways music can be created and produced. At that point I knew that I wanted to create music. I am impressed by the art of Bach. To this day, I am fascinated by how 'easy' and playful his counterpoints and fugues appear. So again, I bought books on counterpoint and the art of writing a fugure, sat down and tried to do it myself, initially of course with moderate success. But you can encounter some results of these efforts also through some tracks I have with Cinephonix, such as 'Chorale Fantasia' or 'Wendy's Fugue'. Composing is a permanent process of learning, be it compositional techniques, orchestration or technical issues like recording, MIDI, soft and hardware, and all that.

Who would you say is your main inspiration within the music industry and why?

Well... the bandwidth in this regard is quite large. I cannot reduce it to one person or band. I remember, what has changed my attitude towards music and creativity was when I heard Chick Correa's 'Return To Forever' for the first time - I mean the first album he did with Flora Purim and Airto Moreira, not the later fusion albums. This made a string resonate in me, it was a completely new cosmos. The same is true with Egberto Gismonti, whom I saw live for the first time in 1978; together with the late Nana Vasoncelos. A whole new world! In general, all the artists or bands that have recorded for the label ECM (Edition of Contemporary Music), such as Ralph Towner, Pat Metheny, Terje Rypdal and many more.

What is your favorite part of composing a track?

I cannot say for definite, it depends on the purpose of the track. In general, I would stay the creative workflow, starting from an idea or concept in my head to the realization with my tools or recording sessions. The highlight should then be the finished track of course, but in general I am never really 100% satisfied. When I listen to it later, I always think I could have done it better. But this I obviously share with most of my fellow composers. 

And your least favorite part?

Any show stopper such as issues with my DAW or other technical problems. Nothing is worse than when you have to take a break for some days to resolve it, especially if you're working towards a tough deadline. Or if you inwardly completely disagree with the directors view about the role of the music when you're scoring a film. 

Roughly how long does it take for you to compose and complete a track?

This also depends on the type and purpose of the composition. I cannot tell you something specific such as two days or a week. But I can give you two examples of both extremes. Some years ago, I made the soundtrack for an animation, a promotion video for a big international highway projects in an Arabic country. So the production company had some budget to hire a composer for an original score. I got the call on a Thursday afternoon with the definitive deadline being the following Monday. As always, the director called me as the last person. The film was already edited, only the music was missing so I said ok, I'm in! The Friday was a holiday and as the watches are ticking differently here in Rio, the building where my facility is located was closed. On the Saturday, the building closed at 3pm and was also closed on Sunday. So I only actually had the rest of Thursday afternoon, Saturday morning and half of Monday to actually complete the composition. The temp music they used was a big orchestral Hollywood production and they wanted my score to be just like it. The film had a length of 5:30 minutes and they wanted the music to run throughout. I only had 20 hours to compose, orchestrate and produce music of more than 5 minutes which was really tough! I don't want to have working conditions like this all the time but it was really interesting to realize how much potential you have in certain situations. You don't have time to think, you just do! It's as if the vegetative nervous system completely takes over and you wonder afterwards if it was really you who did all that. Now for the other extreme. Just recently, I finished the composition of a classical string quartet, at least the first movement. The first ideas for it I had on an evening, while sitting in one of my favorite taverns in my neighborhood. So I had my beer and was mentally composing the main motif. This was 12 years ago in 2005. Now, I've just started to produce it but I don't know how long it'll take until it's finished. I'd love to record it with a real string quartet but unfortunately, there's no budget for that.  

What genre of music do you tend to listen to when you aren't composing your own?

To be honest, what I prefer is silence. At least at home. But if, then classical or baroque music in the morning - I can't listen to anything else at that time of the day. As a composer, I'm unable to listen to music just for relaxation or fun because I'm always running an analysis, like boring chord progression, or great rhythm, or what an interesting arrangement. And so on. Other than that, I love to listen to any kind of Jazz or Brazilian music such as MPB, Bossa Nova, Samba etc. I love Choro and the vocal samba tunes from the 40's and 50's. In Rio, you're surrounded naturally by this kind of music and now the carnival season has already begun so you can listen to a lot of 'blocos' in the streets with their bateria, be it close or far. I have some tracks with Cinephonix which are strongly influenced by Brazilian music such as 'Roda De Samba II' and 'Devaneios'

What can we expect to see from you this year? Have you got any exciting plans to share?

At the moment I'm a little bit concerned about the political and social progression in this country so sometimes I ask myself, what will I do or where will I be by the end of this year? Because it's so hard to tell but I just continue being creative and making music. I plan to enforce my guitar practice which I have neglected a little bit lately. Since last year, I'm a member of MUSIMAGEM BRASIL (MBr), an association of national media composers. There are some big names of the local music scene is this association such as Tim Rescala, Alberto Rosenblit, Ivan Lins and more. Great talents and great people! Since a couple of years ago, MBr is organizing a festival in Belo Horizonte with lectures, panel discussions and concerts. I have not attended yet but my fellow members have urged me to attend the next one which I will do. Marco Souza, the president of MBr also has a chamber string orchestra there and members can present their original compositions played live by that orchestra. Meanwhile, the festival is also covered by national press and TV stations. So this is all exciting and maybe I'll have the chance of having one of my compositions played by the orchestra. We'll see!

You've been composing for Cinephonix for a long time now, how did you find out about us?
Well actually it was the other way round, you spotted me! Cinephonix got in touch in 2008 asking me if I would be interested in writing for their library. Initially, I wasn't sure what to think about as I didn't know how serious it would be because Cinephonix was still in their early days and had just re-launched your website. Anyway, 8 years later and I'm still here so I made the right decision.

Michael has over 70 tracks available for you to listen, license and download for your upcoming productions. They span over over 30 styles and 40 moods so you're sure to find a track that works for you!

License Michael's Music
Also check out the latest new additions to the Cinephonix site to see what's popular right now.

Browse Fresh Tracks
Thanks for catching up with us Michael, it was a pleasure as always and good luck for the upcoming year!