Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?
My fascination with film music started around age 10. When watching films, I would focus on the music and memorize it. Then I would replay the melodies from the film scores on the piano. It was a playful game that turned into a passion. All I wanted was to learn and understand this hidden language of music in films.
In addition to my piano lessons, I started improvising on the piano around age 14. For me it was a natural way of trying to experiment musically and it quickly turned into composing little pieces, sometimes journaling my emotions through piano pieces.
By then I was drawn to learning as much as possible about composing and my piano teacher recommended that I apply for a scholarship for young composers in Berlin that I got accepted to. Having had composition classes, music theory teachers and music theory classes with fellow musicians and composers during my high school years was the basis for thinking further of how to become a composer.
Who or what have been the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?
I became an Assistant to Academy Award-winning composer Jan A.P. Kaczmarek for several years and worked with him on such films as ‘Unfaithful’ (starring Richard Gere and Diane Lane) and ‘Finding Neverland’ (starring Kate Winslet and Johnny Depp). Working and studying with an orchestral composer like Jan and being able to understand his point of view helped me shape my own voice and approach.
Studying film scoring at the Film University Babelsberg was a surprising experience. I arrived with the notion that I would meet fellow film composing students who were looking for the same things in film and music, only to realize how one’s personality, taste and interests in the craft of music shapes your own work. I was able to experiment a lot at the University and regularly recorded my compositions with the Film Orchestra Babelsberg for student films. The opportunity to have my music regularly performed and recorded with amazing musicians was integral in finding what works for me in my compositions both musically and emotionally.
What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?
I love recording musicians for my compositions as I believe the performances of human beings with their instruments makes all the difference to the emotional impact of a musical piece. I also incorporate that approach for electronic compositions if it makes sense. Convincing producers and filmmakers that these musicians will make all the difference to the film and its music can be challenging at times but it’s easy to continue this path if you really understand what a huge difference it makes. Musicians bring the music to life and let it be more than the sum of its parts.
What are the special challenges and pleasures of working on film/tv scores?
The biggest challenge but also opportunity for me as a film composer is that every film score starts at a blank page with a deadline. The beginning of a film score can be very liberating as anything is possible. But as time passes and you are still shaping your ideas, the pressure of time kicks in. Finding the right balance between deadlines and taking the time to refine your compositions is a process that needs to be adjusted for every project and each collaboration with the filmmakers.
Of which works are you most proud?
That’s a complex question for me. Some compositions are close to my heart musically and some I really love for how they interact with the films. There can be magical moments in films where it is less about the composition itself and more about the audio-visual interaction and the resulting experience. It really depends on what the filmmakers and I were looking to create.
Speaking about orchestral compositions I really enjoyed composing the music for ‘Measuring The World’ that I recorded with the Radio Symphony Orchestra Vienna. I was able to bring in a part of me that felt very personal. ‘The Sunlit Night’ was a wonderful film to work on as I could combine electronic and orchestral elements recorded in Berlin in a playful and cinematic way.
On the film ‘Look Who’s Back’, which is a dark satire, I really love how the music interacts with the film and the audience. The music is consciously manipulative and plays with the audience´s expectations. The score starts with an upbeat and positive feel while turning darker and darker over the course of the film. That felt like a great personal achievement I created together with the filmmaker David Wnendt on that film.
In terms of electronic scores the films ‘Stereo’ and ‘Guns Akimbo’ were dream projects as I was able bring in my electronic side that is rooted in my teenage years growing up in the in Berlin. Berlin has been and is a hub for electronic music. Going out to clubs and concerts with amazing DJs and musicians had an important influence on me.
How would you characterise your compositional language/musical style?
As a composer, I feel like a method actor that dives into the world of each film. The craft and compositional mindset I use varies greatly. I enjoy that my experience on every film stays unique this way. I can see continuations of my compositional language over the course of certain movies or genres but all of them feel like branches of a bigger tree I want to keep on growing.
How do you work? What methods do you use and how do ideas come to you?
The inspiration for my compositions can come from a great conversation with the filmmaker, the film itself or a certain scene. I like to be as open as possible in the beginning.
Depending on the project I might take some time to think about the film, sometimes I have early ideas that make sense, sometimes it is a later idea that is the most convincing.
Sometimes I think musically what could be done and sometimes I am searching for a feeling that I want to create or portrait. It is highly personal yet I invite the filmmakers into that journey. With that openness wonderful things can happen and when I feel we found a direction that makes sense I start to move quicker. But again, these processes can be quite different from project or project.
Ideas can come to me in the most unexpected moments like while taking a bath or washing the dishes. I find this is a beautiful thing as musical ideas surround me and can surprise me any time.
Who are your favourite musicians/composers?
In terms of film composers, I grew up with my favourite scores from John Williams (Indiana Jones, Star Wars, Schindler’s List, Memoirs of a Geisha), Alan Silvestri (Back to the Future, Forrest Gump) and Henry Mancini (The Pink Panther). I was very impressed as a teenager by Michael Nyman (The Piano, Gattaca), John Corigliano (The Red Violin), Nino Rota (The Godfather), Bernhard Herrmann (Vertigo, Psycho) and James Horner (Braveheart, A Beautiful Mind). I love performances by Hillary Hahn, Joshua Bell and Yo-Yo Ma who elevate music to another level.
While working on a composition I might lean towards listening to music that presents a contrast to what I am currently focussing on so I am very eclectic in my musical taste which keeps things refreshing.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
When I am recording a composition with musicians and suddenly everything makes sense and the music comes to life as I envisioned it or even better. That is a wonderful feeling to experience that I am very thankful for whenever it happens.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
In terms of ideas and concepts I think that there is not only one formula and everybody should find out what has meaning to them – both musically and artistically. The world has become so complex that there are not few streams of artists but many which is a good thing.
If someone is interested in things or ideas that are currently not popular that can be an opportunity to nourish and expand what would otherwise not grow.
What’s next for you?
I am in the early stages of a film score for a feature film and am currently enjoying not feeling the deadline. Yet.
LA-based composer Enis Rotthoff has written the soundtrack for the new British film ‘Love Sarah’ starring Rupert Penry-Jones & Celia Imrie, released on 23 October.
Enis Rotthoff is a German composer who splits time between Los Angeles and Berlin. His passion for scoring films combined with his orchestral mastery and cutting edge electronic sounds, has made him a leading voice for cinematic music in Germany and has contributed to his growing international reputation. Through his focus on close collaborations with filmmakers, he is able to build true cinematic concepts providing a unique musical language for each film he scores.
Artist photo: Esra Rotthoff