Interview: Composer Abel Korzeniowski on Sundance, Scores, Career
by Alex Billington
February 5, 2013
Ever since creating one of the most beautiful, memorable scores in recent history for Tom Ford's A Single Man, Polish composer Abel Korzeniowski has been on my radar. When I first heard his music, I thought this was the work of a composer well into his years, finishing his 50th score or so, but Abel is a rather young up-and-coming composer making a name for himself. Besides A Single Man, he scored Madonna's W.E. as well as the Sundance Disney World-set buzz film Escape From Tomorrow. Yep, even that has a classical score, and it's one of the standouts this year already. I interviewed Mr. Korzeniowski through email recently.
I noticed that he was very active on twitter following the premiere of Escape From Tomorrow at Sundance, so I decided to get in touch for a formal interview and the chance to introduce everyone to composer Abel Korzeniowski. His score for Escape From Tomorrow, the wacky B&W paranoia movie set at and shot at Disney World, is one of the best parts about that entire film - and it's available already. He's an incredibly talented, ambitious composer that will have quite a career. Without further ado, let's get into my interview with Abel. I added a few embeds of his music (including a favorite track he names) to listen while reading.
What drew you to composing? Have you known that this is always what you wanted to do?
Abel Korzeniowski: I wrote my first piano piece when I was in 4th grade. I remember showing it to my grand-mother who was a piano teacher. I heard from her: "We already have Mozart and Beethoven and their perfect music, why would we need yet another composer?" This stopped me for a couple of years. I started again in high school, and this was when I discovered film music. It became my passion.
What was the story with A Single Man [iTunes album link]? How did that come together and did that help get you noticed more?
AK: When Tom Ford was looking for a composer for his upcoming movie and a friend of mine managed to show him my demo reel. Tom really responded to my music and immediately arranged a meeting. He showed me an early cut of A Single Man. I fell in love in it immediately. Tom was traveling a lot, so most of the time we communicated over the phone. A Single Man turned out to be a milestone of my career as a film composer.
How did you end scoring Escape From Tomorrow? Did director Randy Moore find you, or did you find the film?
AK: Six years ago, Randy put an ad on Cragslist.com looking for a nanny. I and my wife had just moved from Poland to Los Angeles and Mina decided to take the job. Later on, she introduced me to Randy and over time, we became friends.
What was your first response and reaction to hearing about Escape From Tomorrow? What did you think of the concept?
AK: I didn't know much. Randy was quite secretive about his film, so when I eventually saw it, it was a big surprise. It was bold, imaginative, twisted and engaging. I really loved the idea of writing music for something so original and unrestrained.
Did you immediately feel it was necessary to have a more classic, orchestral score for Escape From Tomorrow instead of something different? What were the key decisions made for the music choices in that film?
AK: Randy had a lot of source music already in the movie, connected to different attractions and rides in the park. An orchestral score was a natural choice to bridge all the elements. We hired a 64-piece orchestra and recorded at Warner Bros Eastwood Scoring Stage in LA. For a couple of scenes, we also recorded a choir.
I noticed you were at Sundance this year, what was it like to be there, with all the buzz the film was receiving… How was that experience?
AK: It was thrilling and surprising. Our film was getting almost a thousand hits on Twitter, every day. My high point was the screening with the festival audience. I was amazed. Growing up in Poland, I didn't have the experience of going to Disneyland as a child, so I don't have any childhood memories connected to it, good or bad. I wasn't prepared to see such a strong and personal reaction from the American public.
What is one of your favorite tracks you've ever written and why do you like it so much?
AK: "Song for the Little Sparrow" from the record "Kaas chante Piaf" [iTunes album link]. It is the essence of the romantic, hyper-emotional style that I developed for A Single Man and W.E.
What is your favorite instrument to use in scores and why?
AK: It's the symphonic orchestra, the most sophisticated instrument ever invented. It takes up to a 100 of highly trained and talented people to operate it, but the final result can be really stunning, unmatched in expressiveness and raw emotionality.
What are your biggest inspirations? What musicians or moments in your life have influenced your sound the most?
AK: The only inspiration I need is the picture itself. I like to think that I translate what I see into music, boosting emotions on characters' faces, discovering the rhythm of the visual narrative.
The one composer who influenced me the most, was my great teacher and master, Krzysztof Penderecki [Wikipedia/iTunes]. It was not through his musical esthetics or stylistic elements, but rather through his uncompromising approach to composition.
Where do you want to take your career next? What kind of projects do you look for?
AK: I would love to do an action/adventure score, something with more adrenalin.
Do you like to experiment with different styles or instruments? Have you tried to make anything totally crazy?
AK: I don't like the word "experiment" in the context of art in general. It implies something immature, unfinished, something entertaining for a moment before it becomes irrelevant. Finding an unusual, intriguing instrument on a yard sale may promise, but won't guarantee better music. In fact, a new gadget can become an obstacle, a misleading distraction. I favor experimentation as a part of a learning process though.
The craziest thing I've ever done? I worked on a documentary about a nursing home for mentally ill. I wrote music out of archival recordings made in that very facility. Noises, screams, obsessive mumbling, circular speech patterns… Listening and working with those materials was a traumatic experience.
Thank you to Abel Korzeniowski for taking the time. Escape From Tomorrow premiered at the Sundance Film Festival (my review) and his score for it can be purchased on iTunes now. Most of his other scores, including W.E. and A Single Man, are also available. Follow Abel Korzeniowski on twitter @korzeniowski.