033 - Dustin O’Halloran

Having composed excellent scores for over a dozen movies in the last decade, including award winning feature length films by Drake Doremus and Sofia Coppola, and even more recently working on the score for the delightful Jill Soloway drama ‘Transparent’ - for which he won an Emmy Award for outstanding main title theme music. Many of you have probably heard Dustin O’Halloran’s music, perhaps without even knowing that you had. And even if you’ve not seen any of those productions, you may not be aware that alongside Adam Wiltze, who himself comprises one half of the implausibly brilliant ‘Stars of the Lid’, Dustin O’Halloran forms the other half of the equally transcendent ‘A Winged Victory for the Sullen’, who last year performed at the Royal Albert Hall alongside Nils Frahm for the BBC Proms. It was a breathtaking live show accompanied by dancers from the Royal Ballet in London which is well worth an hour of your time if you can track it down online. I’ve had the privilege of seeing AWVFTS perform on multiple occasions and cannot adequately describe just how beautiful, emotional and joyous those performances were. It’s the kind of music that has to be experienced in the flesh, and through the skin, to be understood. The duo are currently working on their third LP together, this time scoring the forthcoming film by Jalil Lespert entitled ’Iris’. I for one cannot wait to hear it.

With all that in mind, it should come as no surprise, that I am absolutely honoured to present this weeks Métron Musik Mixtape by the American born, Berlin based composer, and one of my all time favourite artists and pianists. Dustin has compiled an ode to his own sound, 47 minutes of truly magnificent ambient, electronic and orchestral music, befitting the recent ‘Post-classical’ movement for which his works have helped to define. His piano playing is unmistakable throughout, as tense and haunting as it can be serene and charming. Here, surrounded by an array of outstanding works from some of his most respected contemporaries; Oneohtrix Point Never, Mark Pritchard, Tim Hecker and the criminally underrated The Caretaker, his works feel timeless. We’re treated to two gorgeous pieces from the recent score of the Drake Doremus film ‘Equals’ and one of my all time favourite pieces of music from A Winged Victory for the Sullen. From start to finish it’s an elegant, dramatic, emotional and heartbreakingly beautiful tour of everything that makes Dustin’s work so enjoyable.

If you enjoyed this mix, be sure to check out more of Dustin’s work. A Winged Victory for the Sullen’s 2014 sophomore LP ‘Atomos’ is an excellent follow up to their self-titled debut, which is a masterpiece. If you can catch them live, it really is a must see. Then there’s the aforementioned film scores and his solo LPs  ‘Piano Solos’, ‘Vorleben’ and ‘Lumiere’. You can also follow what he’s up to on Facebook and Soundcloud.

I chatted with Dustin about the mix and what he's up to in 2016...

JH: Hey Dustin, first of all, congratulations on the Emmy and thank you for agreeing to create this wonderful mixtape for us, I know you have a very busy schedule. Can you tell me a little bit about the selections you made?

DO: Thank you Jack. I enjoyed putting some tracks together for you. Basically things I'm listening to at the moment and a few selected tracks from work I have done. Lately I have been listening a lot to electronic artists who create more sculpture shapes, so I included tracks from Tim Hecker, Oneohtrix Point Never, The Caretaker, and a track from Mark Pritchard's new album which I really love. I also included some soon to be released material from the film score “Equals” which I did with Sacha Ring of Apparat. and my first time doing a full electronic score. As well as a track from my project ‘A Winged Victory For The Sullen' and finishing with a piece from my second piano solos release.

JH: Last year you performed with A Winged Victory For The Sullen as part of the BBC Proms. I’ve seen you play a couple of times live, in some beautiful spaces in Brighton, but to see you all out there at the Royal Albert Hall, performing on BBC television was pretty amazing. In many ways your music is built for such grand spaces. It felt like potentially a watershed moment for the modern brand of ‘Neo-classical’ music. Nils Frahm, who you performed with that night, has played at huge electronic music festivals around the world in recent years, and himself gone on to soundtrack films. Do you think that the audience for your sound is changing and growing,  perhaps more so than in the past?

DO: This was a pretty special night for us and Mary Ann Hobbs from BBC really championed this night to make it happen. It was incredible to play in this cavernous and historic venue where you could really feel the history. To be honest we didn't know how it would sound..sometimes the mixing of amplified acoustic instruments and electronics and Adams guitar can be hard to wrangle in big spaces..but we were surprised at how dynamic and intimate it could be. Also having Wayne Mcgregor's dancers with us for our last was a great way to end a long year of touring and to tie it all together as he commissioned ATOMOS for his his long form dance piece of the same title. It was a night to remember for while for sure.

JH: I guess writing for yourself can be a fairly inward looking process, quite self involved. In contrast, I imagine soundtracking requires a level of empathy in order to accurately communicate the voice of the director and connect the audience to the on screen drama. Does it help the process when you feel a strong connection to the story and the characters? As a huge fan of the show I wondered if there was any specific storylines or characters in Transparent that you could associate with?

DO: Its always a really different process to write for yourself and to write for a film.  Film work is a collaboration and there is already some kind of mood or template there being the story and characters. I always try to bring what i discover in my own work to film and use it as a chance to experiment with other ideas. Most of time I'm not writing for specific characters but more of an overall feeling or mood..the unspoken. Using recording techniques to also create really specific sonic worlds.

JH: Soundtracks are obviously a big part of your musical career, when you come to write do you sit and endlessly watch each scene as you score the soundtrack or is it more about creating pieces of music that fit the overall tone of the project and allow the directors and producers to place the music?

DO: Its always a little different depending on when you get involved in the project. Sometimes I get a script really early and i can start working on ideas just from this. Its always best this way as the music feels more personal and less scored to picture and you have time to really develop the sound. Others time you get a locked cut and really start working to picture right away. But I always try to get away from picture and feel it as music.

JH: I read somewhere that when you started working with Adam Wiltze on the music that eventually became A Winged Victory For The Sullen, there was no specific plan to write an album, let alone two, but that it appeared throughout the process that the project was more than just one LP. You’ve since gone on to release a second LP and are now working on a film score together - do you see the project continuing from there, any plans for a third LP?

DO: A Winged Victory For The Sullen was really born in the most serendipitous way. We both enjoyed each others music and got a long well.. and we didn't realise there was such a good chemistry there. I think we are both a bit surprised its gone as far as it has. But as we continue making music we realise there is always something new to explore and as long as we feel that way I think we will continue. Our new score for Jalil Lesperts new film “ IRIS” continues our sonic exploration as did a lot of modular synth session along with full string orchestra.. we are looking forward to sharing this soon.

JH: What else do you have planned for 2016?

DO: I’m working on new solo material as well as other collaborations with some artists like Benoit Pioulard, wrote a new song with singer Ane Brun which hopefully will result in more, she has the most incredible voice!  but mostly working on my own music and sound experiments!

JH: Oh that's exciting, we love Benoit. We always ask for for some recommendations, a handful of releases we may not have heard, past or present?

DO: Well I'm always going back and listening to a lot of old music.. lately I really love Ennio Morricone’s score to Veruschka, but also really loving Johann Johannsson’s new album that is coming out soon.  I really like Mark Pritchards new album which I included on the mix. And always in my mix Tsegue Tsegue Maryam Goubrou’s solo piano record..one of my favorite timeless recordings.

JH: Thanks again for your time, it’s a real honour to share your music.

1. Cycles Of 9 - Mark Pritchard
2. A Great Divide - Dustin O’Halloran
3. Music Of The Air - Tim Hecker
4. Animals - Oneohtrix Point Never
5. Mental Caverns Without Sunshine - The Caretaker
6. Touch - Dustin O’Halloran - from the film “Equals”
7. Freedom - Dustin O’Halloran - from the film “Equals”
8. A Symphony Pathetique - A Winged Victory For The Sullen
9. Opus 37 - Dustin O’Halloran

Original artwork for the mix created by Jack Hardwicke.
Métron Records 2018. Hampshire, UK.