Alberto Iglesias has been composing film music for nearly 40 years. The 66-year-old composer began working in his native Spain in the early 1980s, and in 1995 he wrote the music for Pedro Almodóvar’s The Flower of My Secret. It was Iglesias' first time working with Spain's most famous filmmaker, but it would not be the last. Since then, Iglesias has composed the music for every feature film Almodóvar has directed—including All About My Mother, Talk to Her, Volver and Pain & Glory—and it's a collaboration that has now lasted for over a dozen films and nearly 30 years.
But between projects with Almodóvar, Iglesias has also collaborated with an incredible array of global filmmakers, and he's received Oscar nominations for his work on films by Fernando Meirelles (2005's The Constant Gardener), Marc Forster (2007's The Kite Runner), and Tomas Alfredson (2011's Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy). Other notable films Iglesias scored include Sex and Lucía, Che (Part One and Part Two), The Two Faces of January, Exodus: Gods and Kings, Ma Ma and The Summit.
Iglesias, who is nominated this year for Best Original Score for Parallel Mothers, spoke with A.frame about the mechanics and the evolving nature of his collaborations with Almodóvar, and about the global scope of his celebrated filmography.
A.frame: You've now composed the music for 13 films by Pedro Almodóvar. Can you talk about how your working relationship with Almodóvar has changed and evolved over the 27 years you've been collaborating?
Alberto Iglesias: It's a lot of time, and many things have changed. But my admiration for his films always makes me dream like the first time he came to me with a project. Of course, he's changing all the time, and so am I. When I met him he was a very well-known director with his own style, and it was difficult for me to start with him. I had seen all of his films, and I felt this pressure to work with such a great artist. But he made it very easy.
Pedro is an artist that wants to change every time, and he opened the doors of his world to me. I'm still trying to understand his films and each part of the films. I don't know how to describe it. Especially in the last experience, with Parallel Mothers, the coexistence between music and words changed. In the beginning, the music was conceived for the transitions between sequences, where there were no words. But now the music is in a coexistence with the dialogue.
Because you're so familiar with Almodóvar's style now over nearly three decades of collaboration, do you find you start composing from the script stage? Or do you still wait until you see completed footage?
I have a period of working when I read the script, but it's not a very productive time. The film has started working inside me, and sometimes I'll write something. But I don't really start until I see the film so I can appreciate how sequences are conceived. I have to have this immersive experience to really start to write.
In the script, it's more difficult to see where the music can really work, or at what point the music can be expressive; even the simplicity to see where the music can be a slow movement or a fast movement. So until I see the film I don't have a clear idea about it. The colors are very important to the music and of course the voices of the actors and actresses. Those are the main inspirations for me: voices, colors and the soul of the film that becomes evident from the footage.
And when you talk about seeing the footage, are you talking about dailies and rushes from production, or are you talking about fully edited sequences in postproduction?
When I see the film, it's almost finished. It's something that hasn't happened as much with other directors, but when Pedro finishes shooting a film, the film is almost finished. I don't remember which of Pedro's films it was, but there was one that I think I saw just one day after shooting, and the edit was nearly done. He only changed something like 15 seconds from that point. It's because Pedro works with the editor during the shoot, and he doesn't hold many different choices for the sequences; it's one idea, and he shoots it in one shape, one form. So that makes it very easy for me, because when he calls me, I see the entire film.
Do you feel like any of your films with Almodóvar have been particularly more challenging than others?
All the films have been very challenging for me. I'm always trying to understand my task—what it is to be a composer, what music does in a film. It's not something I can change. I would like to find my job easier, but at the same time, I like that. I like to ask these questions of films about why the music is here, and why music is needed.
But there have been differences between films. There are films that were very easy to understand musically, and I did the work very fast. But there were others where I had to do many corrections or go backwards. For example, in All About My Mother, I started with another mood. It was more sad. But the film needed another style, another idea for the music, and I had to restart.
One thing that really stands out when looking at your filmography is the sheer expanse of geography for the films you've been involved with. You've composed the music for films set in Africa, the Middle East, South America, the U.K., the Caribbean and Continental Europe. How did you become so adept at capturing settings and national flavors in your music?
It's a very interesting question. It was not my choice, but I came like this. I like popular music very much. And each time that I work for a film, I have to describe the place and the landscape and the flavor. So I would come to the popular music of the place to inspire me. I'm not a specialist in African music or Asian music, but I have experiences with those styles of music, and I try to be very sensitive to their sensibilities. I like to get deep into these experiences, and you also have to find those emotions, so the emotions become the most important thing in the score.
The U.S. is conspicuously absent on the list of film settings you've composed music for. Is that by design or coincidence?
Yes, it's interesting, because I have been very influenced by American music. Maybe not American popular music, though. I have been very influenced by jazz, and very influenced by the masters of classic Hollywood scores. American culture is very important to my idea of music; Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and the free jazz artists have been very important to my roots. Pedro Almodóvar is also a very huge fan of Miles Davis, and the first time I wrote for trumpet in a similar way to Miles for one of his films, Pedro recognized it immediately. There is a lot of Miles' music that I love, and I love his capacity to change and transform himself. I admire him very much.
Who are some other contemporary film composers who continue to inspire and challenge you?
I love a lot of composers from today, even among my fellow nominees. I love Hans Zimmer's music. It's very different from mine, but I think he's an incredible composer. And Jonny Greenwood and Alexandre Desplat are incredible composers. I love film music and I'm very sensitive to the work of other composers.
Do you have a favorite of your own scores?
Always the last one.