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  • Vasili Papathanasopoulos


The musician unpacks composing the score for the ABC mini docu-series

Image: Supplied.

Last month, Melbourne filmmaker Josef Gatti and producer Rob Innes premiered their ABC mini docu-series, Phenomena. Funded by Screen Australia and produced in association with the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and production assistance from Film Victoria, the art-meets-science program brings to life nine experiments that showcase different naturally occurring forces of nature that shape the universe and everything in it.

Scored by musical mastermind Kim Moyes, one half of The Presets, the musician composed a bespoke piece of music for each experiment, with each episode taking on its own sonic identity that represented the experiment being undertaken.

We caught up with Moyes to discuss his creative process whilst scoring Phenomena, working alongside Josef Gatti, how music can shape and influence a visual and so much more!

Phenomena is out now and available to watch here. Read our interview with Kim Moyes below.

What drew you to work on this project, and how did you arrive at the sonic sounds present within Phenomena?

I was approached by a friend and musical colleague who was working as a producer on Phenomena. He had reached out to me to see if I had any interest as a potential composer on the project. The brief pitch was what they were working on was one part Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos”, one part psychedelic trip. That immediately grabbed my interest.

I saw some of the work in progress and was very impressed with how detailed and striking the experiments were filmed and presented. It seemed to have a very fresh approach to it while still feeling like it was putting forward a solid amount of scientific knowledge at its foundation.

Once I signed up for the project I had quite a few creative discussions with director Josef Gatti about how we can approach the sound. Essentially he wanted me to create a bespoke piece of music for each experiment. We both felt that the score should feel simultaneously electronic and organic and that each episode or experiment should have its one sonic identity. We put together a list of musical touch stones as reference points and from there I plunged into the deep end and started sketching ideas.

We've always felt there was a direct correlation between arts and sciences. How important is this topic to you and can you elaborate on your own cohesive vision between the music and imagery presented by Josef Gatti and Rob Innes?

Art and Music certainly have strong links to science in a very pure sense and not exclusively on a technical level. That side of creativity has always felt like a bit of a passion to me.

I started reading music relatively late in my education and I always felt I was behind my peers at school on many technical levels so made extra effort to absorb as much of that technical knowledge as possible.

At the end of the day sound is Physics and in a sense the better your understanding of certain scientific or technical aspects of playing an instrument or making sounds and songs can really assist in getting the ideas out of you in ways that can really help the creative process.

Of course this information can get in the way too but the extra knowledge of why things sound the way they do and how things can or don’t fit together

Can be really fascinating at the very least.

Josef Gatti’s scientific and creative experiments were dealing with seen and unseen patterns in nature. I felt a great affinity with this idea. Being a percussionist and producing a lot electronic dance music over the years a huge part of my understanding and approach to music is through the repetition of patterns and how these things can work together to make the listener feel certain energies or emotions. In a lot of ways making music to accompany Josef’s experiments felt fairly effortless and second nature to me because of this.

What was involved in your own creative process and inspiration behind this work? How did it evolve over time and overall what was it like working with Gatti and Innes on a project like this? Did you work on this as separate episodes, or one 28 minute score?

Josef and Rob had been working on this project for quite a few years before I was brought on board. Josef in particular had been creating and editing the art side of the project to some pre-existing “temporary” music that he was already a fan of. I was cautious to not let the temp sound track dilute my impressions of the work too much so asked Josef if he wouldn’t mind sending me all of the videos as silent video pieces without music.

I then spent a few weeks really taking in the videos and letting them get under my skin until I felt I was ready to start creating. I got a quick sense of the sort of tempos Josef was editing too and then systematically set about making around 25-30 sketch ideas of varying approaches and moods so as to build up a variety of ideas for Josef to pick from.

Once I felt that I’d exhausted all of the ideas I set out to make I sent a long list over to Josef to listen too. He seemed really happy and inspired with everything and immediately started cherry picking from the list and pairing music up with the videos. Most videos and music were paired quite quickly and there was only a couple that needed a bit more of discussion to fill the gaps. Then it was a case of making each piece flow a bit more dynamically with the experiments in terms of interest and length. That part was very collaborative and fun. Josef had an amazing amount of trust in me and I was just happy to help him realise his vision and keep him feeling excited.

We then reached a point when we had all the individual 9 episodes locked and then it was simply a case of Josef and his team mixing all the visuals and music together into one long format 28 minute work, a bit like a DJ mix tape.

ABC iview feature Phenomena as a 28 minute film, however it has also been broken down into 9 episodes. Do you have a favourite episode? Or does one episode in particular stand out to you as unforgettable?

“Light” immediately felt like the showstopper from the first time I saw the visuals. Incredibly striking to look at, beautiful colours and shapes. “Waves” as well was a bit of a fav from the first viewing.

In terms of the music “Evolution” was the last piece of the puzzle to come together. I ended up collaborating with Mel from Moody Beach for that one. We had just finished making an album together and have developed a great collaborative partnership. It’s one of 2 songs in the score that feature vocals and stood out to me as something quite personally satisfying to make for this project.

How did you approach composing the soundtrack for Phenomena versus your own albums? Were there any challenges?

Making an album that exists entirely on its own terms can be a very daunting process at the beginning of a new project. Sometimes it’s a struggle to know where to begin when there are a lot of variables to work with.

I found creating the soundtrack to Phenomena certainly had its own learning curve, its a fairly particular project, but the thing I absolutely loved about it was that I was making the music to suit already formed video content and most importantly, Josef had to like it. He is the director, it’s his project and he knew what he wanted. In that sense it’s a lot like producing an album for another artist only this time I am the musical artist but at ultimately its Josefs project and it has to work for his vision. That definitely made it a lot easier to create.

As I said before Josef put a lot of trust in what I was doing which made the process fairly easy and a joyful one.

Music is quite powerful, it elevates and heightens the overall experience. What has been a movie or series soundtrack or score that remains with you to this day?

There are so many film scores I have fallen in love with over the years for many different reasons so it’s hard to know where to begin. One of my favourite Soundtracks of all time is Vangelis’s score to Bladerunner. The “Qatsi trilogy” scored by Philip Glass has been a massive influence. The opening theme to Miyazaki’s “Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind” by Joe Hisaishi often has me in tears and I love pretty much all of his scores.

I adore the soundtrack to “Animal Kingdom” by Anthony Partos, “The Boys” by The Necks and “Snowtown” by Jed Kurzel. Other notable mentions are Jóhann Jóhannsson’s “Mandy” and Bernard Herrmann’s “Taxi Driver”

I am also a massive fan of the curated soundtracks like Trent Reznor’s selections

On “Natural Born Killers” or Sophia Coppola’s “Lost In Translation”. The Tarantino films fall into this category as well and have always made a huge impression.

More recently have been quite impressed with Ludwig Goranssons score for “Tenet”

Was there a particular experiment within the series that really captured your imagination, leaving an impact on you?

The sound “Waves” experiment has always been an intriguing one to me. I have seen the effect of sound waves in sand a few times before and it never ceases to amaze me in the way that sound can create such particular, balanced and seemingly perfect visual patterns right before your eyes. The same experiment with sound waves creating patterns in water was a new one for me and the way that Josef captured those is particularly beautiful and mesmerising.

The overall work is beautiful and the imagery is quite stunning, however if you could pick any artwork outside of the visuals present within Phenomena to capture the essence of the project, what would it be and why?

My first impression of Phenomena really reminded me of the Qatsi film trilogy by Godfrey Reggio and similarly the film Baraka by Ron Frike. What these films have in common with Phenomena is not just the use of technology and creative film techniques to show nature in a visually stunning way but also the use of non-verbal time based art to tell a story about the natural world and what is often happening unseen around us at any given time.

What can we expect from you next?

My focus at the moment is on making a bit of solo material as well as a bunch of new Presets stuff. There are a few DJ things starting to come back again which is nice after the hiatus of 2020 (touch wood..) I’m also doing a lot with my label “Here To Hell” which has a heap of exciting up and coming releases planned for the rest of the year. Keep an ear out!


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