Interview with Matthijs Kieboom about Wild

Official Matthijs Kieboom picture for Wild 1 - (c) Istar Fotografie
©Istar Fotografie

As you can read on this site, I was present at the recordings of the music for the nature film Wild. Instead of actors, the film stars a group of animals that live in the Dutch national park “De Veluwe”. Dutch composer Matthijs Kieboom wrote the music for this and was willing to tell us more about it in an interview.

Anton Smit: Hello Matthijs, for those who do not know you that well, can you briefly tell us something about yourself, how did you get into this profession?

Matthijs Kieboom: I started working as a co-composer around the age of 22 or 23, for Dutch composer Martijn Schimmer, and there I quickly developed my craft, my talents. After a couple of years, together with Martijn, we founded a company called “Scripted Music”, focused on dramatized music for which there exists a script, such as TV shows and movies. For about a year and a half, parted our ways and I have been working alone since then.

AS: Now that you started for yourself, you also started releasing your music separately. How did you feel about that?

MK: The soundtrack community is large and I know quite a few people because of visiting different festivals and I think that my music should be there as well. I did not like the idea of walking around at these festivals and to announce to everyone that I am a composer, and then nobody has ever heard a note from you, except some Dutch people in the cinemas. In addition most of the time, I am extremely proud of the product I have written. I will not say that it is always brilliantly made since everything excitingly made, is still written under a certain time pressure, and I am proud of that and I want to share that with people.

AS: At the moment, Wild, a documentary about the Veluwe, is in cinemas. What was your train of thought for the music, what did you try to achieve?

MK: First of all, Wild is a feature film and not a documentary. You cannot do a documentary with a script and this is a scripted documentary, so to speak, making it a feature film. A story has been devised and the images are put in a certain order with that in mind. What I especially wanted to do with the music is that normally with a feature film you tell an emotion and you choose a side as it were. On one hand are the actors and on the other hand, there is a storyline that is not told but is present, or someone is angry, or sad. The moment I start to score angrily, everyone will start to feel anger, and write as sad, then everyone will feel down. But I think that you have to look at nature objectively. I sketch the scene, but I do not take a musical standpoint. The moment a fox is chasing a piglet, I’m not going to say: “Oh the piglet is eaten, how terrible!” And I’m not going to say “Yeah fox because you have to eat as well!” I am informing you about the action, but I do not tell you which side you have to choose. My main concern was not to go into the details.

Deer in the Forest - (c) PVPictures
© PVPictures

AS: I noticed something like that when I watched the film. So you look at the general picture musically and do not delve deeper into the animals as actors of the film?

MK: I tried to stay away from that. It is true that the main characters, the boar, the deer and the fox, are given a musical character. With the wild boars, I am a bit silly and funny because they are the comical animals of the forest, a little bit. The deer are a bit more majestic in my music and the fox is musically a little more cunning and clever, so I will go with that. Then we have many side characters which I go along with, and I have an overarching Veluwe theme. Furthermore, what I do is that I try to go with the seasons. Every season, there are big seasonal changes in the film, the music is prominently present. I also try to tell musically what the season theme entails. We start with an overture with beautiful images of the Veluwe and then we literally fall from the sky into the Veluwe with snow in the winter. The music is then cold, chilly, a bit harsh and almost barren when the wind is blowing. And at the moment four minutes or so in the movie when the first snowflakes fall, you can experience it musically. We come at a given moment in the spring, then the music is also somewhat lively. Because in the spring young animals are born, it is more fragile and tinier. In the summer it becomes slightly muggier, then there is also hunting going on and then there is a little more action. It becomes more mysterious because then you have the longest day and the shortest night. Then we come into autumn where I literally let the wind blow through the music. I bought vacuum cleaner hoses, those that you can buy at the toy store, if you quickly swing them around, a tone will come out because of the wind. I bought twelve of these and cut them in different sizes so that I had a hose for each tone chromatically. They are often found under the music in autumn. In the music, you can hear a “wooh-wooh-wooh” sound and that is literally the wind in my studio, where I am working with those things and recorded them and added to the music. It is not even that obvious in the foreground, but it is present and that is important to me.

Recording of Wild - Matthijs Kieboom conducting the strings
Kieboom conducting during the recordings of Wild

AS: You were talking about the Veluwe theme, this can be heard through the whole movie: in the beginning, the seasonal changes and at the very end. When did this theme come to light, is that something you start with or was it composed halfway through the process?

MK: That is a bit difficult because I actually started writing the music two years ago. They had been filming for a year already and they were starting to put the pictures together and they had asked me, if I had the time or if I could write something for them from time to time. I also preferred that, because I knew I would not have a lot of time in the end, and then it’s nice to be able to figure things out, which direction to take. So that is what I did, but really the Veluwe theme was created on the first or second day when I was really working on the film, when the edit was almost finished. I started doing the opening because I thought it was such a majestic scene. I really want to take my time for it, there is no voice-over and we are not involved in the story yet. It is purely about atmosphere and mysticism of what we are about to tell. I want to suck you in as a viewer and when the voice-over starts, the camera pans up and the title comes into play, I knew that if I wanted to do something musically with a theme, it has to be at that moment. That was my working process. What I really liked is that this is only one of the few movies that I have done, where I worked chronologically. Normally I pick the most important scene and and i sketch backwards from this point: from this is the biggest, for example, an over-the-top romantic scene, this is the grandest as it will ever be. And from this point, I strip down to the scenes prior to it. I did not work like that for this film because it is fairly linear in terms of music. I thought it was a fun way to do it chronologically. That Veluwe theme comes in the first three minutes or so, I really wanted to put it on display and it was really the first or the second day of when I started working on the movie for real and on that moment of the film.

AS: Later in the process it was announced that famous Dutch comedian André van Duin was going to do the voice-over and give his own personal humorous touch to the film. If you had known that, would you have composed certain passages a little differently?

MK: No, for several reasons. The movie edit was done and was edited in a pretty serious way, if I was going to make the music funny, it would not correspond to how the film was edited. At the time that it became known that André was going to do the voice-over, it was already known that he was going to do it in a more serious way. I never doubted that either, because I am secretly a fan of Heel Holland Bakt (the Dutch version of The Great British Bake Off where André does the voice-over) and I thought that he was doing it incredibly well. I immediately had the idea of how he would proceed. Anyway, a golden rule for me with comedy is when someone is doing something funny, you should give that some room and not try to be funny as well. In addition, André has placed his voice-over, regarding its tempo and timing around my music since the music was present first. It was practically impossible to go along with him. The film was ready, I wrote music and then André did the voice-over. In any case, I already had talks with the producers at the start the project, about what are we going to create, what kind of style we want and which direction we are taking.

AS: The Veluwe is in Gelderland province, you have your base in Arnhem which is the capital of Gelderland and most musicians came from “Het Gelders Orkest”. That is all chosen consciously?

MK: And the director Luc Enting is from Ede, a town in Gelderland. Yes, this was by choice. With each movie, I am wondering how I should proceed. Is there enough budget and if so what kind of people are we going to ask for recordings, which ones are the most convenient for it? You know that the music in a movie like this is prominently present and then you just want it to be done well. It was a very easy thing to do, we are in Gelderland, and how cool is it to let Het Gelders Orkest play in it as a musical character. When we pitched it to Het Gelders Orkest, they were enthusiastic right from the start. At a given moment it became somewhat clearer what the scoop of the movie was going to be. We had shown some images and then the enthusiasm became even bigger and bigger. As a result, the orchestra participated in the film, they are also a partner on the poster and I am very proud that with Het Gelders Orkest we could make it a real Gelderland experience.

Official Matthijs Kieboom picture for Wild 2 - (c) Istar Fotografie
©Istar Fotografie

AS: When I listen to the music, played by Het Gelders Orkest together with some other musicians, I miss one instrument, namely the trumpets. What were your thoughts behind it?

MK: I had two reasons for that. The music is in the middle and the low register. Also a lot of little flutes and violin sounds, but in general it is pretty in the middle, because the animals, especially the birds and the foxes are themselves a bit higher in terms of sound, so I wanted to stay away from the shrieking and high tones. At one point while you are composing, you realize that you did not use any trumpets at all. Then you are composing and you start to think that you could use trumpets in one place; but to have only three measures of trumpets and none for the rest of the score – then you replace that for something else. That is purely practical, it is a crime to have just one or two trumpet players in your studio for two minutes. I also think that the style I used would become quite grotesque if I had started to use trumpets. Trumpets are often related to something big, like a Star Wars or an Indiana Jones, a fanfare-like feeling, or it can also be used for very jazzy music. I do not want it to be grotesque because we are only looking at a wild boar, a deer, and a fox and not at a killer whale, a lion or a bison. So I did not want to make it too big, but of course, there are moments in a score where I think I could have used trumpets there. Perhaps if there is ever a live performance, then I will probably integrate them, but I did not feel the need.

AS: Speaking of live performances, at the moment the nature film Planet Earth II with a live orchestra is being toured with the big name of Hans Zimmer attached to it, do you think we can expect something like that in the Netherlands with Wild?

MK: I really have no idea. The music comes from my brain and is now partly owned by me and partly by the producer and the distributor. The distributor is also the owner of the film rights. Het Gelders Orkest should have the mood and the time for it. If that is the case, then the question remains whether everyone likes to participate. Especially for only a Dutch film, this would be an unconventional undertaking. I hope that we are going to see it. I would love it and of course, it would be a huge honor if that is ever going to happen.

AS: Are we going to find the music on digital services such as Spotify and iTunes?

MK: Yes, that’s what we are working on. We are in the final phase. It will probably come online within a few days and hopefully also on physical CD!

AS: A more general question. For any aspiring composers who like to do the same craft, do you have any tips for them?

MK: It’s a bit of a cliché answer, but especially listening to your own creative mind. Do not look around too much to see what other people are doing. Follow your own creative instinct and never stop learning!

AS: Wild is now playing in the cinema, just like Taal and the movie Gek van Oranje is going to premiere soon. What can we expect from you in the near future?

MK: I’m working on a number of feature films that I cannot give the titles of and hopefully an international endeavor this or next year.

AS: I think that’s a beautiful cliffhanger!

MK: Yes!

fltr: Matthijs, Anton and orchestrator Thomas Bryła during the recordings of Wild

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