Album preview: Harmony by Borrtex2:41, 10th December 2020
Czech composer and pianist Borrtex discusses his background in the film industry and introduces his new solo album Harmony
What were your formative musical influences and experiences?
I began piano lessons when I was six years old, but I have to admit I wasn’t a big fan of music back then. The lessons were my Mum’s idea – she plays the piano and wanted me to play as well. I had a great piano teacher who was always very kind and supportive, but I just didn’t find it interesting to play other people’s music according to their notes and instructions.
After seven years at music school, I thought I would never return to the piano in my life. But after a few more years had passed by, when I heard good songs on the radio I felt a natural desire to learn how to play them on the piano. I started enjoying it much more because I wasn’t limited by any study plans. For me, it’s this freedom that brings me joy from music.
How did you switch from being a filmmaker to becoming a composer?
As soon as I turned 13, I started becoming seriously interested in movies and television shows. The film industry really fascinated me and I knew I wanted to be part of it. In 2015 I got a summer job for my local film-related website, which eventually brought me lots of interesting opportunities – one of which was a cinematographer position in a four-part documentary project about Warner Brothers Studios in Hollywood.
While we were filming in Los Angeles, we interviewed some world-famous film composers like James Newton Howard, Danny Elfman and Hans Zimmer. Their careers and musical journeys really inspired me, and when I came home to Europe I started thinking of returning to music. I released my first piano demos publicly and was shocked by the amazing response from the audience! Since then, I haven’t considered doing anything other than music. It became my most intense passion, which now has its own space very close to my heart.
In just three years you’ve released a dozen albums. What prompted you to create so much new material in such a short time?
It’s because of the close connection between film and music. As a movie fan with a musical background, I used to pay a lot of attention to soundtracks – so when I started working on my own musical projects, most of them were inspired by movie soundtracks. Even though I wasn’t writing for specific films, I would always imagine scenes in my mind and create music to my own fantasy world. It’s interesting how this ‘reverse process’ works, and soon I started getting licensing inquiries from independent film makers then larger global companies who wanted to use my music for their video projects or advertisements.
Many of your compositions include computer-generated orchestrations. How do you create these mixes?
I think virtual orchestration is a perfect tool for low-budget mixing. If you know what buttons to press, and how to modulate the sounds correctly, it can sound really close to a live orchestra. My method is to master the sounds of the leading instruments (recorded live) then use the virtual orchestration tools to bring more intense emotional aspects to the sounds.
Lately, though, I’ve become a bit sceptical about using virtual instruments. I would love to work more with real musicians who can bring their own musical tastes. Recording a solo cello melody, for example, will always sound much more natural with a professional musician than with a virtual instrument. But both methods have their upsides and downsides. It depends on what you need and the size of your budget.
Do you decide the titles for each piece and album in advance, or are they added after the music is finished?
When my work was inspired by soundtracks, I came up with titles in advance: I liked the idea of creating my own movie concept and storyline which I would then try to score. But last year, with my solo debut album Thoughts, I decided to change the creative process by letting the music be the first thing to speak when working on a new project. I adopted a similar process for my latest album Harmony: I first created the music, and then titled the compositions based on the emotions and feelings they evoked in me. This method gives me more freedom.
You’ve used a specially built piano for your latest album. What makes this instrument unique?
I think the piano is the most beautiful instrument ever created. For me, it’s the most convincing tool to express what I feel. Earlier this year, I bought a custom-made acoustic upright piano. It has a crystal-clear sound, similar to a grand piano, and the felt functionality is excellent, which is something I was specifically looking for. The wood comes from the original piano built in the ‘90s but all the internal elements are brand new. All these components – the hammers, strings and even the wooden cover – are all part of the instrument.
In Harmony, I wanted the sound to be as realistic as possible. I want my listeners to feel that they are sitting right next to me, that they are part of the performance as well. Setting up the microphones in a certain way and having these close sounds in the recording really helps to build the desired atmosphere. The music seems to be closer to your heart.
Harmony takes the listener on a journey that begins with pulsating minimalist music and ends with lyrical ballads. Do you have a philosophy that informs this narrative?
Most of the musical ideas in Harmony came to me while I was improvising. There was a lot of experimenting, and you can probably hear this in the initial songs like ‘Fluid’ or ‘Crossing’. I was trying to keep things creative and come up with something I hadn’t done before. As production progressed, I started returning to my typical musical style: easy listening, heart-warming piano ballads. Afterwards, when I looked back at what I had composed, it seemed to be the perfect balance between slow, fast, dynamic, loud and soft songs. It encompassed everything, so that’s when the title Harmony was born.
Harmony by Borrtex is released on 20 December 2020. borrtex.com