I caught up with Emmy-nominated composer,  and former member of the classic German electronic band Tangerine Dream, Paul Haslinger, for a chat on composing challenges, his career, what makes a great score, what it was like composing for Netflix's much-lauded Mötley Crüe movie The Dirt,  and more, as it relates to his latest project, "Halt and Catch Fire Volume 2 – Original Television Series Soundtrack", which can be ordered here courtesy of Lakeshore Records.

Paul Haslinger.

Tangerine Dream in Minneapolis, MN in 1986. Paul Haslinger is pictured in the middle with Edgar Froese. Source: welt.de

Haslinger is an LA-based, Austrian composer and electronic musician known for his involvement with legendary German group Tangerine Dream from 1986 till 1990, as well as his extensive work for film, television, and video game scores. During the 1990s, he also released a few solo albums (three under his own name and one as Coma Virus) that explored various ethnic influences as well as industrialdark ambient, and triphop. He has collaborated with Nona HendryxJon HassellLustmordFennesz, and many others. 

Haslinger began scoring short films in the late '90s, in addition to programming and arranging film scores by Graeme Revell, including The SiegePitch Black, and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. Starting with 2000 HBO film Cheaters, Haslinger scored several films by director John Stockwell, including Crazy/Beautiful and Blue Crush.

He began scoring video games with 2005's Far Cry Instincts for Ubisoft Entertainment. Haslinger's music for the Showtime series Sleeper Cell was nominated for an Emmy Award in 2007. Other notable soundtracks Haslinger has composed include Shoot 'Em Up (2007), Death Race (2008), Underworld: Rise of the Lycans (2009), The Three Musketeers (2011), Underworld: Awakening (2012), Resident Evil: The Final Chapter (2016), The Dirt (2019) and Halt and Catch Fire.

Halt and Catch Fire—the AMC Studios series that ran for four seasons – captures the rise of the PC era in the early 1980s, focused on four main characters attempting to innovate against the changing backdrop of technology and Texas’ Silicon Prairie. The series was created and is executive produced by showrunners Christopher Cantwell and Christopher C. Rogers.

Catch "Halt and Catch Fire Volume 2 – Original Television Series Soundtrack" out now, courtesy of those most-excellent purveyors of always spectacular film music, Lakeshore Records; also enjoy the exclusive track – titled "Dreamers and Misfits" – that The 405 premiered from it embedded below the interview here. 

HALT AND CATCH FIRE Season 1 trailer.

Hello Paul and welcome to The 405! To start things off, I was hoping we could get an idea of what your creative process as a composer looks like when you start a project.

I usually start by looking for creative sparks - could be a new sound, a conceptual idea, a script, some footage I see… or a combination thereof. Once there is a spark, there is usually fire and then you just need to make sure the wind does't blow it out.

Very true. On a somewhat related question, your approach. What are the main things that a great score needs to do?

Functionally speaking, score supports story. And a big part of that is to not get in the way of story. I find most projects over-scored. Music should have its moments to shine, but it should be content at other times to stay extremely simple and understated if that's what supports the picture the best.

I agree. The best is not distracting. It does not snap you out of suspending your disbelief with the movie itself. You still forget you're watching a movie – if it's a good one.

Pivoting just a bit, you have quite the variety of film genres under your "composed by" belt too. Do you consider one genre easier to score than another? Why or why not?

Not really. So far, I've found ways under any circumstances to have some musical fun – it doesn't really matter to me which particular country we're in, or where we're driving. One of the absolute perks of writing for film and TV is specifically the fact that you are not beholden to a particular style. You can try as many different things as you like. For someone who gets bored quickly, this is quite a gift. It also bears the risk of getting lost on occasion, a price I'm happy to pay.

That seems to be the consensus among many of the composers I've put that question to. I admire your adaptability there too Paul, I'd imagine it's key in helping keep things interesting.

Does your time in Tangerine Dream influence your approach as a composer? Why or why not?

 It certainly was my start in film scoring and it laid the foundation for many things that came after.

Tangerine Dream at the time was understood as an alternative to traditional film scoring and it's a principle I kept applying in my work after leaving the band. On the other hand, Tangerine Dream was asked for the same type of alternate score over and over again. Leaving the band allowed me to cast my net wider, to keep exploring and discovering.

Interesting. Did your time in Tangerine Dream color your approach to Halt and Catch Fire with it being an '80s period series? What else initially attracted you to it?

At the start, it was obviously just a project that seemed like a good fit, a great chance to have some fun. Once I began working on the show, it became clear very quickly that this was not just an opportunity to revisit some '80s music, but that the writing, the cast, the whole crew, was one of those lucky coincidences where the right elements come together at the right time. One of the best teamwork experiences I ever had, it really fuelled everybody to work extra-hard and come up with something special.

That's fantastic. I remember really enjoying the series when it first came out. That kind of atmosphere really bleeds over into the final cut. What were the challenges like on scoring it?

There was great mutual respect between all creatives on the show, and the biggest challenges were typically the ones I set for myself, wanting my work to match the quality of the material I was scoring. The show's creators, Christ Cantwell and Chris Rogers, are both huge music fans, so we would regularly geek out on all aspects of sound, mix and general sonic architecture of the show. We definitely kept challenging each other, in the best and most creative ways.

Cool! A twist on a question I usually ask, what films, scores, composers and musicians would you say most molded you as a composer and musician?

If you're asking who inspired me, that's a ridiculously long list…

Yeah, it's a big question.

I am not sure if anybody "molded" me –

Substitute "influenced."

I see myself in a long chain of musicians and music history, where certain composers and events always influenced and inspired the next generation – it's a fluid structure with no hard delineations.

Absolutely.

Picking a few favorite composers of recent times (and with a spotlight on film), I would mention Bernard Herrmann, Ennio Morricone, Georges Delerue, Jerry Fielding, Ryuichi Sakamoto, Warren Ellis, Arvo Pärt, Edgard Varése.

Cast of HALT AND CATCH FIRE. Source:AMC

One title you scored that jumped out at me because I consider the film a bit of a guilty pleasure is 2007's Shoot ‘Em Up. The film is pretty brilliant, high-octane, action movie satire and the "bullet ballet" moniker for it was very fitting. I'm curious, what were the unique challenges with that as a project?

It was a tricky project, for sure. They had tried a variety of music approaches and found that they wanted a more modern approach than the usual Hollywood orchestral score. The film had some edge and they wanted the music to reflect that.

Absolutely. That scene with Motörhead’s “Ace of Spades” absolutely embodied that edge, musically-speaking, as an example.

My approach was to go into a studio here in LA and to form a band for the project (Justin Meldal-Johnson of Beck and NIN fame was musical director).

Nice.

We recorded a lot of material, some of it to picture, other parts just as free track developments. I then pre-mixed and went on writing the score based on these recordings, adding new parts. It was the first time I worked in this open, modular style (cycles of writing - recording - arranging) and have stuck with it ever since. It combines my knowledge of working in studios producing records, with writing for the specific purposes of film.

Monica Bellucci and Clive Owen in 2007’s SHOOT ‘EM UP. Source:YouTube

Fascinating how a movie like Shoot 'Em Up would help you find and refine that new way of working.

You've also scored great movies like The Dirt. What were the challenges like on that when much of the main music is Mötley Crüe level legendary? Does that put an interesting kind of pressure on a composer?

The Dirt was a lot of fun, in part, again, because we had a great team working on it. Knowing there would be a lot of featured and on-camera MC music, it was clear the score would function as a supplement, or glue, if you will, tying the story together and keeping the energy going in moments that did not feature any songs. It was a lot of fun, despite some of the gory details.

Interesting. Yeah, it's getting a lot of very justified praise. Our last question Paul, what's next for you?

I am finishing a new album project with Peter Baumann (ex-Tangerine Dream, like myself) which we hope to release later this year.

Wonderful.

I am also starting to work on the film Monster Hunter, which will reunite me with [director and writer] Paul W.S. Anderson and Milla Jovovich. Monster Hunter is based on the computer game of the same name. Set for release in early 2020, it will be larger than life and a great opportunity to come up with more musical monster madness.

 

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”Dreamers and Misfits” from “HALT AND CATCH FIRE, Volume 2 – Original Television Series Soundtrack.

THE DIRT (2019) trailer.

SHOOT ‘EM UP (2007) trailer.