Composer Spotlight – Arun Sol

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This week MakeMusic and the Garritan Blog interviews composer Arun Sol. Arun describes how he recommitted himself to his writing while working in a rather un-inspirational warehouse, and how he now makes time every morning to compose…

MM: Tells us where you’re from!

AS: I was born in Melbourne, Australia. When I was a child, my family moved further north to Brisbane, but now I live in Montreal, Canada. Currently waiting for summer; apparently it’s coming.

MM: What is your background in music? 

 AS: When I was a kid, I took violin lessons – I never practiced regularly but when I picked up the guitar as a teenager, I discovered the joy of writing my own songs… Many years and a couple of bands later (one experimental, one folk/pop), I found myself working on my solo folk performances and, slowly, getting drawn into the infinite world of midi orchestration…

MM: What music software do you use if any? 

 AS: My main software tools are Garritan Personal Orchestra which I use in Cubase SX. The versions I’m using are fantastic but they’re about 8 years old, so I do plan to upgrade at some point to whatever else Garritan now offers… However, there’s something to be said for being very familiar with the tools you use – knowing their strengths, their limitations and how to work around them: it took me a long time to really get the hang of it. But I have made a promise to myself to buy new software when I eventually make some money from music.

In terms of hardware, I’m still using my 8-year-old iMac G5 (“ol’ whirry”, I call her). I don’t have a midi interface like a keyboard, so everything I compose is drawn by hand using a mouse in Cubase’s key editor. Although I’ve been told that other composers often prefer to work with a physical keyboard, I really like the note-by-note control I get. I’m not limited to what I can play, only to what I can imagine.

MM: You frequently post new music to the Arun Sol SoundCloud page. Do you practice composing everyday? We’d love to hear about your routine if any, or do you just write when inspiration strikes?

 AS: About a 2 years ago, I was working in a warehouse for minimum wage, feeling a bit down about things and not really finding much time/energy to work on music: this is a bad thing, it goes without saying! Anyway, I was talking to one of my colleagues (who was a writer in his spare time) and he told me that he would get up early every morning to write. I started giving it a go, waking up an hour earlier, making a coffee and working on the music… it totally transformed my day.

OK, I wouldn’t always get anything great done at 6am – technical glitches and tweaking can eat up countless hours – but no matter how crappy the day was that followed, I felt like I had developed my craft a little more and, when the weekend came, I would blitz through whatever I was working on. So, long story short, I don’t wait for inspiration: it comes and goes… in the meantime, I chisel and sand and tweak and polish.

Also, having a bunch of different projects on the go at the same time is really fun for me: I get too precious if I’ve worked on something for a long time, whereas a bit of time writing something completely different often brings me some healthy perspective.

MM: Tells us about your upcoming projects! 

 AS: I’ve written 11 pieces of music for a pirate-themed video game so I’m waiting for the game to be finished before I release the tunes… I’m very excited about this and had an amazing time working on it. I’ve written the soundtrack to an animated short film – waiting for that to be finished too.

I’m working on some other video game projects… Nothing’s finalized yet but please keep an eye out on my SoundCloud page for updates:

MM: Share a classic Arun Sol trick or workflow with our audience of Garritan users. Perhaps tell us how you achieved a certain effect you’re proud of from a recent composition?

 AS: Recently, I’ve really been focusing on the dynamics of my pieces to create surges, silence, soft pitter-patters and everything in between. For each piece, I’m thinking “how soft, sparse, fleeting and delicate can I play it?” and at the opposite end, of course, “How intense can it go?”. I’m particularly proud of creating this sort of effect in some of my recent pieces, for example “When All Else Fails” and “The Penny Pincher”.

What I do to achieve this is definitely no secret, but it does take discipline in this world of “louder and more is better”… An effective way for me to get this sort of contrast is to push each instrument to its low volume/attack extreme (because I go for the other extreme out of habit). But perhaps more importantly, I really like to simply not hear a part – remove it, shorten notes, drop out instruments, only hear a part once in a song, or play it with a different instrument, or just cut out everything: silence is sometimes exactly what’s needed.

MM: What advice do you have for composers or students who would like to follow in your footsteps?

AS: I wish I could say I’m a professional musician and I was able to quit my day job… but what I can say is that I’m working on projects that are inspiring me and I’m creating music I’m truly proud of. I do have one source of inspiration in particular which I would like to share: there are many indie filmmakers, animators and game developers out there, working on their personal projects just as we work on our music. Get in touch with some of them and start collaboration if you’re game – it can really push you to create music you would never have dreamed of otherwise.

A big thanks to Arun for taking the time to chat with us. If you have a question or comment for Arun, please leave a comment below.

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