Ludwig Göransson
Photo by Austin Hargrave

Ludwig Göransson: “I’m building a puzzle”

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Short Profile

Name: Ludwig Göransson
DOB: 1 September 1984
Place of birth: Linköping, Sweden
Occupation: Film composer, music producer

The Mandalorian, a television series featuring original music by Ludwig Göransson, premiered via Disney+ on 12 November 2019.

Ludwig, as a film composer, how do you experiment with sound?

My doors are just completely open. I’m always trying to experiment and combine different instruments you haven’t heard together before, different styles of music you haven’t heard together before and different styles of production — for instance, you take something really old and organic like a flute but then you wind it through a modern production element, creating some effects on it that you haven’t heard before, almost like having a combination of the old world and the new world.

You did that for Black Panther’s Killmonger theme, right? Apparently you used a trap beat over a Senegalese fula flute.

Yeah, and that’s what I love about film scores and film music, because you experiment to find new ways and can have completely different experiences. Black Panther was a journey for me. I had to physically go to places I’d never been before like to Senegal in order to research traditional African music and instruments and meet people and discover instrumentalists that I’d never met before, like Baaba Maal. And then there’s also more of a mental journey.

“I knew the only way I could write this music was to write something completely different from the original.”

What do you mean?

Well, with The Mandalorian for instance, the Star Wars show made by Jon Favreau, I had to kind of dig into my own childhood memories of what Star Wars meant to me — I had to go through my inner thoughts and feelings about how did I feel when I saw Star Wars for the first time, because those are the things that I want to try and get kids to feel with my music now.

Did you feel pressured to live up to John Williams’ iconic score?

Absolutely, because I think for most film composers, Star Wars is the Holy Grail of film music. That’s the most famous film music, ever! I knew the only way I could write this music was to write something completely different from the original, yet still catch the soul and honor the legacy of what Star Wars music is.

How did you go about that?

After having read the script, I bought a set of different recorders: soprano, alto, tenor and bass recorders, and then I locked myself off in the studio for one month! The sound of the recorder is very interesting to me. It can sound very meditational and hypnotic and there was something about that that resonated with the characters of the show to me. I didn’t have any computers and I just played these flutes, a piano, drums, guitar and bass and a couple of synthesizers and then later on, after I already had a theme from the sounds, I kind of manipulated them through a computer, and added that tech aspect of the music.

So you start with the more emotional composition, and perfect the sound on the computer?

I feel like when I am writing music it’s all emotional — I guess what I was trying to do with turning the computers off was turning off the logical way of writing music, which happens a lot when you’re by the computer and when you write music in the computer. What happens is that you start to think about it in logical terms and see the music in a sequencer in front of you: as ones and zeros! You see the music laid out in a way that’s not really natural.

Ludwig Göranssen's Killmonger Theme from 2018's Black Panther

Nils Frahm says that he prefers the unexpected sound of instrumental music to the more consistent, uniform sounds made with digital plug-ins.

Right. When I just play music, the instruments are taking me on a different journey, emotionally. I’m starting with the recorder, and if I play this on the recorder I get an emotional response to go to the piano and play something different over it, and that leads me to play something on the drums, and so forth. I’m kind of building a puzzle just through capturing an instrument and having an organic connection with my fingers and my body through my music.

You once said that in today’s movies, you can’t just have one song play through a whole five-minute scene because people simply don’t have that kind of patience.

Yeah, and imagine that something like The Mandalorian is made up of eight episodes — it’s like writing four feature films! (Laughs) But finding this balance, that’s not just when you write music for movies, it’s in life too. Just knowing when to pause is essential, because most of the times, the pauses and the silences have the most effect. It’s the most dramatic moment. The better you are at understanding this, the better your message will come through and that’s the same with music.

So you are able to take that essential pause even when you’re deep in the process of writing a score?

Well, this is something that I think goes across the board for all artists: when I go to work in the studio, regardless of if I write music, produce an album or write a film score, you just immerse yourself into this other world — and you become obsessed. Most artists are extremists! You close yourself off, and it becomes this world. Especially when you’re working on a film, you already have a visual element in front of you all the time, that gets imprinted into your eyes.

“For me, it’s inevitable that every time I see a movie in the theater, I pay attention to the music.”

Is it important to you that the music can tell a story on its own, or do the two always go hand in hand?

If you’re listening to the Black Panther score, and you play it from beginning to end, you would exactly know where you are in the movie and in the story. For me, it’s inevitable that every time I see a movie in the theater, I pay attention to the music.

So you usually find it quite difficult to detach from the analytical side of yourself when watching a film?

I do, unless everything is so extremely well done that you get swept away! If a film composer did a really great job, you’re so caught in the movie experience that it doesn’t bring you out of it. I still think about Edward Scissorhands, do you remember that movie by Tim Burton made with Danny Elfman’s music? I remember crying while watching the movie for the first time. The music that was so beautiful, it made me really emotional — I think it was mostly the sound of the kids choir, it just really hit a nerve in the innocence of Edward’s character, that he was really just a child in his heart. That was a new experience and a new emotion for me.