Music Connection Vol.XXIV, No. 14, 07/03/00 - 07/16/00,


Square Peg in a Round Hole

By Jonathan Widran

Music Connection

In an industry that finds it all too convenient to pigeonhole composers and producers, Kubilay Uner finds that being stylistically scattered and going against the grain offers great creative rewards. The Munich-born musician studied classical composition and experimental avant garde music in Cologne, Germany, and just recently formed Modo Barbaro, an ensemble dedicated to such a mix. He has played bass in Brazil, been a live sound designer for new music concerts in the Soviet Union, produced recordings by Bobby Womack and Mexican chanteuse Perla Batalla, and as a film composer has brought a unique edge to numerous independent and cable films.

"A lot of people might not understand all the shifts, but I have found increasingly that producing records and scoring films complement each other perfectly, with my work in one helping me better understand the other," says Uner, who also has an indie-released solo project entitled, appropriately enough, Square Peg in a Round Hole.

"Scoring a film is all about helping tell a story, and maximizing the emotional impact of a scene," he explains. "That concept of enhancing a Iyric is largely neglected in making records, but I try to make the music either perfectly reflect the Iyric or, depending on the desired effect, work as a counterpoint to it. On Perla's song, 'Rain,' I did a string arrangement that sounded like drops of water. Both really feed off each other, and make me stronger in each endeavor."

Uner takes a different sonic approach to each project. For the 1996 Showtime thriller, Cupid, he created almost the entire score using a long piece of sheet metal, forging mallets out of a rubber superball stuck on a barbecue skewer. This generated a whining and wailing effect that was very effective in conveying character. His other movies include The Killing Grounds (Cinemax) and The Night Caller (The Movie Channel).

"I get the footage and then create a first draft of music, based on what I think the film needs," he explains. "l bring in my point of view, and then it's up to the director or producer. People always wonder how I deal with criticism, but if they don't like the first draft, the challenge of making the music fit their needs is a wonderful growing process. It's a humbling experience."

Ironically, Uner insists his best scoring work to date is for a recently completed film which has played a few festivals. The Young Unknowns, he says, plays like a 90-minute first act and moves from action outside the characters to understanding what's inside and what has caused the events of the story. Because the movie made some jarring shifts in tone, Uner was completely experimental with the music.

"It begins with surreal, Hawaiian music which includes the sounds of water shimmering through," he says. "Because there are young protagonists, some of the cues are dance-influenced. And then, in one scene where much is said, the moment a character's face drops, I opened the piano case and put my finger halfway up a string, which made it vibrate differently, creating a higher, more muted tone. It sounds almost like a fragile metal pot, and then I added some offbeat clarinet notes. It was an intimate counterpoint to the rest of the score.

"With each project," he continues, "I feel I have a whole new palette of possibilities, and in many ways, the beginning of each one brings me back to the beginning of my career, when I could be bold and try anything. The fact that no matter how much I've done, I've only scratched the surface, keeps me very excited about taking on new challenges."

© Music Connection 2000