She started playing the piano at the age of two and a half and as a child dreamed of becoming a famous concert pianist, until a series of interesting career opportunities lead her to discover her incredible ability for music composition.
Now, Australian-born, Dubai-based film composer, Amanda Lee Falkenberg, is an in-demand film composer for the global music community across film, television, and animation, and also theatre and ballet projects. I caught up with Amanda at her studios in Dubai and started by asking her about living in the Middle East.
Amanda: The world is becoming so global, I find I’m doing, not just commissions from Dubai, but other countries and cities around the world. Dubai is a great place from which to base your self.
Being Australian myself, I wanted to find out more about her childhood in the beautiful Barossa Valley of South Australia, one of our premier wine growing regions, and whether music played a big part in her life, growing up.
Amanda: Professionally there wasn’t anyone in my family who was musical, but my whole family just loves music, and I think that’s all you really need. I recently heard a piece of Chopin played by Lang Lang in London, and I said to my husband, that’s my vacuum-cleaning music, that’s the music my mum would play on a Saturday morning before netball, as we did the housework! We would often go to my grandmother’s house and watch old movies like Singing in the Rain, so I was exposed to music, at an early age. And just the “naturalness” of growing up in the Barossa Valley, as an artist, it’s what you need… just like Brahms who would go hiking, you just need exposure to nature to live creatively.
In researching for this interview, I was aware that Amanda had studied at the prestigious Elder Conservatorium of Music in Adelaide, where at that time, it was looking as though she would become a classical music concert pianist. I was curious as to why her career path had taken such a change in direction to composing.
Amanda: I was playing Rachmaninoff Piano Concertos, Liszt Piano Concertos, full of passion and incredibly inspiring; and they would light up my heart. After graduating in piano performance I won a position as a pianist with the Australian Ballet Company. Quietly, I always wanted to be a ballet dancer, so this was as close as I could get! So there I was playing the set music, and all of a sudden one day, I thought that I could offer some music that was a little bit more conducive to the exercises I was watching them do… a bit more of a flourish for that arm movement, say! So that’s how I started composing music, to the actions the dancers were making. And now, I can honestly say, composing from scratch, rather than just playing something someone else has composed, has more of an edge… I find it more nourishing.
As Amanda explained this concept to me, I had a light bulb moment; I now understood that she is hearing music that is perfectly timed to what she is viewing, whether it be ballet dancers, a scene, or a film… no wonder she became a film composer, she has the perfect skill set. I put this theory to Amanda.
Amanda: Some of my hero film composers, like John Williams, approach film composition like they are seeing the film as an opera, needing librettos and arias etc. For me, I see film composition from a dance perspective… I see everything as a vibration and movement, so that’s the way I work creatively.
I’m always interested in a person’s creative process, no matter what they are producing, whether it be a piece of music, work of art, or a new dessert… in Amanda’s case, I wanted to know where and how she starts.
Amanda: As I mentioned earlier, nature is very important to me when it comes to composing.
Recently I had to compose a piece for a London-based trio, and it had to be about waterfalls. Incredibly around this time, my husband and I were holidaying on the Amalfi Coast in Italy, and we went on this hike that lead to a waterfall. So I let my husband go on ahead, and I just sat there, on a rock, underneath the waterfall, waiting for inspiration to come! I know this sounds a bit esoteric, but I trust that the vibrations of being in such a magical environment will penetrate through me and somehow when I get back to the studio something will happen!
Over the last decade, Amanda has received many international awards and multiple nominations for her orchestral film scores. Her music is now renowned worldwide, and she is one exceptional creative I would love to collaborate with, one day. As I was leaving, I glanced back to wave goodbye, and I was struck by how the cascading bougainvillea, and swaying palms flanking her studios, looked like a cool oasis in the desert heat…magic!
For more information on Amanda, or to contact her, click here.