Composer Kristian Sensini talks ROCKS IN MY POCKETS

We recently had the chance to interview composer Kristian Sensini about his new project Rocks In My Pockets. The film is currrently an early contendor for Latvia’s Best Foreign Language Film for the 87th Annual Academy Awards.

Directed and written by Latvian animator Signe Baumane, Rocks in My Pockets focuses on how Baumane and five women in her family handle depression. Their stories are told with visual metaphors and surreal images. Keep reading to learn about Sensini’s scoring style and experiences while working on Rocks in My Pockets.

Rocks In My Pockets is getting a lot of potential Oscar buzz, what do you think about this?

It’s amazing, of course! It’s one of the 84 movies running for Best Foreign Film and at the same time also one of the 20 movies selected for the Best Animation category, and the Academy has just announced that the soundtrack has been included in the 114 scores in contention for the prize. As an animation movie, Rocks in my Pockets is running with giants like Disney and Dreamworks movies with a big budget (and scores with big orchestras). It’s sort of funny to see our little independent movie compete with them, but after all I really think that Rocks in my Pockets does deserve this kind of recognition. It’s a traditional animation movie, entirely hand-drawn (no CGI or computer images were used) and hand-made (just like the soundtrack). It’s a brave point of view on a really serious topic, depression and mental illness.

What was the hardest part about scoring Rocks In My Pockets?

The director’s voiceover (a great interpretation of hers) is present from start to finish, so the difficult thing in this case was trying to compose music on frequencies that wouldn’t disturb the sound of her voice. Another obstacle was using themes/orchestration in order to enhance the storytelling without distracting the audience.

Where did you get the inspiration for the tone of this soundtrack?

I got inspiration for this soundtrack from the stunning visuals and voiceover acting of the director. A “Funny Film about Depression”, is quite an impossible mission in itself, and the risk of a bad musical choice was just around the corner… For example, the use of a tone too light or “cartoony” in the most amusing scenes and the over scoring on dramatic ones could have led to disaster. I let the voice guide me in finding the right tone in each cue, seeing it as the main melody, so I had to underscore that with various countermelodies.

There is many dramatic scenes in Rocks In My Pockets, but the score makes it feel a little lighter at times. Was this intentional?

Yes, it was intentional. This is the whole point of the movie, not making a joke out of such a serious topic, but trying to explain that depression and mental illness could be considered a part of life. Maybe something we do not want to celebrate, but something we can deal with and that can even help us understand other’s issues and struggles. This film has a brave and amazing view on life, and I think it’s really original and something worth sharing. Life itself has the equal combination of light and darkness and everything contributes to our growth as human beings. It’s exactly what I want to express with my music (and not just in this movie).

This is one of your first animated films, is it a lot different than scoring live action?

I’ll never stop saying that animation filmmakers are amazing. They’re usually so imaginative and so caring about their projects, at times more than other directors. When you work on an animated project you feel you are part of a family. From a musical point of view, you may have a little bit more freedom to experiment with new ideas, but it really depends on the director and movie. I’ve tried to score this movie as it was live action in some parts: somehow knowing that it was a true story and that the characters were real people was more predominant than the fact that the visual medium was animation.


What direction did the director, Signe Baumane give you when you initially started? Meaning what was the main goal for her in terms of the soundtrack?

One of the first things we did when we started thinking about the score was to have a brainstorming session about past soundtracks we really enjoyed. I remember in our first phone call, we talked about the soundtrack for Sherlock Holmes by Hans Zimmer, and found that it was one of our favourites because it was so creative and has a really innovative use of orchestration and instruments. We agreed we wanted to keep it a “small” orchestration and use instruments in an original way. We also decided to have something ethnic in the score, hence the inclusion of the Kokle (a beautiful string instrument from the Latvian tradition) because part of the movie is set in Latvia. The main goal was to lead the audience by hand into this beautiful story, and help their immersion in the movie in a good way.

There is a lot of the piano in this score. Is that your go to instrument? If not, what do you find yourself playing reoccurring in your film scores?

Flute and piano are my two main instruments. They are the ones I usually record myself in the projects I score. The piano is the instrument on which I compose a lot, it is so rich that it helps one imagine the sound of a full orchestra or of different orchestral sections. I tend not to use an instrument in a score just because I like it, unless it is strictly necessary to the movie. In this case, I thought the piano was the best choice to help fix the harmony and for one of the main themes, “Anna’s Theme”. Recently, I realized I have used a lot of cello in my previous scores, it is such a beautiful instrument and can be really useful in a lot of different situations.

Who is your favourite character in the film?

Irbe, probably because she is a musician like myself. I wrote one of my favourite cues in this film for her.

When you found out you got the job of scoring this film, how long did you have to experiment with instruments/sounds before you actually had to start?

I usually try to do my research and to experiment with sounds before I sign any contract. To me it is really important to present a demo (usually more than one) to the director which expresses both my point of view on the film and the result of my research. So for about four or five days I researched Latvian and Eastern Europe music because I felt that in terms of feelings and orchestration this sound was the right one. I listened to different kinds of music from different centuries, classical composers, film composers and popular music too. Then I composed two demos for two different scenes and I got the job.

This film is highly musical. How many minutes did you end of scoring?

More than an hour of music!

What would you like viewers to take away from the film?

You should ask Signe Baumane (the director) about this, I’ll just give you my humble opinion.

I think this film is a great start for “global conversations” about the things that scare us, in this particular case depression and mental illness. We live in a global society where we think that medication can solve anything and cure any illness. To me, this is a way of seeing the reality too easy and naive. The real deal is taking the journey of your life, questioning ourselves about who we are and especially who we want to be or become, without forgetting that life is full of light and darkness all at the very same time.

Listen to an album preview below:

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The Author

Jim Napier

Jim Napier

Lover of movies and The Big Lebowski.