Films

Antonio Sanchez: The Man behind the sound of Birdman

The Mexican percussionist explains how he went from playing in his jazz band to composing his first ever movie score -  for none other than Oscar-winning film Birdman.

 

How did you end up composing the soundtrack for Birdman?Magic NightsLast Train Home

 

Not many movie scores feature nothing but drumming. Were you worried that it wouldn’t work?

At the start there were no points of reference and I was worried that it’d be too aggressive. But the lack of points of reference meant that it was very liberating also. When Alejandro approached me about the project I thought it was either going to be genius or very bad.
 

How much of the soundtrack was improvised?

Alejandro would explain to me the scenes, the emotional aspects and I’d improvise from that. Then, they’d use the demos on top of the film, superimposed on the rough cut, then I’d review it and go back into work. So for the last part of the process I relearned what I improvised and worked on that before re-recording.
 

What’s Iñárritu like work to with? Is he a true perfectionist?

He’s great. He’s definitely a perfectionist. I was a little afraid because I heard that he’s very intense. But he’s easy, fun, relaxed. He has a great creative mind. He told me he wanted the music to actually get into the main character’s mind, his emotional and mental turmoil. He wanted it, at its core, to just actually be in his head. That’s why you see the drummer on the street or in the theatre’s corridors at some points in the film. We wanted it to be me playing the drummer but I was on tour during filming unfortunately.
 

How would you drum differently for Michael Keaton’s character Riggan? As opposed to when Edward Norton was on screen?

We tried different pacing for different characters. I’d translate what Alejandro would say through the music. He also wanted a dirty sound so we worked on that, making the drumming more distorted and louder. I’d use older drumheads, put some tape over them, change the fitting so the drums would slack, and I’d stack cymbal upon cymbal for that trash can sound. The internal war between Riggan and Birdman was very exciting to portray. When I’d be drumming for Edward Norton’s character, I’d make it cooler, much more improvised.
 

Birdman came out around the same time as Whiplash, where the drums took centre stage. What did you think of that film?Whiplash

 

Will you be returning to movie soundtracks down the line?Birdman

 

Birdman is out on Blu-ray and DVD on 4 May