The past few days have been a feast of news for fans of Henry Cavill’s The Witcher, with new posters, interviews, and an episode title reveal of the upcoming Netflix hit. All we’ve been missing so far is word on the show’s original soundtrack. Luckily, Turkish magazine Episode has been able to sit down with The Witcher’s composer duo Sonya Belousova and Giona Ostinelli to chat extensively about their musical background as well as the style, instruments and musicians used in the show. Even more luckily for us, WitcherTurkey has graciously agreed to translate the interview.
So take a deep breath and dive right into it. These are the first words discussing the OST in depth, and we even get some exciting score titles.
Question: The Witcher isn’t the first project you’re working with. You also worked together on productions such as The Romanoffs and Sacred Lies. How did you start working together? What’s the most exciting thing about working together?
Giona Ostinelli: Years ago I was making music for David Mamet’s movie Two-Bit Waltz. The film wanted a very eclectic music; from bluegrass to electro-pop, from virtuosic hands to piano solos. I play the piano, but I’m not a virtuoso. I knew Sonya was a great composer and piano virtuoso.
Sonya Belousova : So one day Giona asked me if I was interested in making the film’s music. We both thought of it as a one-time cooperation, but we realized that it was very satisfying in terms of creativity and decided to set sail for new horizons.
Q: How would you describe each other’s musical approach and distinctive musical skills?
GO: I think we should call our workflow “crazy”. Think about it; my Italian dramatic feeling is combined with Sonya’s Russian stubbornness and passion. When combined, a template appears.
SB: Joke aside, we work very well together because we come from different musical roots. When I was growing up in Russia, I had a very strong classical music education and I came from there. Giona comes from a group music scene and definitely has a different approach from me. That’s why we’re not trying to compete with each other.
G0: Actually, secretly…
SB: Instead, we complement each other’s style. You need to be versatile to make music for television and cinema. That’s what we do by working together. For example, Giona comes up with an idea, and I take that idea and complete it or expand it in a completely different way than she imagined. This allows us to set sail for new approaches and discoveries that we would not otherwise think of. We nurture each other’s musical passion and ideas. We inspire each other.
GO: We don’t do division of labor. We work together in the studio all at the same time.
Q: The Witcher is a novel adaptation. Music is one of the indispensable elements in a television series but not in a novel. In what ways do you think a film or a series of music contributes to the story?
GO: Music is another important character in the story. Sometimes it comes to the fore, sometimes it’s invisible, but you always feel its presence. It has a lot to contribute to the story. It can make the audience laugh, cry or feel different emotions. The Witcher series’ soundtrack is very thematic. As the characters and story develop, thematic materials also develop.
Q: The Witcher series has a game. Both the novel and the game are among the fantastic legends. Did they affect you when you made the music?
SB: When we start a new project, we don’t get inspired by other music or sources. Otherwise, we’ll be impersonators. In The Witcher, inspiration came from the story and the endless creativity it offers.
Q: What’s the best side about The Witcher for you? Why did you want to take part in this project?
SB: The Witcher’s best part is the endless and sustained creativity it offers. We had the opportunity to work with great artists and songwriters, record with historical instruments and use unique instruments. Developing a new sound palette, new motifs and themes is always exciting. Every step you discover new things. The moment we read the script, we found ourselves in this universe and we wanted to be a part of it.
Q: The Witcher universe is an imaginary universe. Isn’t it hard to make music in a world that’s not real?
GO: In fact, the opposite is easier because you can use your imagination freely and create something really special. We like to discover new music universes, dive into unknown worlds and create sound scenes that will burn that environment. It is up to us (the composers) to imagine and create a sound palette for each particular world, real or not. The Witcher world is actually much more realistic considering that it depicts what is happening in today’s world. This creative point makes this project even more exciting.
Q: In the past, I see you both like to use electronic music and digital sounds. But for an epic and magical tale like The Witcher, I think it’s risky to build your music on an electronic basis. This can be very contemporary. How did you overcome this risk?
SB: Last year we made music for Matt Weiner’s series The Romanoffs, which was aired on Amazon. We used a sophisticated orchestral palette and recorded with an orchestra, wonderful soloists, traditional Russian instruments such as domra and balalaika. We actually wrote a domra concerto. Matthew appreciates Russian classical music. We needed a Russian musical approach, especially on one stage. We wrote a piano concerto for that stage and learned it overnight and recorded it the next day. To write and compose a piano concerto for that series means dreams come true for a concert pianist like me. You must watch, something very special.
GO: At the same time, making Sacred Lies’ soundtrack was no different than recording an album. We composed and recorded both soundtrack and songs. Lyrics included. Sonya recorded all the vocals.
SB: For The Mist, adapted from the Stephen King novel, we spent several weeks in the studio to record the pianos that would create the most bizarre sounds of another world that a piano could create. Then we made the basis of music this unique material. I also wrote three ballets: “The House of Bernarda Alba”, “Orchis” and “Surrogate”. I also composed and recorded solo piano pieces for the virtuosity of “Player Piano,” produced by Stan Lee.
GO: In short, each project requires a different approach. It’s your job as a composer to make them special. Because of our multi-faceted backgrounds, Sonya and I feel comfortable no matter what musical style we work for.
Q: Can you tell us about the musicians you work with?
SB: We worked with a lot of musicians for The Witcher. Most of the recordings were made here, in the studio. We think that producing music for movies and television is becoming more and more like making albums. We have many instruments in the studio, so we record many of them as we write. When you finish writing, we do not record; in fact, the process of recording and writing is intertwined. Getting records is a natural part of writing for us. We made many recordings for The Witcher, and great musicians joined our musical family for The Witcher music. We have worked with Lindsay Deutsch, the great violin virtuoso, in all the crazy violin solos and electric violin partitions. Lindsay’s talent is extraordinary. We were honored to include her magical violin in our work.
GO: We’re very lucky to work with Declan De Barra. He is not only a writer, but also a unique musician and singer. From our fruitful collaboration, we recorded three songs for the series that we recorded with Declan’s vocals: “The Song of the White Wolf” in the season finale, “The Last Rose of Cintra” in the sixth episode and “Don’t Ever Come Back To Blaviken” in the first episode. Declan also contributed to other music from time to time with his vocals.
SB: We worked with Rodion Belousov in all oboe and whistle solos. It has a silky tone, a subtle playing ability. We knew from the beginning that we wanted to work with Rodion for the series’s music. The oboe who plays in Yennefer’s theme during the season belongs to him.
GO: Arngeir Hauksson; He recorded 4 and 5 string Renaissance guitars, lute, Renaissance mandolin and other stringed medieval instruments. Incidentally, we also used different traditional instruments. Laterna, flute, Native American flute, dulcimer, mouth harmonica and many other instruments..
SB: We also worked with Joey Batey, who played Jaskier in the series. We wrote and recorded four songs for Jaskier: “Toss A Coin To Your Witcher” in chapter two, “Her Sweet Kiss” in chapter six, “The Fishmonger’s Daughter” in chapter four and “You Think You’re Safe” in chapter two. We wrote songs and worked with Declan De Barra, Jenny Klein and Haily Hall before the shoot. Then we recorded it with Joey in London. The rest of the production was completed here in our Los Angeles studio.
GO: And there’s Burak Beşir, an awesome flutist. We worked with him before at The Romanoffs.
Q: A cliche question: who are your favorite film / series music compositions and composers?
GO: The team that made The Witcher’s music is so cool. Soon on Netflix, a great project, don’t miss it.
This was a fantastic interview and we can’t wait to hear all the tracks on December 20. There’s more to come as Episode also interviewed showrunner Lauren Hissrich, costume designer Tim Aslam, and lead actresses Anya Chalotra (Yennefer) and Freya Allan (Ciri). You can buy the full magazine here.