Duologue: A conversation with Francesco Berta

Francesco Berta is  a music composer, multi-instrumentalist, and visual artist from Italy and currently living in London. While his earliest albums featured a generous amount of exhilarating instrumental rock, since 2014 he has focused increasingly on compositional forms producing some truly beautiful and compelling work. In 2017, Francesco undertook an ambitious project in which he challenged himself to release new material on a monthly basis for the entire year, an effort that has seen 7 new releases so far (find them all here).  We got a chance to catch up with Francesco to talk about the project as well as his frank & insightful views on the process of composing and his participation in the 10th annual Film Music Festival in Krakow.  

Before we talk about you latest music project, tell us a little bit about your outlook going into it.  What was on your mind?

I spent quite some time asking if I was doing the right thing.

You know, you can lose yourself in the amount of music around. It has been harder and harder to stand on top of all the noise. People definitely underestimate what goes on with writing good music, music that is good for the soul, music that took you through hell, back and forth.

The movie Amadeus is a great example of how people think Mozart would simply write this incredible, heavenly music from his head. There’s a scene in the movie where he composes Confutatis in a few minutes. None of these people seem to realize the hard work people like Mozart or Bach needed to write their music.

Sounds daunting. And yet for the new project you added to the challenge by pushing yourself to put out new work every month for a full year.  What drove you to take that approach?

I was a hypocrite. I didn’t always practice what I preached about hard work and dedication. It’s one thing to say that you work hard, it’s another to stop saying it and just work more. It’s the difference between looking at a photo of a Ferrari and driving one.

That’s why last December I promised myself that I needed to write a release a month. No excuses, no BS. I have one life to do everything I’ll ever do and I don’t exactly plan to fill it with silly excuses.

Anyway, even if time was short, I still had moments of reflection and self-doubt. I’m still forcing myself to write more, be accountable and release at a steady pace to overcome insecurities and force myself to write every day as a form of improvement, and therapy. I mostly write when I don’t feel like doing it, because it’s when I need it the most.

But sometimes it doesn’t work. And it’s there that you need other stuff – lifting weights, taking my car and driving, listening to some old film scores, seeing people, going out, experiencing life. Thankfully I’m happier now, but I decided it to be that way. I decided to be happy; to enjoy the little things.

It seems it would take not only a great deal of focus & dedication to make this work, but quite a bit of confidence as well.  Where do you draw your motivation from?

It wasn’t always this way, you know. Everyone else saw the sun come out but all I saw was the dark.

When I wrote “The Last Days of Winter” I was experiencing a discouraging form of relocation depression – you know, those feelings of nostalgia and melancholy that wash over you as you sit in a new home in a new city, asking yourself why you left in the first place. Furthermore, I was also trying to quit smoking, a nasty habit I had developed a few years back. I channeled those feelings into the three tracks of the album, and it has been very therapeutic. I wasn’t able to see the process until the very end, but it trusted it as much as I trust it now. (By the way, after releasing the album in December 2014 I haven’t smoked a single cigarette).

Another example of faith and trust in your work is my album “Intimacy”: it was supposed to be the sequel of Journey (2013) and it took three years to be released because I didn’t think it was ready. It wasn’t, when it came out last February as my second EP of this year. But I published it anyway. And it gave me closure on that work, and a chance to move forward (and people loved it, by the way, and this makes me incredibly proud because it’s also my most personal one).

It looks like there are times we limit ourselves from actually having a rewarding life because we never feel prepared enough. The reality of it is that we never will be prepared enough. You grow into situations, not prepare for them until it’s time to finally reveal who you really are.

It took me some months after writing “The Last Days of Winter” to realize that life goes on anyway. This is addressed quite poignantly by Phil Woodward’s character in the film The Company Men. “The world didn’t stop. The newspaper still came every morning; the automatic sprinklers went off at six. Jerry next door still washed his car every Sunday. My life ended and nobody noticed.”

Most of the compositions you have released so far have involved an ensemble of guest musicians who have added some beautiful textures to the work.  How difficult is it to incorporate them into this process of creating something new in such a compressed time frame?

The key here is stay focused of the bigger picture, but leave time to experiment.

I know what I’m doing; the main structure and chords, but I leave space for the players. I’m trying to be less rigid about my workflow. I’m still learning though, last week a player missed his deadline and consequently I missed the release of my eighth EP.

I’m also trying to avoid comparing myself to other composers and artists.  I’m trying to live outside social media, and avoid any influence. I’m very competitive by nature and I realized that I can’t let my music be ruined by my desire to be better than everyone else. You know, the only way to win the race is to never run it.

I usually work for long hours, long stretches of time. But my productivity is a by-product of having a lot of free time, free time that I purposely made available by cutting off unnecessary distractions.

Take social media, for example. As my followers know, I’m trying to stay away from social media as much as I can. Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are three of the most insanely toxic human technological conceptions in recent history. They’re taking so much and give very little in return.

In the modern world, they will destroy productivity via their perfect formula of addiction to stimulation, pleasure spikes of being entertained, and the inability to delay gratification.

That’s why improving mental toughness is fundamental, as well as improving our tolerance for boredom and repetitive tasks, and eliminating any addiction to dopamine response.

What’s hard is doing the right thing every single day when no one’s looking.

Not all our readers may know, but you were recently invited to attend the Film Music Festival in Krakow for the second time in a row which boasted an incredible guest list including names like Howard Shore, Brian Tyler, and lots more.  How was that experience and do you feel it has had a material impact on your future work?

It was an incredible experience. I feel very honored and grateful that I was chosen as one of the composers for the Young Talent Award, both in 2016 and 2017. But before being a freelance Film Composer, before graduating in Film Technologies, before all that I’m just someone who has been loving film music since I was five years old.

You can imagine how I felt during the whole duration of the festival. I would have never imagined something like that fifteen years ago. Props to Robert Piaskowski, FMF’s artistic director, the city of Krakow and everyone that has been an active part in making the Festival possible.

During this year’s edition (the tenth, by the way) we had the chance to participate at many incredible music events:

  • An evening dedicated to the music of Abel Korzeniowski, one of the most famous Polish composers (Abel himself was conducting)
  • The world’s first screening of The Neverending Story with live music (the German composer and saxophone player Klaus Doldinger was present during the concert)
  • A DJ set by Giorgio Moroder performed in the open-air space of the former railway station at Jana Nowaka Jezioranskiego Square in Krakow
  • The Film Music Gala – “All is Film Music” featuring music by Howard Shore, Jan A.P. Kaczmarek, Trevor Morris, Jeff Russo and Sean Callery
  • “Titanic”, with James Horner’s Oscar-winning music performed live in the enormous TAURON Arena by the Sinfonietta Cracovia and conducted by the Swiss conductor Ludwig Wicki.

The Festival was also accompanied by the Master Class workshops and meetings that took place as part of the Audiovisual Forum. We received a diploma the last day, a certificate showing that we were part of all the Master Classes.

The whole experience has been something that I will remember forever and that will always have a place in my heart.

Links:  Website  |  Bandcamp  |  Krakow Film Music Festival