For a self-taught musician who admits he still doesn’t read or write music, Argentine transplant Gustavo Santaolalla, a two-time Oscar-winning composer (“Babel,” “Brokeback Mountain”), appears to master any instrument he picks up. His studio, in the Echo Park section of Los Angeles, is jammed with instruments mostly of the string variety, including his signature churangos, ronrocos and ouds. But for Santaolalla, who shares the studio with producing partner Anibal Kerpel, virtually anything that emits a sound is part of the sonic arsenal, including plastic PVC pipes used for construction, one of which he demonstrated by producing a range of effects from a didgeridoo-like sound to the clarion call of a buffalo horn to the high pitch of a pan flute.
Although Santaolalla travels six to seven months out of the year — whether touring with his band Bajofondo, working on film projects or attending festivals — when he is in town, he spends much of his time in the man-cave recording space about a block and a half from where he lives. Among the numerous projects he’s
working on there include the animated feature “Book of Life” for producer Guillermo del Toro; and a stage musical he’s co-writing with librettist John Weidman called “Arrabal,” based on the music of Bajofondo. Santaolalla calls it a rite-of-passage story about a young girl finding her identity. “There is some traditional tango but it’s lots of different things,” he explains. “It happens in Argentina after the military dictatorship and deals with the desaparecidos — the disappeared. Very moving but also sexy.”
Location: Echo Park area of Los Angeles
Square footage (recording space): 570 square feet.
Aesthetic: Mid-’40s bungalow set on a hillside with a glass brick-lined hallway, den, kitchen and neighboring courtyard.
Equipment: Pro Tools HD3 on a Mac Pro Tower, Apogee Symphony converters, Tonelux summing box, AVID D-Command console, Adam A7-X (5.1 surround), Yamaha NS-10 speakers.
Recorded there: Santaolalla soundtracks, including “21 Grams,” “Babel,” “Brokeback Mountain,” “Motorcycle Diaries”; albums by Juanes and Molotov.