Danish Composer Halfdan E Heads Up Tallinn Music Workshop

The award-winning 'Borgen' composer hosted the Black Nights fest's scoring-focused Soundscapes event.

The Tallinn Black Nights festival’s unique Soundscapes event may be geared towards giving young Estonian composers a creative platform, but a more experienced tunesmith was enlisted to put their work — and that of all composers for film and television — in context. Prior to the showcase, Copenhagen-based Halfdan E, best known internationally for his atmospheric theme to the hit political TV drama “Borgen,” led a lively afternoon workshop with an international gathering of filmmakers and musicians, discussing the challenges and rewards of film composition from both ends of the collaborative process.

“Friction is the name of the game,” said E (whose professional moniker omits his last name, Nielsen), recounting his personal experience of matching sound and melody to the films that more visually-inclined filmmakers have dreamed up. (“Give me more yellow,” he warned inexperienced composers, is the kind of abstract request he often receives in his profession.) The early, conceptual stages of the scoring process, he advised, should be a “risk-free zone,” wherein composers and directors can exchange ideas, inspirations and even Spotify playlists — “the best tool available for musical brainstorming,” he added — with reckless abandon.

Nevertheless, the game is changing, as composers like E — who came to the craft via a career in rock music, but regards traditional orchestral composers like John Barry as his greatest inspiration — must meet the demands of filmmakers who want the score integrated more seamlessly into the pic’s overall sound design. And in the current TV boom, many series eschew consistent scoring for magpie-style compilations of multiple composers’ work per episode — though E regards having had to devise the “Borgen” theme, a signature “sound logo” that had to suggest the drama’s complex power plays in 40 seconds, as one of his greatest career challenges to date.

E’s next onscreen credit will be on Tilde Harkamp’s “Iqbal,” the first installment in a planned franchise based on Manu Sareen’s domestically popular children’s books — Denmark’s thriving family-film market, as E demonstrates in his workshop, is a generous source of work for the country’s composers.

Away from the studio, he’s focused on the more political side of European film composition, working to protect his peers’ creative rights and intellectual property as an active member of the Nordic Film Composers’ Network, which feeds into European federation FFACE. “There’s a struggle going on out there,” he says, citing major media companies trying to use their work for free. “There’s no free lunch.”

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