Sandro Morales-Santoro is an award-winning Venezuelen composer based in Los Angeles. Sandro specializes in music for film and television as well as interactive and new media. His most recent scoring projects include Marvel Animation’s film ‘The Secret History of Venom,’ as well as co-composing World of Wonder’s ‘Explant,’ a documentary exposé about the breast implant industry.
Explant is a complex story about women across the globe that become sick with an amalgam of mysterious and severe autoimmune disease symptoms. In an exclusive interview with ProductionHUB, Sandro shares the experience of co-composing the film.
PH: Which scene was your favorite to work on in Explant?
Sandro Morales-Santoro: It’s really hard to pick just one, but I think there’s a scene that was really challenging to figure out musically for all of us, and it’s only about 4 minutes into the film, where we hear that both the FDA and the medical community deny the existence of Breast Implant Illness. It took a few tries, but because of how important and challenging it was, it felt so good for David Benjamin Steinberg and I when we found the right palette of sounds. We composed a fitting theme that felt emotional and yet like a carnivalesque horror show, as our director Jeremy Simmons asked us to. And this piece became our guiding light, pretty much the concept for the rest of the score.
PH: Describe this scene and the significance it has to the rest of the film.
Sandro Morales-Santoro: It not only is where the conflict of our story is exposed, but also where we first hear the cynical and almost derisive tone in which some doctors talk about this illness, one of them calling it a “psychosomatic ailment,” “a fad” and “totally socially contagious”. On top of all this, it serves as the “Main Titles” of the film, so it felt like the right place to fully display the sonic personality of the score.
PH: What tools, plugins, or instruments did you use in your production of this scene?
Sandro Morales-Santoro: I think most if not all of the instruments that are essential and characteristic of this film’s score are present in the music for this scene, including some weird plucky synths, some rhythmic solo cello, a mellotron organ, orchestral percussion, Ronrocco and Venezuelan Cuatro, making up this circus-esque waltz. Most of the synths come from either the Moog Sub-37 or my modular Eurorack synth setup, where David and I designed sounds from scratch. In terms of software and plugins, we both use Logic Pro as our DAW, and various plugins from Soundtoys and Universal Audio; we also discovered Baby Audio which makes incredible plugins, including “Super VHS”, which we used to process a lot of our featured sounds, giving them some subtle distortion and a bit of pitch drift which adds some depth, making them more interesting to my ear, and somewhat more unsettling, even if just at a subconscious level.
PH: What technical challenges did you encounter while working on this scene?
Sandro Morales-Santoro: Because it is such a crucial scene, we wanted it to be an introduction to the overall concept for the whole film. So from a technical point of view, we had to create the palette of sounds that would give us that absurd circus feeling we were all looking for. To find those sounds, there was a lot of experimentation, playing with different instruments, then recording them and processing them in different ways until we landed on a combination of elements that made sense to us. Once we felt like we had the right sonic character for the scene, we started writing a piece in order to show these ideas to Jeremy. Although it took us a few tries to nail the right mood for this scene, we got the palette of instruments right from the start, which was great and doesn’t always happen.
PH: What was the dialogue like between you and the film’s director regarding this scene?
Sandro Morales-Santoro: Jeremy sent us some music as reference and gave us some initial notes for this scene, but also gave us lots of space to experiment. We had a lot of back and forth with him, sending him different ideas, trying to find the right tone and concept, but once we did it, it made the rest of the score so much easier to write. I think the challenge was just hitting the right dramatic tone that would make this piece walk a subtle line between commenting on what’s going on, on screen, without really taking sides. Our director was very careful to show the relevant perspectives about this subject without endorsing anyone’s views, so we were careful to abide by that rule, while reflecting on the absurdity of the whole situation.