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Carla Patullo: Composing with High Tones

March 14, 2019

Composing can be challenging, but when the genre is unique, your creativity comes into play. Carla Patullo composed the music for the film Porno, which is currently premiering at SXSW. Patullo speaks on schooling, working in the Sundance Lab + SXSW, and her passion for composing.

ATM: Are you self taught or did you attend any music institution?

Carla: I did go to music school. I began writing before I could play any instrument at the age of eleven. I went to the Berklee School of Music located in Boston. I studied songwriting and film scoring. I went on this path. It is interesting what you pick up in school and what you pick up on your own.

ATM: Honestly, school is great. I am not against the school. The only thing with receiving schooling of any degree is they do not let you make any mistakes. If you make a mistake, then you fail or get kicked out. In life, the self-teaching route or learning things through empirical observation, you have to make mistakes if you want to succeed.

Carla: Yes. I have learned from the biggest mistakes. Definitely. I feel that with every project I work on it is a new challenge. You are always faced with something that you are going to try for the first time. For me growing up, my parents immigrated from Italy. Neither of them had been to college. My dad did not even finish high school. So, they were like “You are going to go to college. Fine, you want to study music. But, you need to go to school for this.” They were cool, but they wanted to make sure I went to school. This was the motivation behind this. Like you said when learning these things outside of school, you learn them pretty hard. You are like, “Alright I am not going to make this mistake again.”

ATM: In institutions, they suppress your mistakes. They make it so that you cannot even make a mistake. They make you a perfectionist. A person in school always tries to get a 4.0. But if you are self-taught, then to get this 4.0, you have to make a lot of mistakes to get the 4.0.

Carla: Yes. It is the same thing on the flip of it. I did love school. But when you are given so many resources in school and when leaving school, you are like, “Okay, well I have to make this work without this.” I have always found that when having fewer resources, you tend to be more creative. It is kind of like a different world. There are things that I appreciate from going to school, but I feel like I have been able to go down and be creative outside of it.

ATM: What music world do you feel like your music falls into?

Carla: I come from the rock world. I used to play in New York a lot at bars with my band. Now, I have been working with films. It opens this other door of creativity. It has made me so open to trying things out. It is changing for me as I keep going. The White Widow is the sound I had going on more when doing albums and songs. Now, it is different being in this collaborative world with films. In this film, Porno, I borrowed a lot of the White Widow vibes I would have when singing these songs. I am primarily a vocalist. This is my main instrument. I still write and orchestrate. It comes from my voice, and I transcribe it to a different instrument. It is this ever-changing thing. It is just evolving. I have never liked being put in a genre. I like storytelling. I made a film with my partner. This is different, but it is the same thing with telling stories.

ATM: How do you put music to a film that has high sexual tones?

Carla: This has been a challenge with this past film. It worked out organically. I got paired up with the filmmaker at the Sundance Lab. It just so happened that I was a vocalist and there was a succubus in this film that needed vocals to represent her and her myth. For me, it was so much fun. The film is about a group of teens who live in a conservative town. The discover an old porno film. This unleashes a sex demon. People are uptight and scared of sex being out there. I will never feel uncomfortable with a film like this. There is stuff in it that before I would have been like, “Oh, I do not know if I would watch this with certain people.” It is has opened me up to thinking, “This is not this big deal.” I had so much fun. I would not say that I added as a succubus, but vocally I had to channel this energy. It was like this powerful succubus energy coming in and causing all sorts of hell for people.

ATM: When artists do put themselves in whatever they are working on, some of them collides with the work. It bounces off each other.

Carla: Yes. This process of the film was so collaborative with the director. This does this in the lab. This allowed us to work slowly in the beginning. He wanted us to get to know each other’s musical taste. It became these things where we had the opportunity to develop these themes throughout the film. Once this happened, I brushed other work aside to dive into this film. Musically, Keola had a great idea for how the music should hit. With comedy and horror, it is a lot about the timing. You do not want to give too much away too early. You did not want to manipulate the viewer before they see what is happening. You want to manipulate them when the action is in. It was an incredible process bouncing off each other.

ATM: If your composing was not added into this film, then how would this have influenced the plot of the film?

Carla: I brought a lot of myth and sexuality to the succubus. A lot of this was achieved by the actress. We were able to drive this home. Because it is a comedy, there is this element of quirkiness to it. I was able to weave in these layers of quirkiness, seduction, and horror. It felt natural to me going into these different directions.

ATM: When putting these traits together it creates different energies in an interesting combination.

Carla: Yes, it is a different energy. I would think the viewer should feel this when watching. “This is funny underneath the horror and the seduction.” This combination makes the film unique. These three things are going to affect the viewers.

ATM: How does the music persuade a person to want to listen not based on the title?

Carla: The fortunate thing about films is that most people will not listen to my music once they see it. Some people will listen to the soundtrack before seeing the film. It is tricky and funny. When talking to people, I am like, “Yes, the name of the film is porno.” They get very quiet. It goes back to the point of this film. We do not need to be so quiet about it. In the United States, we are pretty censored compared to other countries when it comes to things. Unfortunately, people have the make the choice to hear my music. My music is not going to make it out to them unless they get pass the title porno.

When I got into the Sundance Film Music and Sound Design Lab, I thought, ‘Oh, I am going to score this documentary that is going to change the world.’ Then I saw this film and thought it was cool. The director, Keola Racela is a clever guy. This is a fun and entertaining film, and you’re going to laugh. Don’t let the title scare you from it. It is not a porno if you look at the trailer.”

ATM: Your music will makes me feel as though I am driving on a dark road. I am driving by myself. I am driving with woods on the opposite sides. I do not know where I am headed but I am just driving down this road. It is amazing how film composition can impact a film narrative.

Carla: One of my favorite songwriters who is Tom Petty does this a lot with his music. It creates this visual. When coming to film, you have a visual. You are trying to be in the scene. He is one of my all-time song writers. It makes me realize I was destined for this path of being a film composer. I have always thought visually with my music. I have always thought about “Where am I” in this song when writing lyrics. I am constantly thinking about my surroundings. The first album that turned me into film composition was a concept album. I worked with these animators out of Brooklyn. They animated my whole album. I realized the mix of music with images is so powerful. You know when a story becomes bigger than you. It opened up my world. I was like, “I need to be hitting this.”

ATM: How do you feel your lyrics continues to carry the torch with his songwriting?

Carla: I used to write songs about myself and my own experiences. But I think when you start to get out of the first person world, you start writing about your surroundings more. For me, this is where music has carried the torch. When listening to Tom Petty, he switches perspectives a lot. You are not thinking about just what he is thinking. It is like “This is a story.” We are learning about different characters. It feels more about life.

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