Even over Zoom, the chemistry between Isabelle Engman and Gerardo Garcia Jr. is palpable. It shouldn’t necessarily come as a surprise; the composing duo has been working together for over six years now, working on over one hundred projects between films, television, and video games. The two met while attending USC for graduate school and studying in the music composing program. “We were each other’s favorites,” said Isabelle. The duo’s first collaboration was on an animated project, and the rest is history. What keeps them going is that they both believe their individual styles compliment each other. It’s not easy for the two to describe each other’s styles, but they are willing to pass something to the other if they believe it suits them; “And then so let’s say I’m coming out with, like, I write a bunch of melodies or whatever. And then let’s say Isabel is working on another scene, and then she’ll say, hey, can you send me MIDI for these melodies or whatever you did right here? And then she’ll take that. And then she’s like, I can apply this to the scene,” detailed Gerardo. What is most interesting is that despite being a duo, they are not around each other every step of the way. As you can see in the quote, they constantly send each other stuff back and forth while working on their own.
Isabelle and Gerardo have both worked in this industry for a long time, but they can still recall things that were new to them in their early days; “Scoring the recording process, especially that was very, very. I just felt in the dark and not being aware of when you’re doing music, you do it to specific timing, two clicks, or whatever. So when you record everything is to the specific click. So then you’re doing all these different takes. And because it’s two-click, everything gets added. You can edit, mix and match, and everything because we have this click. That was something that was like, oh, that’s how it’s done. That’s just one little example. I guess that was great,” said Gerardo. Isabelle added: “I’ve never worked with [an orchestra]. I had recorded one Orchestra before in Ireland, but, yeah, it was just, like, at USC, we get to record the last piece we did was 65 piece Orchestra at Warner Brothers. And you just realize how much that goes into a recording session of that size, from the ones engineering the studio to the fixing, all the sheet music.”
While both Isabelle and Gerardo are currently based on the West Coast, they both have unique backgrounds. Isabelle is originally from Sweden; studying there through her undergraduate programs before going to USC. She will occasionally return back home, and then the duo has to slightly readjust to the time differences. Gerardo grew up in Laredo, Texas, and moved to San Antonio for his undergraduate program before attending USC.
Their latest film, “Madres,” was distributed by Amazon Prime and produced by Blumhouse. Gerardo named the “lyrical, fantastical scores” of “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “The Orphanage” as two influences for “Madres’” score. “Madres” is not a full-on horror film, Isabelle described it as a drama-thriller, and it is inspired by true events that affected women in El Paso in the 1970s. A tragic film with a fitting score.
For Madres, Isabelle and Gerardo also worked with Ralph Torres, a musician who used Mexican instruments to create the “airy” aspects of the score. Perhaps the most unique aspect of “Madres” is that the jump scares were all made naturally, rather than digitally. It is a collaborative effort between Isabelle and Gerardo and the sound department to create these sounds for the jump scares in the film.
Coming up for Isabelle and Gerardo is a score for a documentary about the Laemmle Theatres in Los Angeles. Their range as a duo shows as this documentary is more of a “minimalistic string and piano” score. The duo likes to continue to challenge themselves in their work, it results in their work always feeling fresh. The documentary does not have a concrete release date yet, but the two expect it to release sometime in early 2022.
Isabelle and Gerardo are a duo to watch, as they are constantly booked and have worked with major companies like Blumhouse, and it feels inevitable that they will score a major awards contender. Both Isabelle and Gerardo love the fantasy genre, and it would be not at all surprising to see the duo composing the next “Lord of the Rings” or “Game of Thrones”-like project.
Thank you so much to White Bear PR for allowing me the chance to sit down with Isabelle and Gerardo.
“Madres” is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video.