composer Cristobal Tapia de Veer explains the score of the show.
In this week’s episode of Working, Isaac Butler spoke with composer Cristobal Tapia de Veer about his distinctive score for HBO. The white lotus. They discussed his transition from classical music to pop to compose music for film and television, his goal of moving away from computer-generated sounds, and the collaborative process between the composer of a show and his. director. This partial transcript has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Isaac Butler: Many of our listeners are starting to familiarize themselves with your work, thanks to The white lotus, which recently aired its season finale on HBO. I would like to talk about the process of developing this music. When did you join the project? Have the scripts been written? Was there something still in the box? How long have you been involved?
Cristóbal Tapia de Veer: I received a script in January and they were looking for a composer. It was quite late in production. They were a month away from the mix. I read the script, and it was the best script I’ve read in a long time. I think this is one of my favorite things. I immediately wanted to meet Mike White, and then we met and talked a bit. It was really easy.
What did he say he wanted when you spoke to him? What was that first conversation about?
He wanted an energy that was bubbling all the time under the surface. He wanted things to look like there was going to be a sacrifice at some point. We got to a point where I mentioned doing “Hawaiian Hitchcock”, and he really liked that idea. After the meeting, I just went to a studio and started recording for three weeks, and it’s all these jams, all these drums and flutes.
One month from the mix is an incredibly tight deadline.
Is it tighter than your usual hours?
Yes, this is the tightest schedule I have ever had. You might just fall for using all the clichés and doing whatever works because you don’t have time to play around and experiment and stuff. I think I got a bit of a kamikaze with it, where I just tried the weirdest tribal and primitive stuff that works for the characters, for the story and everything. Then I started to send them music, and right away it worked. Mike was super happy with the edge the music gave to the show. It was exponential. We started trying things out, and every week it got more and more positive, and everyone stumbled.
Was it just script-based? You hadn’t seen any footage from the show by then, are you really just leaving that brief conversation with Mike White and watching TV movies, is that all?
Yeah, it’s just the conversation and the script. Then I was working on the image with the same kind of music, just doing different versions, and I was really surprised when I got the images because it was so beautifully shot and the art direction and the fitting – everything. It was beyond what I expected, really.
One thing I really love about the score for this show is how present it is and how idiosyncratic it is. I think we’re so used to TV in particular, oh we got soft sad string pads in a sad moment so we feel sad. But here he’s really doing his own thing. Someone might be eating French toast at a buffet, but what we hear sounds like madness. Did you always know it was going to be used this way? Were you both very clear that this is going to do something and have a clear point of view and be very distinct in a way that is not typical?
I think so. I didn’t know they were going to mix the music really loud. I didn’t see the show end, but I’m told the music is very loud in the mix. It always brought some perspective to what was going on and even made jokes. Sometimes it feels like the music is making fun of the characters.
To listen to the full interview with Cristobal Tapia de Veer, subscribe to Working on Apple podcasts Where Spotify, or listen below.