Organic percussion: German composer Julian Scherle creates film score with street-found instruments
Updated: Jan 31
One man’s trash (and a shopping cart) really is another man’s treasure
Image courtesy of White Bear PR
For over a century, Hollywood has been the jewel in the crown of the American film industry. Countless thousands of artists packed their bags for the bright lights of the city, with little more than a pocketful of change and dreams of making it big.
For German film and television composer Julian Scherle, it was a coin toss that brought him to La La Land. The decision made by the then 26-year-old came from Scherle’s inability to decide between “moving into a mountain village in Tibet, to work as a music teacher for a year, or to the belly button of the film industry: LA. So I threw a coin and LA won.”
Born in a tiny village in Bavaria, Scherle was surrounded by what he calls “an abundance of beautiful nature,” but the conservative mindset of this rural community led him to develop “a pretty stark urge to leave.”
Relocating to Düsseldorf to study at the Robert Schuman Conservatory and the Institute for Music and Media, Scherle once again got fidgety and needed a change. Having lived in Los Angeles since 2012, he says he still feels “connected to certain German traits, but I also feel a strong connection to California. L.A. is a very accepting and tolerant bubble, which you can’t really say that about the rest of the United States.”
The city is also the setting for his latest project Princess of the Row. Courtesy of the album’s official press release, the film’s plot follows “the inspiring tale of a runaway foster child who will stop at nothing to live with the only family she knows: her homeless, mentally-ill veteran father who lives on the streets of LA’s skid row.”
Scherle was directly inspired by the circumstances of the film’s characters when approaching the score. The initial idea was to employ a kind of organic percussion, creating sounds with junk found on the street – including a shopping cart, in a rather novel bit of experimentation – answering the question he asked himself, “What would I do as a musician if I were living on the street without access to conventional instruments?”
This new soundtrack, produced by Scherle’s independent record label Scissors, which can now be streamed via Spotify and is available for digital purchase on Amazon and iTunes. Speaking of the score, Scherle underlines that “no creative decision happens in a vacuum,” as much of his experimentation was the result of a stream of many different ideas leading to one final result. A major benefit of a small-scale production such as Princess of the Row was its lack of an overbearing deadline, allowing director Max Carlson, the time to experiment with his composer.
“The majority of the music was just written to ideas or certain feelings we were going after, and not picture-based influences,” Scherle says. As well as “a fantastic filmmaker with a strong vision, Max is also an excellent editor, so he then went on with using these ‘freely’ composed pieces and roughly edited them to picture. I then took these rough versions back and smoothed them out for the final recording sessions.”
Reflecting on the process as having been an especially fun and fulfilling collaboration – which absolutely shines through in the completed album, fizzing with peculiar sounds and dynamic percussive beats – Scherle’s initial attraction to the film came from star Edi Gathegi’s involvement. The Kenyan-American actor was involved in another project Scherle was working on, so he introduced Scherle to director Max Carlson and the rest of the team.
“I was immediately hooked by the unique tone and the powerful message of the story. Honestly, it was a pretty easy decision to make. I think film as a medium can have a very wide reach and influence, so having a positive message is something I’m always interested in.”
Classically trained from the age of six, Scherle honed his craft as a musician across a period of thirteen years wherein in which he was guided through hundreds of years of European compositions. Even if he didn’t quite recognise it at the time – most of the time preferring to record punk rock in a mouldy basement – this broad scope of music was valuable exposure to the versatility that could be achieved by a composer.
“It remains in your subconscious and ultimately shapes you as an artist, so all these compositions are somewhere up there and influence every musical decision. I would say, though, that I got equally influenced by the energy that a punk concert has to offer, or the mindset of improvising a jazz combo.”
A composer who incorporates a wide array of percussion instruments (and some unusual alternatives, as we’ve discovered), Scherle has contributed his musical voice to an impressive assortment of projects. In just one decade, his credits include some of the most popular and widely acclaimed TV series of recent years, most notably his collaborations with applauded showrunner Ryan Murphy: American Horror Story, Scream Queens, and American Crime Story: The People vs. O.J. Simpson.
Lending his experimental style to both the small and silver screen, Scherle has earned many accolades for his innovative work, including the Visual Music Award in 2011, an important accolade within the German music industry. More recently, Scherle earned a Best Film Score nomination for Princess of the Row, at the 2019 Las Vegas International Film and Screenwriting Competition.
Looking ahead to the future, Julian is able to share the news that he is “currently finalising my first fully orchestral film score, which was recorded with a symphony and so was quite a different experience from Princess.” With a body of work as inventive and eclectic as his, Julian asserts that “one of the fun things about film music is that every movie score can be so radically different.”
And when it comes to describing German-raised, LA-based, trash-orchestra-assembling, shopping-cart-tuning composer Julian Scherle, I can’t think of anything more fitting than “radically different.”