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Last Updated: Sunday, 5 March 2006, 19:39 GMT
The man behind Brokeback music
By Peter Bowes
BBC News, Los Angeles

Gustavo Santaolalla
Gustavo Santaolalla began playing music at the age of five
The evocative theme music from Brokeback Mountain features a meandering melody picked out on a pedal steel guitar.

Gustavo Santaolalla, whose credits also include The Motorcycle Diaries and 21 Grams, wrote the score and has been won an Oscar.

"It means the world," says the Argentine-born musician of his nomination.

"It's a tremendous honour. I've been working all my life since I was a kid - non-stop polishing, developing my music."

For Santaolalla it has been a long road to the Academy Awards. He has gone from being a teenage phenomenon, a pioneering singer-songwriter who rebelled against his country's political regime, to an Oscar-nominated composer and one of the highest profile Hispanic artists in the United States.

Born in Buenos Aires, Santaolalla started playing the guitar when he was five. By the time he was 10 he had written his first song and had his own folk group.

He later became a teen idol with his band Arco Iris and made history as a pioneer in the fusion of rock and Latin American folk.

I was inspired by the story and the scenery and the souls of these characters
Gustavo Santaolalla on Brokeback Mountain

In 1978 he decided to leave Argentina after becoming frustrated with the political and social situation in the country under military rule.

He recalls that at the time he had to decide between a move to Europe or the United States.

"I had to go with the music," he explains.

"I consider my musical parents are the Beatles. They were instrumental in my development as a singer-songwriter musician in every aspect - the aesthetics, their points of view, their views on life and everything.

"They were British but at the time the root of lots of music they played was American. Groups like Cream or Traffic, that I loved, all really drew a lot from American black music."


Based on his musical instincts, Santaolalla settled on the US.

"California seemed more friendly in terms of the weather, in terms of the costs - because New York was more expensive - that's how I ended up here," he says.

It was only a matter of time before Hollywood beckoned Santaolalla.

Heath Ledger (left) and Jake Gyllenhaal
Heath Ledger (left) and Jake Gyllenhaal star in Brokeback Mountain

"There was a kind of turning point with Motorcycle Diaries when I won the Bafta last year and then everything happened," he says.

"I got on the cover of Time Magazine as one of the 25 Most Influential Hispanics in America, I got my 10th Grammy and then all this recognition."

The opportunity to write the score for Brokeback Mountain came after a mutual friend introduced Santaolalla to the film's director, Ang Lee.

"I was inspired by the story and the scenery and the souls of these characters," he says.

"I did maybe eight pieces and I sent them to Ang. It was funny because he got the music and he thought it was some music that I'd sent to him that I'd done for other films. He said, 'Oh what a pity, this would be perfect for the movie'."

Perfect, it was. Lee and Santaolalla hit it off and the composer wrote 90% of the music before the movie was shot.


The main theme features the pedal steel guitar evoking a taste of country and mystery.

The main melody comprises a series of long drawn-out phrases that seem to hang in the air.

"I love the use of silence in music," says Santaolalla.

"I thought that silence will really help with the magnificent landscapes and with the silence that surrounds those characters.

"Maybe they say one phrase then they're silent for the next five minutes - it is a kind of eloquent silence."

Santaolalla's Oscar nomination for best original score, along with a host of other accolades, has piqued the interest of film-makers around the world. The offers of new work are flooding in.

"I like to do what I do because I like to affect people in a positive way," he says.

"Whether it be a particular song that will cheer them up or a song that will make them remember something or music that will make them think."

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