08 Feb '24 - blog / Event report, Knowledge

BMIM x ADE: Check-In at HBO’s The White Lotus

New year, new knowledge: Buma Music In Motion was part of the Amsterdam Dance Event 2023 with a fully stacked conference at the Main Business Hub Felix Meritis. Hundreds of music professionals joined our talks and panels, where we dove into the latest developments in our field. Besides discussing future challenges and opportunities with experts, we invited many well-known composers, producers, and other music professionals to share their insights.

Text by Meike Jentjes
Photo’s by Birgit Bijl

Cristobal Tapia de Veer

This time, we highlight one of the most iconic scores of the year: the HBO Original series The White Lotus. Seasoned journalist Jon Weigell of Rolling Stone talks to composer Cristobal Tapia de Veer, who shares his story of how he came to compose the theme song we all know by its jungle sounds, hissing snakes, pan flutes, roaring bass, and chilling screams.

The White Lotus

A lot of luck

The first question on everyone’s mind: how do you become a composer? Jon Weigell asks Cristobal Tapia de Veer how he’s managed to become successful in one of the most challenging fields to get into: ‘I had a lot of luck. I studied classical music, and after I graduated, I went into pop music for a little while. I was producing albums when we met the British director Marc Munden in Canada who was filming a TV series. He heard one of my albums – which wasn’t film music – but took a leap of faith with me anyway. He gave me my first job composing for The Crimson Petal and White (BBC), and it went well. That led to Utopia’s theme song and full 6 episodes in 2013, which sent me on the right path.’ He explains how experimental that score was and how that wasn’t done much then.

On Hollywood’s speed dial

Luckily, it proved to be a success, and it received many positive reviews from critics. Since then, the composer has been on speed dial by many Hollywood directors by doing precisely the opposite of what Hollywood composers would typically do.

‘I see every project I work on as me creating a new album. I learned how to come up with left-field and idiosyncratic ideas from English film director Marc Munden, who has a special approach to his work. He would push me to go beyond what’s expected, which became the best place to start my work, too.’

Cristobal Tapia de Veer

A last-minute gig

Having an impressive CV with successful scores for series like Black Mirror, Humans, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency, and the movie Smile, Tapia de Veer never stopped experimenting. That ultimately led to his major breakthrough when The White Lotus first aired, including the theme song that is already so iconic. He did not expect the song to be such a success because of the simple reason the producers called him in ‘so, so late’. He explains: ‘I only had three weeks to come up with something, so I just set up a ton of percussions and started jamming with myself by recording a heap.’ He goes on to say that he added many tracks and flutes and just hoped for the best when he came to the mixing part.

Jon Weigell: ‘It sounds very stressful only to have three weeks to come up with something. Was it also freeing in a way to not think about it too much? And how did you come to the starting point of using a lot of percussion?’ The composer replies: ‘It’s somehow a subconscious process, I suppose. What became clear afterwards is that this tribal chaos somehow resonated with these characters. The song is not meant to represent Hawaii, where the first season takes place, but to represent the chaos these tourists are leaving behind. They act like savages, and they’re abusive, which is pretty wild. The music’s wild side represents that, and somehow, it’s like mocking them, too. All the screaming in the song helps to set the tone of that vibe and represents the tension as seen in the show.’

From anxiety to euphoria

Cristobal-Tapia-De-Veer

If you ever wondered if the theme song is meant to make you feel anxious, the answer is yes. Mike White, the show’s producer, specifically asked if the music could sound like something terrible was about to happen. Another question Jon Weigell asks Cristobal Tapia de Veer is how he got into the second season. Tapia de Veer: ‘The second season feels very improvised to me because I was on other projects, and I didn’t really have the time to do it. Somehow, the producers convinced me to do at least the theme, which I’m glad I did. Mike White asked for Italian and Renaissance influences, with hints of a harp, baroque music, opera, and stuff in that category. It took me a long time to send it to the producers because I was not convinced of how good it was.’ That ultimately Dutch DJ and producer Tiësto would remix the song, and people would dance to it in the club, is something the composer never expected.

Trust yourself

‘It turns out I can’t trust my own opinion, you know’, laughs the composer. ‘Seeing videos of that song being played in big rooms with so many people in them.. It’s unbelievable.