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Composer Spotlight - Cato Hoeben

Welcome back the the Northern film Orchestra Blog. Today we are pleased to share with you our latest edition of Composer Spotlight, the blog series where we talk with emerging composers around the globe about their creative process. This time around we sat down for a chat with composer Cato Hoeben. Check out the full interview below!


Can you give us a short summary of your musical background and how you became a composer?

I’m a late starter in this industry as I originally trained to become a science journalist after doing a Masters in Science Communication at Imperial, but switched my focus to composing around 2005 by dipping my feet in the world of scoring adverts. Although I began my musical journey with some short-lived classical training on piano at the age of seven, my background is primarily in Jazz and after doing grades I went on to study Jazz and play in groups like the Islington Jazz Band with Paloma Blomfield (now Paloma Faith) and the Camden Youth Jazz Orchestra. Scoring for film & TV is something I’ve been working my way into slowly since around 2010 through short films, documentaries, a TV series and feature films all the while trying to further develop my understanding of working with orchestras, live musicians and my DAW abilities. I also just released my first video game score for a retro 8-bit shoot-em-up called Gunborg: Dark Matters that is in a genre I’m new to (synth wave mixed with electro), even though I grew up in the 80’s so should live and breathe this stuff.

You recently scored the feature film Rose: A Love Story. What can you share with us about the process of creating the score?

I’ve been working with director Jennifer Sheridan throughout her career and always try to squeeze as much luscious sound out of the budget as possible. Her feature film Rose: A Love Story was no exception and, despite the high production value of the film, this was essentially a low-budget indie feature meaning I had to think creatively to create an immersive claustrophobic soundtrack that would live up to the fantastic visuals by DOP Martyna Knitter. That involved lots of sound design such as bowing objects like pots and pans using an old violin bow, stirring lentils in a bowl and pitching them down, incorporating a recording I made of my (at the time) unborn daughter’s heartbeat and recording reverb-heavy haunting vocals sung by my wife for the snowy forest scenes. I used most of the budget to record the melodies and harmonies of the themes on cello and violin using session musicians and the remainder went on a couple of Spitfire plugins that helped bring the quality of the sound up further.

A still from Rose: A Love Story from director Jennifer Sheridan.

The film received an official selection for the BFI London film festival 2020. Do you think film festivals are important for composers who are developing their careers?

Absolutely. As well as providing a platform for you and your work, festivals have presented me with opportunities to work with directors, producers, editors and other members of post-production as well as develop a deeper understanding of what works (and doesn’t) on the big screen. It is particularly instructive, and sometimes painful (!), to see how audiences respond to your music, but festivals really help you understand how powerful music can be when composed and mixed properly for a film as you don’t often get to listen to your music in the context of a cinema. And apart from anything else, it’s great fun watching so many films and being around other creative people!

Cato's studio setup makes excellent use of a modestly sized space.

Do you follow a set compositional process or does it differ project to project?

Although I have templates with a bunch of instruments loaded up and ready to go for when project deadlines are ridiculously tight (ahem, adverts, ahem), I prefer to start with a blank slate and get inspired by different patches that I feel fit the project. That said, my process often goes like this: first, I’ll place markers down for key moments and sync points in the film and adjust the tempo based on what feels like the correct pace for different scenes. Then, I’ll sketch out a structure using piano by improvising while I watch a scene and then start deciding on a sound palette that works for the film. I find that by sketching out a roadmap of where you’re going with the score, you can make changes like switching time signatures so a new scene logically hits the start of a new bar. That way, I find the score sits more naturally with the picture and helps avoid having to hammer your ideas into musically ‘illogical’ or difficult structures to fit the edit later.

Tools of the trade: Her is some of the hardware that Cato uses in his studio.

Are there any tips you would like to share for composers who are just starting out and looking to land their first paid gig?

Make sure you are competing at the level you need to be - that requires some brutal honesty on your part about how your music compares to other composers in the space. Try to build up your contacts and credits by planning your composing career with realistic and useful milestones. Things like targeting an area of music you are good at and enjoy, then getting a bunch of short film credits, writing some production music in that style for a decent music library and maybe identifying key decision makers in companies who you’d like to be hired by can be really useful as it gives you a focus. Most people in the industry who are paying for your services are looking for a ‘safe’ pair of hands, so presenting yourself as someone who is reliable, competent and nice to work with is going to be worth a lot when fishing for your first paid gig. We hope you enjoyed this post. Follow the link below if you would like too see more from Cato. Cato Hoeben

Rose: A Love Story (trailer)

Takaya: Lone Wolf

Four (Dewars Whiskey short film)


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