Grotzschel Transforms Conventional and Unconventional Sounds into Success

(Composer Jens Grotzschel)

Jens Grotzschel finds a hard time containing his enthusiasm. The German composer has gained acclaim for his scores featured in a number of international television and film productions; an occurrence which is quickly expanding for him. It’s clear that the awards won by these films and the praise he has received from his peers in the community has a profound effect on him. He has come a long way from the days when this son of a professional violinist would beg to stay up late with his tape recorder to capture main title themes of TV shows. Following stints as a guitar teacher and in bands of the popular music scene, Jens relented and gave his first love of creating music for film and television a try, with immense success. In the course of his journey, the composer discovered that pursuing his own dream aided others in achieving theirs. One of the essential factors for achieving success in the entertainment world is saying something in a unique way. While Grotzschel has proven his ability in the status quo, it’s his embrace of cultivating his own style in regards to sounds that has set him apart from the majority of modern composers in the industry. What might best be described as organic-modernism attempts to define his style of playing self-created instruments and augmenting them with traditional ones while manipulating this alchemy with technology. It’s a signature sound which is attracting attention from across the planet to this young German innovator.

Der Island Krimi is a German crime/drama series starring Franka Potente (Run Lola Run, The Bourne Identity, The Bourne Supremacy) as Solveig Karlsdottir, crime novelist turned murder investigator. The story takes place in Iceland and features the formidable climate and terrain of this land. To communicate the enchanting and haunting story, Jens played different sizes of brass bowls (drawn with a bow or struck with mallets) to “speak” in the icy and sustained manner of the frozen land. When he wasn’t recording string parts with a cello, he was rolling balls in bowls to create original soundscapes. Grotzschel’s resulting score was an ideal companion for a story steeped in murder and the interaction of the human and Elvin communities.

The Culinary Adventures of Sarah Wiener provided an opportunity for Jens to flex his muscles in a much more traditional manner. This Zeroone production for German-French TV-Station ARTE featured this famed Austrian cooking expert travelling to different countries in an attempt to discover the identifiable cuisine of the country and how it is created. Each season exposed Wiener and the audience to a different country, with a score tailor-made to suit the style of that culture. Available for viewing on Amazon and Netflix, the musical backdrop of the program ranges from James Bond-esque arrangements for Great Britain to Vietnam’s traditional instrumentation including Dan Bau and Goong. Even more impressive than the breadth of Jen’s work on this series is the fact that he was often working off of vague descriptions rather than actual footage. He relates, “Often, it was the editors telling me what they needed. A typical phone call was like: ‘Oh, you know…Sarah is driving in a boat on the ocean and it’s cold, and she is fishing. Can you make something for that, please?’ or ‘She’s sitting with the hunter in the forest and they are waiting for a deer and have to be very quiet. It’s morning and foggy.’ I’ve often thought that perhaps it was this kind of challenge for fantasy that allowed my creativity to follow its own path.” While the composer’s work for the documentary Afghans Don’t Flirt, which won a German Television Award, led the creators of The Culinary Adventures of Sarah Wiener to Jens, his remarkable work kept him as the show’s composer for all six seasons.

Grotzschel made his US film composing debut on The Super starring Val Kilmer and Patrick John Flueger. Kilmer’s character Walter is the maintenance man in an expensive NYC high-rise where residents go missing. Taking a literal approach to the music for Walter, Jens used carpentry and plumbing tools to create unusual percussive and melodic motifs. The ambiguity of these sound sources was then heightened with samplers and the use of software programs which allowed the composer to acquire the desired pitch and attack. While the more standard orchestral instruments appear in this film, it’s the hammers, jigsaws, drills, and custom made instruments that truly set the sound of The Super apart. Kilmer won the Time Machine Honorary Award for this film while Grotzschel garnered the attention of many US film professionals.

This German composer is often referred to as a bridge between the current generation of film & television composers and those preceding them. With one foot steeped in both worlds he stipulates, “I wouldn’t say the days of huge orchestras and big budgets are over. There are still orchestras playing music and there are still movies with big budgets and big scores.

Of course, the landscape has changed and such films are rarer than they used to be. On the other hand, more musicians have the chance to follow their passion because the barriers of entry to the business are not as high as they once were. To compose the score right in-the-box is not a bad thing for me, no matter if there are real instruments or a real orchestra at the end or not. Today’s directors, producers, and everyone else involved in decision making want to hear what they’ll get in the end. This means that we are asked to deliver the best sounding simulation of what’s possible. That’s simply how it is.”