Composer of film, TV, and video games, Juan Dussán brings refreshing intimacy and adventure to the music and film industry. His work has been featured in renowned festivals such as the British Film Academy Future Film Festival, The New York Short Film Festival, The Palm Springs International Short Film Festival, among many others. Dussán is a recipient of the Alan Menken Award and participated in the Los Angeles Film Conducting Intensive under the tutelage of renowned orchestrators and conductors such as Conrad Pope, William Ross, and Angel Velez.
From a young age to now being a graduate of New York University’s 2020 Screen Scoring program, Dussán knew music would be a big part of his life.
Let’s start with some details about your studio!
Right now, I have a more minimal approach to how I’ve built my home studio. Some current gear that I use regularly is my Roli Seaboard, Loupedeck’s CT+, and TouchOSC on my iPad for MIDI CC controls expression, and dynamics. In the future, my ultimate goal is to have a studio large enough to record ensembles and chamber orchestras.
When did your love for music begin?
I started having an interest in music and film scores at a very young age. Even though I began piano lessons when I was 9, I initially started teaching myself everything by ear before then. I was so eager to get better at jazz and chord theory, piano improvisation, and sight-reading. I finished high school with partial enrollment in the music conservatory at the University of Antioquia in Colombia studying classical piano.
Then, while I was still in Colombia earning my undergraduate degree, I majored in classical piano performance with professors Andrés Gomez Bravo and Blanca Uribe. at EAFIT University. I also studied for one semester in Ann Arbor, Michigan in 2016 where I studied with Dr. Joel Dr. Schoenhals. His mentorship solidified my choice for a career in music.
What was your experience getting your graduate degree at New York University?
I really enjoyed studying there! Most of the people I work with to this day are friends I made at the Screen Scoring program and Tisch School of the Arts. I actually co-founded a company with one of my friends from NYU, Alex Wakim. Our company is called Dekatu and we compose for the marketing needs of luxury and artistically driven brands.
How would you describe your composition process?
It’s different every time. I think that’s expected depending on what the project requires. Typically, I’ll start with laying down a chord progression that’s either acoustic or more synth-based. After that, I start to sketch out the melodic concept. When I compose to picture I tend to write more linearly; I’ll lay the general groundwork for that scene and then fill in the spaces from there.
Usually, an interesting sound or chord progression will spark the direction of the piece. If I have time, I’ll sit at the piano and improvise for a while to find what feels right. However, with most of my film projects, there isn’t that much leniency with the schedule.
Who are some composers that inspire you? If you could have a meal with one (dead or alive), who would you choose?
Late 19th and 20th century composers have always been my favorite. Some are Prokofiev, Rachmaninov, Chopin, and Scriabin. I can’t help but love their work!
With film composers, my favorites change from month to month. I grew up appreciating work from Alan Menken, John Williams, Don Davies with the score from The Matrix. And nowadays the ever-evolving list includes composers like Nicholas Britell, Hildur Guðnadóttir, Thomas Newman, Alan Silvestri, and more.
If I could, I would have a three-course meal with Alexander Scriabin. The first course would be with him in his early stage of work, then middle, and at the end of his career. He had so much compositional diversity throughout his career that I would want to know him at every stage.
If you could compose for any existing film, which would you choose?
I would have loved to score Interstellar. Certainly not because I didn’t like Hans Zimmer’s score (I loved it) but because it would be a project I would have been passionate to work on. Also, to be able to work with Christopher Nolan would be an experience of a lifetime.
When you’re not composing, how do you enjoy spending your time?
Photography and filmmaking have always been creative outlets for me. So with free time you can find me making Instagram reels and promotional content for my music. When I was a kid, I created homemade videos with my friends, and then I would take some of the best themes from my favorite films and edit them in. My love and passion for film music has always been with me and I’m so happy to now be living out that reality.
Aside from that, I enjoy exploring New York City. Living here, there’s an endless amount of things to do.
You released two albums last year called Voyage and West 56. Could you tell me more about these projects?
Voyage is a deeper exploration of my musical voice and artistic approach to composing. This album is influenced by the music and composers I love and an array of musical languages in film.
I wrote West 56 with a close friend of mine, Sus Vasquez. She’s an incredibly talented guitarist who has collaborated with artists Karol G and Jacob Collier. May of last year, we made an instrumental track every day that touched on aspects of what it was like to live in the midst of a pandemic.
For instance, we took the number of Covid-19 cases in New York one day and made a chord progression from it. We sampled things around my apartment as an encapsulation to being stuck inside, working from home in our apartment on West 56th Street. We also sampled those 7pm front line worker celebrations and put it in one of the tracks. Initially, we started this as a challenge to just write one track per day during lockdown. It has now become a pillar or homage to this collective experience we all know so well.
What upcoming projects should we keep an eye out for?
I am very excited for everyone to watch Mazel Tov, it’s a short I scored earlier this year directed by Eli Zuzovsky. It is on the shortlist for the Ophir Awards (Israeli Academy Awards) and it’s a beautiful coming of age story that touches lots of relevant topics.
I am also scoring Wells Watson Jr.’s comic book adaptation of Red Hood which explores the grittiest, darkest corners of the character. And Wells’ thriller/drama short Peeking. I am also scoring an Argo Stories YouTube Concept Series Star Wars: Kyber’s Creedence directed by Chris Chutko.
It’s been such a delight to work with such talented filmmakers and develop great recurring collaborations with them.