A Belgian composer in the midst of his Hollywood breakthrough, Peter Baert has diligently worked his way up scoring Belgian indie flicks, until the opportunity to compose for The Water Man (executive produced by Oprah Winfrey) arose. Headliner took the opportunity for a chat with Baert about the polarity of euro-cinema versus big-budget American productions, creating tailor-made synths for films, and why he's been a Cubase user for as long as he can remember.
“My dad was a principal at a music school,” Baert says as I ask about the beginnings of his music-making.
“And he was an organist in the town where we lived in Belgium. My sisters were all doing cello, violin and one was a soprano. So there was always classical music in the house. My father had a couple of choirs and we travelled around Europe with the choirs to Poland and Hungary in the ‘80s. Of course, my father was a bit strict and there was no pop music allowed!”
Becoming a film composer might not strike you as some big rebellious act, but in the context of this upbringing, it certainly feels that way for Baert.
He explains that “I had a lot of arguments with my dad and I chose a different direction in going to film school to study sound and editing. And I also got into electronic music, making a couple of records. I played concerts at Pukkelpop Festival and in the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels. It was my kind of teenage protest against my dad.
"Then later in life, you get older and a bit wiser. I rediscovered the classical interest in me. Especially when my mum died in 2008, that was a big event for me. And I suddenly realised how stupid I was, to not explore that classical side. So I talked with my dad about that, and he was very supportive.”
I mention how film composers have been becoming increasingly international over the last few years, not only in nationality, but the mere fact the days of having to be based in Los Angeles in order to pursue this line of work seem to be mostly gone. That said, Brussels perhaps isn’t among the most famous cities for the scene.
“Of course, in L.A. you have Remote Control Studios (the mothership of Hans Zimmer),” Baert says.
“And then Berlin has a perception of being very hip. But there's a lot of things happening in Brussels as well. There's a great techno scene. There are a lot of clubs. We have the Ancienne Belgique in the centre of Brussels, which brings a lot of new bands.”
Of the Belgian independent films Baert has worked on prior to his US breakthrough, I ask him about 2017’s Façades, which saw him collaborating with the Belgian ensemble Echo Collective.
Knowing that they’ve collaborated with such classical heavyweights as the late Jóhann Jóhannsson and A Winged Victory For The Sullen, I ask Baert about his experience with these musicians.
“Neil and Margaret are such fantastic musicians,” Baert says of the collective.
“And they really have also focused on their music and what they want to do and for Façades I really wanted to tell the inner story of the main character and her struggle within. I felt the calling for the harmonics of strings and long notes, which was why I reached out to Echo Collective because I really felt they could bring something to the score.”