I hear colours

Photos: Regula Bearth © ZHdK

Student portrait Mirjam Skal

When Mirjam Skal hears sounds, she sees colours. The synaesthete therefore describes her approach to composing as very intuitive. With a mixture of live instruments and electronic soundscapes, she transports her audience into foreign universes.



Christina Wallat: Why did you decide to study composition?
Mirjam Skal: I started improvising and composing at the age of four, but never considered composing as a profession. Attending an information day at ZHdK gave me insights into the “Composition for Film, Theatre and Media” programme: I was hooked!

How does one learn to create sound worlds at ZHdK?
I see ZHdK as a kind of Petri dish for creativity. We are given a seedbed to experiment in and to let ourselves be guided by a wide variety of influences. We work with students from cast, dance, game design and, of course, film.

Have your studies lived up to your expectations?
We are encouraged to pursue our interests. I never feel any pressure to conform to a norm and can develop musically. The great infrastructure in the studios is a source of inspiration when searching for sounds or the perfect film score. I really appreciate that our programme directors Felix Baumann and André Bellmont are so innovative and dedicated to helping students achieve their goals.

What inspires you?
As a synaesthete, colours are one of my main sources of inspiration. Most of the time I only need a small spark to ignite a musical idea: an image, a sound, an instrument, a text, a person. I always proceed intuitively in the composition process.

You have been selected for Berlinale Talents 2021—as one of 200 talents from 65 countries—and are taking part in the mentorship programme of the Alliance for Women Film Composers (AWFC).
It was very inspiring for me to continue being active during the pandemic and to network with young filmmakers from all over the world as part of Berlinale Talents. The AWFC mentorship also means a lot to me. To be regularly coached by Oscar winner Mychael Danna, who composed the film music for “The Life of Pi,” among others, is a dream come true.

Who or what deserves closer listening?
All unheard voices! We are in the age of diversity and equality. It is enriching to listen to foreign, new, unnoticed or very quiet voices.

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