Michael Künstle and Matteo Pagamici are a dazzlingly skilled composer team, creating evocative and emotional scores across all genres of film, television and advertising. The pair joined KO Music with a great track record of writing to picture - for both film and advertising - with recent work highlights including scores for brands like Samsung, McDonalds, Pfizer, Hewlett Packard, BMW and Samsonite. Michael and Matteo work seamlessly as a team, complementing each other’s styles and combining contemporary classical instrumentation with modern and experimental techniques, to create a unique and original sound for every score, tailored to the story and emotion of each picture.
Their story starts as many others - at university. In Zurich, the two pursued film music degrees, and that was also the first time they ever collaborated. Coincidentally, this was also the time that both of them fell in love with sampling sounds, and the possibilities that came with it. “We went to the studio and recorded a speaker stand,” they explain. “It’s not really a musical instrument, and you probably shouldn’t play on it, but we got all these weird metallic sounds out of it and it felt so incredibly fresh and unique. That really was the spark for our collaboration. We are both obsessed with the exploration of new sounds and how we can use them in our scores for film, TV and advertisements.”
When it came to doing their first sampling session together, Michael explains that he was super impressed with Matteo’s hands-on work, attitude and passion. This is also when he first felt they could be a great collaborative duo. “I’m very strict about my worth ethic, and find it rather hard to find people with the same, slightly mad mindset.”
Matteo also remembers being initially very impressed by Michael’s precision and constructive approach to composition, as well as his profound understanding of drama. For both, it felt obvious from the get go that they would not only learn a lot from each other, but were also on the same wavelength in terms of ambition and achievement.
And while the two share an immaculate work ethic and dedication, they also admit to having hugely different tastes and backgrounds in music. So much so, that some of the things one loves, the other cannot stand. However, Michael believes that this is a blessing in disguise when it comes to their work relationship, as they end up listening with “two completely different pairs of ears.” Matteo agrees, “Not only are our tastes in music far apart, I believe that sometimes our fundamental understanding of music and our approach to composition are also completely different. This often leads to ‘Oh, I never thought of that’. Apart from that, hearing each other’s feedback and discussing every aspect of the projects together makes the whole process so much easier and less stressful.”
Soon enough, this spark and mutual understanding led to their first project together - ‘New Heights’ or ‘Neumatt’, the first ever Swiss series on Netflix. Before working on it together, Matteo and Michael used to explore sampling ideas with unique sounds and locked themselves in the studio for “ridiculous hours.”
When ‘New Heights’ came along as a possibility, it felt natural to both. Sabine Boss, the co-director of the series, approached Michael to score it. As she was co-directing the job with Pierre Monnard, who had previously worked on ‘Needle Park Baby’ (‘Platzspitzbaby’), the most successful Swiss film of 2019 and 2020, and Matteo had written that score, things fell into place pretty quickly. ‘New Heights’, however, required a large amount of music, so it felt logical to share the workload to be able to deliver a stronger score.
“The scoring process was collaborative from the very beginning,” remembers Mateo. “We brainstormed ideas and turned them into a musical concept. Then we recorded those ideas and live musicians and collected musical material that we would use to further manipulate and work with.”
This pre-production phase that the two introduced, almost by accident, turned out to be particularly fascinating, and since then, they have improved it immensely. “Now our first drafts are analogue-processed premixes that sound extremely close to the final mix.”
After this initial project, the two embarked on so many more together that today, they struggle to pick one they’re most proud of. “I think I’m most proud of our process,” explains Matteo. “We are both very keen to develop our composition and production process further. Apply things that we have learnt to the next project, but also change them up on purpose and try new approaches.”
For Michael, one project does stand out however - ‘Hors Saison’, a French/Swiss crime series that plays in the Swiss alps with incredible scenery, compelling story and beautiful cinematography. “Because the series works so well on its own we could really focus on the storytelling instead of trying to solve problems with the music. We created an incredibly unique palette of sounds to illustrate the dark alpine world by recording stones, sticks, trees, ice and even an elk.”
Understandably, with projects of the scale that Michael and Matteo work on, disagreements are quick to arise. Michael feels that listening and most importantly hearing your creative other half is the best aid to any head-butting. Frequent feedback, open conversation, compromises and not being attached to compositions too excessively are only a handful of the non-negotiable practices the two have between themselves. Besides, as Matteo puts it, “Creative disagreement is one of the most valuable assets that we can have as a team. I’m extremely grateful that we both approach disagreement with no ego, but a strong will to improve our work.”
Recently, their democratic approach came into play in their Samsung Galaxy A ‘The Awesome Product Adventure’ advertisement, which was “basically a blockbuster film compressed into three minutes.” Because the spot involved so many different styles that the two had to cover, it proved challenging.
But even with the short deadline and the sheer amount of music Matteo and Michael had to deliver for the pitch, they still wanted the score to be the very best work they could deliver. They ended up booking a last minute recording session with a live orchestra, while simultaneously diving into weird electronic genres that were completely new to them. “Also, while working on the final changes we were at the Series Mania Festival in France, the biggest series festival in the world, where ‘Hors Saison’ premiered with our score. We had been doing all the rewrites in between workshops and panels and always joked that we’d have to export the final version during the premiere of the series. Lo and behold, that’s exactly what happened. Ever since then, we always take our laptops to film premieres.”
But even with all the stress of last minute edits and extreme circumstances of scoring, all those impossible tasks and crazy deadlines are softened by a shoulder to lean on. “Having a creative partner is a great way to not feel stressed, because you know you always have somebody by your side. Creatively, the benefit is also huge, given that the first version that we send to the client has already gone through several rounds of revisions between the two of us,” says Michael.
“It’s also a lot of fun,” adds Matteo. “The workload feels a lot lighter overall and we can allow ourselves to take time off or vacations without having to fear that we will miss a project, because there is at least one of us available.”
Other than music, the two find inspiration in all kinds of art, from books to food. For Matteo, visual storytelling is particularly interesting, while Michael has recently been diving into a book by Robert McKee called ‘Story’ on how screenplays work. He also says he loves reading scores, especially jazz ones. “I’m a huge fan of Nan Schwartz, the first woman to ever receive a Grammy for one of her arrangements for Natalie Cole.”
Overall, everything that this duo does somehow reverts back to music - regardless if they’re having a nice meal together, or watching a film, their passion for what they do is never ending. “I’m not sure if there’s such a thing as ‘outside of work’ for us,” says Matteo. “We’re both so passionate about what we do that there is no clear line.”
Michael agrees: “There is almost nothing we would not discuss to find a better or more creative solution. But it always feels very natural to improve ourselves on the discussed topics. Somehow we talk about it and then just do it. This is why I have probably learned much more from Matteo than I can put into words - because of this constant communication and feedback.” Matteo believes the same. Their shared ethic, passion and dedication are only a starting point - everything else is a constantly expanding horizon.