‘Avatar: The Last Airbender’ Composer Takeshi Furukawa On Researching Pan-Asian Instruments For The Orchestral Score: “The Mechanics Are Very Different” – Production Value

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“I was a bad student of classical piano because I would start changing stuff, so I think in that sense I was always kind of ‘composing’ when I was a horrible student,” jokes composer Takeshi Furukawa. “For classical music, you have to be faithful to the composer’s intent… and I was not that.” 

Based on the Nickelodeon animated series, Netflix’s live-action adaptation of Avatar: The Last Airbender follows Aang (Gordon Cormier), a young boy with the ability to master the four elemental powers of air, water, earth and fire. Along with his friends Katara (Kiawentiio) and Sokka (Ian Ousley), Aang journeys to master the elements while being hunted by the Fire nation.

“The showrunners and Netflix already knew that they wanted to pull a couple of key themes in from the original series,” he says. “We wanted the main theme, because it’s such a strong identity and we wanted the end theme – everyone loves that, I do too, I think it’s just iconic.” As a fan of the original series himself, Furukawa says the mantra in the back of his mind at all times was, ‘What would the fans love?’ “That’s not to say I wasn’t able to spearhead my own musical direction.”

Furukawa’s own musical direction was necessary for the cinematic scope of the series, when bringing the story from the animated space to live-action. “We always knew that we wanted this score to lean orchestrally a little bit heavier than the original animated series,” he says. “What Jeremy [Zuckerman, composer of the animated series] did, he relied on single, solo instruments, like traditional Pan-Asian solo instruments. For us, because of the live action nature and the cinematic scope of the visuals, we wanted to lean a little bit more into the orchestra for that scale and grandeur and sound.”

As someone who is familiar with composing orchestral music, the challenge for Furukawa was to research and incorporate more traditional Asian instruments. “I had to do a lot of research just learning the instruments – things that you can do, things that you can’t do, things that are idiomatic which is just a completely different way of thinking,” he says. “You’ve got to think differently for say like an erhu than you would for a cello, they’re both string instruments… but the mechanics are very different, the sound is different, so having to switch that gear was a process.”

Click the video above to watch the full interview.

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