Process Series

Meet First Woman Composer to Win BAFTA, Hildur Guonadottir

With 15 major awards over the last three years, Hildur Guonadottir’s rise as a film composer has been prolific of late. As the first woman to win both the BAFTA award for best original music and the Golden Globe award for best original score she has solidified her position at the forefront of the industry. 

What makes her composition so captivating? For the second part of our process series, we took some insights on her creative process – focusing on connecting with emotion while composing.

Allow yourself to create without comparison

When setting your intention for a piece be careful to avoid setting out to equal or better works which have come before you. 

In a red carpet interview Hildur was asked if it was intimidating working amongst such fine competition as Hans Zimmer, the response from the now multi award winning artist was to say that comparing yourself to things that have come before can be “a weight to carry and it’s best to just dive straight in”

The results of working with this philosophy couldn’t be clearer where Hildur Guonadottir is concerned.

Don’t be concerned by rules – curiosity is more important

“I’ve always been drawn to people that are driven by curiosity, and have an open approach to music rather than a strict approach. I’ve always felt a bit disconnected from the feeling of there being any right and wrong in music.”

Hildur speaks of her time as a classical music student being challenging due to her inquisitive nature and lack of desire to “play by the rules.” For a composer and instrumentalist whose work translates so well to so many it is interesting to understand her lack of regard for common convention. A focus instead on creating through pure inspiration and emotion, bringing forward work that stands alone with a unique character that has captivated the world around.

This belief in originality and expression of self would be hard to dispel as the key to most all of history’s greatest music makers and in fact the only thing we can cling to in the hope fresh ideas in the future. To make the point of just how important this is – let us look at an extremely inverse philosophy – all music must be created at 100 bpm in the key of D major and contain no more than 8 different instruments… Imagine that world! A better environment to work in; is one with infinite possibilities available. To truly inspire and connect with audiences our efforts must be curious in nature, we must create honestly and from the heart.


Perhaps a strange point to find highlighted in an article about creating music, but something, for more reasons than one, that must be considered. From Hildur’s perspective this point is made clear in her reference to capturing field recordings – where she knew sounds she could use prior to visiting the location but instead “ listened to what it had to say first and then started interpreting it from there.” finding many sounds broadcasting in the environment which were close to inaudible but once processed with the noise floor removed she was able to create new and exciting soundscapes which better conveyed her message. 

If I approach writing with open ears and an open mind instead of knowing exactly what I want to do, then I always have more fun. I try to keep my curiosity sparked.”

Another angle which is worth noting is that of the use of technology when producing sound – user interfaces have become “nicer” in that they “look pretty” which of course means you will be viewing the interface to manipulate it in many cases – this can be dangerous in creating a habit of “watching” your work rather than listening to it. Consider using alternative control methods vs on screen displays when possible and be mindful of whether you are listening or looking – as your audience will have only ears to interpret your work.

Identify experiences which enable you to relate to your work

It is often said that music is “the international language”- a method of communication which is understandable by all, no matter the background. This language then, must be triggering something within the human that is shared by all and if you take a look around any busy metropolis you’ll struggle to find much that each and every person shares in common.

So, how is it that music is able to translate a message to humanity without consideration to any particular language at all? Emotion, something which is relatable to each and every one of us – to love, to lose and to laugh. As a composer then – the aim must be to “strike a chord” with your audience, funnily enough this musical euphemism sums up the essence of this point beautifully in that you must connect with a distinct feeling inside listeners with your musical choices – perhaps this is a chord, as the saying suggests or a certain style of percussion. Whatever the tool – the inspiration behind your choices as a songwriter must be firmly rooted in emotion.

Luckily you have your very own unique library of inspiration when it comes to emotion and by taking a few simple steps it can become very easy to enter a place where your creativity is centered around the particular emotion you wish to create. Hildur spoke on this in an interview regarding her work scoring “chernobyl” where she used her memories to access emotion and turned “feelings into music”.

“I know how it feels to be afraid for the safety of my child, and I know how it feels to carry a loved one to his grave. Those were the feelings I could definitely understand. Those elements came more naturally to me and helped me turn those feelings into music.”


Hope you enjoy the process series, see you next month!

Process Series is written by Dylan @ Rast Sound