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Erran Baron Cohen Scores Brüno with Cubase

Producer and long-time Steinberg user Erran Baron Cohen is thriving in today’s music business. Not only a superb trumpet player, keyboardist and consistently in demand DJ within the London circuit, Baron Cohen is also the founding member of ZOHAR, an eclectic band blending various styles like hip-hop, electronica and world music beautifully into a homogeneous whole. Then again, he is probably best known for his scoring of the TV series Da Ali G Show where he worked together with artists the likes of Travis and Supergrass as well as composing the award-winning score to the 2006 sensation Borat: Cultural Learnings of America for Make Benefit Glorious Nation of Kazakhstan.

Songs in the Key of Hanukkah, Baron Cohen’s first solo album project, was released in 2008 to critical acclaim. The long player contains the reworking of popular Jewish Hanukkah songs plus new compositions performed by international artists including Israeli star Idan Raichel and US rapper Y-Love.

Now in 2009, Erran Baron Cohen is back with the score to his brother’s movie Brüno. Steinberg took the opportunity to ask Erran a few questions.

Erran, please tell our readers a little more of your background. When did your love for music first blossom and are there any musicians who have influenced you?
I started playing trumpet and piano when I was 8 years old. My piano teacher got annoyed and refused to teach me! From then I taught myself by ear. I also studied trumpet classically and played in a local youth orchestra. I remember sitting in the middle of the orchestra and loving being in the middle of this powerful sound. Later in school I was in a rock band influenced by Kraftwerk, David Bowie, Brian Eno, and Talking Heads. I remember buying my first mono synth, a Moog. I was also lucky enough to see Miles Davis play three times and got into jazz. I also saw Joe Zawinal play — a master keyboard player surrounded by banks of synths.

Would you like to elaborate on ZOHAR sound system? You are also into DJing — how did this come about?
ZOHAR has two internationally released albums (onethreeseven and Do you Have any Faith?) which is signed to Miles Coplelands' CIA label. ZOHAR is an electronic project infused with middle-eastern samples and textures. I started a regular ZOHAR night in London where we used to perform live with live drums, bass, and keys and vocals. I also used Cubase live to trigger loops, and various samples and sounds. In between the live performance I used to DJ which led me to DJing in various London clubs as well as internationally.

You previously worked with Grammy award-winning producer Narada Michael Walden and Claude Challe, French DJ and founder of the Buddha Bar in Paris. Do you enjoy collaborating with artists of completely different backgrounds?
I have been very lucky to work with amazing artists across many different genres. I think working with great singers, producers and musicians keeps me inspired and always elevates the music to new heights. It also makes the creative process much more interesting and fun. Although we have the amazing technology now to do everything ourselves on our computers I feel it’s working and collaborating with real “humans” that creates really great music.

Has anything changed for you since scoring the music for your brother’s movie Borat: Cultural Learnings Of America For Make Benefit Glorious Nation Of Kazakhstan?
Borat was the biggest thing I had worked on up to that point and has been a great springboard for my subsequent projects.

You’ve composed the film score for Brüno which is about to be released in the UK and USA. How did realize your musical ideas in this context? What role did the Steinberg Cubase DAW get to play?
I have used Cubase since its early Atari days and continue to use it as my main DAW. Everything from the house music, to the orchestral, to the rock ad pop cues I composed using Cubase.

Which Cubase features do you use most extensively? Does it affect your compositional process?
I love Retrospective Record. I make extensive use of markers, Timewarp, and editing the tempo map to write and synchronize to picture. I use Cubase to create finished recordings and mixes using a combination of MIDI and audio, as well as a musical sketchpad for music that is later replaced with real musicians.

Are there any other Steinberg products you enjoy?
Yes, I use HALion, Groove Agent, The Grand, Virtual Guitarist and, of course, Hypersonic, which are all great, really easy to use and all very creative tools.

Do you have your own studio, and what kind of equipment do you use besides Cubase?
I have my own studio, but because I travel a lot I have a mobile rig based around my laptop and several terabytes of sound libraries, a USB keyboard, MOTU Ultralite, a Røde mic and Genelec speakers.

What does the rest of 2009 have in store for you?
The release of Brüno on July 10, the re-release of my album Songs in the Key of Hanukkah (New Line Records) and several commissions from the BBC. I am also in talks to score some LA-based movies.

Brilliant news! Many thanks for taking the time to do this interview.

ZOHAR website: