November 19, 2021
Composer Eduardo Aram, who’s behind the score to Netflix’s new documentary short Camp Confidential: America’s Secret Nazis, is no stranger to the subject. In addition to being nominated for Best Score at the Hollywood Music in Media Awards for Camp Confidential, Aram was also nominated in 2020 at the HMMA Awards for his score of the Netflix documentary series “The Devil Next Door,” which chronicled the story of a Cleveland grandfather accused of being a notorious Nazi concentration camp guard.
Camp Confidential, which screened this month at the AFI Film Festival and DOC NYC, features World War II veterans discussing a secret U.S. military camp near Washington, D.C., where Jewish soldiers hosted and interrogated Nazi POWs. The story is told through interviews and animated sequences.
Previously a lawyer and high-profile DJ/producer in Brazil for more than a decade, Eduardo moved into film and television composing in 2012, working alongside Antonio Pinto for the BBC feature documentary The Odyssey. He’s also worked on Selfless (2015), El Chapo (2017-18), Sanpa Sins of the Savior (2020) and Blood on The Wall (2020) and had the honor of composing for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games Opening Ceremony.
The Brazilian-born, Los Angeles-based artist created three distinct acts for Camp Confidential, varying in compositional style from string quartet staccato to 1940s-inspired jazz to Latin guitars, chamber orchestra and soft piano.
Media Play News asked Aram about his work on the short documentary.
MPN: How did you first approach creating a score for the documentary?
Aram: I had already worked with this historical theme about Nazis in America back in 2019 on the Netflix documentary called “The Devil Next Door,” which was with the same filmmakers. Part of the sound aesthetic of Camp Confidential comes from this first research. I explored using the cello as a representative element of these emotional fluctuations, sometimes anger, sometimes melancholy, that these soldiers faced in a given situation. Aggressive and screaming cellos or soft and mellow create this essence in the film.
As Camp Confidential features animation, I had to build more of a dynamic structure and sense of adventure in each of the pieces. Following the story’s narrative, I sought to enhance the emotions that the guards narrated. Ninety percent of the time, it was about the choice of cellos, the level of saturation on the console and tape recorders to give the feeling of a vintage sound.
MPN: What themes/acts did you identify?
Aram: I will try to answer this one without spoilers. In the first act, we see the soldiers’ confusion about what exactly they are doing on this mission and their reactions and emotions when faced with what they had to do when they actually learn of their responsibilities. For this, I created a dynamic of mystery and adventure. As you’ll notice, the music follows their cues and shows frustration and anger, yet still with a sense of mystery. The second act demonstrates the irreverence of certain scenes based on the characters narrative where I incorporated music influenced by 1940s jazz. The emotional conclusion underscoring the opinion of the guards was the last sequence I identified for the piece, and this outline is what I used as a starting point to compose.
MPN: How did you use the score to communicate each of the themes/acts? What moods do they evoke?
Aram: Based on the editing of the film, under the direction of Daniel and Mor, I divided it into three categories: adventure, mystery (staccato with rhythms), lively (German jazz instrumentation from the 40s period) and emotional (Latin guitars, soft pianos and chamber orchestral). The first act I call “Adventure and Mystery,” where I started from a staccato-based theme of an arrangement, which I had made for string quartet. Using an analog saturation in the cellos reminds me of the sound you hear on vinyl recordings, especially when I increase the gain and the speakers distort. This gave me that vintage feel that worked extremely well with the narrative. For the “Lively” section I had seven jazz musicians play the drums, double bass, horns, strings, guitars and organ arrangements. Using tape recorders and tape delays, I was able to get a vintage feeling of an old record even with this live band. For the last part, what I call the “Emotional” section, everything came together in the studio, with string musicians recording their parts and mixing them into the score.
MPN: With not much historical footage, much of the story is told via animation and voiceover/interviews. Does that afford the score a more prominent role? What does the score do to embellish and help tell the story?
Aram: When scoring the music for a documentary, usually we watch the face of a character who is telling a story, or we are watching archival footage. Scoring animation is much like scoring a fictional movie, where it demands a more immersive experience as a composer. For example, when the narrative starts outlining how the characters became part of the mission, I used percussive drums and moving orchestral elements to evoke that feeling of action. The music for this sequence is basically an action cue and works well with the animation.
The tone of voice and the quality of the recording also dictated the chosen instrumentation. Some of the guards had a very deep and velvety voice given their age, others more strident. During the recording process, I noticed that in certain tones of voice there was a frequency conflict and for the voices to be audible, I brought in reverse instrumentation. For example, when a guard had a weaker voice, I used pianos that had velvet on the hammers, which is more muffled. Or when I had a deeper voice, the drums went more towards the high-pitched cymbals and drums. Also, I used the same process for the strings. In the liveliest part of the storyline, I used Jazz as a motif, and the music is punctuated with every fact that happens, just to reinforce the narrative.