‘I wanted to live in California since watching Beverly Hills 90210 as a kid’

Living in LA means composer Emer Kinsella is at the epicenter of the film industry

The work of violinist and film composer Emer Kinsella can be seen in the forthcoming Daniel Radcliffe movie, Jungle.

Emer Kinsella, originally from Malahide, Co Dublin, and now living in Los Angeles, is a violinist and film composer. Her solo violin playing and arrangements are featured in the forthcoming film, Jungle, starring Daniel Radcliffe.

When did you leave Ireland?

I left Ireland at the age of 18, after finishing my Leaving Certificate at Portmarnock Community School. It was there, at a film analysis class, that I discovered one of my all-time favourite films Run Lola Run, not knowing then that years later I would get to work closely with one of the film's lead composers, Johnny Klimek, on projects such as Jungle and [the Netflix series] Sense8.

Did you leave family behind, and do you find it hard being away from home?

Yes, I’m the eldest of my siblings and was the first to leave home. When I was in London, it was easy enough to visit, but as I moved further away, it became harder to go back and forth. Luckily, with online video calling, it’s easier to stay in touch with family.

How did you become a professional musician and composer?

I studied violin from the age of 2½ until I was 18, at the Young European Strings School of Music in Dublin. Then I went on to study at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, and the University of Music and Performing Arts in Vienna for violin performance. I was later accepted into the MFA film scoring programme at Columbia College Chicago, with a full scholarship.


How did you get into film composing?

I started exploring media composition and electronic music as part of electives at the Guildhall School, and developed an immediate connection with expressing myself through music with visual imagery. I also became involved with improvisation at this time and found the freedom of unleashing my inner voice, unrestricted to the notes on a page, invigorating. After graduating, I moved to Berlin for a year, where I met director Alex Falk, who asked me to compose music for his film Real World. This was my first step into the world of film music.

Is composing for film a very specialised craft?

Yes, it requires the ability to be able to access a storyline on multiple levels. I’ve always been an intrinsic, deep thinker and enjoy taking apart concepts and unfolding meanings beyond what lies on the surface of a subject. Composing for film also requires you to connect on an emotional level and to highlight another dimension of the story which can only be brought out through music. It’s like an invisible veil which elevates and magnifies the visuals on which it is placed. You have to wear a lot of different hats as a film composer and be an expert in music technology, as well as music theory and instrumentation, synth programming, audio manipulation, and be able to communicate effectively with filmmakers and collaborators.

What are you working on at the moment?

I'm currently scoring the music to a documentary feature film called Faith, directed by Molly Pelavin, which will be ready to go to festivals soon. I recently worked on the Netflix show Sense8, season two, and the upcoming film Jungle, starring Daniel Radcliffe, as arranger and violinist, where I created audio manipulated soundscapes using my violin. I'm also about to start working on a virtual reality opera.

Where can we hear your work?

You can hear my work on Soundcloud under Emer Kinsella or on my website emerkinsella.com.

You won a big prize recently?

I was selected as a winning composer in the Los Angeles Live Score Film Festival ,where my score was performed live to picture by the Helix Collective. It’s always great to hear a score you’ve written performed live in front of you, especially as most of the time film composers spend long hours in front of a computer in an isolated studio.

You’re coming back to Dublin soon, what is bringing you back?

I was accepted into the IMRO/RTÉ Film Scoring programme in association with Filmbase and will have my score to the film A Return To War recorded at RTÉ Studios with the RTÉ Concert Orchestra in June. I was delighted to have been accepted as one of four composers and to have the opportunity to write for a large orchestra of this calibre.

How long have you been living in Los Angeles?

I lived in London for four years, with a study abroad semester in Vienna. Then I spent a year in Berlin, and returned to Vienna for another four years after that, before moving to Chicago and eventually LA. I’ve just hit the one year mark since moving to LA. My travels allowed me to become fluent in German during my time in Austria and Germany, which has been invaluable to my career and life as a musician.

Why did you choose to relocate to Los Angeles?

I wanted to be in the epicentre of the film industry. I wanted to live in California – for the sun and palm trees – ever since watching Beverly Hills 90210 as a kid. I live in North Hollywood, which is close to Universal Studios and Studio City where a lot of studios are located and it is easily accessible to central Hollywood and other parts of the city.

Tell us about your life in LA?

I’m usually busy composing in my studio, performing violin at a concert or going to industry events across the city. It’s also nice to take time out to go hiking or spend time at Venice beach, which is one of my favourite spots in LA.

Is there anything difficult or problematic about living there?

Driving all the time in heavy traffic is probably the most stressful thing about living here – and road traffic accidents happen often.

Is it a good place for musicians/composers to be?

Yes, for sure. There is a great community of composers and musicians here who support and look out for others. There are countless events which take place all over the city and are put on by organisations such as the Alliance for Women Film Composers or the Society of Composers and Lyricists, both of which I’m a member of.

Is there an active Irish community where you are, and do you get involved with it?

Yes, I met a large group of Irish artists at the Irish Screen America Film Festival in LA which led to me scoring the music to the film Whadd'ya Say, by Irish director Karl Harpur, starring Caroline Morahan, and Damian O' Hare from Pirates of the Caribbean.

Do you think you will stay in Los Angeles longterm?

I hope to. I’m applying for my artist visa and would like to continue to develop my career here further.

Is there anything you miss about living in Ireland?

A good chipper with fish and chips, what Americans would call ‘fries’, which is still confusing. Also a well made Irish breakfast. It’s the first thing I go for when I’m back in Ireland.

If you work in an interesting job overseas and would like to share your experiences, email abroad@irishtimes.com with a little information about you and the work you do.