Born in India, raised in Scarborough, summered in Europe and now living in L.A., composer Colin Aguiar has seen the world — and it resonates in his music.
Aguiar has scored two Academy Award nominated films and recently composed the soundtrack for Rosie Takes the Train, an official Canadian Film Festival selection. He also wrote additional music for the critically acclaimed television series Traders and TV movie Harrison Bergeron.
Filmmaker Jigar Talati, who worked alongside Aguiar in the Oscar nominated Fly, says Aguiar’s music is a “remix of sounds from different cultures.”
“Colin’s music is always working on more than one layer and contains a rich sense of history,” Talati says. “You’ll hear an Irish flute in a score with tablas (Indian drums). You don’t do that kind of thing unless it’s part of your experience.”
Aguiar says that while he was trained in classical, he lived and has travelled to exotic countries where ethnic music livens the streets.
“All the years of travelling exposed me to different places and different sounds — it was like acquiring a degree in ethnomusicology,” says Aguiar, chuckling.
Exposed to music at an early age, he recalls spending his childhood watching his father, who sang with big bands around the world.
“I really loved watching my dad and I thought it would be amazing if I can write songs that he was singing,” he says. “I decided that I wanted to be a composer … and I have always been attracted to this job since I was three.”
Cleto Aguiar says he knew his son would make a name as a gifted musician ever since Colin picked up his first drumsticks at two years old.
“Colin always had great passion in music,” the senior Aguiar says. “As a young kid, he would listen to great music writers like Ravi Shankar … and we’d run and get him musical tapes from big composers.”
Talati, who has grown to become Aguiar’s close friend, says he’s “never met anyone who understood music the way Colin did.”
“A lot of composers tend to go for what’s the trend musically but Colin really tries to see it in a filmmaker’s perspective,” Talati says.
While they were working on a commercial, Talati was surprised when Aguiar presented a self-made chart tabling the script’s peaks and values and pinpointing where the music can take a break or come up.
“No one really does that, it’s something a director would do — and that’s what really sets him apart,” Talati says.
Another testimony to Aguiar’s talent as a composer was his work in the 2004 sci-fi flick Systems of Units.
He was faced with the challenge of writing the score for a film centred on a society where verbal communication is forbidden.
“I planned to have a score with a choir but the question was what text I was going to use instead of the usual Latin text,” he says.
In a stroke of genius, Colin Aguiar called University of Toronto’s computer science department and asked for codes of old computer viruses. He then used the code as the choir’s text.
Aguiar says his experiences dating back to childhood opened him up not only to the world of cultural music but also to different ways he can innovate tradition as well.
Talati says as a composer, this is Aguiar’s greatest asset.
“To have a composer that could help you tell story that works across borders — from the east and the west — is a huge advantage and for Colin, it’s innate,” he says.
An earlier version of this story stated incorrectly that Colin Aguiar wrote the music for the critically acclaimed television series Traders and TV movie Harrison Bergeron. In fact, the original music for both productions was composed by Louis Natale, while Colin Aguiar is credited on both as having written “additional music.” Louis Natale was nominated for a Gemini for the Traders music in 1997. The mistake was made by Observer staff and the Observer apologizes for the error.