Zach Laliberte, the film composer known as La Liberte, speaks fluent English. But his native tongue, the one he hears in his head, is music.
In his musical idiom, he blends acoustic guitars and strings with an orchestra of electric guitars and an attack of dynamic percussion. He layers his music with instruments and sounds and tops it with melodies.
La Liberte, 22, grew up in San Diego, where he still lives and records. His studio is filled with guitars, mixers, speakers and a Macbook. But more recently, La Liberte added a violin, which he's teaching himself to play. He describes it as the most challenging thing he's ever undertaken. But his willingness to add to his inventory, to his musical library, helps to create the beautiful stratum that filmmakers seek.
When a filmmaker hires La Liberte, they work together to create an atmosphere of music that connects with the visuals. They work with the composition, molding it and shaping it until it fits. Although the filmmaker decides the emotion of the music, La Liberte drives the creative artistry.
I asked him about how he creates his compositions for film - how he starts and where he goes. He said it all begins with triggers. The layers of music he hears in his inner ear start with the visual.
"There's something that goes on in my head," he said, "I think in everybody's mind, that if you see a picture, it makes you think of something. Or if you hear a song, it makes you think of some memory or makes you feel something."
His conscious mind has two states--the composing conscious, also known as "work mode," and the part that interacts with other people. During the course of a day, he has to "clock in and clock out" of these two positions. Melodies move through his head often, which makes it difficult to communicate with others. When that happens, he has to clock out. He doesn't want his relationships to suffer, but he's determined to make good music.
"I make noise all the time," he said, "I'm always tapping my fingers, I'm always humming melodies."
Music, not lyrics, is his main focus--that's how his brain is wired. He dislikes creating words for his songs, but he articulates the music so well that lyrics become superfluous.
"The actual writing process, getting out a pencil and paper and writing lyrics down, is never fun," he said. "I wish it were easier. I wish there were an easier way for me just to get what's in my head out and record it. I'd rather just focus on the music and have the lyrics show up."
In the beginning, his songs had lyrics. He recorded his lyrical originals on an 8-track, but the 1970's era cassette had limited memory and soon ran out of tape. Shortly after that, filmmaker Andrew Gallo, of VsTheBrain and Sea Chant, asked for his help. Gallo was filming a short promotional video for the Vimeo festival awards. So La Liberte agreed to the job, and in 2009 he left his 8-track behind and started his composing career.
His compositions appear in short films, mainly commercials and promotional videos. He's now working on a 12-minute documentary about Christian ministry in the urban street context. He also is composing for several short promotional spots.
Many composers, like Sigur Ros and Peter Broderick, have inspired his music, but he listens to a variety of other styles. He likes artists in rap, world and folk music-he doesn't stick to just one genre. But his listening habits have changed since he started composing: "My music-listening has dwindled since I've started doing my own music - because I've heard what I like and I'm not needing to be plugged in all the time."
He started doing his own music in a church setting, playing and leading worship with other musicians. Performing in this setting helped him put purpose behind his music.
"Ultimately," he said, "If the music I produce as a composer only points to my artistic achievements, I am in for a sad and lonely road. I can honestly say that music has never given me the satisfaction I want in it. There is no artistic achievement of mine that will truly last forever, or give anyone, including myself, the satisfaction they seek."
He doesn't hide his beliefs, literally wearing them. His shoulder blade bears a tattoo of Galatians 2:20. And he plans to get a second tattoo, this time on his arm - a cross made of the words life, death, and resurrection.
"I want to be the best composer I can be because God has given me the gift," he said. "He gets the glory in the end, not me. My creative achievements cannot make me right before God, only the blood of Christ can."