Careers: Teen composer/prodigy Rio Mangini
Issue: July/August 2019

Careers: Teen composer/prodigy Rio Mangini

Composer Rio Mangini is the son of Mark Mangini, an Oscar-winning sound designer for Mad Max: Fury Road, and four-time nominee. Rio is a classical piano prodigy. He made his debut at Carnegie Hall at just nine years old and at 15, completed music for the independent film Relish, which is scheduled to premiere at the 2019 Burbank International Film Festival on Friday, September 6th. 

The film is set as a modern day Breakfast Club, and follows the story of five teenage outcasts, who escape a private treatment facility in hopes of attending the infamous Dreamland Music Festival. Rio is one of the film’s stars, along with Tyler DiChiara, Hana Hayes, Mateus Ward and Chelsea Zhang. 

Recently, Rio took time to talk about his budding career. His dad, who is also a musician and re-recording mixer, shared some thoughts on his son’s creativity too.

Rio Mangini 

“I have composed the scores for two independent feature films. I had a cameo in one and a larger role in the other. I’d like to use this chance to share how I descended into the bottomless pit of film composing, and why it is such an intriguing world to me.

“I started playing classical piano when I was five. I wasn’t really good at anything else, so I joined a music class with a friend. I participated in various piano competitions, placing in a few, which gave me the opportunity to perform at Carnegie Hall twice when I was nine. That was pretty neat.

“During this excerpt of my life, I subconsciously wanted to be a conductor, though the idea hadn’t really materialized until I was well into my acting career, which I started when I was eight. 

“My first job as a composer came when writers Maria Capp, Grant Harling and Johnny James Fiore spoke to me about contributing to their film Reach. I read the script and offered to send some music demos, and they asked me to score the film. 

“I worked alongside musician and sound editor Jeffery Alan Jones, who helped guide me as a music editor. As I completed each cue, I realized that I was using most of the tracks and themes I created before the production even began shooting. It was helpful to be on-set, because I could get a better feel for the story. This familiarized me with the emotions of the project and helped create my process. 

“I would brainstorm ideas after reading the script, visit the set, brainstorm more, receive the first edit, and slowly refine the musical palette with each edit until it felt complete (a.k.a. deadline). However, this process is different for every composer. This is mine, and it might change next week.

“If there’s anyone to blame for me being a musician and for feeling comfortable in the post production setting, it would be my dad, Mark Mangini. A sound designer and mixer with over 150 film credits and a statue of a naked golden man, he also grew up playing guitar. We have jam sessions sometimes where I play keyboards or bass guitar. I’m at his studio a lot and we giggle over new audio equipment. We came to the agreement that he would not give me too many shortcuts or tips and tricks for managing audio gear, because I’d rather learn on my own.

“I’m excited to talk about my new feature titled Relish, written and directed by Justin Ward. While we were filming, I couldn’t help but hear the score in my head, so Justin and I discussed my participation as composer as well as actor. Little known fact, the entire film was shot in nine days. After we wrapped, I couldn’t wait to fit my aforementioned ideas into the music. However, my plan didn’t work. The film’s mood and tone turned out different than I expected.

“In my mind, there were two solutions for this: I could force the puzzle pieces to fit and hope for the best, or I could put in the extra work and restart to create more appropriate musical themes and concepts. 

“One of the lessons I learned on that project was to never get too attached to ideas. I should always be ready to adapt to the final product. I’m really happy with how Relish turned out. 

“I like testing new equipment on each project. I’ve been a long-time fan of Native Instruments, so I use their plug-ins on almost everything I touch. Before I started working on Reach, I picked up a Nord Lead A1 hardware synthesizer and borrowed a cajon from my science teacher. It was the perfect chance to use them. 

“Just before Relish, I acquired a Moog Subsequent 37, a Theremini, and Zebra 2 by U-he, which I’m still learning how to use.

“Working on Relish certainly shaped my workflow. I like taking the chameleon route when it comes to composing because it satisfies my indecisiveness, and it introduces me to different styles of scoring. 

“I’m not the first to say this, but I don’t like repeating myself. It’s infinitely more fun for me when my compositions fluctuate from project to project.”

Mark Mangini

“Rio has a very unique talent as a composer that comes by way of his gift for acting. I think these skills originate in the same place in him creatively and are usually expressed in different ways yet he has found a way to combine the two to inform his compositional work with a much greater depth and fidelity to the story by utilizing the scene study and character deconstruction skills he’s developed as an actor. 

“This is to say that he has a very keen sense of what a beat or scene or movie is supposed to be saying even when the characters on screen aren’t using words to say it. He turns those dramatic intuitive observations (critical to a good acting) into music. 

“What’s remarkable about this is that many of us spend lifetimes learning to understand these emotional undercurrents in a project while Rio has simply brought to bear skills he developed naturally as a young actor to achieve it so much more quickly and intuitively. In some sense, acting skills could be seen as a natural if not necessary tool in the composers toolbox. While most composers spend much of their early musical careers learning the mechanics of composition and theory, Rio was learning how to speak with a more emotional language and he’s learned to translate that into music that moves people.”