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London, 2021

During this interview, I change seats, place myself in front of another artist and ask him the questions I wish people asked me. Today, I speak to the Portuguese composer and pianist Luís Mota who has just released Invisible Cities, quite a fascinating release… 


Luís, tell us a little bit about yourself?


I am a classical and media composer, originally from Portugal. I did my training at the Royal College of Music and I have been based in London since then. As a string player, I enjoy writing and arranging for orchestra. I have done orchestrations for films, video games, TV series and live concerts in Los Angeles and Germany. In recent years, I have been rescoring silent films from the beginning of the 20th century to be re-released in DVD, having already scored The Unholy Three (1925). I have also been collaborating with directors in films like Han Yu by Zaur Kourazov which won a prize in the Asolo Art Film Festival 2021.


What about Invisible Cities, your latest solo project?


Invisible Cities came to fruition during lockdown. I was reading the well-known book of the same title by Italo Calvino and immediately got inspired by its descriptions of faraway cities, often beyond the realms of what is physically possible. It inspired me so much that I began sketching short piano pieces based on a selection of cities. Time was on my side and I managed to finish writing the album quite quickly. I decided to limited my pallet to the piano in order to capture the simplicity and delicate beauty of each description.


What is the concept and intentions behind this release?


This album was a small challenge for me. It is my first release so I wanted to have a strong concept to work from. I often derive inspiration from travelling, even if the end result is not directly inspired by my latest trip. Invisible Cities was the perfect book because it combined incredible poetic beauty with my circumstances at the time — not being able to travel during lockdown. It was a way of escaping and imagining different realities while stuck inside the house. I hope I managed to transmit this in the album so people can escape reality for brief moments and imagine impossible places to visit.


How do you approach developing your own voice as a creator and composer? What have been the musical voices that have inspired you and shaped your musical self?


This is an ongoing process, I do not think it ever stops. As a musician, I tend to find refuge in silence, but when I do listen to music I like to listen to Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Ravel, John Williams, Ennio Morricone, Alexandre Desplat, Don Davis, Danny Elfman, Nils Frahm, Chilly Gonzales, Tom Waits, and so many others. I like to absorb and let music filter through me, so when it comes to be creative, there are enough ideas and inspiration to compose.


Tell us about your creative process.


I often start from a melody or a motif and the harmony usually follows, but sometimes this process is reversed. As I am writing, I hear things in my head and have to capture them quickly so I do not forget them. This is why I like writing by hand. I find it much easier to notate ideas that way, so I rarely write on DAWs directly, only in certain projects where the deadline is tight.


What about the release — give us an insight on its development.


For this album, I had the time and space to sit down and write freely — when was the last time the whole world stopped? This meant I could read the book several times and use it as a guide. I am used to having a film or video to score to, so this was a nice challenge. When most pieces were written, I contacted the pianist John-Paul Muir to have them played and make any necessary changes. There is nothing like hearing your music played in real instruments! We went to the recording studio in August and the mixing and mastering was done a couple of weeks after by Mark Wyllie. The artwork was done by my good friend at P.G. Howlin’ based on a photo by Clayton Welham.


So after Invisible Cities what’s next?


I thoroughly enjoyed the process of writing, recording and releasing Invisible Cities. I have got a few ideas about what I can do next, perhaps an album with strings, a small ensemble, another piano album, who knows?


Thanks very much Luís. Last one for the road — one book, one album, one film —, tell us about your latest cultural pearls?


For the book, I would pick a classic saga to take me far far away — The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. For the album, I recently discovered Punisher by Phoebe Bridgers. And finally a film that has always been with me and which combines everything I love in cinema — Cinema Paradiso, with its beautiful photography, heartbreaking and sweet story, unforgettable soundtrack. Oh and go watch Dune, definitely worth it!


Bouncing on Luís’ words, it is about time to discover Italo Calvino’s works! Read my review of Invisible Cities.

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