MADELEINE BRAND, host:

The new movie "Brokeback Mountain" opens this week. It's generating a lot of buzz because of its story about gay cowboys. The movie's composer also has a lot of buzz. Gustavo Santaolalla is considered one of the hottest producers in Latin music. He fled Argentina and arrived in California in 1978. Since then, he's produced scores of albums. Derek Rath reports.

(Soundbite of "A Love That Will Never Grow Old")

Ms. EMMYLOU HARRIS: (Singing) Go to sleep. May your sweet dreams come true. Just lay back in my arms for one more night.

DEREK RATH reporting:

This is a song performed by Emmylou Harris from "Brokeback Mountain," a controversial new film from director Ang Lee. It's the story of a homosexual affair between two cowboys who meet while sheep herding in Wyoming.

Mr. GUSTAVO SANTAOLALLA (Composer): I never really saw it as a gay cowboy movie. I always saw it and read it as a love story.

(Soundbite of "A Love That Will Never Grow Old")

Ms. HARRIS: (Singing) A love that will never grow old.

RATH: Gustavo Santaolalla wrote "A Love That Will Never Grow Old" and many other songs for "Brokeback Mountain." He's a musician and producer from Argentina best known in America for Grammy-winning productions for rocking Espanol acts like Cafe de Cuba and the crooner Juanes. "Brokeback Mountain" represents his latest foray into film scoring.

(Soundbite of music)

RATH: Right from the outset, it was the script and the characters that drew Gustavo to "Brokeback Mountain."

Mr. SANTAOLALLA: After, you know, starting the relationship, they actually go their separate ways and, you know, they both get married and have kids. And then they reunite, like, after four years and they, you know, continue that relationship for seven years. You really felt for those characters, that loneliness and that sadness and it's truly a heartbreaking story.

RATH: Ang Lee, the film's director, was an added attraction. And when the opportunity arose to meet him in his New York office, Gustavo seized the moment.

Mr. SANTAOLALLA: And I had my ronroco with me, you know. So I just went there and met with Ang and it was just like, you know, `Hi.' `Hi. Nice to meet you.' `What is that?' And I opened the case and I just start playing for, like, you know, two minutes, three minutes. I just play.

(Soundbite of music)

RATH: A ronroco is a bass version of the charango, a South American mandolinlike instrument. It's also the name of an album 13 years in the making that Gustavo credits with opening the doors to film scoring. It was featured in Michael Mann's "The Insider."

(Soundbite of music)

RATH: This in turn led to more film scores like "21 Grams" and "The Motorcycle Diaries." For "Brokeback Mountain," Gustavo's score, already composed to the script, became a creative force as the film was being shot.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. SANTAOLALLA: The sonic fabric, the ambience that the music would provide to the movie had been solved before the movie. Was that in the case of Ang Lee, you know, that he told me, you know, him and James Schamus, during the filming, you know--I mean, every night, they went back to the hotel and he will be listening to this music, and he used it as a source of inspiration.

(Soundbite of music)

RATH: The wide-open plains of Brokeback Mountain were a perfect match for Gustavo's approach to the soundtrack.

Mr. SANTAOLALLA: The environment of the story, you know, called for something spacious, you know. I love silence in music. I hate when you have the feeling that something was not happening on the screen and then they look at each and they say, `Let's put some music,' you know.

(Soundbite of music)

RATH: While Americans know Gustavo from his music, he originally set out to make films himself. But in Argentina, his early dreams of movie-making was crushed when a military junta shut down the film school in Buenos Aires. For Gustavo, film scoring represents the closing of the creative circle.

Mr. SANTAOLALLA: I've been making records since I was 16 years old. I produced by now close to 80 albums. Whereas film is a new thing for me, but it's totally different dynamic than making records, and that's really something that interests me and excites me.

RATH: This proclaimed most visionary producer in Latin music is obviously enjoying the challenge.

(Soundbite of music)

RATH: For NPR News, this is Derek Rath in Los Angeles.

(Soundbite of music)

BRAND: More to come on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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