Composer Spotlight: Carlos Rafael Rivera

Carlos Rafael Rivera

Today we are excited to spotlight ‘Godless’ Composer Carlos Rafael Rivera!

What influences has music had on your family? –

The songs my father sang were the soundtrack of my childhood.  He still has one of the most gorgeous voices I have ever heard.  There is something truly visceral in his approach:  He sings by ear, couldn’t read a note…but what a beautiful sense of pitch…never flat, never sharp.  He would give a solo performance to no one in the living room, unembarrassed and completely inspired.   I didn’t take to his Mambos or Boleros until the time I began composing.  It would be years before I realized how deeply his love for singing would influence my own passion for music.

Biggest non-musical influences

Video Games – I’ve played every iteration of Zelda.  Somehow playing the game helps me sort through and find musical direction when I’m stuck writing.

What do you do with your limited free time?

Wish I had more!

What is the most extreme thing you have ever wanted to do?

Care about sports

If you could travel to any period based on the music, when would you go?

Now. For real… it is an AWESOME time to be in music.


Randy Rhoads was the reason I decided play music.  I remember smiling uncontrollably when I first heard his solo for “Revelation (Mother Earth).”  “The day I am able to play it note by note,” I thought, “I will be an amazing guitarist!”  And after a few years, that fateful day came…but something unexpected happened.  As soon as I’d nailed the last note in that solo, I was overwhelmed with the realization that I had not written it.  Although I had mastered the notes, they were not truly mine.  It was then that my attention would gravitate to writing music.

Outside influences

During my sophomore year as a business major in Miami Dade College, I took a music appreciation class, seeking an easy A.  The teacher was Jay Brown, and thanks to him, my path was forever changed.  He brought in a score and recording of Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.”  I couldn’t understand how those seemingly wrong notes somehow made sense; and those barbaric rhythms, how could they actually be written down on paper?  It was the first time I ever heard classical music sound so raw, so visceral.  In that instant my future had been decided.  I enrolled in music school the following year.

Favorite current composer


Best scored movie you’ve ever seen?

Too many to single out

What is your least favorite instrument?

Anyone that is badly played.

What’s your composing method? (a) sitting at a piano (b) computer (c) pencil on manuscript paper (d) improvisation with musicians (e) other

A through E – specially E

When did you discover that you wanted to pursue film music?

I never thought it was possible.  Ever since I’ve been a kid, music has deeply affected me. In Panama, I remember my brother had bought the soundtrack albums to Indiana Jones, Star Wars, and ET.  We had watched ET in the theater…and when ET soared into the sky along the other bikes, I remember tears jumping out of my eyes.  I was 11.  

It wouldn’t be until 17 years later that I’d witness the brilliant ending of Cinema Paradiso, and find myself both elated and feeling the tears jumping out again.

Speaking of Ennio Morricone, he is the only composer I have seen cry when receiving an academy award.  Perhaps it’s because during the process of writing a score, all the crying is done internally.  But perhaps, and I feel this to be the true reason, its because Mr. Morricone, like so  many other genuine artists, never let their own life experience harden them, but rather always kept a close tap on their emotional power supply.

Anyways, when I found out we were moving back to Costa Rica, I would sit in front of our Pioneer Stereo, put on headphones, and play the Escape/Chase/Saying Goodbye music cue from the end of the ET soundtrack, imagining myself shaking hands, and hugging, and crying as I said my own goodbyes to all my friends in school, one by one.  

There was also Jerry Goldsmith’s score to the not so well received Twilight Zone Movie.  I was obsessed with the music for the “Kick the Can” sequence in the film.  And as it was playing on Showtime or HBO, I remember going to the Piano and picking out those haunting intervals…badly of course, but obsessively still.

Then there was the Great Train Robbery score – again by Goldsmith.  My brother would actually record movies on Audio Cassette by placing the recorder in front of the TV speaker, and we would listen back to the film in our bedroom.  Again, Goldsmith’s music totally overwhelmed me.  And again, I must have been 11.  

Point is, even though I have written concert/classical Music for the past 20 years, and have looked at, and been deeply inspired by composers such as Stravinsky, Copland, and Bartok, the compositional choices I have made since my first pieces through today, are always informed by the melodic genius of Williams and Goldsmith.  

Where is your favorite place to travel? Have these places ever influenced your work?

Paris, and any place I have been fortunate to travel to, or live in, has influenced me.