1) JEFF, YOU HAVE JUST COMPLETED A SUCCESSFUL SERIES OF LIVE CONCERTS FEATURING MUSIC FROM ‘HOUSE OF CARDS’ (HOC). CAN YOU COMMENT ON THE RESPONSE OF THE AUDIENCES THAT ATTENDED THOSE SHOWS?
Yes, July was nuts! Two world premieres in two weeks “Blackfish Live” in LA with the Hollywood Chamber Orchestra 07/01, and the world premiere of “House Of Cards in Concert” with the National Symphony Orchestra at the Kennedy Center 07/14. I’d say both were very well received, and really amazing evenings. Part of what made these shows special was something I like to do in all of my concert work, which is to involve the audience in the experience, and give them a sense of the story “behind” the music. I love talking with people right after concert and hearing firsthand what their experience was like, and in both cases I learned a lot about what moved them. I love the whole idea of multi-media art; making a film/music concert something other than the norm of just running the film w/the live orchestra. Aside from the thrill of a score being performed live, there were other aspects of these shows I really enjoyed doing – the first was video editing. It’s something I’ve dabbled in for quite some time and love doing. I think most composers kind of learn about this intrinsically just by working with film for a few decades. In the case of HOC in Concert, the show was built in reverse. i.e. I took themes from all 4 seasons of the music, and created new orchestral “movements” which expanded on the original structure, and also expanded the orchestration out to really fill a concert hall acoustically. Then, I worked in Final cut pro x and created video “movements” in choreography with the score. This was especially fun to do, because I felt like for the fans of our show, which was a packed house of 2500 at the Kennedy Center, I wanted them to experience the show from a different angle, lens. In all honesty that lens is a bit more about a pure emotion or feeling, and (gasp) story takes a bit of a backseat. Also, the fun of building the show this way, I can simply have parts that play with no picture at all to completely put the focus on the orchestra, which I also did in a few places.
In the case of Blackfish – I have to give Richard Kraft credit for two great ideas (both of which I did), as I’d never done a more “traditional” live to picture show before – first I created an overture and an entr’acte. The second was to create an “update” film to play at the end with original score to feature the orchestra, and also to celebrate the amazing change the film has had. This was a really fun part of that concert – I had invited the former Sea World trainers to all shoot iPhone videos and created the 9 minute “Blackfish Effect” short film – (which we’ll be sharing/releasing online soon) I waited until after the film was done to introduce the trainers who were in the audience and then we did the short film. It was a really special end to the evening, and I’m so glad I did this – again, it made it feel as if this concert had something special that wasn’t easily recreated at home. Also I learned and discovered some fun things in “realizing” my score for a concert stage. In this case the adjustments weren’t as dramatic as what I’ve done for my HOC program, but still there were places I was able to adjust, or enhance the orchestration in the body of the film to take advantage of the acoustic nature of a chamber orch. vs. “recorded”.
2) WITH THE INTRODUCTION OF COMPLETE ‘ON DEMAND’ SERIES, NETFLIX HAS CHANGED THE TV VIEWING LANDSCAPE FOREVER. HOW IS THE SCORING PROCESS OF A SHOW LIKE ‘HOC’ DIFFERENT FROM EPISODIC NETWORK SHOWS?
I get this question all of the time, and my answer has evolved over the years with HOC, as I’ve understood exactly what this DOES mean. I think the real key here has not as much to do with workflow (which is very much the same type of schedule/process doing a cable or limited 13 episode “hi-end” series). Rather it’s all about the way the audience watches it. Usually a new HOC season is seen in about a week’s time (or less!) this creates the sense in which a ‘season’ of HOC is really much more like a 13 hour “movie” and I just love that. I creates a more organic flow of ideas, and connections, much like you build into a conventional feature film score, but you can do it on a grand scale. Streaming has been really great for series, as before this caught on, many networks were afraid of long (multiple episode) story arcs. It’s enabled the writer’s to create that way, and really opened up a new golden age of TV. I touch on some of these ideas in my TedX talk and you might enjoy that – (esp. the audience engagement and participation of part).
3) YOU WENT THROUGH SOME CHALLENGING TIMES AFTER BEING DIAGNOSED WITH MS. HAS THAT AFFECTED YOUR PERSPECTIVE ON LIFE/CAREER?
Yes, again the TedX talk goes there a bit, and highlights for me some of my most important personal lessons. First off, no one get’s a “choice” on anything – I decided the first week I was diag. not to see it as a curse, or myself a victim of it My only choice would be how I could respond to it, and build a new normal and narrative for my life 2.0 which would respect the reality of living with something chronic. I’ve learned over 9 years with MS (which is an incurable neurological condition), what I need to do to stay healthy happy, and productive. I’ve also become committed and engaged in my healing process (which is a personal thing – everyone does this differently). I also learned (anew) what an amazing woman I’m married to. Joan launched into a second career, becoming an incredible advocate; for me first, and for now, thousands more who follow her Facebook group:
and her blog.
Personally, I really had a reset on a whole lot of levels. I think I have a deeper appreciation of my time here (and healthy sense of it’s impermanence). I also have way more empathy towards anyone in pain, fatigue, or any other type of hardship. In my TedX talk I speak quite a bit about brain plasticity, which is really one of the most encouraging bits of science and really explains why (aside from my obsession with writing music) why it is actually so GOOD for my brain too. That’s part of my story now – by writing, and creating, I’m actually helping to rewire around the areas the MS attacked and keep the rest healthy.
4) YOU ARE A PROLIFIC AND VERSATILE COMPOSER (COMMISSIONS, TV, FILM) AND YET YOU STARTED OUT AS A TRUMPET PLAYER. WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR INFLUENCES AND WHAT KEEPS YOUR CREATIVE JUICES FLOWING?
Really now, getting back to concert music, conducting, doing commissions, performing trumpet, etc. is really feeding that in wonderful ways All of this feels like return to that first loves, but from the perspective of time that has passed. Playing trumpet (and piano) was really my window into being a composer. Jazz improvisation is simply one of the greatest skills and musical training grounds for becoming a composer; esp. a FILM composer where you have to be able to generate ideas prolifically. I’d say I love putting myself in new situations where I have to solve a new musical puzzle really energizes the whole process. I love collaboration – that’s why I’ve done film music for so long – I always have this incredible gift before me on my composing day – i.e. the creative energy and ideas of my collaborators! Even though in many ways I am a classic introvert (I work alone, without a crew hovering over or anything like that) I LOVE the group feeling of being a film composer – it’s a group effort, and I’m also finding in my concert commissions the collaborative part of it (whether it is a soloist commissioning a concerto, or a dance choreographer, or Brian Green’s physics + multi-media) I have this beautiful sense of community when I work on these projects, and that always provides plenty of energy.
I’ll never forget playing in the trumpet section of the Oakland Youth Symphony in high school, we were playing Stravinsky’s “Rite Of Spring” and the pretty much blew my mind – opened me up to just how much orchestral music could express, sonically, emotionally, and narrative. I had similar epiphany when first getting there with jazz improvising, when it was really flowing. I saw a RIVER of ideas there that I could always tap into. I transcribed a bunch of Clifford Brown, Woody Shaw, Miles, etc. growing up, and listened to a ton of recordings, both jazz and classical.
5) YOU HAVE BEEN AROUND FOR A WHILE AND YOU HAVE BUILT A WELL DESERVED SUCCESSFUL CAREER (15 NOMINATIONS, 4 WINS, etc). IF THERE’S ONE PIECE OF ADVICE YOU’D PASS TO ASPIRING FILM/TV COMPOSERS, WHAT WOULD THAT BE?
I feel lucky to start when I did, there have probably never been as many entering our field as there are now. I’m kinda’ glad I started when I did! The key is really the same when I started – i.e. how do you mange to get “noticed” and advance your work out into the world? I think there are some principles to this that are timeless and could help;
1) Excellence – it’s not enough to be good, it has to be great, insanely great (as Steve Jobs liked to say) – Musical EXCELLENCE comes from training, study, hard work, practice, practice, failure, consulting, practice, practice, repeat and rinse. Also, spend time listening carefully – when you find a piece of music you think is great and speaks to you – rip it apart, try to figure out what makes it work, and WHY. Invariably you will filter this knowledge through your voice anyway, but thinking you can blindly ignore the past (and current) achievements of your peers and heroes, is at your peril.
2) Honestly – I believe in the end the career that has longevity and success, it one that comes form a place of musical (and personal) authenticity. This means discovering and cultivating your own “voice” as composer. Only YOU have that, and it’s your job to figure out what it is, and to water it, like a plant. The more you run away from this towards what you think you “should” be, the less effective you’ll be. Also, I love that one of film music’s primary jobs is to involve us emotionally and viscerally in a drama (or comedy too!) – Again, we all know the scores that feel like they are pushing our buttons – but that doesn’t mean we should just write wallpaper. I believe the best film scores have both an identity which is satisfying and additive, but also organic to the other elements, and most importantly evokes a sense of “earned emotion” vs. “forced emotion” – I think for this studying great actors and score that really move YOU is a great way. Watch the scores that have an effect on you with the film to see how they work, and how the whole scene creates a space for these emotions to happen.
3) Originality – this is really a continuation (or by-product) of #2 – it’s an elusive concept, but we all know when we hear it. I think the sense of something not expected, but yet satisfy is one way to develop this and (also part of my Ted talk) – It sometimes bugs me that film music is supposed to be “dramatic” but often yet can feel very very predicable, (thus killing the sense of drama or surprise). So aside from creating a musical brand/sound, which doesn’t sound like everyone else, I also think an original stamp/perspective is also a great way to help a film-maker tell a story. Don’t be afraid to take risks and experiment – that’s often where the cool stuff comes from.
4) Swing for the fences – This one I got from Henry Mancini shortly after we moved to LA – he gave a talk at the Motion Picture acad. and showed a clip of his main title to the Pink Panther – basically he said, most of the time in film, we are quietly supporting from the sides or the background, but every once in a while, in a career, you’ll get your chance at bat to be FEATURED in a scene or a project. To paraphrase, “when that chance comes to you, make sure you swing for the fences!”
Thanks – hope this was fun and helpful and looking forward to continuing the conversation with you all below – J