Tag Archives: Musical Score

The new Tom and Jerry Show score combines vintage and modern sounds

By Jennifer Walden

Tom and Jerry have been locked in conflict since the 1940s when animators William Hanna and Joseph Barbera pitted cat against mouse in a theatrical animated series for MGM’s cartoon studio. Their Academy Award-winning Tom and Jerry short films spurred numerous iterations over the years by different directors and animation studios.

The latest reboot, The Tom and Jerry Show, produced by Warner Bros. Animation and Renegade Animation, and directed by Darrell Van Citters, started airing on Cartoon Network in 2014. It didn’t really come into its own until Season 2, which began airing in 2016.

Vivek Maddala

Vivek Maddala is co-composer on the series. “The storytelling is getting better and better. Ostensibly, it’s a children’s show but what I’m finding is the writers seem to be having a lot of fun with allegorical references. It features layered storytelling that children probably wouldn’t be able to appreciate. For example, Tom’s love interest, a cat named Toodles, is an aspiring dancer by night but her day job is being a spot welder for heavy construction. Obviously, this is a Flashdance reference, so I was able to thread oblique references to Flashdance in the score.”

New episodes of The Tom and Jerry Show are currently airing on Cartoon Network, and Maddala will be composing 39 of the episodes in Season 3.

As with Hanna-Barbera’s animated theatrical shorts, the characters of Tom and Jerry rarely talk, although other recurring characters are voiced. Music plays an essential role in describing the characters’ actions and reactions. Maddala’s compositions are reminiscent of composer Scott Bradley’s approach to the original Tom and Jerry animations. Comfortable cartoon tropes like trumpet blasts and trombone slides, pizzicato plucks and timpani bounces punctuate a string-and woodwind-driven score. “Scott Bradley’s scoring technique is the gold standard. It is beautiful writing,” he says.

In their initial conversations, director Van Citters regularly referenced Bradley’s scoring technique. Maddala studied those scores carefully and frequently revisits them while writing his own scores for the show. Maddala also listens to “music that is completely unrelated, like Led Zeppelin or Marvin Gaye, to help jog my imagination. The music I’m writing for the show very much sounds like me. I’m taking some of the approaches that Scott Bradley used but, ultimately, I am using my own musical vocabulary. I have a certain way of hearing drama and hearing action, and that’s what the score sounds like.”

Maddala’s vintage-meets-modern compositions incorporate contemporary instrumentation and genres like blues guitar for when the cool stray cat comes onto the scene, and an electro-organ of the muziak persuasion for a snack food TV commercial. His musical references to Flashdance can heard in the “Cat Dance Fever” episode, and he gives a nod to Elmer Bernstein’s score for The Magnificent Seven in the episode “Uncle Pecos Rides Again.”

Each new musical direction or change of instrument doesn’t feel abrupt. It all melts into the quintessential Tom and Jerry small orchestra sound. “Darrell Van Citters and Warner Bros. are giving me quite a bit of autonomy in coming up with my own musical solutions to the action on-screen and the situations that the characters are experiencing. I’m able to draw from a lot of different things that inspire me,” explains Maddala.

Instruments & Tools
His score combines live recordings with virtual instruments. His multi-room studio in Los Angeles houses a live room, his main composing room and a separate piano room. Maddala keeps a Yamaha C3 grand piano and a drum kit always mic’d up so he can perform those parts whenever he needs. He also records small chamber groups there, like double-string quartets and woodwind quartets. The string ensembles sometimes consist of seven violins (four first and three second), three violas and three cellos, captured using a Blumlein pair recording configuration (a stereo recording technique that produces a realistic stereo image) with ribbon mics to evoke a vintage sound. He chooses AEA N8 ribbon mics matched with AEA’s RPQ 500 mic pre-amps.

Maddala also uses several large diaphragm tube condenser mics he designed for Avid years ago, such as the Sputnik. “The Sputnik is a cross between a classic Neumann U47 capsule with the original M7 design, and an AKG C 12 mic with the original CK12 capsule. The capsule is sort of like a cross between those two mics. The head amp is based on the Telefunken ELA M 251.”

Maddala’s composing room.

Maddala uses three different DAWs. He composes in Cakewalk’s Sonar on a PC and runs video through Steinberg’s Cubase on a Mac. The two systems are locked together via SMPTE timecode. On the Mac, he also runs Avid Pro Tools 12 for delivering stems to the dub stage. “The dub is done in Pro Tools so they usually ask to have a Pro Tools session delivered to them. Once the score is approved, I copy the stems into a Pro Tools session so it’s self-contained, save that and post it to the FTP server.”

Maddala got his start in composing for film by scoring classic silent films from the 1920s, which Warner Bros. and TCM restored in order to release them to today’s audiences. He worked with recording/mix engineer Dan Blessinger on those silent films, and Blessinger — the sound designer on The Tom and Jerry Show, recommended Maddala for the gig. “A lot of the classic silent films from the 1920s never had a score associated with them because the technology didn’t exist to marry sound and picture. About 10 or 15 years ago, when TCM was releasing these films to modern audiences, they needed new scores. So I started doing that, which built up my chops for scoring something like a Tom & Jerry cartoon where there is wall-to-wall music,” concludes Maddala.


Jennifer Walden is a New Jersey-based writer and audio engineer.

Behind the Title: Composer Michael Carey

NAME: Michael Carey (@MichaelCarey007)

COMPANY: Resonation Music

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Creative director/composer (film/commercials/TV) and songwriter/producer/mixer (album work).

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
For commercials, film and TV projects, I work closely with the director, producer and agency to come up with something that meets their needs and the needs of the project. I develop an understanding of their overall vision, and then I conceptualize, compose and produce original music to capture the essence of this vision, in a complimentary way.

i-want-to-say-composer-main-title-opening-scenes

Michael Carey was composer of the main title theme and the opening scenes for ‘I Want to Say.’

This includes themes, underscore, source, main titles, end titles, etc. When it comes to album projects and soundtrack songs, I often write for (or with) the featured artist or band and produce the track from end to end. This means that I am also the engineer, programmer, session player and often mixer for a project.

On large projects that require fast turnaround, I wear the “creative director” hat, and I assemble and manage a specific team of colleagues to collaborate with me — those I know can get the job done at the highest level. I keep things focused and cohesive, and strive to maintain a consistent musical voice.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Whichever medium I’m working in, be it music-for-picture or album work, the underlying fundamentals are surprisingly similar. In both instances, it’s ultimately about storytelling – conveying maximum emotional impact in a compelling way. Using dynamics, melody, tension, release, density and space to create memorable moments and exciting transitions to keep the viewer or listener engaged.

I’m always striving to support the “main event.” In film, it’s visuals and dialog. In album work it’s the singer’s performance. I see my job as building a metaphorical “frame” around the picture. Enhance, reinforce, compliment, but never distract.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Two parts, really. First, the satisfaction of achieving a collective goal. Helping a filmmaker/artist realize their vision, while finding a way to authentically express my own musical vision and make a deeper connection with the audience experiencing the work.

There are moments in the course of a project when you hit on something that’s undeniable. Everyone involved immediately feels it. Human connections are made. Those are great moments, and ultimately you want the whole piece to feel like that.

The second part is the inspiration that comes from working collaboratively (usually with people at the top of their game) with those talented peers who challenge and push you in directions you might not have taken otherwise.

WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS FOR SCORING? HOW DO YOU BEGIN?
1) Watch film/read script. 2) Discuss with director, get a sense of their vision. 3) Create musical sketches and build a sonic palette. If there’s already some picture available to work with, then I’ll tackle a scene that feels representative of the rest of the project and refine it with input from the director. My goal is to create a musical/sonic “voice” or “sound” for the film that becomes an inextricable part of its personality.

CAN YOU WALK US THROUGH YOUR WORKFLOW?
Once overall direction has been established and scenes have been spotted, my first step with a scene is to map things out tempo/timing-wise, making note of any significant cuts, events or moments that need to be hit (or avoided) musically.

By defining this structure first, it frees me up to explore musically and texturally with a clear understanding of where “ins” and “outs” are. By then, I usually have a pretty clear sense of what I want to hear as it pertains to realizing the vision of the director, and from that point it is about execution —programming, recording live instrumentation, processing/manipulation and mixing — whatever is required to make the scene “feel” the way it does in my head.

DOES YOUR PROCESS CHANGE DEPENDING ON THE TYPE OF PROJECT? FILM VS. SPOT, ETC?
There are certain nuances that have to be considered when approaching these different types of projects. Nailing the details in short form (commercials) is often more crucial because you have an entire world of information to convey in 30 seconds or less. There can be no missed moment or opportunity. It needs to feel cohesive with a cinematic story arc, and a compelling payoff at the end, all in an incredibly compressed window of time.

This is less evident in long-form projects. With feature films or TV, you often have the luxury to build musical movements more naturally as a scene progresses.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
That’s a tough one. As a kid I wanted to be an anthropologist. At 21, I went to a cooking school in Paris for a month thinking that that might be cool. More recently, I’ve been dabbling with building websites for friends using template-based platforms like Squarespace.

I think the common themes with these other interests are curiosity, experimentation, creativity and storytelling. Bringing an idea to life, making the abstract tangible. At the end of the day, music still allows me to do these things with a greater degree of satisfaction.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I knew music would be my path by age 14. I was playing guitar in local bands at the time, and then moved into steady club gigs. By the time I was 18, I was in a signed band, recording and touring. I couldn’t have imagined doing anything else. When I hit my 20s, I knew that writing and composing was the path ahead (vs. being a “gun for hire” guitarist).

I still played in bands and did lots of session work, but I focused more on songwriting and learning about recording and production. During that time, I had the opportunity to work with some legendary British engineer producers. At one point, a well-known video director who had shot some videos with one of my bands had started doing commercials, and he was unhappy with the music that an ad agency had put in one of his spots. So he recruited me to take a shot a composing a new score. It all clicked, and that opened the door to a couple of decades of high-profile commercial spots, as well as consistent work from major ad agencies and brands.

Eventually, this journey led me down the road of TV and film. All the while, I kept a foot in the album world, writing for and producing artists in the US and internationally.

andy-vargas-the-beat-2016-hmma-winner-producer-songwriterCAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I Want To Say— Composer: Main Title and opening scenes (Healdsburg International Film Festival – Best Documentary).
LBS– Songwriter/Producer: End Title Track feat. J.R. Richards of Dishwalla (Sundance Official Selection, Independent Spirit Awards nominee)
• Andy Vargas/The Beat (Producer/Songwriter – Winner 2016 Hollywood Music in Media Awards “R&B/Soul”)
• Escape The Fate/Alive (Songwriter — hit single, #26 Active Rock, album #2 Billboard Hard Rock charts)

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
It’s hard to pick one. Some of the projects listed above are contenders. There’s a young band I’m developing and producing right now called Bentley. I will be very proud when that is released. They’re fantastic.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Pro Tools. It’s my “instrument” as much as any guitar or keyboard. It’s allowed me to be incredibly productive and make anything I hear in my head a reality. Steven Slate, Sound Toys and PSP plug-ins. Vibe, warmth, color, saturation, detail. My extensive collection of vintage gear (amps, mics, mic pres, compressors, guitars, boutique pedals, etc.). Not sure if these qualify as “technology,” but they all have buttons and knobs and make great noises!

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Instagram, Twitter and Facebook (to a lesser extent lately).

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I have an amazing family who helps keep me centered with my eyes on the big picture. Running and exercise (not enough, but feels great when I do) and, increasingly, I try to meditate each morning. A friend and colleague whose studio demeanor I’ve always admired turned me onto it. He’s consistently calm and focused even in the midst of total drama and chaos. I’d like to think I’m getting there.

Main Image: Patricia Maureen Photography-P.M.P

Composer Harry Gregson-Williams to keynote Production Music Conference

Golden Globe-, Grammy- and BAFTA-nominated composer Harry Gregson-Williams will keynote the Production Music Conference (PMC), which takes place over two days in October in Santa Monica. In addition to playing clips from some of his films, including The Martian and the Shrek franchise, Gregson-Williams will discuss the creative process, his beginnings, writing production music for KPM and how he developed his career as a film composer.

PMC, hosted by the Production Music Association (PMA), takes place at Santa Monica’s Le Méridien Delfina on October 17 and 18. The newly expanded two-day conference will host business, creative and technology panels featuring diverse artists from the world of production music and will consist of industry panels, educational seminars with music professionals and networking events.

New features include one-on-one meetings with a music pro, hosted roundtable discussions with professionals and nearby networking and meeting spaces. The goal of the conference is to bring the production music community together. Visit here to register.

Gregson-Williams was the composer on all four installments of the Shrek franchise, garnered a BAFTA nomination for the score for the first Shrek, and received Golden Globe and Grammy Award nominations for his score to Andrew Adamson’s, The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

Other credits include The Martian and Kingdom of Heaven, directed by Ridley Scott; The Equalizer directed by Antoine Fuqua; Phone Booth and Veronica Guerin directed by Joel Schumacher; Man on Fire, Spy Game and Enemy of the State directed by Tony Scott; Jon Favreau’s Cowboys & Aliens; the animated films Arthur Christmas, Chicken Run and Antz, and Gone Baby Gone and The Town directed by Ben Affleck.

Upcoming projects include the dramatic crime thriller Live by Night, starring Ben Affleck, who also directed the film based on his own screenplay; The Zookeeper’s Wife, starring Jessica Chastain and directed by Niki Caro; and Alien: Covenant, starring Michael Fassbender and Billy Crudup directed by Ridley Scott.

Main Image Credit: Benjamin Ealovega

Keeping score for ‘Better Call Saul’

Breaking Bad composer Dave Porter returns for this prequel

By Jennifer Walden

When AMC’s Breaking Bad ended, many went through withdrawal from the multi-Emmy Award-winning show. Thanks to its prequel, Better Call Saul, the world that Vince Gilligan created in the New Mexico desert lives on. But while the landscapes might seem familiar, don’t expect the show to look or sound the same as Breaking Bad.

Dave Porter

“For me, it all starts with the black and white keys,” says Los Angeles-based composer Dave Porter, whose score for AMC’s Better Call Saul is anything but black and white emotionally. At the piano he works out melodies and harmonies that communicate the complicated blend of emotions that move the show. “The characters are complex. The challenge is in trying to find the right balance between the different emotions that are at play in any given scene.”

While Better Call Saul and Breaking Bad feature some of the same characters, Better Call Saul show runners/creators Vince Gilligan and Peter Gould were adamant that this should be a very different show, says Porter, who won an ASCAP Award for Best Television Composer of 2013 for his work on Breaking Bad. “That meant everything from how they write it, to how they shoot it, to how it sounds. We went back to the drawing board to create a whole new musical vocabulary for Better Call Saul, particularly for Jimmy (Bob Odenkirk) who, eventually, becomes Saul.”
Porter defines the show’s score with words like intimate, human and relatable. “Breaking Bad [feels] very worldly,” he says. “The scope is much larger, whereas in Better Call Saul, Jimmy’s fight is a smaller fight. Although it is no less important, it is the challenge of one man.”

Getting Real
In terms of instrumentation, Porter gravitated toward real instruments, relying less on the computer and synths he used on Breaking Bad. “I use instruments that I can actually sit down and play, like organs, electric piano, lots of bass and guitar, vibraphone and different mallet percussion, such as vibes and different little xylophones,” he explains.

BCS_210-20151026-UC_0371.JPGWhile Porter performed the piano/keyboards and percussion parts, he hired studio musicians to play the bass and guitar parts. He works with recording engineer James Saez, owner/president of Glendale, California’s The Audio Labs, when the session requires more than one musician. Otherwise, Porter handles recording, editing and mixing at his home studio using an Avid Pro Tools 12 rig and a collection of outboard effects.

For Better Call Saul, Porter likes the 1980’s-era Korg GR-1 Gated Spring Reverb and a TC Electronic guitar-oriented rackmount effects processor from the 1990s called Fireworx. “I usually play and record everything into Pro Tools first, as unprocessed as possible, and then I go back and process the sound. That gives me the flexibility to play around with the effects later.”

Turnaround time for Porter’s score is seven to 10 days per episode. After reviewing the episode, Porter meets with show runners Gilligan and Gould, the episode’s picture editor and supervising sound editor Nick Forshager for a spotting session. They determine where original music is needed and what it needs to express emotionally. “We try not to use music as a placeholder or filler. If it’s going to be in there than it needs to have a purpose,” says Porter, who notes that Better Call Saul, like Breaking Bad before it, is not edited with temp music tracks. “I have ingrained in all of those folks not to use temp music. This way, when I get the episode there is no preconceived notion about what the music should sound like. It’s a great and very rare thing, and I am blessed to have had that on these two shows.”

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Letting the Music Do the Talking
Porter’s favorite track on Season 2 was for the opening sequence of Episode 8 — a five-minute scene featuring a US-Mexico border crossing in which a previously unknown character goes through a customs inspection of his transport truck. “There is very little dialogue, so the music was front and center and required a kind of confidence and swagger, which is something I don’t always get to do on the show,” he explains. “The character plays his part so well, so calm and cool and collected, that I took my inspiration from him.” One fun feature to the track is a rock ‘n’ roll horn section, which is something Porter had never done for any of the Better Call Saul episodes before.

Knowing that the opening sequence was a long, fluid shot, Porter began thinking about how to make a track that rhythmically was able to sustain itself over a long period of time without getting boring. “I had to find ways to change it up and divide it into different sections,” he says. “I attacked it that way. Often, when you’re scoring to picture you are building up to a certain moment, but this piece was like a big arc that lasts five or six minutes. It was about keeping the music fresh and interesting and evolving for that length of time.”

Better Call Saul requires music that is emotionally complex, but it also offers another challenge. As the prequel of Breaking Bad, the two shows are related even though they’re very different. Better Call Saul’s score needs to gradually evolve as the timelines of the two shows converge. “The challenge,” says Porter, “is to be present and honest with where these characters are, but at the same time be able to look ahead and map out the path musically, to evolve the score as the characters evolve into the characters we know they will become eventually on Breaking Bad.”

Porter says he’s happy exploring this new world of Better Call Saul, especially Jimmy before he becomes Saul Goodman. “I am in no hurry to get to where the stories have to overlap. Personally, I hope that takes many years because I’m having a fantastic time watching these characters evolve.”

Jennifer Walden is an New Jersey-based audio engineer and writer. You can follow her on Twitter at @audiojeney.

Creating the score for IFC’s ‘Gigi Does It’

Composer Jason Moss channels his inner grandmother for new series.

By Jennifer Walden

Picture a sweet, blue-haired grandma, who bakes pies, knits and reminisces about the good old days. Then meet Gigi Rotblum, the lead character in the IFC series Gigi Does It. She is a foul-mouthed bubbe who likes to kibitz about… well, just about anything. But even though she’s got the mouth of a sailor, is neurotic and often inappropriate, there’s still something charming about this Jewish grandmother, played by actor David Krumholtz. The show follows the 77-year-old Boca Raton widow as she finds odd ways to spend the remaining days of her twilight years.

It wasn’t too difficult for New Jersey-born composer Jason Moss, owner of LA’s Super Sonic Noise, to relate to this character. In fact he says he felt a connection to Gigi immediately. “My wife’s grandmother is 94 years old, and my grandmother is 94, so that uber Jewish grandmother neuroses is very strong in my life. Even though Gigi is a little more vulgar, with all her vagina and penis talk, the character is there.”

Composer Jason Moss

He also shares a connection to the character via actor Krumholtz, who lives in the part of New Jersey where Moss grew up. “It felt like everything aligned — it was kind of hysterical, and it was a nice, comforting connection. They were pretty much speaking my language.”

Finding the Score
Moss was introduced to the brothers Ben and Dan Newmark, founders of production company Grandma’s House Entertainment, through director of development/producer Michael Lopez. During their meeting to discuss the series’ score, Moss presented several options from his production music catalog, ranging from ultra contemporary hip-hop to kitschy Herb Alpert-inspired tunes. He also included his favorite track from Super Sonic Noise’s catalog, a quirky organ-based track laced with whimsical la-la-las sung by Moss himself. “When I got to that track they were like, ‘Holy shit that’s the theme song,’” says Moss. “It was one of my favorite tracks and I feel like it could not have a more perfect home then Gigi Does It.”

Moss, a long-time user of Apple’s Logic Pro, was able to open the original session for that track, which was created in an earlier version of Logic Pro. He did a re-edit and remix to tailor it specifically to Gigi Does It. “Everything was there and that was great because I was able to spruce it up a little bit,” says Moss. “They started cutting with the track and, in the end, they got it approved to be the theme.”

While Moss always uses real instruments to perform his guitar and bass parts, the score for Gigi Does It runs more in the elevator-vein, featuring organs, horns, and small percussion. His go-to for virtual instruments on the series are Arturia’s Vox Continental V for quirky sounding organs; Spectrasonics’s Trilian for upright bass; Addictive Drums by XLN Audio; and a small library called The Trumpet 3 by SampleModeling. “The Trumpet 3 is an amazing trumpet sample library that has a very authentic trumpet sound, with all the nuances of trumpet playing, like the way the tongue is used, and the different sorts of riffs,” says Moss. “With Addictive Drums, you can tweak the microphone distance to give it a bit more of a warm feel. The sounds for this show I want to be really warm, round and organic.”

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No matter what type of music Moss is composing, he feels there are three very important considerations to working creatively. “I always say it’s your ass, your ears and your eyes. You have to have something comfortable to sit on, something great to listen to and something good to look at. So I have a killer seat, and killer monitors to listen through, and a killer monitor to look at.”

The show’s score is a combination of Moss’s custom composed music —tracks pulled from the Super Sonic Noise catalog — and quirky, campy, lounge-style music tracks from composers that have written for Moss in the past. “There are a lot of funny organs, quirky drums and some Latin samba stuff that really works for Gigi,” says Moss. All the tracks and stems are delivered in stereo as 24/48-bit files uploaded to the Super Sonic Noise catalog site. “I use a platform called Source Audio and it is basically my search/play/delivery system. They are absolutely the most amazing and current company when it comes to music catalogs.”

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Delivering files via the Source Audio platform allows Moss to add artwork, metadata and publisher information. “When the post production facility downloads the files, they are all watermarked and contain all the metadata embedded in the file. It’s very organized.”

So, is Gigi Does It a series for everyone? Maybe not, but, says Moss, “She’s a funny grandma, and maybe you can relate to it because you have a grandma, or an uncle, or an aunt that is just incredibly inappropriate. Still, there’s something very sweet about Gigi. David [Krumholtz] does a brilliant job being Gigi, and you forget that there is a man in that outfit playing this old Jewish grandmother. He does such a wonderful job.”

Talking with ‘House of Cards’ Emmy-winning composer Jeff Beal

By Jennifer Walden

As the saying goes, “the third time’s the charm,” and that was certainly true for Emmy-winning composer Jeff Beal. With two previous nominations for his score of Netflix’s House of Cards under his belt, this time Beal took home the statue for “Outstanding Music Composition for a Series.” The winning episode was “Chapter 32” (Season 3, Episode 6), in which President Frank Underwood and First Lady Claire visit Russian President Petrov to hash out a deal to release imprisoned American activist Michael Corrigan, who was arrested for advocating for LGBT rights in Russia.

Chapter 32 is a good example of how Beal has been able to grow his score alongside the show for the past three seasons. While his music still feels like it’s coming from the same musical world, the sonic palette has grown as the geography of the show has become wider. “Frank becomes president, and we go to Russia and there is a whole storyline about the Middle East,” explains Beal. “Each season we’ve had a lot of new themes that come in and help bring music into the storytelling and into those areas that we are exploring.”

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The Sound of Geography
Throughout the Russian scenes, Beal used a more Eastern European sense of melody and harmony, drawing inspiration from his favorite Russian composers, such as Igor Stravinsky, and Dmitri Shostakovich. “I always loved the way Russian composers wrote for orchestra. There’s a certain expressiveness to the way they write,” he says. When President Frank and First Lady Claire arrive at Moscow’s Red Square, Beal’s score is “almost this Shostakovich kind of march,” he explains. And for Russian president Petrov — whom Beal describes as a fictionalized version of Putin — he created several variations on Petrov’s theme using piano and strings.

But, Beal feels the real soul of the score was the scenes involving Michael Corrigan and Claire. “There is a wonderful scene where he talks to Claire about his relationship with his partner and he turns the tables on Claire about her relationship with Frank,” he explains. “Michael also talks about the hunger strike — that he failed to continue — and the Russian man who lasted to death’s door.” For those scenes, Beal wrote a simple duet for cello and viola. “It’s a very mournful tune and in that a little kernel of the theme eventually became the courage theme that we hear at the end of the show… when Michael makes the ultimate sacrifice and takes his own life rather than read the disparaging statement that is a condition of him being freed.”

Beal finds it’s always interesting to score the aftermath of an event. There is enough information on screen that he doesn’t need to nudge the audience toward one particular emotion. For example, during the tense news conference that follows Michael’s suicide, Claire speaks to reporters about what happened in the cell. Instead of reading the appropriate response that would maintain the relationship with Russia, Claire has a moment of courage and stands up for Michael and his cause. “I’m often interested in scenes where there are multiple layers going on, multiple emotional layers and story layers happening at the same time. I think music can help contain the complexities of those types of moments and bring it all together,” he says.

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All-Encompassing Workflow
From the first note to the final track, Beal always has his hands on his music. He writes it, orchestrates it, conducts it, records it and mixes it. “A lot of my workflow goes back to personality. I’m a classic introvert,” he admits. Coming from a music performance background, as a jazz trumpet player and pianist, Beal loves the music-making part of the job. “For me, music-making is a very proprietary and personal journey. It’s always been this way.”

In Beal’s approach, the compositional act doesn’t stop at music making; it involves orchestrating and conducting, because that ultimately affects the sound of the score. Beal likes being able to fine-tune every last little detail before it goes out the door. “It’s really hard to say that composing stops when we go into recording and even mixing. Those steps in the workflow allow me to have my hand on the creation, the creative aspects, to make sure I’m really getting across what I want to get across with the music,” he explains.

Jeff Beal mixing

Jeff Beal at his mixing board.

Beal loves conducting because it gives him a connection to the music. He can guide the musicians’ performances with visual cues. For example, for Chapter 32, Beal notes there is a style of string playing that is unlike what they usually do for the show. “It’s much more romantic, with a big sound and a big vibrato,” he explains. “I remember when we were doing those cues for the solo cello and the viola with the orchestra coming in over them, I was gesticulating with my right hand over to the cello, giving him the big gestures that said, ‘Don’t hold back.’ That was helpful to do because usually we’re a little cooler and more reserved — it’s a more contemporary type of playing that we typically do on the show.”

Beal’s workflow also cuts down on inefficiency. By keeping every aspect of creating, recording and mixing the score in his studio — large enough to accommodate a 26-member string section — he’s not losing time on moving his session to another studio, or wasting time on setting up a different recording space to his tastes. “I have it all set up and ready to go. It’s miked just the way I like, and I’ve tuned the room.”

Early on in his career, Beal’s workflow was a factor of economics, but that process has helped to shape a sound that’s unique to Beal. “It’s now a factor of style and the way I like to produce my scores. I like to think that my scores don’t sound like everybody else’s. Producing in my own way has helped me get to that place.”

‘The Leftovers’ composer Max Richter on scoring this new HBO series

HBO’s very dramatic series, The Leftovers, focuses on the residents of a small town three years after two percent of the world’s population disappeared without explanation. Viewers get to see how they, and the world in general, struggle to come to terms with what happened.

Created by Damon Lindelof (Lost) and novelist Tom Perrotta, and based on Perrotta’s novel of the same name, The Leftovers is the story of the people who weren’t “chosen.” Lindelof and Perrotta executive produce the series along with Peter Berg and Sarah Aubrey.

The following is a Q&A, courtesy of HBO, with British-born, Berlin-based composer Max Richter, who in addition to scoring The Leftovers, feature films and documentaries, makes albums, writes ballets, plays concerts and more. For the show, he creates different themes based on Continue reading