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independent films

Why “MIDI” Isn’t a Bad Thing

Public understanding of the term “MIDI” hasn’t progressed as far as the technology has in the last few years, and that’s a blessing and a curse. I, for one, got heavily into composing when I realized how realistic-sounding some of these new programs were, and the illusion of having used real instruments is a very important element of my work. At the same time, though, I think a little further information on what exactly you’re hearing only makes the total package that much more spectacular. 

What most excited me about advances in MIDI technology was the ability to finally be able to get realistic sounds out of orchestral samples. Most modern libraries contain samples that are performed by some of today’s top musicians at some of the finest studios, stages, and halls in the world. The amount of recorded detail is remarkable, and the fact you can alter things like mic placement is truly astounding. Throw in some high quality reverb, and you have a set of sounds that, when used correctly, will make even the most seasoned aficionado think they’re listening to a real orchestra. While these sample libraries do come at a hefty price, the things they enable a composer to do are well worth the cost.

It doesn’t stop with orchestral samples, of course. You’d be hard pressed not to find a high quality sample library either built around or including a specific set of instruments that’s professionally recorded, and exhaustively performed to include every realism-adding detail. With this in mind, it continually pays as a composer to look outside the box, and find the smaller companies that are on the cutting edge.

So, the next time you hear “MIDI” hopefully your mind won’t go directly to Nintendo theme songs or ringtones. You’d be surprised how much music you hear, specifically on television, is MIDI derived, and the technology is only getting better. However, it is important to remember that these sounds are just tools. The art is found in knowing how to use them.

Here is a Stink Bug, common to Maryland, on my M-Audio Axiom 25

Here is a Stink Bug, common to Maryland, on my M-Audio Axiom 25

 

What I’ve Been Up To: Scoring “Playing It Straight”

Earlier this month, I composed a score to the short student film Playing It Straight, which was directed by Michael Kenney. The film itself deals with sexual identity and societal norms in a comedic and dramatic way, with a nod to the iconic ’80s films of John Hughes. In that respect, the music I had to compose for the film was extremely stylized, and ran the gamut of overtly sentimental, to excessively dramatic, to cartoonish, making for a lot of diversity in my compositions.

Below is the final cut of the film “Playing It Straight” (Run time is 21:53, but the film doesn’t actually start until 1:28). If you’d like to get in touch with Michael, let me know and I’ll forward you his information. Enjoy!

 

Here’s an orchestral piece I scored for the film that I particularly enjoy that didn’t end up making it in the final cut for one reason or another.

Opaque by ProgressNotes

Films I Scored: ‘Lars’


Poster for the award-winning short film LARSLars
, a short film I scored in 2010, was a unique situation for me in many ways. First of all, I got the gig through good ol’ fashioned networking, as the film’s writer and director Manuela Rossi was a colleague of the guy who directed a prior short film I scored (Boxing Will). It is also the only film I’ve ever scored where the music I provided was accepted exactly as is, with no rewrites or reworking needed. Even as someone new to the film scoring game, I knew this was a rare scenario. Lastly, it was the only film I’ve scored so far where I’ve confined the arrangements to one specific set of instruments, in this case that of a string quartet (with the exception of the solo piano theme and outro reprise).

I think I decided on the string quartet instrumentation because the film, to me, is extremely claustrophobic. The subject matter and locales seem very stifling and rigid. The versatility of the string quartet was great in that the instruments can provide such a wide range of timbres and dynamics, be it a quiet sense of helplessness, to a violently rhythmic ostinato, while adding a classic feel. A large musical inspiration for me was Schubert’s Winterreise, which I felt was congruent with the feel of the film,  and was also somewhat culturally relevant. Lars

Another great thing about Lars was that Manuela really stuck with the film, and got it in a lot of festivals, including the 2011 Cannes Film Festival in France. I’m sure everyone involved with the film appreciates her hard work, and wishes her luck in the future! She is currently back in Europe, working in the film industry, and has an excellent blog, too!

Last, but not least, you can view the film in its entirety here (English subtitles, 18:12 run time). Selections from my score can be heard here. Please let me know what you think!

 

Do You Reddit?

My friend Ken over at ThoughtLeadr introduced me to Reddit over the holidays, and I’ve been hooked ever since. What I once thought was just a haven for extremely techy individuals has turned out to be a great resource for information and social interaction on a variety of topics. I’m still learning the ropes, but chances are you’ll find a community as passionate about your interests as you are, whatever they may be.

While I haven’t had too much success finding fellow composers in a similar situation as myself, there are no shortage of musicians of varying ages and backgrounds who share their music, knowledge, and questions in the WeAreTheMusicMakers community. Whether you want to stay on top of great new music and artists, lend your expertise or services to musicians in need, or get some honest feedback on your latest project, WATMM is an excellent place to do so. You’ll likely be surprised at the authenticity of the responses you’ll get!

So check out Reddit. It’s not all about link sharing. You can find me there (predictably) under the handle “ProgressNotes”.

Fellow Redditors, what are some other great communities you’d recommend?

Where I Live, Why It Matters, and Why It Doesn’t

I noticed that on my website I don’t have any information about my physical location. I remember I tried to squeeze that in on an “about” page on my last website, but location plays such a small part in what I do that it wasn’t that important to me to proudly proclaim where I call home (even though, at the time, I was somewhat close to L.A.).

Be that as it may, my studio is in Silver Spring, Maryland, which is just outside of Washington, DC. Silver Spring is home to the Discovery Channel, many great Ethiopian restaurants, and an AFI Theatre for starters, and has been a pretty cool place since I’ve been here the past year.

However, thanks to modern technology, location hasn’t played a sizable role in my audio work thus far. I never met physically with the producers of many films I scored prior to actually scoring them, and phone calls and e-mails sufficed as far as communication went. Over great distances I have been able to successfully collaborate with many people on many great projects. This isn’t to say that physical interaction isn’t important. In fact, it’s preferable when possible. However, it’s not necessarily imperative in many situations I tend to find myself in.

The major component here is trust. When working with someone over a long distance, you have to be confident they are holding up their end of the bargain. This is one reason why composers who want to score big Hollywood films are expected to be there. The studio wants to keep tabs on you, and understandably so. On smaller scale or independent productions, this usually isn’t an issue.  With so many people out there eager to succeed, its important to take every opportunity available to you in earnest, wherever they may be, and make the producer glad they took the chance on you.

My point is, don’t always look at distance as a negative. The person perfect for your production might not always be the closest. I embrace the opportunity to work with people all over the world, but if you happen to be in the DC area, that’ll work, too!