So the other day I discovered this at the public library, and really had no choice but to check it out:
And a simple online search revealed that this, too, exists:
Boom. There you have it. True story.
Delivery Truck Empire is a mobile game from Playtend, available for the iPad and iPhone. I contributed sound effects and custom music for the game, made for kids 4 and up. The player drives a delivery truck, picking up and dropping off packages while earning enough fuel to, as it were, keep on truckin'.
You can download the game for 99 cents here. Below: a brief promo video from Playtend.
For theme music, the producers wanted something that evoked old school 8-bit chiptunes. I proposed that we marry that approach to vintage Les Paul-style country twang, and the theme came to life:
I knew the music would be delivered in a variety of ways, from headphones to the somewhat tinny speakers on mobile devices. So I made sure the chewy bass line would punch on bass-capable headphones, but also retain enough bite to anchor the track via trebly iPhone playback.
My original draft of the music came across a little too busy and dissonant, so I simplified it on the second pass. Throughout I strove to maintain a level of human "imperfection" in the performances of both organic and digital elements.
I also put together a variety of sound effects for the project. These cues accompanied package pickups and deliveries, fuel powerups, and a crash. Here's an assembly of the sfx, over a passage of the theme:
I did my best to keep the sound effects in tune with the music.
Here's the rough animation file I was given to work with, posted with Playtend's kind permission. This was my only visual reference throughout the process.
Retrospective highlight reel of original music I created for the comedy web series Theater People, as well as for some spots promoting the show. Styles include mambo, bossa, rock, orchestral, ragtime, Dixieland, music box lullabye, and of course Satanic choral drones. Along the way we imagine a (fictional) musical theater adaptation of "The Shawshank Redemption", wherein I created accompaniment for director Matthew Anderson's lyrics.
The series is a ten-episode comedy using the Twin Cities theater scene as a backdrop. Over 10,000 views as of this writing-- not bad for a 100% indie production. The breadth and depth of talent with which I've had the privilege of collaborating on this show have been rewarding indeed.
When I asked Anderson what he was looking for in terms of a score, he talked about the use of music in Woody Allen films-- so I started thinking about tongue-in-cheek genre cues, and an approach to score that commented on the emotional reality rather than inhabiting it.
As usual, comedy leaves in its wake a wider variety of styles than any other genre. I've noticed this in the past, and wondered why... I think it might have something to do with the fact (as I see it, anyway) that comedy is often the least realistic genre; all that matters is that it's funny, and realism often takes a back seat. Hence, a wide variety of narrative strategies and styles comes into play to facilitate the various jokes and overall comedic arc.
Here's a complete index of all the entries exploring the scoring process:
Enjoy!Watch the web series
Here's the latest documentation of my mother-in-law's struggle to decipher the lyrics of rap songs.
For my first explicit challenge (Joan encountered the previous entry on her own), I opted to kick things off with Eric B. and Rakim's classic "Follow the Leader":
I figured I'd go easy on her for the first attempt and send something relatively simple. Good thing too, as we'll see. I encoded the track as an mp3 with no tags, sending it to her without revealing the artist or title. Joan transcribed the lyrics as best she could and sent them back. Following are some excerpts of the original lyrics plus Joan's attempts to identify them.
First of all, I have to confess that I'm not at all sure what Rakim is saying in the song's first moment (repeated throughout the track), where we get a sample of what sounds to me like "Rakim-a-say". In any case, Joan heard this as "Rock Timothy", and Timothy makes repeated appearances over the course of her interpretation.
So let's get to some line-by-line comparisons:
Rakim's original lyrics: I can go on for days and days/ With rhyme displays that engrave deep as x-rays
Joan's interpretation: I can go on and on for days and days/ With my displays, super tax rates
= = = = =
Rakim: I can get iller than 'Nam, I kill and bomb/ But no alarm - Rakim'll remain calm
Joan: I can get on Ellen and all my killin’ forming really long, rocking with Mekong.
= = = = =
Rakim: I want to see you keep following and swallowing/ Taking and making, biting and borrowing/ Brothers tried and others died to get the formula
Joan: I wanna see Keith following, swallowing, taking meat, fighting, crawling. Rubber swine, mother’s got to get the form to her
= = = = =
[Occasionally Joan hears "Follow the leader: Timothy."]
= = = = =
Rakim: Cuts rip your pants/ Eric B on the blades bleeding to death/ Call the ambulance
Joan: Cuz rip your pants and pee on a plate/ Leave a deft, cold handyman
= = = = =
Rakim: By showing and proving and letting knowledge be born
Joan: I started a coup and let Niles be born.
= = = = =
Rakim: The stage is a cage, the mic is a third rail/ I'm Rakim
Joan: The stage is a cave/ The mic is a third rail/ A rock hymn
= = = = =
And boom, there you have it! A homemade fun and easy game.
There's been a lot of buzz about Miami Connection lately, and I'm here to tell you it's well deserved. I've watched it twice on streaming Netflix, and I enjoyed it so much I ordered my own copy in the mail even though I can see it any time I want online. It's unquestionably the most compelling film ever to emerge from the Orlando, FL film scene-- heck, I'd widen that to all of central Florida.
Drafthouse Films' page about Miami Connection does a great job of condensing the film's Byzantine plot line: "Motorcycle ninjas tighten their grip on Florida’s narcotics trade, viciously annihilating anyone who dares move in on their turf. Multi-national martial arts rock band Dragon Sound have had enough, and embark on a roundhouse wreck-wave of crime-crushing justice."
Ambitious though this verbiage may be, though, it only scratches the surface of the movie's complexity. Kinship and business dealings complicate the narrative to the point where I've only gotten started unraveling it.
In the meantime, though, I've been enjoying the heck out of Dragon Sound's music. Though their T-shirts might suggest that Dragon Sound is a pizza restaurant or something, the boys (and girl) prove otherwise as they clarify their position as 100% "Against the Ninjas":
This scene, on the other hand, demonstrates a cinema unfettered by most usual filmmaking conventions:
My understanding is that Austin's Alamo Drafthouse originally discovered this film as part of a series randomly selected from a pile of reels rescued from a drive-in. If that's the case, my gratitude for this archaeology knows no bounds. And in conclusion, I'm going to post the image below for no other reason than that I just really want to.
The final installment of my series detailing the creation of an original musical score for the web series Theater People.
Here we return to Satanic themes introduced earlier, as we learn in Episode 10 that Edward (Mike Postle) is indeed willing to surrender his soul to the Prince of Darkness himself (producer Crist Ballas in a cameo) for the sake of realizing a production of Aleister Crowley's lost play:
Matt mentioned the ritual music from "Eyes Wide Shut" as a guidepost here, which not only gave me some direction but also got me to finally watch "Eyes Wide Shut". I did what I could to channel some Coil-esque percussion sounds on this one as well.
The play turns out to be a garden farce called "The Minister's Trousers". Almost no one involved in the production grasps that it's intended as a comedy, as we see in the readthrough during Episode 5. I underscored this scene with a simpler version of the devil worship music:
Thanks for checking these out, and thanks to the cast and crew of "Theater People" for a terrific experience.
Index of "Theater People" web series composer process entries:
Just read an intersting article in the current issue of Sound on Sound (doesn't seem to be available online, but here's a similar one) about the Rainboard, a forthcoming MIDI controller from Brett Park.
Rather than the usual layout of piano keys, rectangular rows of buttons or the like, the Rainboard offers a clustered grouping of controls I find really interesting. As the relationships between keys are completely programmable according to whatever parameters are desired, the potential to develop and cultivate intuitive note relationships is compelling indeed.
Here's a short video where Park demonstrates the Rainboard:
And here's a performance video:
A branding piece I helped develop for the Sparkhouse division of Augsburg Fortress Publishers. I assembled sound effects and created custom musical elements to accompany the animation.
The brief was to come up with something reminiscent of PBS branding, finding a home for the piece in the realm of educational programming. I received a rough animation file and took it from there.
Originally I made the opening segment depicting the house shape's assembly much bigger and thumpier, as in the construction of an actual house. Eventually the creative direction became that the convergence of forms resulted in a smaller object, portraying the company's own creative work as opposed to the creation of the company itself. Hence the more intimate clickety-clack as the pieces notch into place.
We also went a few rounds as to how to acknowledge the spark and fire elements, in an effort to keep it subtle but still clear. For a while we had a variety of fire-oriented sound effect options in use, but all were discarded in favor of articulating the flame musically. I think this was a wise direction; music underscores the imagery in a much more imaginative way.
My favorite part of the spot: the chord that fades in with the word(s) "Sparkhouse" shimmers and wobbles a little bit, recalling the dance of an actual flame. It's an accident due to the routing of plug-ins within the audio session, but I left it alone since it communicated so well.
My mother-in-law Joan Graham has long been frustrated by her attempts to parse the lyrics of rap songs. The fast-paced syllabic deluge often leads her interpretations astray.
Fan of misheard lyrics that I am, I've wanted to blog about this for quite some time-- perhaps as a series. The other night at dinner, I stumbled on my first entry. Joan told us she'd seen a rapper perform on Letterman the night before, and that she could swear the lyrics included the phrase "My lady gagged on a pecan".
Though I like to keep an open mind, I felt a bit of skepticism that this was in fact true. A quick social media APB garnered that the artist in question was Wale, performing "Love Hate Thing". Upon locating the YouTube clip and discussing it with Joan, it turned out it wasn't in fact Wale but backup singer Sam Dew she'd thought was relating the tale of his lady gagging on a pecan... repeatedly and at some length, it turns out:
I guess I don't really hear anything about pecans in there. But what do I know?
Thanks to Joan for being such a good sport about this.
Been very much digging this guy's rekkids lately.
Befitting these times, when words like "authorship" and "authenticity" are more troublesome than ever, G.G.'s work renders it almost impossible to tell what's "original" and what's a "sample", or even what that means anymore.
"The Party Sound of Grandmaster Gareth" lassos funky beats, electronica, children's records, video games, psychedelic rock, film dialogue and sound effects, ads, training videos, and who knows what else.
"Magical Sound Shower" is an even funkier/ more epic project that at least sounds like it involves more original elements-- replete with stuttery scramble, juicy polyrhythms, dub depth, plus lots of itty bitty nuances and assorted rabbit holes of subtlety to tumble through.
More and more projects I work on appear online, either as a primary destination or as an afterthought of some sort. And as time's gone by it's become apparent that the Internet/ mobile space/ etc is kind of a Wild West situation in terms of audio consistency; there isn't really much info out there in terms of standardization. How loud should a mix be? How does EQ come into play? How to frontload against loss in resolution? One is left to test a mix on available devices and hope it tracks across platforms.
So I was happy to see this article in Post Magazine, which deals with the pleasures and terrors of mixing for the web. The audio team behind the online reboot of "Arrested Development", for instance, reveled in the opportunity to apply its own standards and ensure consistency across the entire show.
On the other end of the spectrum, a mix is often at the mercy of whatever process crunches the final piece into an online-digestible morsel. From the article: "After seeing the full HD version of Burning Love: Burning Down the House during playback at Paramount, [re-recording mixer David Miraglia] was surprised by how it looked online. 'When they have it on the site in that small window, you can see compression artifacts. The picture wasn’t as bad as the sound I thought, but, really, who is at the wheel? Who is doing the encoding? I really want to talk to them and say, ‘Why are you doing it like this?’
“There are no standards," Miraglia continues. "You never know if the ads that get played before and after your show will be louder or softer than the program. We did a lot of research on the levels of the videos out there, and what the ads were being mixed at. Everybody is all over the map... The Web is the wild, wild west, across the board, and you never know what you’re going to get until it airs. Then it’s like, ok, well, that’s how it turned out.”
Indeed, I'd appreciate the opportunity to see what's going on behind the curtain, even at Vimeo or YouTube, and to back-engineer my work accordingly. Given recent developments in broadcast, maybe Internet audio standards aren't far off.
The latest in my behind-the-scenes exploration of composing original music for the comedy web series Theater People.
In Episode 6, Cock Blocking, a montage tells the story of the characters trying to unwind after a stressful day.
In any case, this dream-rock music turned out to be the perfect cue to accompany the sequence as deep thoughts on the part of Elise (Stacia Rice) eventually result in a fateful phone call:
Which is all well and good, but I gotta give director Matt Anderson credit for that one since I originally wrote the cue at his request for the following scene, wherein the cast and crew of the Aleister Crowley play elect to get stoned instead of, you know, teching during their tech rehearsal. The music also covers the end of the preceding scene, in which Dave (Steve Sweere) continues his quest to seduce Claire (Jen Rand), this time by showing up in her dressing room in his underwear:
I think the poignant voice of the Fender Rhodes keyboard makes this track work well in context(s). Weaving in with the rest of the score, this cue shares DNA with the piano jazz in the background of the party in Episode 2, Oh My God, I Should So Be Dead Right Now (which cue, in turn, derives from the main title theme). Same general groove but a little faster. It's a piano instead of a Rhodes here, with a different melody, maybe a little classier, more tipsy, less blunted:
Eventually we learn just how much more Edward needs.
Index of "Theater People" web series composer process entries:
A bold new statement in American cinema, Neil Breen's work proceeds unconstrained by the boundaries that shackle most filmmakers of his era. His is a cinema of transgression: pacing, linearity and many other conventions do not hamper these films.
His work trods its own path. "Double Down", for example (available on DVD from Netflix as of this writing), kicks off with a full eighteen minutes of voiceover.
My understanding is that Mr. Breen's earnings as a Las Vegas real estate broker have enabled him to write, direct, and star in his films free of studio interference. Word has it that his more recent work ups the ante of his aesthetic even further. I lament that "Double Down" is Breen's only film I've seen to date-- I've been stymied in my attempts to acquire more. And I'd pay real money for this stuff.
I'm very excited for the opportunity to view "Fateful Findings", for example:
Thanks to Melissa Kaercher for turning me on to the work of Neil Breen.
Part 4 of my thread detailing the process of creating an original musical score for the web series Theater People. This week: Mambo meltdown!
Episode 4, The Unkindest Cut, portrays callback auditions for Theater Unhinged's production of "Romeo and Juliet". Co-artistic director Dave (Steve Sweere) stacks the deck such that callbacks for Juliet require each actress to read a scene wherein they kiss him passionately, more than once, while his ex-wife (Stacia Rice as Elise, the director) looks on. Nothin' but class, this guy.
I knew there was a lot of action to cover in this episode, so it made sense to spice things up with something tense and energetic. Hence: Mambo Madness!
As with the DNA of most cues on this show, the chord structure harkens back to that of the main title theme.
At the cast viewing, somebody totally busted me on the "Sex and the City" vibe. Ha... didn't think of that consciously, but I guess so. Works for me.
Here's the music in context with the scene:
Index of "Theater People" web series composer process entries:
My new favorite account on Twitter is For Exposure. Tagline: "Some people expect artists to work for free. These are real quotes from real people who want you to work for exposure."
Great stuff, right up there with Clients from Hell.
So follow For Exposure if it suits you-- and follow me while you're at it!
Keep your eye on Twitter, by the way. I have a feeling they're going to become very popular one of these days.
The latest in a series exploring my process composing an original musical score for the comedy web series Theater People.
Here's some more material from the pilot episode, Day Jobs. Director Matthew Anderson wanted to contrast the actor characters' humdrum work days with the catharsis of their onstage personae, so it made sense to underscore this contrast musically.
First we'll look at the dichotomy of a day care provider who portrays Medea after hours. To embody the tedium of the day care job, the grinding repetition of music box gears came to mind. So I put together this "Day Job Waltz" as a plunking music box melody:
For the Medea shot I got bombastic:
Here's the interplay of the two contrasting cues in the final edit, spliced in with the main title theme during the credits at the end of the episode:
The same contrast plays out earlier in the episode, this time between the daytime occupation of shoe sales versus the declamatory pathos of classic Russian drama by night. To help create the atmosphere of the shoetique, I recast the Day Job Waltz as a schmaltzy chamber piece featuring piano and strings.
The Russian sequence warranted quieter, more introspective underscoring to emphasize its existential torment. Hence a folkier version of the bombastic Medea cue above:
Here's the finished edit featuring the juxtaposition of both cues:
Index of "Theater People" web series composer process entries:
I like me some monsters. When I was but a lad, I couldn't get enough of 'em: the besitary of Ray Harryhausen, Mercer Mayer's One Monster After Another, assorted incarnations of Swamp Thing, giant insects, you name it.
In the intervening years that special place in my heart has expanded to make room not only for the aforementioned but also for Grendel, Frankenstein's creation, the xenomorph of the "Alien" movies (as long as the Predator isn't involved), the undead, the encyclopedias of Carol Rose, Courtney Crumrin graphic novels... you get the picture. I've long wondered why monsters have kept such a hold on me, and I think I've at least started to understand (more on this later).
And so, while I've admittedly never been a genuine kaiju afficionado, I could be forgiven for being really damn excited about "Pacific Rim". If nothing else, I can confirm that this movie is a true visual marvel. The sense of color in particular I found particularly inspiring; the film eschews today's blockbuster vogue of blanched, monochromatic palettes and is not, as they say on HGTV, afraid of color.
I think it's pretty cool that the monsters in the movie turn out to be genetically engineered bio-weapons from another dimension, not so far removed from the Jaegers (giant robots) we humans develop to fight them. And it's a nice touch that global warming circa 2020 has created the prefect atmosphere for the monsters' overlords to survive on our planet after they conquer it. Just a hint that we have, in a sense, created these monsters...
Another route to the interiority of this film's antagonists is the "neural handshake" required to operate the Jaegers; since the task is too much for just one pilot, two humans must mind-meld to drive a giant robot (one for each hemisphere of its mecha-brain). In doing so, each pilot must sail back though his/ her individual memories and allow the imagery to bounce off without affecting them (again, more on this later); there's a clear link with meditation/ mindfulness practice here, punctuated by the "mudra" position the robot's hands achieve once the hemispheres are aligned.
But before I get to what I imagine is my more valuable contribution to "Pacific Rim" discourse, I'll mention that I do think the human element of the story could have innovated a little more. Despite the fact that two of the leads are of African and Asian descent, this Pacific Rim seems overly represented by Caucasians, especially if demographic and political realities continue on their current trajectories into the near future we're supposedly witnessing. Wouldn't the Chinese, Japanese and Koreans be more involved? Wouldn't there be at least a few more women in command positions by then, except for this one Russian lady who dies after a few minutes of mostly silent screen time? Wouldn't the guys who are actually from Hong Kong, where about half the movie takes place, get some actual lines? And why is this British guy talking so much during the teleconference? The UK isn't anywhere near the kaiju danger zone.
To be sure, Rinko Kikuchi's performance as Mako Mori is one of the film's highlights. But despite her character's agency as an eventual Jaeger pilot, Kikuchi's role is eroticized to the point where her attraction to Raleigh Becket (Charlie Hunnam) overshadows her ambitions to copilot his machine. This movie fails the Bechdel test with flying colors, mostly because the only other female character of note dies long before the two can converse.
To some degree, I'm happy to set all that aside in light of the fact that "Pacific Rim" is, after all, a movie about giant robots fighting giant monsters, and that this is, in fact, why I'm on board. But the prospect of accepting that lowered expectation is mitigated by what I'd call the film's insightful engagement of monstrosity. Returning to my earlier musings, I was struck by the scene where we witness Mako Mori's childhood trauma as a kaiju rampages through Tokyo years ago, when she was a little girl. She weeps and wails as the monster comes closer and closer. It's heartbreaking.
This connected with some recent thinking I've done about why monsters resonate with us so much. Anxieties manifest as mental constructs rather than as plausible models of situations we're likely to encounter. So it stands to reason that they'd take shape as fantastical beings-- and yet they influence the reality of our emotional lives. It's fitting that this scene emerges as a dream sequence while Mori is attempting the neural handshake with Becket, and that a dream-Becket eventually steps into the scene to right her course: "It's only a memory. It isn't real."
As far as I'm concerned, this scene imbues the film with the resonance it needs to tap into a profound mythic and psychological realm. Later on, when we get Idris Elba's much-trailered "We are canceling the apocalypse" monologue, I'm able to connect in a very personal way. As the anthropomorphic robots battle the kaiju, I feel a surge of fist-pump energy at the prospect of conquering my own monsters, whenever and wherever they appear. Take that, beastie! Idris Elba said so.
The second in a planned progression of pieces exploring my original musical score for the web series Theater People.
For Episode 2, director Matt Anderson wanted a theme underscoring a monologue by Jamy (Mark Mattison), a pretentious director who plans to mount a production of a lost play by Aleister Crowley. Here's the first scene in which this music appears, wherein Jamy seduces Jill (Jane Froiland) with some big talk about the show:
Now let's rewind to the first draft. I thought it'd be nice for this piece to grow chordally out of the main title theme, as did another theme I created for the callbacks of the "Romeo and Juliet" production. I wanted to highlight Jamy's sense of menace and tie it in with the Satanist he's talking about. I did my best to channel something Morricone might write to underscore a villain's appearance in a Western, filtered through a kind of Giant Sand/ Friends of Dean Martinez filter:
Crowley Theme (First Draft)
Matt and I both thought this was a nice piece of music, but it seemed a little too heavy on the menace-- "too real", as he put it. So I set about to sanding the edges off a little, making it somehow a little more bufoonish and friendlier to make Jamy seem like more of a poseur and less of a predator. I nixed the distorted droney guitar, added the organ, changed the bass sound from its previously aggro setting to something rounder, made the lead guitar less jagged, and came up with a more accessible melody. Here's the result, out of context from the scene. This has actually been tweaked a bit since that episode, for future use in the series and for demonstration purposes; the lead guitar is still pretty low in the mix so it won't compete with dialog, but I added some string bends:
Crowley Theme Friendlier (Revision)
I also mixed down a version featuring only the guitar, a version with only the drums, and the entire mix without the lead guitar to give Matt some more options down the line.
Thanks for checking this out-- I've had a great time working on this series, and I'm looking forward to updating you on more of its musical content!
Index of "Theater People" web series composer process entries:
So last weekend was Convergence, and it was good. As ever, the gathering was an opportunity for studious, sober reflection and contemplation.
I had a fine time. Somewhere amidst all the mayhem it appears that Jon Cazares' short film Red and Blue Fly Away Forever, which I scored a while back, screened as part of the film festival programming. Hooray!
I like me some discussion panels, and this year I found myself gravitating toward more fact/ science-based stuff than usual.
Exception: the first panel I attended was "Prometheus Debunked": a terrific reassurance that no, I'm far from the only one who was baffled and disappointed by that movie. "Alien" fan that I am, I don't think I've ever been as excited by a film's impending release, and my befuddlement was rivaled, I daresay, only by the "Phantom Menace" aftermath. So I found solace in the shared confusion of these panelists.
I have no current desire to get a book into the library, nor in fact a book with which to embark on such a project, but I found the "How to Get Your Book Into the Library" panel interesting nonetheless. (Short answer: get it reviewed, or at least blogged about.) Most interesting takeaway: the curating process of libraries appears to be based as much on our societal values as on practical considerations. The issue of how many times a library can check out an e-book before it has to purchase another license, for example, raised a lot of thorny questions.
Not surprisingly, this same issue came up in "E-books: Better Than Print Or Not?" This panel also acquainted me with The Magic Catalog of Project Gutenberg E-Books.
"Third Martian from the Left" was a presentation by Bridget Landry about her work on the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. Which of course is awesome in and of itself, but my interest was piqued by her mention of "I.R." as a data collection method used by the probes. I'm assuming this is related to the documentation of impulse responses used to program convolution reverbs (probably the origin of same, since I doubt it happened in reverse order). I gotta look into that sometime. Evidently that's why I just linked to it without reading the article first.
"Climate Change and Superstorms" was a knockout. The moderation was clear and focused; the panelists were knowledgeable, well prepared, eloquent, and concise. Some take-aways:
--The bizarre weather patterns that have become more and more common over the past few decades are caused by global warming. The mainstream scientific community is all but unanimous on this point. There is a well-bankrolled lunatic fringe of the scientific community that likes to call global warming a "theory". Insofar as gravity is also a theoretical construct, the fringe is correct.
--Many journalists assist this "theory" obfuscation by perpetuating the myth that "there are two sides to every story". This is false not only because any story has a potentially infinite number of sides, but because some sides of this story are bolstered by scientific inquiry, and some are not.
--Plain and simple, we're roasting the planet to benefit the revenue streams of a few people. In supposedly democratic societies, this is accomplished by finding ways to purchase legislative outcomes. That's all it amounts to.
--Private citizens are footing the bill for global warming; the industries exacerbating the problem are not. This subsidy manifests in the form of increasing health care costs, insurance rates, and disaster relief packages.
--The institutionalized hostility toward hard science endemic in our political and journalistic communities is not reflected in public opinion. Statistically, the public tends not to believe "there are two sides to every story"; it tends to believe the facts.
--And yes, a vegetarian diet is better for the planet.
"Faking It: Psycoacoustics and Sound Design for Audio" reinforced my belief in the phone book as a sound effects tool. As I recounted in a recent interview on Walker Art Center's blog, during one of my first Foley assignments for film I looked up some how-to videos online to figure out how to fake the sound of a punch. I found a video made by an eleven-year-old where he demonstrated how to replicate a punch sound by closing a phone book really hard. It didn’t work for the entire cue—- I wound up mixing in a vocalization to add a little sharpness—- but it got me pretty far along.
Anyway, a couple of the Foley artists on this panel shared techniques on how to simulate bodily impacts on a floor surface (other than throwing yourself on the floor, which I can confirm gets old real quick). Both suggested an article of clothing (one a leather jacket, the other some coveralls), but both recommended filling said clothing with—that’s right—phone books. So the idea’s got legs.
(H.G. Wells panel. L to R: Panelists The Reverend Matt Kessen, Mike Hallenbeck, Pat Harrigan, Jody Wurl)
And as announced previously, I sat on a couple of panels myself: "Kubrick's The Shining In-Depth" and "H.G. Wells". Both went swimmingly; I was honored by opportunity to collaborate with such great folks, trade ideas, and learn.
I was particularly pleased to share with the "Shining" audience that Stanley Kubrick faked the moon landing. It's true! I read it on the Internet.
I was recently interviewed by Abbie Anderson for Walker Art Center's blog in preparation for the Walker's observance of World Listening Day. We touch on the light rail, biking, skateboarders, schizophonia, rickrolling, Auto Tune, and learning Foley sound techniques from youtube videos by eleven-year-olds. Enjoy!
Finally getting around to reviewing some (relatively) recent field recordings. This one is a standout from the Crex Meadows workshop I attended in 2012.
I don't even remember how we found this thing, but I find it to be a really satisfying document. It's a very large pipe just barely protruding horizontally into a lake. Water alternately fills it and falls away, gurgling massively as it does so.
I forgot to take a photo. As far as I recall, the recording kit was an Audio Technica AT8022 stereo mic into a Zoom H2 recorder.
Looking forward to Convergence this weekend. I'm honored to appear on two panels with some great folks. More info below. Keep in mind that the Sofitel, across the way from the DoubleTree mothership, is also hosting events this year.
Kubrick's 'The Shining' In Depth
A look at Stanely Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's novel. We'll deconstruct the film and the effect it has had on the language of film.
Panelists: Melissa Kaercher, Tim Wick, Romeo Azar, Jon Cazares, Mike Hallenbeck
Friday July 5, 2013 12:30pm - 1:30pm
H. G. Wells
A discussion of Wells' impact on his world and the lasting effects to today.
Panelists: Pat Harrigan, Mike Hallenbeck, Jody Wurl, Matt Kessen
Sunday July 7, 2013 2:00pm - 3:00pm
I've had a lot of fun doing research for these panels. The H.G. Wells group got together the other night to put together an outline for the discussion. Then we watched the 1936 screen adaptation of "Things to Come", for which Wells adapted his own novel as a screenplay. I'd never taken the time to watch this film before, and I have to say it's definitely a touchstone of sci cinema that I'd heretofore missed:
I'm hoping the above gives an idea of just how amazing the sets and art direction are, even by today's standards. It also offers a glimpse at Wells' bizarrely elitist utopian impulses, which we'll be delving into on the panel.
For my other panel, I've watched "The Shining" four, count'em four times in the past couple of months to make sure I'm intimate with the material. As I've written previously, the conventional wisdom is that Kubrick films improve with multiple viewings, and though I was skeptical in this case I found that to be quite true-- the specificity sought by his gazillion-take approach really shines through (sorry).
I watched "The Shining" three times on my own: once straight up, the next time with commentary partially by Steadicam inventor Garret Brown (who seems like a good guy, and obviously has a lot of insight into filmmaking, but damn he says the word "astonishing" a lot), and then another time straight up again to explore what I'd learned. Then another viewing together with my panel-mates, followed by some discussion and divvying up of subject matter to present. If there's a "Shining" edition of Trivial Pursuit coming out any time soon, I'll do quite well at it.
I was shocked-- shocked!-- to find that it fell to me to deliver a presentation on the music and sound design of the film. I've been tracking down as much of the music as I can, falling further and further down the Penderecki rabbit hole as I do so. I love his music, and it's been great to have an excuse to immerse myself in it for a while.
I want to thank "Shining" panel-mate Melissa Kaercher for hooking me up with the image that appears a couple paragraphs above; it's part of a collection of charts made by Kubrick and music editor Gordon Stainforth to plot out the appearances of assorted music cues during the film.
Don't expect this panel to be entirely laudatory though-- we all have some pet peeves about the movie, and you'll be hearing about those too.
When I'm not on panels this weekend, I plan on sitting by the pool, offering a dollar to anyone who's willing to scream "IMPERIUS REX!!!" as they jump in.
I've had a blast collaborating with director Matthew Anderson to compose an original musical score for the new web series Theater People. In the first of several planned installments, I'll offer some samples of the work and describe our process a bit.
The series is a ten-episode comedy that uses the Twin Cities theater scene as a backdrop. When I asked Matt what he was looking for in terms of a score, he talked about the use of music in Woody Allen films-- so I started thinking about tongue-in-cheek genre cues, and an approach to score that commented on the emotional reality rather than inhabiting it.
It also turned out that Matt's a big "Twin Peaks" fan, and he was interested in a heightened sense of mystery and intrigue. That made sense, given that the characters' cloistered world is a tense and anxious place.
So for the theme to play over the main titles, I came up with this slinky little number, all sly and mysterious and French-sounding. Goes a little something like this-- here it is in context visually.
I appreciate that Matt chose a chordal section for the credits as opposed to the later melodic passages, to establish more of a moody texture than might be the case with a more hummable melody. I originally made sure to write way more than was needed, way more repetitively than was needed, allowing it to grow in modular passages so that different sections could be chopped up subsequently for different purposes. I resisted the urge to "correct" a lot of slight performance "mistakes", to let it sound more human.
Here's a passage of the theme later on, when it becomes a bit more melodic:
I also created a brief tacit button to provide quick transitions out of the cue:
Matt also wanted some of the solo drums to accompany a brief sequence illustrating a not so healthy relationship between two of the characters. So I customized this cue for the progression:
The pilot episode Day Jobs featured a lot of frantic action (OK, waiting tables and stage management, but that's what counts as "action" in this world), so I reworked the theme as a sprightly bossanova to underscore the hustle and bustle. Here's the bossa version of the theme in context:
I included a lot more drum fills to ensure some variety, since it's again fairly repetitive, but in general the static quality of the cue really works for me here, providing a quirky backdrop without calling too much attention to itself. Here's the bossa version in its entirety:
In future entries, we'll see how other cues branch off these to sustain the general sense of the theme while developing individually. Stay tuned!
Index of "Theater People" web series composer process entries:
I'm a sucker for these behind-the-scenes sound things, and I'll watch pretty much any of them even though many are surprisingly devoid of info.
I've heard this movie's good, so I'm going to see it anyway, but I like having this background. The production design looks really cool. I've really had high hopes for Zack Snyder since his remake of "Dawn of the Dead", which is not only one of my favorite horror movies but just plain one of my favorite movies. There's been a whole series of things since then that I've wanted to like more than I've actually liked-- though I've heard "300" is really good, and there's probably some masterpiece I'm missing because, after all, I live under a rock.
As my friend Charles said once, "emusic is a great way to hear music it turns out I didn't need to hear." I sample all kinds of stuff that sounds like something I'd like to hear at full length, only to discover that no, in fact, I wouldn't. So in that context Jan St. Werner's "Blaze Colour Burn" is a real treat, given that it rewards not only repeated listening but even just one listen in the first place.
I have, in fact, been listening to this release a lot lately. It belongs in a sub-genre of ambient music the name of which I don't know: one of physicality and plasticity, as opposed to ethereal reverberation. One experiences signals as discrete modules as opposed to diaphanous clouds. Melodies, harmonies, overtones and percussive fragments creep along slowly, sometimes lurching askew in unexpected directions, sometimes drifting into slow motion progressions. The source sounds could be anything tonal, though I imagine electric guitar to be involved somehow.
I intentionally didn't learn anything about Mr. or Ms. St. Werner for a while, kind of cherishing the artist's anonymity and imagining that maybe s/he was my next door neighbor or something. But in looking around for an image to post here, I discovered that he's one of the guys in Mouse on Mars, of whom I'm a longtime fan. So duh. Of course I like his solo release. Here's some info on this release and others from St. Werner that appear to be on the way, written in a much more eloquent style than mine. Which, of course, doesn't take much.
An update on a couple of recent films featuring my work:
Assassins Tale, a feature to which I contributed original music, Foley arts and sound design, will be released domestically on Amazon and Best Buy on July 9. Red Box and Netflix distribution will, it's hoped, follow soon thereafter. Directed by Arthur Louis Fuller and starring Michael Beach, Guy Garner and Anna Silk, the film follows a group of hired killers in search of redemption.
Here's the trailer for Assassins Tale. I wasn't involved in the trailer itself, but the gurgling sound at about :24 is indeed my recording of a canoe oar plunging into water.
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On a very different note, Dawn Schot Klotzbach's contemplative short Johnny Depp Is Not Dead screened recently at the Speechless Film Festival-- a program dedicated to "visual (but not silent) storytelling".
This film features my original musical score and Foley arts. I was also the location mixer, capturing what dialogue is to be had in this contemplative piece. Atmospheric, ethereal tones highlight the the emotions of an unseen man's wife and daughter as they mourn his death, eventually bonding over a Johnny Depp movie and a bubble fight. Music and sound were central in telling the story.
I'm pleased to contribute some theme music to my friend Reverend Matt's Monster Science. The debut episode focuses on The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, the first film to feature the legendary Ray Harryhausen as lead animator.
You'll hear my original cue "Kaiju Stomp" (appropriately enough) at about 10 seconds in, and also at the end of the episode. You might recall "Kaiju Stomp" as my Track of the Week a while back:
"Did a cute pet on a movie poster make you think it would be a fun comedy but it turned out to be a pet-with-a-terminal-illness tearjerker instead? Are you unable to enjoy the human body count in a horror movie because you're wondering whether the dog's going to kick the bucket?"
Does the Dog Die? provides a long-denied service: it tells you ahead of time if a pet is injured or killed over the course of a movie beforehand. By means of an elegantly simple pictogram rating system, its index relates whether a) no pets die during the narrative, b) a pet is hurt or appears dead but ultimately lives, or c) no pets die.
Nor is the index limited to cute pet movies. The list wanders far afield to include "C.H.U.D.", "24 Hour Party People", "Eight Legged Freaks", "Zero Dark Thirty", and "Alien 3" (not to spoil anything, but be careful of that one).
An essential tool for those who need to know what they're getting into.
The final installment of a promotional campaign for the upcoming web series Theater People. I'm the composer on the series, and I've also created original music for a series of videos promoting the show. Here's the final promo:
This video features the same ragtime piano progression used in the previous pieces, but director Matt Anderson had a couple of requests to make this one special. I provided a piano intro, plus we burst into a full-on Dixieland jam in the second half.
The series debuts June 28th-- looking forward to it!
So I've been watching The Shining lately, prepping to participate in a panel discussion on the film at ConVergence this summer. In the documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life in Pictures, a lot of the interview subjects contend that Kubrick's films improve with multiple viewings, and I've found that to be true. I'm at three viewings so far, one with commentary by Steadicam inventor/ operator Garrett Brown, who uses the word "astonishing" about a hundred times along the way (no joke).
Despite my thoroughness, though, it seems I haven't been nearly as observant as I could have been. It turns out the film is encoded with an intricate matrix of agendas invisible to all but the most penetrating critiques.
These critiques are to be found on the Internet-- no really, the Internet!-- profusely, and in wildly divergent variety. They're the subject of an upcoming documentary called Room 237. But to wade into this ocean of speculation on your own, all you need is whatever you're using to read this blog!
Why this film in particular has been selected as fodder for so much theoretical engagement is beyond me, but the extrapolation has been resourceful indeed. My favorite line of... reasoning is the notion that "The Shining" is Kubrick's encrypted apology for faking the moon landing as a film shoot just after wrapping "2001: A Space Odyssey", using the same sets and everything. As explained below, the room number 237 (changed from the book, for reasons denied by the "official story"), Danny's Apollo 11 sweater, and the pattern on the rug offer hidden messages within the cinematic text.
Now if I were looking to fake the moon landing at that historical moment, Kubrick is indeed the first guy I would have called. So for all I know, dude is on to something here. But there's more-- all sorts of theories and angles and nooks and crannies explored, to the point where aggregators have become necessary. This is a really good one, for example.
I guess I really don't have much more to add, since every possible interpretation of "The Shining" has pretty much been taken care of. I would, however, like to share the following Shining-related artifact if you haven't seen it already. It has little to nothing to do with the above, but dammit, this is my blog and I'll post what I want!
And as a corollary, that video is indeed funnier the more times you've seen the movie.
This week's original composition by yours truly:
An understated, unhurried, chordal/ melodic progression that hovers in the air as if just barely there. I actually went back and remixed it quieter, so it'd sound like it was in the background regardless of playback volume.
I honor the memory of Ray Harryhausen, pioneer of stop-motion animation and hero of my own creative imagination since I was a kid. With his recent passing, I've thought a lot about what his work has meant to me over the years.
When my brother and I were kids, my dad told us Greek myths as bedtime stories. We had books illustrated with paintings of all the monsters and what have you, but what a treat it was to be able to sit down and watch "footage" of, say, Jason's quest to capture the golden fleece:
When he was a kid himself, Harryhausen was inspired to pursue his life's work when he viewed Willis O'Brien's special effects on the original "King Kong".
O'Brien, of course, was the mastermind behind the 1925 dinosaur classic "The Lost World":
Harryhausen later went on to work with his muse O'Brien on "Mighty Joe Young", a film that remains among the best work of both artists:
Given the tendency of Harryhausen films to mine the world's mythologies as source material, the narratives of his films-- particularly those that echoed O'Brien's-- tended toward a compelling "shadow" of Joseph Campbell's monomyth.
Whereas Campbell noted that "the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man", there's a weird anti-narrative that develops through "Lost World", "Kong", "Mighty Joe Young", and subsequently Harryhausen's "The Valley of Gwanji" (one of Mr. H's finest, in my opinion):
In each of these films, someone returns from "mysterious adventure" not with "boons" to bestow, but with a monstrous being upon which the bringer hopes to capitalize. This plan, of course, invariably goes awry; the monster escapes its shackles and wreaks havoc on its immediate locale, entertaining us along the way.
In the cases of "King Kong" and "Mighty Joe Young" especially, the unleashed creature is portrayed with a sensitivity allowing a certain pathos-- linking it with classic sympathetic monsters like Dr. Frankenstein's. But in the same Promethean vein, the stories look ahead to mythoi like the "Alien" franchise-- where, while the desire to profit from monstrosity remains, sympathy for the monster is nowhere to be found, and the consequences are far more dire.
A possibly unrelated postscript on Ray Harryhausen, and I'll let you go. Check out this trailer to "Earth Vs. The Flying Saucers", one of his early films. Notice how the tonality of music and sound effects are so often in key with each other.
Isn't that cool? I don't know how this happened, and I doubt it had anything to do with Ray Harryhausen himself, but it's just one more particle of fairy dust that's floated around his work all this time. Thanks, Mr. Harryhausen, for everything.Mike Hallenbeck home page
Interesting article on sound design for animation in this month's issue of Post Magazine. Unless I'm missing it, it's not available online, so snag a copy of the print version if you want to read it. (Subscriptions to the magazine are free, btw.)
In any case, it's great to discover people's methods for gathering sounds, check out the gear they're using, and hear stories about folks gathering sounds in their own homes or going on sonic safaris to capture those elusive ambiences and events. Thanks Post!Mike Hallenbeck home page
Some original music by yours truly: a spindly mix of sounds derived entirely from the operation of my bicycle!
To create this piece, I chopped each individual sound event into a discrete sample. Using follow actions in Ableton Live, I created a couple of sample groups and randomized the order of playback for each, running them simultaneously with a different interval of autopan assigned to each group. The result: a grinding light industrial groove, chaotic but still tied to a pulse of sorts. It has a lot more to do with the kickstand than I expected it to.
Enjoy!Mike Hallenbeck home page
AudioSteps is apparently a plug-in that facilitates footstep performance. It evidently allows for an assortment of footwear, different parameters of ambient processing, various materials in contact with the sole, and adjustable moisture:
If anybody out there has used this, please drop me a line and let me know how your experience has been!Mike Hallenbeck home page
A long (and I mean long) -term film project from my friend Bryce Beverlin and his friend Kurt, deathproj is finally seeing the light of day. I'll leave it to the film's creators to explain the content, but if you live in the Twin Cities you can catch screenings this month. Check the schedule for details.
I've seen one screening so far, and I was really impressed by the equal helpings of conceptual integrity and droll humor. The filmmakers are content to let the seams show, often hilariously so, to a point where often you're pretty much seeing the seams and that's the movie.
The music and sound design are really impressive as well (the two overlap to a point where it's hard to tell where one stops and the other begins). Subtle tonalities and slow changes over time pull the film along like a really, really slow tugboat. It's a pleasure to experience.
I'll be catching Star Trek and Iron Man 3 this summer for sure, but I have to say it's stuff like this that makes my viewing life complete. Thanks guys!
It's a broad collection of hi-res water-related sounds, both interior and exterior. Content ranges from light taps to massive splashes and everything in between, including kicking, thrashing, oar movement, surfacing, wading, mud suction, push-offs, treading water, and vehicle drive-throughs. Nice long tails at the ends of soundfiles, for easy crossfades.
I've been really impressed with the variety of material; pretty much any water-related element I've needed so far has proven available. Many sounds come in matching stereo sets for surround mixing, if that's your thing. This also allows a choice between close-mic'd and more distant perspectives.
Great value at 50 bucks!
Some original music by yours truly...
Giant monsters run amok! Orchestral rampage! Majestic brass, harried woodwinds, choral foreboding!
One of many pieces to be found in my music library.
Soon this piece will herald herald Reverend Matt's Monster Science.
An animator friend recently turned me on to Axe Cop, and I'm forever grateful.
The big attraction here is that the animator's 5-year-old brother comes up with the stories, which are then faithfully brought to life by adults. The results are about as awesome as one might think:
That's right: tryouts.
I highly recommend the "Moon Warriors" material as well:
This is, in essence, what I'm talkin' about. There's a lot of this stuff, and it's pretty great. Have at it, Internet.
This planet lost a legend with the recent passing of country singer George Jones. In my book, Jones was one of the all-time great singers-- soulful and subtle, throaty and velvety, but raucous and rowdy when the song demanded it.
It's hard for me to pick a favorite George Jones track, but if I had to I think I'd go with "Mr. Fool":
The melody that accompanies the second syllable of the "before" in "I will never be the fool I was before" is really hard to sing (try it), but Jones pulls it off like it's nothing. Brilliant.
I'm also quite fond of "A Good Year for the Roses":
I kind of want to call this song "a country music 'Day in the Life'", but it isn't really. It is, however, really sad and somehow believable as a window into Jones' personal life.
Speaking of which: Jones' issues with drinking are well-documented, but worthy of mention to demonstrate that he's pretty much the archetype of the wild-living country star. Long before the Replacements delved into the form, Jones made a habit of concert truancy that earned him the nickname "No Show" between his first and last.
One never would have called Jones lazy in pursuit of a drink. I'll let the George Jones Wikipedia page tell my favorite story about him:
"One of the best known stories of Jones' drinking days happened when he was married to his second wife, Shirley Corley. Jones recalled Shirley making it physically impossible for him to travel to Beaumont, located 8 miles away, and buy liquor. Because Jones would not walk that far, she would hide the keys to each of their cars they owned before leaving. She did not, however, hide the keys to the lawn mower. Jones recollects being upset at not being able to find any keys before looking out the window and at a light that shone over their property. He then described his thoughts, saying: "There, gleaming in the glow, was that ten-horsepower rotary engine under a seat. A key glistening in the ignition. I imagine the top speed for that old mower was five miles per hour. It might have taken an hour and a half or more for me to get to the liquor store, but get there I did.""
I finally got to see George Jones perform in 2010, at the Freeborn County Fair in Albert Lea, MN with my wife and my mother-in-law. I have to say he wasn't in fine voice, but he was very gracious, and it was a treat to see one of my all-time favorite artists perform. So long, Mr. Jones, and thanks for the beautiful music.