Sunday, June 30, 2013

Web Series Composer Process #1: Main Title Theme + Bossa Derivation

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 I originally made sure to write way more than was needed, way more repetitively than was needed, allowing it to grow in modular passages so that different sections could be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!

Watch the web series

Index of "Theater People" web series composer process entries:

1: Main Title

2: Crowley Theme

3: Day Job Waltz/ Melodramatic Theme

4: Mambo Madness

5: Dream Rock

666: Devil Worship Music


Mike Hallenbeck home page

Acting and Audiobooks

Interesting New York Times article on how the audiobook phenomenon is benefiting actors (and thus, presumably, audio professionals). Good to know somebody on the creative end is getting something out of all this...

Mike Hallenbeck home page

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Man of Steel Sound Design

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.

This one's quite good. A friend pointed it out to me in nofilmschool's SoundWorks collection:

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.

Mike Hallenbeck home page

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Recent Listening: Jan St. Werner

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.

Mike Hallenbeck home page

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Track of the Week: Debutante

Some shuffling clarinet jazz this week. Like something you might hear in a Woody Allen movie. May appear in a certain web series soon...

Part of the jazz collection in my Music Library.


Mike Hallenbeck home page

Thursday, June 13, 2013

Film News: Assassins Tale, Johnny Depp is not Dead

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.

Assassins Tale on the Film Catalogue web site

= = = = =

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.

Mike Hallenbeck home page

Reverend Matt's Monster Science

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:


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Saturday, June 8, 2013

Does the Dog Die in the Movie?

"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.

Mike Hallenbeck home page

Friday, June 7, 2013

Recent work: Music for final web series promo

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!

Mike Hallenbeck home page

Sunday, June 2, 2013

The Shining: Conspiracy Theories

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.

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