26
April 2024
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Cue of the Week: “Holden Investigates”

A relatively subtle suspense cue, this week’s selection shows my belief that tense music ought to feature more kalimba.

19
April 2024
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Cue of the Week: “Holden on the Range”

An interlude of romance in a rustic setting inspires this week’s music selection from Lifetime’s Secrets Beneath the Floorboards. I particularly love scoring these kinds of moments, which provide rich opportunities for musical themes to breathe and develop.

Here I introduce a four-note theme that’s a leitmotif for romance in the film. Drawn from the pentatonic scale (a.k.a. the “all white notes on the piano” scale) it has a peaceful and faintly folksy sound. As the conversation turns to the protagonist’s troubled Oma (grandmother), that character’s theme briefly emerges on cello before the romantic mood returns. Props to Tom Strahle for the lovely acoustic guitar accompaniment.

05
April 2024
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Cue of the Week: “Contemplating the Discovery”

A question we film composers often face is how to musically support small, incidental moments — those connective mini-scenes that give us vital information at a glance. These moments need to be emotionally connected to the overall tone of the film, but are often too fleeting to warrant a big musical theme.

A handy technique for these situations is to repurpose an earlier melodic idea into a more subtle, supporting form. In this selection from the score of Secrets Beneath the Floorboards I compressed the film’s main theme into a repeating accompaniment for chimes. Set it against some moody ambience, and voila: the perfect accompaniment for the heroine peering at a mysterious drive she’s unearthed from the (titular) floorboards.

15
March 2024
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Cue of the Week: “Not Steve Jobs”

This music from Secrets Beneath the Floorboards walks a fine line with respect to tone. In the corresponding scene, a would-be entrepreneur confesses his failures and opens up to our protagonist. It’s a moment of bonding — but at the same time we’re not entirely sure how we feel about this guy.

My approach was a piece for the lower string instruments, small-scale rather than cushily symphonic, blending pathos with a bit of darkness and ambiguity.

Apart from the music below, there’s a bit of bonus content this week: a short blog post with my thoughts about new AI technologies and music.

12
March 2024
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2 Comments
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Thoughts on AI and music

As of this writing, AI has captured the public’s imagination with highly-publicized tools like ChatGPT. There have been numerous discussions in the entertainment community (some tinged with panic) about how AI might impact or even displace creative professionals. While human-created music isn’t on the chopping block at the moment, the prospect looms in the imagination of many composers and songwriters. Recently I’ve participated in a number of discussions how music-makers might be impacted by these emerging technologies.

When trying to predict the future I like to look for analogies from the past. In these discussions I point out that musical creativity — and in particular its use in commercial media — has been undergoing automation for decades. A prime example is today’s abundance of music creation software. The state of the art allows a composer with Logic (or the free Garage Band) to create a professional grade album or film score, without the need for the professional service providers that would have traditionally been involved. No live musicians, no mixing or mastering engineer, no recording studio assistants, and so on. The professional music industry has had to evolve as work thinned out or vanished for people in those professions.

On the other hand, composers (especially young ones) are now vastly more enabled to create and produce music than they used to be. Career opportunities exist worldwide that used to be the province of a lucky few who had access to musicians and recording facilities. Plus, new kinds of businesses have arisen as a result, e.g. those creating virtual instruments and or audio plugins. These are substantial industries employing millions of people worldwide.

Do I wish that virtual instruments didn’t exist, and larger numbers of orchestral recording musicians could still find bountiful employment in L.A. like the good old days? It’s a trap of a question, because my heart wants the musicians to be happy and make money, but not at the cost of disabling the far greater number who have thriving creative lives (and sometimes careers) because of new technology.

The technologies I’ve described above aren’t AI-related per se, but examples of how software automation has been changing professional music-making for decades. (Although AI is indeed sometimes involved. For example, Logic Pro comes with a “drummer” plugin that will attempt to mimic the improvisations of human drum players.) AI is simply the evolution of a long-existing progression.

Turning from music production to composition, I doubt that AI-generated music will replace the John Williamses of the present or future. What it may start to do is supplant stock music in generic styles, for predictable musical genres. (Note that this isn’t a veiled insult to those styles; Bach’s music was very rule-based and relatively easy for computers to mimic today.) Stock music libraries will face real competition – and likely, will themselves adopt AI composition tools to service reality TV and other productions that don’t need originally composed music.

But complex art and craft will always need human judgment. That’s true for media music, and I’d like to think that the same will hold true of other creative fields.

Speaking more generally about the entertainment industry as a whole, I can’t predict how things will play out. Some transitions will probably be painful, as human jobs go away and the new automated tools can’t match the quality of what they’re replacing. (That’s why model-based ships in old Star Wars still look better than the early CG of the prequels.) But technology will move forward, and people will embrace it, for both better and worse.

08
March 2024
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Cue of the Week: “Nightmare”

Music can sometimes cross the threshold into sound design, its effect coming less from melody and more from the impact of raw sonic timbre. In these cases I let the intellectual side of the creative process take a breather, and hand the reins to intuition and association.

This dream-sequence cue from Secrets Beneath the Floorboards isn’t something you’re going to hum afterwards (unless you have truly complex vocal abilities), but may convey the scene’s unsettling, jarring atmosphere.

01
March 2024
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Cue of the Week: “Renaldo”

This music from Secrets Beneath the Floorboards serves as a signature leitmotif for the film’s comic relief character, who has a harmless crush on the protagonist.

In addition to creating a lighthearted mood, the music needed to clearly differentiate Renaldo from the love interest character, who had a visually similar look. (Sometimes score can play this kind of subtle informational role.) I decided that marimba would be perfect for both purposes.

09
February 2024
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Cue of the Week: “Memories of Oma”

In this cue from Lifetime’s Secrets Beneath the Floorboards, our protagonist sorts through relics of a childhood with her harsh Oma (a German term for grandmother). 

I wove Oma’s theme throughout the score, sometimes to overtly evoke her memory – which looms large in the protagonist’s mind – and sometimes more subtly. (A theme can be included in a way that’s not super noticeable, but helps create a common feeling in related pieces of music.)

Morituri Te Salutant // Michael Gordon Shapiro - Highlights
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  3. Mythic Battle // Highlights
  4. The Yard Sale // Michael Gordon Shapiro - Highlights
  5. Investigations // Highlights
  6. Home Room // Highlights
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  9. Poker Night // Highlights