L.A. Confidential

Hooray for doowylloH!

Meanwhile, back in Toronto…

“Hey, wait a minute!” I hear you exclaim. “Weren’t you in Los Angeles for several months?”

Yes, indeed, dear readers, and welcome back to the Podium!

“Hey, wait a minute!” I hear you exclaim again. “It’s been a year since you last posted!”

Would you believe that I’ve been meaning to work on this for half a year already? I can’t believe it, myself. It’s even harder to believe that a year has passed since my last entry, at the end of my work-study period in LA. Perhaps I will make a New Year’s resolution to blog more regularly in 2016. We’ll see how well that goes.

Where were we?

My journey to Los Angeles begins with my return home from Spain, which was the third in our series of episodes of me being awake for essentially two days straight.

“Hey, wait a minute! What about your adventures in Spain after graduating? Barcelona? The International Film Music Festival in Córdoba? Madrid and Toledo?”

Those would make great subjects for a “Memories of Spain” series of posts, so stay tuned for that. My life quickly became a whirlwind after graduation (as it is wont to do), and the next thing I knew, I was in LA. The next thing I knew after that, I was back in Toronto. As I was saying…

If August and September of 2013 were about firsts, then August of 2014 was about lasts. One last dip in the Mediterranean. One last paella with my classmates. One last cerveza with my compañeros (okay, maybe one more last cerveza. Okay, maybe one more… no, really, guys. One last cerveza. I mean it this time). One last walk around my neighbourhood. One last trip to Ciutat Vella for memories and souvenirs. One last look at the Palau.

The City of Arts and Sciences, as seen from the Micalet atop the Valencia Cathedral. I think I can almost see my apartment from here!

Remember my “I need more time” phenomenon? I could have definitely used one more day to finish packing. The closer I came to my departure, the more “lasts” suddenly appeared. I kept on finding things to do and places to see that I simply had not had time to enjoy during my ten months as a student. Despite my best efforts, however, I can’t say that I accomplished everything on my Valencian bucket list. I guess that means that I’ll have to go back one day. 😉

After having already sent a fair amount of gear and personal effects back home following graduation, I discovered that I still had more than 100 lbs. of stuff with me to bring home. After finding out the hard way — on my final day in Valencia, naturally — that said collection of clothing, souvenirs, and other objects would not completely fit in my suitcases, I had to perform one last visit (read: mad dash) to Carrefour to pick up a new one. Furiously packing as the minutes to my departure ticked ever faster, I crammed the last molecule that I was taking home with me into my two bulging suitcases, distended computer bag, and bloated violin case. I bid farewell to my apartment’s concierge, who helped me flag down a passing taxi and load my gear, and we sped through the streets of Valencia one last time to Estación Joaquín Sorolla to catch the train to Barcelona. Drenched with sweat from the heat of the Valencian summer sun and the exertion of porting so much luggage, I settled into my seat on the train, apologizing to my seatmate (in my very Canadian way) for doubtlessly inflicting an unpleasant travel experience on her.

I then realized that my travel plans did not account for this marination, and that my next shower was due to be on the wrong end of two flights. Fortunately, I was able to have a room arranged at an airport hotel in Barcelona to remedy this unpleasantness. Unfortunately, however, this necessitated a slow and arduous schlep through multiple train stations to eventually catch a shuttle bus to the hotel. If I ever meet the person who decided to replace the moving sidewalks in a particular train station with flooring textured with raised bosses…

After freshening up and changing out my clothing that was saturated with what felt like a week’s worth of sweat, I took the opportunity to repack some of my luggage, which had become rather compressed from the preceding hours of travel. I noted that just like in mixing music, a little compression makes everything better (and also like in mixing, too much compression creates distortion, which is what I had going on with my suitcases!). I may have caught half an hour’s rest before boarding my next shuttle bus to the airport. Through check-in and security, ample time for breakfast and boarding quickly became “last call” to hop the shuttle bus from the terminal to the plane. From there, it was a short hop to Zurich (during which I may have caught another half-hour nap), where the officer at Passport Control spent a good couple minutes trying to make heads or tails out of the collection of European stamps that I had accumulated in my passport over the past year before allowing me through to make my connection. The flight back home to Toronto was uneventful, just the way I like it, but I don’t remember sleeping much, if at all. By the time I finally reunited with my bed, I reckoned that it had been at least 40 hours since waking up in my apartment in Valencia.

Thoroughly exhausted from my return home from Spain, I didn’t even want to think about travelling again. However, less than a week later, I was jetting off once more, this time to spend the better part of a week in Boston with a number of my colleagues for a seminar at Berklee’s main campus in advance of starting our respective internships. One weekend back at home later to repack, and I was off to Los Angeles!

“Wait! That’s it? Boston for a week and no travel blog about it?!”

Good point. No time like the present…

Back to Boston

I must say that there is a certain peculiar symmetry to my Berklee Valencia experience being essentially bookended by trips to Boston. The Graduate Internship Orientation week was filled with a program that blended professional development seminars with Boston tourism. We also were given a tour of Berklee’s new 160 Massachusetts Avenue building, with their suite of top-notch recording facilities, some of which resembling our setup in Valencia, that are all able to be simultaneously connected over the Berklee network. Touring their three scoring stages, mastering suite, and dubbing stage made us all feel like children in a proverbial candy store. I absolutely marvel at the technology and training that is available for students today. Boston Campus, your Shames Family Scoring Stage may be larger than the Ann Kreis, but ours is in Spain (point: Valencia Campus 😉 ). I was grateful to be able to stay at a relative’s house in Newton (on the outskirts of Boston), I met up with some classmates and colleagues on my scant time off (which definitely seems to be a pattern, doesn’t it?), and I started my last day in Boston by getting stung in the face by a wasp.


Yep. Oh, and my flight home was interrupted by poor weather conditions over YTZ, so we returned to Boston overnight. I’m going to stop myself there from documenting an unpleasant experience that does not merit sharing (aside from what I mentioned in my Twitter feed at the time).

So, let’s try this again. One weekend back at home later to repack (and catch a quick cold, because it’s always something), and I was off to Los Angeles!

California, Here I Come!

Obligatory photo of DS9-- I mean, LAX.

Obligatory photo of DS9– I mean, LAX.

My roommate for this LA chapter was one of my classmates from the Master’s program. Starry-eyed, we began our adventure together doing all of the regular kinds of things that I imagine one routinely does when one moves to a new city (which, incidentally, also does a good job of getting the starry-eyedness out of the way): apartment-hunting, arranging vehicles, figuring out utilities, renting furniture (that’s a thing in California, apparently), and so on. As our respective placements had their start date right around the corner, we managed to accomplish all of these things in very little time, in true Berklee fashion. I will skip all of the boring details and summarize by stating that if I learned a lot about myself by living on my own in Spain, then I learned even more about myself through the process of living with someone else in LA. I think we both did.

On with the show!

I was incredibly excited to have my first gig after graduation be an internship in Los Angeles, let alone arranging for it to be in the studio of a composer whose work I have respected since almost the beginning of his career. My primary focus for the balance of my time in Los Angeles was my work in the studio of Bear McCreary, helping out the team on the fall’s slate of shows, including Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Outlander, The Walking Dead, Constantine, and more. It gave me a certain pride to see billboards for these shows around town, knowing that I was helping out with all of these productions, at least in some small way. As well, it was a tremendous opportunity to have my experience as a composer and my education as a Master’s student not only brought to life, but scaled up. As we were trained to be one-person production houses at Berklee, it was incredibly instructional to watch the creative and production process happen up close (and, again, to participate in my small way). One can read about composers and their teams and processes in textbooks, or even hear anecdotes to that effect in interviews, but nothing compares to an opportunity to experience it for real. I will say that what we had at Berklee in Valencia, especially with the pace of assignments and the detailed attention paid to the processes of recording and post-production, represented a good small-scale representation of how it works in the industry, for real. I am satisfied to say that my Master’s degree, combined with the experience I had at Sparks & Shadows, has already stood me in good stead with respect to my own film scoring projects out in the real world. More on that in a future blog post.

Wait, that’s it?

Pretty much. Because I respect the Non-Disclosure Agreement that I signed as a condition of my internship, that’s pretty much all that I can reveal. I mean, I could have written more blog posts about a day in the life of a Sparks & Shadows intern, but they would have looked something like this:

October ██, 2014

This morning, I had to deliver ████████████████ for █████████ and ███████████ to ███████████ so that he could, in turn, bring them to the recording session at ██████████. Afterwards, I needed to pick up a hard drive from the engineer in ████████████ and deliver it to █████████████ in █████████. After effectively circumnavigating northern LA, I returned to ███████, where I ████████████ and prepared ███████████ for archival purposes. I was then asked to put my ██████████████ skills to good use, and helped out ████████ with testing something for ██████████. Also, the team had to deal with aliens from another dimension. All in all, a successful day.

That’s the truth. Much of my work was classified and confidential. It’s tough being a S.H.I.E.L.D. Agent sometimes. 😉

All Work and No Play?

Even though my work schedule was intense, I did occasionally find opportunities to try to enjoy my time in Los Angeles. I had a little more time to myself (and to spend with my friends) than I did in Valencia, I managed to keep up my social dancing at least once a week, I made it out to a few film industry networking events, and, on the rare occasion when work afforded me a few consecutive days off, I made the occasional road trip. I even tried my hand at boogie-boarding with my roommate and another of our Berklee classmates (pictures of which will wind up on Composers Doing Normal Shit someday in the distant future. Just you wait). Most of all — and perhaps this was the biggest change from my Valencia-self — my time in LA afforded me the opportunity to try to be a person, not just a stressed-out Master’s student. Weird, I know.

That’s not to say that being stressed all the time doesn’t have its advantages or career implications. (Ossia: That was “Master’s student,” not “monster student!”)

In addition to taking in some of the sights of Los Angeles itself (Santa Monica Pier, Little Tokyo, the Hollywood Walk of Fame and the TCL Chinese Theatre, a concert at the Hollywood Bowl, etc.), as well as spending time with a number of my Master’s colleagues, I took advantage of the fact that I happen to have family all over the world and duly paid visits to my cousins in both San Diego and San Francisco. As well, I was able to spend time with my Angeleno family members, which included getting to celebrate my first real American Thanksgiving in Beverly Hills, 90210, rubbing shoulders with the rich and famous.

…as you do. 😉

I spent a good amount of time trying to connect with the soul of Los Angeles, and I’m not entirely convinced that I ever did so successfully; perhaps I simply didn’t spend enough time there, after all. The diversity found amongst the conglomeration of federated municipalities in and around LA was incredible, but perhaps as a consequence, I never managed to home in on exactly what the real charm and character of LA was (palm trees notwithstanding). Make no mistake: the allure of LA to me is its position as a global leader in the entertainment industry — if it’s not the place to be, it certainly is a place to be — and I dutifully answered its call for my first taste of the “real world.”

However, more than anything else, LA felt essentially like just a city. Indeed, to me, the overwhelming impression was that this big city was characterized best as, in every sense, “a big city” (and coming from the largest city in Canada, I think that’s saying something). The traffic was as overwhelming as the legends had foretold — compared to Ontario drivers, LA drivers are better at merging, but even worse at obstacle avoidance — and I reckoned that I lived a half-hour from anywhere I usually needed to go, except if it took an hour (if not more). Navigating the city was, at times, exhausting. In spite of it all, however, I did find a few places that I enjoyed visiting a few times (even if it always took too long to get there). Over the course of my time in LA, with my focus primarily being to live and work, I ended up taking far fewer pictures* and being much less of a tourist than when I lived in Valencia.

*While my commute from the Valley afforded me some gorgeous views, taking pictures while driving remains a very, very bad idea.

In fact, the best opportunity that I had to be a tourist came when a friend of mine from Ontario visited me. Sometimes, it takes something like that to force you to slow down and simply enjoy the view.

…and y’know, it’s not so bad from up here.

Home for the Holidays

I had planned from the start to spend time back home in Toronto over the holidays. As my roommate and I signed our lease for six (later, seven) months, I was able to pack up about half of my belongings (giving myself the opportunity to decidedly not have to schlep 100 lbs. of stuff with me), vowing to return to my warm, sunny base of operations after tiring of the Canadian winter. Within my first week back, I was struck by how small my hometown felt next to LA, and how slow the speed limits were. This particular instance of culture shock aside, my homecoming allowed me to reconnect with family and friends, some of whom I had not seen since before my departure for Spain. As well, it afforded me the opportunity to reintroduce myself to the Toronto film community, now as a composer with a shiny, new set of credentials, recent work experience in the heart of the industry, and a decidedly stronger portfolio.

Not being terribly interested in remaining idle for too long, I kicked off the new year by writing a new version of a cue that I had composed for the Dramatic Electronic Composition course at Berklee in Valencia, inspired by an unscored chase scene from The Bourne Identity. Combining orchestral strings and darbuka with heaps of electronics, this cue was meant to be my interpretation of what would serve in a film such as Bourne. Here is the scene, scored with my music:

Here is the music by itself:


Escape from the Cold


There was something very appealing about returning to this.

After nearly two months of enjoying my time back in Toronto (without ice storms this time!), I felt the warmer climate beckon. Since my apartment in the Valley was still waiting for me, I answered the call, leaving on the coldest day of the coldest winter on record, happily trading in -25°C for 25°C. Wasting no time to have some fun in the sun, I met up with a friend from Toronto who was in the area on business. The two of us having attended a Toronto Symphony Orchestra concert a few nights prior, all we could do as we gazed out over the Pacific from Santa Monica Pier was chuckle as we thought of our friends and family who were freezing back home. Before I had left for LA, he had asked me if I would join him on a little road trip upon my return — again, for business. Where to?


We stayed at a hotel on the Strip, and enjoyed prowling around the streets under the neon-tinted sky. To his surprise, there were surprisingly few people wandering around that late at night. I didn’t mind; I got more than my fill of the madding crowds the next day. I would go into more detail, but you know what they say about what happens in Vegas. 😉

I opted to remain in Vegas for another night in order to visit a couple of my Berklee classmates. How readily they welcomed me remains a testament to the familial bonds that we forged in the crucible of our tech labs in Valencia (it was mutual, of course, when our classmates came to visit us in LA). I am happy to report that they are doing well and have recovered handily from the rigours of our program.

Upon my return to LA from my Vegas sojourn, I was greeted with the news that my roommate had extended our apartment rental by a month, which meant that I had more than 10 days to pack up and prepare to move back home. Soon after, I received word that my roommate’s stay in the US had been extended, and I ended up helping him move into his new place in Pasadena. With the benefit of free time, I took the opportunity to arrange meetings with some of my industry connections, to see friends, and to cross off some important sights from my tourism list, such as the Getty Villa, the California ScienCenter, and nearby Ventura County.

You could say that I Endeavoured to visit the ScienCenter. Thank you, I’m here all week.

I also took the opportunity to spend time some time, of course, tending to my music. Among other pieces that I worked on during this time, I reorchestrated a few compositions from a few years ago, taking advantage of not only my improved orchestration skills but, more to the point, my better sample libraries as well. One such reimagined piece was Forester’s Theme, a concert version of the protagonist’s theme from what I have described as a “someday” game project, The Legend of Forester:


As my departure from LA drew nearer, I successfully lined up a scoring gig back home in Toronto, which echoed more than one professional’s advice to me for my next career steps. After packing up practically everything and preparing to vacate my apartment, I could think of no better way of ending my trip to LA than by joining a few of my classmates on a trip to Disneyland!

It was, after all, all started by a little mouse.

All things being equal, I am glad for the experience, and I look forward to an eventual return to the City of Angels.

What’s Next?

I wasted no time in forgetting how to be lazy as soon as I returned to Toronto, and of course, there are many stories to tell from those experiences over the past several months. In future blog posts, you can look forward to me posting about my various scoring projects from 2015, including my first feature film (John Lives Again), an indie video game at this year’s TOJam (Cow Bros: The Final Throwdown), and a short film this fall (In Utero). As well, I plan to share my experiences as a participant in the 2015 NYU/ASCAP Film Scoring Workshop, held in June this past year. On top of that, I found myself involved in a number of orchestration and transcription projects for concerts held all over the world.

I’m also considering a renovation of the Podium for the new year. Stay tuned for news and updates.

All in all, this has been an exciting year, and I am very much looking forward to what 2016 holds.

Until next time!

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