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!

Inside the Federmusik: “Pero nunca podrá ser”

Welcome back to the podium! As my semester in Los Angeles comes to a close, and with it my internship at Sparks & Shadows, I am reminded of where I was at this time last year. So, I wanted to try something different.

In this edition of my notes from the podium, we’ll be taking a look inside one of my cues. “Pero nunca podrá ser” (“But it can never be”) was written and recorded one year ago, in December of 2013, as the final assignment for the Dramatic Scoring course at Berklee in Valencia. I previously detailed some of my experiences with the composition and recording of this cue in End of Act One and Settling in, but for those of you just tuning in now, the assignment was to rescore either the introductory scene from Silencio en la nieve (“Frozen Silence”) or a climactic scene from an episode of the Spanish television series Gran Hotel (“Grand Hotel”), both of which were originally scored by Lucio Godoy, our program director at Berklee in Valencia. Seeking the opportunity to include orchestral fireworks in my portfolio with a cue that I could really sink my teeth into, I chose the latter. As the Gran-dest assignment of the semester, we were privileged to record with members of the Budapest Art Orchestra, conducted by Peter Pejtsik, with whom Lucio has worked in the past to great effect. Getting to work with one of the most in-demand session recording orchestras in all of Europe was a tremendous opportunity, and indeed a feather in the cap of the Master’s program.

Before we go any further, however, I invite you to take a look at the behind-the-scenes recording footage of this cue:

The Setup
This scene was described to me as “the kiss of the year,” and a moment that the audience had been anticipating all season. I was advised that as Gran Hotel was scored in a very straightforward, on-the-nose manner, I should be prepared to go all-out and over the top. As we saw with The Frog Chase, this is a challenge that I embrace with gusto (and the occasional slide whistle). I decided to heed Lucio’s advice and score this scene in a very classic, give-them-what-they-want style. The musical gloves were off.

In this scene, Alicia, the wealthy daughter of the eponymous hotel’s owner, chases after Julio, a waiter who has just left the hotel’s employ. Under the pretense of returning the beret he left behind, she goes to see him one last time before he is ostensibly out of her life forever.

The Process
If there’s one thing I know about classic romantic scenes, it is the importance of melody. I placed myself in Lucio’s shoes and decided that if the series had been mine to score, I would have signified the importance of their relationship — a subplot that plays out through the entirety of the show — by assigning it its own recognizable theme. I began my process by designing what would hypothetically be the Alicia and Julio Theme, sketching it out by hand (and digitized here for your convenience — click the image to hear it):

The sketch of Alicia and Julio's Theme.

The sketch of Alicia and Julio’s Theme.

You may notice that the theme is generally built in an ascending structure over the first three melodic gestures (mm. 1-6), each phrase reaching higher in spite of all the ups and downs — which, come to think of it, sounds like a pretty good analogy for their relationship overall. You also may notice that the melody ends without a proper resolution; it’s almost as if the theme is posing a question — “Can we be together?” for example — and awaits the response at the very end. That the ending is deliberately harmonically open in this way grants me a certain flexibility in how to resolve it, which would hypothetically depend on what the answer would be.

Once I was satisfied that I had a plausible love theme, the next step in my compositional process was to translate my sketched notes into a form that would ultimately be more useful. As every project essentially has different requirements, each one demands a different process. For this cue, I produced a vocal mockup for the piece to serve as a baseline sketch that I would musically paint over later. Exactly as that term suggests, I sang into my computer’s microphone as I watched the scene, and then imported the resulting audio clips into my digital audio workstation. (No, it is not available for public consumption.)

Okay, so now we’ve got our love theme for Julio and Alicia (and now it’s in my DAW). The next step was working out the harmonization and arrangement.

Luckily, the melody that I wrote has certain tonal and harmonic implications by itself, with the leaps between notes in the phrase outlining certain chords for me already. As I sketched it, the melody implies a major modality, which is generally associated with positive emotions, and for the gran finale, I harmonized it appropriately with a goodly amount of major chords, as you can hear in the cue (you can also hear that the melody in the final version is more embellished; you’ll see that later on in this post). I conceived of it structurally in terms of a melody, a countermelody, and harmony, as you can see here (click the image to hear it):

Alicia and Julio’s Theme, harmonized.

…or, at least, that’s more or less how it would have ended, si podrá ser, but that’s not this particular cue — pero nunca, after all. 😉

Let’s keep that lovey-sounding major-chordal harmonic language as a baseline (don’t worry, I’ll fix the ending later). All that positivity is well and good for when the kiss of the year happens, but since the first half of the scene is fraught with angst, anxiety, and longing, I didn’t feel that would be entirely suitable. When we first hear the theme in this cue, Julio is visibly despondent, and Alicia is trying to come to terms with her feelings (or the fact that she even has feelings). This suggested to me that I might consider slightly less of a straightforward harmonic approach. If there’s one thing that all of my years of music theory has taught me, it’s how to adapt melodies and harmonies for various circumstances.

I observed that the pacing, movement, and overall feel of the segment in which Alicia meets Julio was slightly more ponderous than the fluidity found in the moment of their kiss, and I wanted to express the coldness, awkwardness, and distance between the two characters that I was picking up when I watched the scene. As well, I challenged myself to state the entire theme by the time Alicia gives her answer to the question that my theme poses.

I was reluctant to alter the core of the melody substantially — it still needed to be recognizable to the audience without them requiring a music theory degree — but at the same time, I wanted it to feel different. I started by adjusting the tempo of my music to roughly match the pace of the visuals (but not to the point that it would constitute mickeymousing). However, I found that keeping the rhythm as originally written made the theme run too long. So, I changed the time signature from 4/4 to 3/4 time, and simplified some of the melodic motion, removing a neighbour tone here and stripping out repeated notes there (click on the image to listen).

The altered version of the Alicia & Julio Theme.

The altered version of Alicia & Julio’s Theme.

More importantly, however, I wanted to properly convey the insecurities of our characters, and I aimed to accomplish this in two ways: first, by reharmonizing portions of the melody, and second, by altering the texture of the accompaniment. For the beginning of this part of the cue, I wanted to make the theme sound more brooding. In addition to transposing it to another key (from C to F), I moved the harmonic centre to the relative minor (D minor), representing the disconnect between the two characters — the notes are there, but it doesn’t feel quite right. I accentuated the sense of unease through the use of dissonance, whether through gnawing oscillations pulsing in and out of the harmonic fabric or more deliberate, slow-moving crunches inspired by music of the Romantic era. As the frost between them melts, the harmonic centre moves back closer in line to what I had originally intended (click to listen).

The altered version of Alicia & Julio's Theme, harmonized.

The altered version of Alicia & Julio’s Theme, harmonized.

In terms of the orchestration, I knew that I would be remiss if I did not pull out the orchestral big guns for the moment of the kiss (just following orders, folks), but since the first half expresses more uncertainty and is significantly less passionate, I decided that a more simple, subdued arrangement would feel more appropriate. That said, however, because the mood changes on a moment-to-moment basis, this section of the cue is composed of a series of carefully-sculpted moments that are designed to comprise, rather than distract from, an overall emotional gesture.

A solitary clarinet carries the theme as Alicia appears, with the strings (without bass) providing chordal support. However, since the melody is quite lugubrious and legato at the best of times — even more so at a slower tempo! — I wanted to use the strings’ ability to serve as the engine of the orchestra to maintain a sense of motion. Playing straight chords (as in the above example) would not accomplish the desired effect. Instead, the violins and violas play an oscillating motif that wavers in and out of consonace with the melody, while the celli keep time:

We add the rest of the orchestra as Julio and Alicia share a moment over his beret, with the melody rising in the violins, flutes, and oboes. As the melody is handed off to these instruments, the clarinets and bassoon pick up the rhythmic duties with their own version of the accompanying triplets:

Alicia & Julio Theme Pt 1b orchestratedAs their eyes meet, the orchestra breathes a sigh of relief as he utters, “Pide me lo y me quedaré” — “Tell me so, and I will stay” — but winds up to deliver an emotional sucker-punch — in musical terms, a deceptive cadence — for Alicia’s response: “Sabes que no puedo” — “You know that I can’t.”

Sabes que no puedo

If you look close enough, you can see Julio’s heart breaking.

Definitely no happy ending for this theme here.

I bring back this idea of using triplets to provide rhythmic support during Alicia and Julio’s big moment. As the music swells and the upper half of the orchestra (flute, oboe, trumpet, and violins) carry the melody, the clarinets and violas — the middle voices of their respective families — play the accompanying triplet motif, essentially in unison, but in the manner in which they did so before: violas oscillating, clarinets straight (but with a little rhythmic variation, like a fluttering heart skipping a beat).

Alicia & Julio Theme Pt 2a orchestratedNow that I think about it, if I were hypothetically scoring this series, I may well have used that triplet figure as a recognizable motif in and of itself. One thing that was half-deliberate, half-serendipitous was the timing of the three kisses with the three (well, two-and-a-half) thrusts of the melody. With the opening of the melody synchronized to the moment of the first kiss, I set the tempo such that the first half of the theme could be stated by the time she grabs his collar. The rest fell into place, just by the way I happened to have phrased the theme.

Alicia grabbing Julio’s collar to break their embrace is answered musically by a change in orchestral texture: a solo oboe, doubled with embellishments on harp, takes over the melody, the horns quiet down from their full-spate countermelody to a supporting line, the low strings and trumpet drop out completely, and the rest of the orchestra fades out. In this moment, things are essentially suspended in mid-air as she catches her breath, their eyes meet, and Alicia responds with…

"What part of 'Sabes que no puedo' did you not understand?!"

“What part of ‘Sabes que no puedo‘ did you not understand?!”

…well, huh. That was unexpected.

I guess there’s no happy ending to the theme this time, either. Nunca podrá ser.

That’s all for this edition of Inside the Federmusik! Are there other aspects of this cue that you’d like me to discuss? Are there other cues that you would like to know more about? Tell me in the comments!

Until next time!

The long-awaited London update

The view from the podium… at AIR Studios!

They say you never forget your first time.

In addition to representing a very practical part of our Master’s thesis, the recording at AIR Studios was, according to Lucio, intended to be something of a gift from Berklee to us. As you may recall, I had been looking for a collaboration that would be suitable for this very special recording session. However, at the end of April, Lucio explained that we should feel beholden neither to rescoring an existing piece of film nor finding an original collaboration to fit our specific requirements (an orchestral cue with a duration totaling no more than 3 minutes) after all. Ultimately, he gave us the option of essentially having total freedom on this project, even going so far as to allow us to write our own script — the reverse of our very first scoring assignment (which I detailed way back in this post). I was granted permission to work with a montage of clips selected from the work of Hayao Miyazaki, setting the resulting sequence of flying scenes from several movies to original orchestral music. That the material is a tribute to Miyazaki ties it in with my written dissertation on the music of Princess Mononoke. Everybody wins.

As with almost all of our orchestral projects to date, we were each responsible for our own composition, orchestration, notation and music preparation, Pro Tools session preparation, and conducting. Because this piece outweighed anything the we had done this year in terms of duration, instrumental density, and significance to our studies here at Berklee (to say nothing of the calibre of the musicians and recording studio before us), this project demanded more time, care, and attention to detail in every regard, from taking extra care in preparing a good-quality mockup (in case it was needed for demonstration or reference purposes) to translating my MIDI performances into a legible format. Fortunately for us, we were granted one full week of our intersession break to work solidly on our projects, allowing us the time for switching hats between composer, orchestrator, and copyist (and in so doing, seeing me carry on on such bizarre conversations with myself as, “Was this ‘1-2-off’ or ‘1-2-3-off’?”).

"Looks like 1-2-3-off to me."

“Looks like ‘1-2-3-off’ to me.” Photo: Alex Palmer.

As I may have mentioned in the context of our first Budapest recording in December, if our professors’ call for perfection (emphasis theirs) was to be heeded at any time, it was now. The process of ensuring that everything was perfect (or as perfect as possible, barring minor adjustments) before leaving Valencia culminated in two consecutive all-night sessions of writing, orchestrating, and preparing my score and parts before boarding the flight to London. Even now, all this time later, I still have moments in which I catch myself wondering if I really was aware of what I was doing, what with being effectively on autopilot while vacillating between overwhelming excitement and sheer panic, but I have to trust that I knew what I was doing at the time. I would like to think that I have the perspective to realize that for as much pressure as there was in this situation, I can only imagine how things must be in the “real world” (but I also imagine that we might have more than 18 minutes to record a 2½-minute cue in the aforementioned “real world”). I also now have a deeper appreciation for why media composers may elect to assemble teams of assistants.


After putting the finishing touches on my score and parts as the sun rose, I packed my bags and caught a cab to the airport, where I met my instructors and about a dozen of my excited classmates (some of whom were practically bouncing off the walls) who had opted to allow Berklee to handle the arrangements for travel and accommodations. We enjoyed a relatively uneventful flight to London, during which time we kept each other entertained by showing off our scores and mockups (and in some cases, making final edits). Yes, we were our own in-flight entertainment. I was fighting off intense waves of fatigue in the latter portion of our flight and was just about to enjoy a short nap when my seatmate asked me to give him a demonstration of Sibelius. As I am demonstrably capable of using Sibelius in my sleep (if this year has been any indication), I was happy to oblige, and it perked me up for our descent into London’s Stansted Airport.

We claimed our baggage and boarded our waiting coach for the journey to our hotel in Hampstead, located northwest of downtown London and practically steps away from AIR Studios. As many of us still needed to print our scores and parts (myself included), we had scoured the Internet for a suitable print shop that kept appropriate operating hours in order for us to take care of our printing well in advance of our recording. After having lunch and resting up, a group of us ventured downtown to the King’s Cross-St Pancras area, flash drives in hand, to search for said printer. On our way to the Tube, we spotted a print shop close to our hotel that looked promising, but had already closed for the day. We resolved to consider it as a backup in case we could not have our print orders fulfilled that night. After our transit downtown, we arrived at what was supposedly the correct address, and were disappointed to discover that what we had perceived from their website as a FedEx Kinko’s-style print shop turned out to be an Internet cafe, with perhaps two staff members monitoring as many print/copy machines, and a day’s worth of work ahead of them at 9 o’clock at night. Good thing we found ourselves a backup location to visit the next day.


The next day was, however, incredibly busy. This journey to London was not really designed as a pleasure cruise — in truth, it was a bit of a whirlwind — and those of us who let the school handle our travel arrangements were only in London for the duration of the planned events. With an early start (that was surprisingly easier than early starts in Spain), we headed to our first workshop at Goldcrest Studios.

The front door of Goldcrest Studios.

Here, at Goldcrest Studios’ post-production facility, we had a seminar with sound designer and dubbing engineer Adrian Rhodes about what goes on during the dubbing phase of a film, in which the finished music tracks are mixed with dialogue and sound effects, and what we as film composers are usually expected to deliver in order to make the dubbing engineer’s life easier.

Engineer Adrian Rhodes at the Studio 4 dubbing stage console.

Later in the morning, we wended our way through the streets of London towards the British Music House, home of BASCA and PRS for Music.

Seen en route: a place for people who know nothing.

Our destination: a place for people who know a lot of things.

We met with representatives from both PRS for Music and ASCAP, who explained the role and importance of performing rights organizations for artists and composers.

In the afternoon, we set to take care of our printing. I returned to the print shop near my hotel and placed my order for my scores and parts. Halfway through my order, however, I noticed that something was amiss: certain symbols were misprinting as ☒, or were otherwise not printing at all. Minor panic. I was sure that my score and part files were perfect before my arrival in London (but since my score and parts were generated while sleep deprived, all bets were off). We checked the files, and, sure enough, they were as perfect as I remembered them being — at least, no missing or broken symbols. With the error not having been on my part (in spite of the lack of sleep, ha!), we tried to run the print job from another computer, and it worked perfectly. Crisis averted. It’s a shame that we had to start the entire process again, but all we lost was time (and a few trees).

The Palace of Westminster, as seen from across the River Thames.

After the day of workshops and printing, a group of us headed down to South Bank for an evening of relaxing and taking in a few of the sights. As we had not yet been given our recording schedule, many of us were unsure of just how free we would be the night before our first day in the studio, but I didn’t want to pass up the opportunity. With my scores and parts printed, all I had left to do was finish taping the parts and my personal copy of the score — oh, and practicing. As we sipped our drinks on a balcony high above the Thames, an e-mail came in from Lucio with our schedule for the recording sessions. Holding my breath, bracing for having been assigned the first slot of the next morning… I was anticlimactically scheduled for just past noon on Wednesday. It’s not that I couldn’t have stepped up to the challenge of recording the very next day — remember how I was among the first to record on the Ann Kreis Scoring Stage this year? — but I could at least relax and have a good night’s sleep without the pressure of a session ahead of me.


Good morning, AIR Studios!

Just take a moment and let that image sink in.

That’s what we all did when we arrived. Formerly Lyndhurst Road Congregational Church, the venue was converted into one of the best recording complexes in the world in the early ’90s and has since been used extensively for recording countless film, television, video game, stage, and music productions. If anything could inspire a feeling of standing on the shoulders of giants for us, it was getting to record in the same space as so many composers whose work we admire: Danny Elfman, John Powell, Christophe Beck, Mychael Danna, Trevor Morris, Alberto Iglesias, Murray Gold, James Newton Howard, James Horner, Dario Marianelli, Javier Navarette, Hans Zimmer…

Speaking of Hans, he just so happened to be recording there at the same time. In fact, our booking displaced him from Lyndhurst Hall (the main recording space) to a smaller room for two days. Over the course of our time at AIR, many of us seized the opportunity to speak with him or snap photos. Some were even bold enough to interrupt his lunch. I, however, was not so lucky; my chance to have face time with him was preempted by being ushered back into the control room before my recording on Wednesday. Phooey.

Many of us took the opportunity to play tourist and take as many pictures and videos as possible. I certainly did my share of that as I walked around and admired the majesty of the room, but I also had a practical purpose in taking the time to get a feel for the room. Mentally comparing its dimensions to those of other stages, I wanted to get a sense of what the delay might be like between the podium and the players at the extremities of the hall (and back again, for the sound). With this rough analysis in mind, I knew how I would need to adjust my conducting technique to compensate accordingly for the latency. Tempting as it was, out of respect and reverence for both the space and my fellow composers, I decided to refrain from mounting the podium until the following day. The photos that I took could never do the space justice, but here are a few anyway.

AIR Studios Collage 1

We were then invited to take our seats upstairs in the choir loft (where we saw the sheet music for a certain famous film composer’s latest score still on the music stands), and Lucio opened the proceedings by introducing us to the orchestra and explaining the scope of our Master’s thesis recording project.

What followed was four recording sets, two in the morning, two in the afternoon, of some of the finest work my classmates had done all year. The room sounded amazing, the orchestra was top-notch, and the compositions themselves were brilliant — many of the pieces even sounded extremely convincing as film cues! More than that, however, after our year together, we could hear each other’s compositional voices shining through. Just about everyone looked like they knew what they were doing on the podium, as well — and considering that most of my classmates had no experience with conducting prior to coming to Berklee, that’s saying something. I guess this really is the last shot in the montage, in which everyone looks perfectly badass. Words absolutely fail to describe the magic that we created in AIR Studios, but we all took an enormous sense of pride in one another. More than the dissertation that we still had to write, we considered that this was our Master’s thesis, and our 18 minutes on the podium was our defense.

I spent the evening making final preparations to my score and parts and practicing my conducting against the click while managing my unwieldy, A3-sized score. For the first time all year, I got a decent amount of sleep before a recording session that I was conducting. Such an odd feeling.


Years ago, when I was starting out as a young film composer, my creative partner at the time gleefully envisioned me one day getting to record my film scores on one of the leading scoring stages in London. This trip to London, with the opportunity to record in Lyndhurst Hall at AIR Studios, represented much more for me than merely fulfilling part of my Master’s degree requirements. I’m very proud to say that this was nothing short of a long-standing wish come true.

I was due up in the second half of the morning session, so I spent the first portion up in the gallery, listening to the work of my classmates, but as you might imagine, I was not — could not be — as present as I was the day before, in favour of mentally preparing for my upcoming performance. The orchestra sounded just as good as the previous day, which was encouraging. As the last piece of the first session finished, I sprang into action, joining my sessionmates in distributing our parts throughout the orchestra (yes, on top of everything else, I had to be my own librarian). This took up essentially the entire break. I was up second in my session, so I barely even had time to use the washroom. One of my classmates attempted to intercept me en route to the facilities (I really had to go!), and then led me outside afterwards to show me the reason for accosting me — that is, who was out in the front lot: the big HZ himself.

So, yes, I saw Hans Zimmer.

Maybe next time, I’ll get to talk to him.

Ushered back inside the control room without being able to even introduce myself (thanks, guys…), I listened to the end of the recording before mine, took a deep breath, and strode out into the live room with my baton in my hand and the score under my arm. Exchanging a high-five with the previous student, I mounted the podium and placed the score on the stand. I greeted the orchestra and thanked them for their hard work so far, and again in advance for the hard work I knew that they would put in to my piece. I even let the orchestra in on just what this recording session meant to me, and the concertmaster afforded me a quiet salute with his bow in acknowledgement.

In the booth was the inestimable Jake Jackson as my session engineer (arguably one of the best in the business), assisted by the delightful Fiona Cruickshank. My team of producers was composed of Lucio Godoy, Alfons Conde, and Vanessa Garde. Needless to say, I was in good hands.

Mission Control: Jake Jackson (left) helms the session with Alfons (centre) and Lucio (right) looking rather pensive.

In every aspect of this piece, from the composition process to the recording session, I wanted to recapture the spark that I first felt in September, back when I was on the podium for “The Note.” In every project that we had done in the second semester, I was either in the control room or working exclusively with MIDI. Even the recording with the string section of the Budapest Art Orchestra in March didn’t feel the same. For this project, I got to write something that I could be truly proud of, something that was truly my own, and in addition to functioning as accompaniment to the video, it could be one piece that would serve as a musical summary or bookmark for my Master’s experience here at Berklee. Plus, I now have something that I can use as my own theme song. Heh.

The moment had arrived.

“Eight free to bar 1…”

With the slightest quiver in my baton hand, I counted off the lead-in beats, and with a swoop of my hands, my piece sprang to life. I was initially overwhelmed by the enormity of the reverberations in the room combined with what I was hearing through my headphones, but it surely takes more than that to throw me off. The first take made for a good rehearsal; most things were already in place, thanks to the superb reading skill of the musicians. As the final notes dissipated into the rafters, the production team and I took turns trading suggestions and recommendations for improvement. Another take was followed by more suggestions and a couple of questions from the orchestra. Finally, we reached the third take, which was almost a perfect run. I had decided in advance that by take three, I would step away from my score and conduct by heart.

So, how was the session?


A few stills from the recording videos. Clockwise, from upper left: cueing a harp entry, cueing the piano, emphatically cueing the orchestra (or casting a spell!), and winding up for the big finish. Images courtesy of Jacob Boyd and Xueran Chen.

It was better than a good meal.

One thing that my colleagues noticed about the session was just how natural I looked on the podium — how at home I seemed, how I looked like I belonged. Classmates reported that they were overcome with goosebumps and tears of joy during my recording. The musicians as well seemed to enjoy playing the cue; one of them even called it “exhilarating.” Even Lucio remarked that he thought that I, myself, was flying on the podium, along with the characters in the video.

Most of all, they noticed just how happy I looked. To be fair, I wrote happy-sounding music and was trying to convey the emotion to the orchestra in order to achieve the intended effects, as I always do. All the same, it’s true that I was honestly and sincerely enjoying myself. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it was one of the most satisfying moments — if not the most satisfying moment — of my life (so far). Without hyperbole, I can say that I had been practically waiting my whole life for something like this. Here’s proof:

The more things change...

The more things change…

Join me on the podium for the recording session video that I put together:

…and here is the recording by itself:

That part around 1:40 (2:15 in the video) still gives me goosebumps. (Always did, too. Don’t believe me? Go back and watch!)

I am unspeakably grateful to Berklee and all those who made this experience possible. Click here to view the full list of personnel on this recording.

I loved being at AIR Studios — I didn’t want to leave! — so I lingered on site for as long as I could, until it was time for me to return to my hotel to change for our victory dinner, which was conveniently held just down the road from AIR. I happily joined my classmates and instructors, all of us swelling with pride, in an evening of celebration to mark the end of a successful two days of recordings.

I went to bed incredibly satisfied, already looking forward to my next time on that podium.

Mission complete. Photo: Alex Palmer.


The Spitfire Spitfire.

There was not too much rest for the wicked, though, as our final full day in London was marked with a packed program of workshops, seminars, and other events. With our heads still swimming from the excitement of the previous two days, we found Thursday, to be honest, something of a blur. After a too-early wakeup, our first stop was Spitfire Audio, a well-respected sample library development company. We met with composer and developer Christian Henson, who enthusiastically indulged us with tales of his experiences, showed us his studio and some of his latest work, and gave us a special demonstration of his Euphone (which is now available as a sample library from Spitfire Audio).

Does this look like Shrek to you?

Next, we were whisked off to Air-Edel Studios, a company responsible primarily for music production and supervision for film, television, and video games, managed by Maggie Rodford, who visited us in Valencia in the first semester. After having lunch in their live recording room (gasp!), we had the pleasure of meeting Academy Award-winning composer Dario Marianelli (Atonement, Anna Karenina), who shared his advice and his stories with us (including about his interest in biology). Above all, he told us, “If you do your work conscientiously and put yourself into everything you do, it’ll be okay.” Getting to meet him was of particular interest for me because one of the scenes that I rescored in the Berklee Online film music composition course that I took last year was from his Atonement.

Meeting Academy Award-winning composer Dario Marianelli.

After lunch, the staff at Air-Edel conducted a series of workshops for us, which included sessions on music editing and temp scores, mixing in surround sound, and contracts and entertainment law.

In the evening, we were invited to a special Berklee event at a pub downtown, at which staff and students mingled with alumni who are based in the London area. As usual, the Valencian contingent vastly outnumbered everybody else (to the point where it seemed like it was mostly a pub night just for us). As the party wound down (complete with it taking us an inordinate amount of time to get from the door to actually on our way, as was our custom), I parted company from my Berklee Valencia classmates to join someone I knew from one of my Berklee Online courses for dinner, diverging from the group to ride the Tube northwest to Edgware. It was lovely to meet her in person, and it is a testament to the global community that Berklee is fostering through its various educational platforms and outlets.


There’s always time to make one more memory.

You know what they say about all good things. Coupled with the fact that the start of our third semester was on the other side of the weekend, there was a palpable bittersweet twinge to our departure. In the little time between checkout and the scheduled departure of our airport coach to Gatwick, the group of us who stayed at the hotel in Hampstead decided to nip off to AIR to take a few last photos; I knew that I would regret it if we did not take this one last opportunity. We were greeted by the open arms (and massive beard) of Glen, their security/concierge who was among the team of staff who took such good care of us during our recording days. We were happily welcomed back to AIR, and he gladly obliged us in taking a few photos.

We bid a final farewell to Glen, his beard, and AIR Studios, and boarded our coach for a too-long (read: 2½ hours) ride to Gatwick as rainclouds rolled in overhead. Our departure from London felt as somber as the skies above, and strangely, our return to Valencia felt somehow like a warm homecoming to me.

Really, who could argue with being greeted like this?

After our return to Valencia, we set to work editing, mixing, and mastering our recordings. For my part, I must say that even on the raw recording, the room sounded breathtakingly beautiful, and relatively little acoustic makeup was required in post-production. Now we know one reason why so many top-level productions choose AIR as a recording venue.

So ended our trip to London, our second semester, and a major portion of our Culminating Experience project. With barely a break, we prepared ourselves for our third and final semester of the Master’s program, a seven-week sprint to the finish. In this time, many of us took one final elective while working on our London mixes, our dissertations, and any other projects that necessitated (or encouraged) the use of Berklee’s facilities one last time before graduating.

This trip to London was a transformative experience for me. I had accomplished one last successful recording session of my Berklee Valencia career, I had fulfilled a lifelong dream, and, interestingly enough, it removed all doubt from my mind as to the quality of the material that I had produced in the second semester. Through the winter and into the spring, I had expected to feel better about the work that I was producing. Indeed, given my particular feelings about the quality of my second-semester output on the eve of my London trip, one might assume that the recording at AIR would surely eclipse everything written prior, to the extent that I would want to bury those pieces and never allow them to be released. To my own surprise, however, I found that my success in London made the work that I had done in the preceding few months appreciate in value (to me, at least). It was not until after I returned from London in triumph that I was able to experience my compositions anew, this time listening from a position and perspective of strength, accomplishment, and enjoyment. Most of all, it gave me the hope that maybe, just maybe, I could have a shot at doing this media composition thing professionally.

Until next time!

I need more time

Written on the train to Córdoba.

I need more time.

I felt that sentiment quite often over this past year, though perhaps I didn’t admit it or articulate it half as much as I thought it.

I always felt that I needed more time. Just “one more.”

One more minute to catch the bus.

One more hour to prep a session.

One more day to finish a mix.

One more week on an assignment.

One more month of vacation.

One more year with my classmates.

My friends.

It’s been slowly hitting me – it really hit me the morning after graduation. Much like a hangover, it passes with time, but it still hits me from time to time. When it does, I feel it deeply.

I feel what I’ll be missing – what I have been missing – since I took that walk across that stage. We’ve been losing them one by one, or a few at a time. They are gone but not forgotten. We know that they’re just an e-mail or a Facebook message away, but they’re still not here. Those who remain behind have taken to calling each other “the survivors.” I, too, am soon to join my friends in their not-here-ness, and then the true test begins.

I’m going to write a variation on a theme by my schoolmate and fellow Torontonian, Jelena Ćirić, for just a moment. The questions that we have each asked ourselves and each other over the past twelve months have ranged from “What do I pack?” to “What is my reason for being here?” to “How do I live without Berklee?” and “What will I miss most about my time here?” – or, for my fellow SFTV majors, “How many hours will pass before I start missing the labs?”

It’s much more than the facilities, or the tech – I’ll miss the Palau and the labs, for sure – but it’s the community that we built in the span of one intense year – a mere ten months, in earnest. The camaraderie, the friendship, the love – the family. Brian was right: it’s a year, but it’s only a year. The flame we kindled together was, as Alfons would say, short but intense (and, as I would say, kind of like me 😉 ). We promise each other that we will stay in touch, but it won’t be the same.

It can’t be.

There will never be a substitute for sitting at our favourite tables in the cantina, or working feverishly in the labs – our trenches – alongside our fellow creative minds, or having “just one” drink at Las Artes and wondering why it was suddenly 4. There will never be a substitute for seeing everyone’s faces – whether smiling or stressed – every day, or always having a willing ear to hear your latest track, or knowing that the person beside you is going through the same thing as you, or happening by our favourite hangout spots and inevitably meeting at least two or three others there from school. To say that what we had here was special would be an understatement.

At the same time as I tell one classmate, “See you in August,” I give a more ponderous farewell to another, not knowing when we’ll meet again. We tell each other to look us up if we’re ever in any given city – Los Angeles, New York, London, or wherever else – and I cross my fingers that my network, my Berklee family, will be able to receive me when I call.

…but I still miss them. I still feel the loss. What I may have missed through the duration of my undergrad studies I more than made up for in the intensity of this program.

I know that they will always be with me.

…but I still wish that I could have one more — just “one more” — year with them.

School’s Out!

Put your hands together for the Master’s Class of 2014. Photo courtesy of Berklee College of Music.

Welcome back to the podium, faithful readers! True to form, I blink my eyes, and another month passes.

No, this is still not the long-awaited London update. I promise that I will upload that soon. For now, however, I want to tie up a few loose ends about where I have been and what I have been doing these past few weeks (in case you have not been following my Twitter feed). Just to keep things interesting, let’s do this in reverse-chronological order.

As you can see, the countdown to graduation has run out, and I am now a bona fide Master of Music in Scoring for Film, Television, and Video Games (is “Maestro” the correct appellation now?). I will take the time to properly revisit my thoughts and reflections after I have had some more time to process this, but I was proud to take my place amidst my colleagues as we walked across the stage of the Teatro Martin i Soler — one of the first places that we visited on our tour of the Palau complex during Fall Orientation in September — and bid farewell to the school that has fostered and nurtured our creative and academic endeavours over these past ten months. If you happened to have missed the 2014 Berklee Valencia Commencement Ceremony, you can watch it right here, on the podium!

Two nights before, I was privileged to participate in the Berklee Valencia Commencement Concert in two acts. The first was a medley combining a traditional Indian song, aptly entitled “Kanada,” with the jazz standard, “Afro Blue,” and the Bill Withers spiritual-like soul tune, “Grandma’s Hands,” in an arrangement written by yours truly for voice, veena, violin, clarinet, guitar, tabla, double bass, piano, and vocal percussion. My ensemble was comprised of members of the Berklee Valencia community of all stripes, from a post-graduate fellow to an undergrad studying abroad, from a Latin GRAMMY® winner to little ol’ me. In the second, I took to the stage with the Berklee Valencia Brazilian Batucada, reprising a performance that we recorded in the second semester with Brazilian singer-songwriter Luiza Sales.

You may watch the show here, right on the podium:

In addition to practicing for the performance, I spent the preceding week finishing up a couple of projects, including my contribution to the soundtrack of Olly: Dusty Memories, a video game project by students from ESAT, here in Valencia. As I mentioned in March, I was a member of a group of composers from Berklee Valencia who joined in collaboration with a team of ESAT design and development students to produce a “vertical slice of gameplay” (essentially, an excerpt). I completed one track at the end of the second semester in May, and I was asked to provide an additional piece of music in the third semester. I am told that the team produced a playable demo in time for DreamHack, and that they intend to continue working on the game.

Earlier in the week, the video that I scored for my London recording was screened as part of a program entitled, “Composers of the Future,” a collection of our final projects, at L’Hemisfèric (Valencia’s planetarium). It was an honour to have been chosen to have my work publicly represent the Scoring for Film, Television, and Video Games program here at Berklee in Valencia, and a pleasure to hear the work of my colleagues fully realized, synchronized to picture. If getting to be present for the recording sessions at AIR Studios for these projects was phenomenal in and of itself, then hearing the final product was truly a satisfying conclusion.

On July 1, I successfully presented my Master’s dissertation, “San, Synth, and Symphony: The Music of Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke“. I have admired this film since I first saw it in 1999, and have, of course, listened to the soundtrack countless times, but never truly examined it before with a critical lens (which led me to watch the film and listen to the soundtrack probably more times in the past six months than in the previous 14 years). I combined my experience with film studies and musical analysis to conduct an in-depth study of the various auditory cues, clues, and codes that are included in the soundtrack, particularly through the use of orchestration/instrumentation and recurring themes, to create narrative meaning for the audience and to fulfill the composer’s role as a musical storyteller. (Yes, it goes on like that for about 12,000 words.) It will become part of the Berklee College of Music archives, but if you would like to see an unofficial copy, please leave me a comment, send me a message, or otherwise get my attention.

The night before my Master’s thesis presentation (never a dull moment, folks!), I successfully interviewed with Sparks and Shadows, founded by composer Bear McCreary (Battlestar Galactica, The Walking Dead, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Black Sails), to join their team this fall as a studio intern. I’m very excited for the opportunity to participate in the studio of an active composer in the middle of an active production (or three). I consider this an important component in my education — getting to put what I’ve learned about the industry, through both education and experience, into practice — into an experience that truly marks the culmination of my Master’s adventure. I look forward to working hard and learning a lot — and, as circumstances permit, blogging about my experiences!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, Federmusik is going to Hollywood.

Music Round-Up

In the latter half of June, I released a series of pieces that I composed in the second semester. I followed the release of The House on the Hill and El Perseguidor Teaser Trailer, one track for each Alfons and Lucio, with another such pairing. “No One Alive Left in Jennytown” is a rescore of a sequence from Home Delivery, an animated adaptation of the Stephen King short story. As I mentioned in March, this one was written as Fallas was bursting around me, and was recorded with members of the string section of the Budapest Art Orchestra (with sampled brass, percussion, and theremin mixed in), conducted again by Peter Pejtsik. The interesting challenge for this project was that with two days’ notice, we were informed that our delivery deadline was pushed forward by 18 hours. Not only did we have to create something of quality under time pressure, but we had to do so while our city was (festively) exploding. I love fireworks and rock concerts as much as the next person, but not when I’m on a deadline. Turning around two minutes of orchestral music within two days under these particular circumstances was quite the trial for us (though admittedly paling in comparison next to such composers as Shostakovich who composed even greater works during periods of actual civil unrest). After editing and mixing, here is what I came up with:

Here is the music by itself:

Next, as I mentioned in my April blog post, I was back in the producer’s chair to record a short cool/action cue, rescoring a scene from Go for Sisters, with its composer, Mason Daring, as my co-producer. For this project, I was very pleased to be working again with my fellow students on the other side of the glass, recording Master’s students Sergio Martinez (percussion) and fellow Canuck Tyler Sasso (guitar), along with undergrad Max Ridley (bass) on this track. Mason is a very experienced producer, and I was glad to have him on my wing for this sortie. I found him the perfect balance of gentle and direct, and often spoke for me to the musicians during the session. He was also not afraid to give his suggestions, often knowing just the right ingredient to make the track really shine (especially with regards to my guitar parts — a topic that I am now better versed in, thanks to this cue). At the same time as Mason seemed to take control during the session, he was often going to bat for me, encouraging the musicians with such lines as, “It’s a nice part. David deserves this to be on.” Much appreciated, Mason!

Mason Daring (centre) coaches the musicians through the chart.

Similar to my recording for El Perseguidor, the musicians in this session were immensely talented, but not classically trained. They each approached me in the days leading up to the session to warn me that their sight-reading abilities may not be up to par. In response, I made sure to build extra time into my creative process in order to provide each of them with mockup recordings of their respective parts, as well as the full mockup for the cue, along with copies of their parts, in advance of the recording session. They seemed to enjoy the cue and the recording session. Here is my interpretation of the scene:

Here is the music by itself:

Right after Spring Break, I wrote what was intended to be the main titles of a hypothetical television series. For this assignment, we were told that the piece had to be 1 minute long, be entirely MIDI, and conform to the genre of fantasy, sci-fi, or family comedy. I chose to write something in the epic historical fantasy adventure vein, drawing on my past experience with high fantasy storytelling and affinity for things long ago and far away. Fasten your cloak and swordbelt and press play:

Would you watch this series? Tell me in the comments!

I capped off the musical countdown with what I called the “Thesis Edition,” in which I released my London recording. I’ll save posting that here for the London update.

What’s Next?

While all of us fresh graduates are currently pondering that question, mostly in an esoteric sense, I am enjoying some well-deserved and much-needed downtime and can give more of a literal answer. After spending a few days in Barcelona last week actually seeing the city (and not standing in line outside the convention centre), I am off to Córdoba for the end of the Festival Internacional de Música de Cine, Provincia de Córdoba (FIMCC). After that, I plan to spend a couple days in Sevilla, then make my way back to Valencia via Madrid and Toledo.

Following my return to Valencia, I will begin closing out my affairs here in preparation for my return to North America.

Expect upcoming blog posts in the near future about London and reflections on graduation.

¡Hasta luego!

Countdown to Graduation

Greetings, faithful readers! No, this isn’t the long-awaited London update just yet.

First, a couple of housekeeping notes about some new features here at the podium. You may have already observed that I am also counting down to graduation with a handy timer over on the right sidebar. As well, how about you hover your mouse over the “Composer” tab in the upper-right corner?

Yeah, just like that.

You should see a menu appear with “Audio” and “Video.” Check them out!

Second, as I mentioned in my last post, I am marking the countdown to graduation by releasing selected works from the second semester. My current plan is to issue two releases per week for 2-3 weeks, so please stay tuned to my SoundCloud for the latest Federmusik.

Here are this week’s pieces, both of which were written in February.

No-Do – The House on the Hill

This is a re-score of a scene from No-Do (“News and Docs”/”The Beckoning”), written in early February for my Dramatic Orchestration course, focusing on creating motion using only the string family of the orchestra. The music for this film was originally composed by Alfons Conde, my Dramatic Orchestration instructor. Here is the music by itself:

El Perseguidor

At the end of the month, I was in the studio as a producer to direct two students, MT Aditya Srinivasan, currently completing his Master’s in Contemporary Performance, and Ilias Papantoniou, an ERASMUS exchange student from Greece who was interning at Berklee. Ilias has since been accepted to pursue his Master’s with a major in performance here at Berklee in Valencia next year. This piece was a rescore of the teaser trailer for an aborted television series, El Perseguidor (“The Chaser”), which was in development in the 1990s by Argentinian director Ernesto Kullock. Two more Berklee film scoring students assisted all of us on this project by redoing the voiceover and sound effect tracks. Kudos to Niko and Lawrence for their hard work (and thanks for providing us with in-joke fodder that will never get old).

Here is the trailer:

Here is the music by itself:

This recording differed from all of the others in many ways: we were instructed specifically not to use orchestral instruments in our synth backing track, we were producing our own recording session (our only previous experience with that, in this context, was our first Budapest recording, and even then, we were working with production teams both here and in Budapest), and, primarily, not only were we working with musicians who were our peers and not contracted professionals, we were working with musicians who were not trained in the Western classical tradition. Adapting our methods of writing and working with musicians who were not born and bred in the orchestra was one of the challenges of this session. I was very fortunate to have Lucio there as my co-producer; even though he actually only needed to step in and assist me at the very end of the session, his presence as a guide and mentor was very comforting. Later, Lucio remarked that he was surprised at how seriously the percussionists took my session. Perhaps my reputation precedes me.

The gentlemen in action.

Through this semester and its multiple opportunities to produce my own work, I gained an appreciation for the utility to be one’s own producer. However, I found that it was much easier for me to produce (or co-produce) the work of my peers, rather than performing that role for myself. All things being equal, I still prefer to be on the podium, with the musicians in front of me and the click in my ear. Even as a producer, in this session, I managed the opportunity to cue the musicians in at key points in the recording, albeit from the other side of the glass. Once a conductor, always a conductor, I suppose.

Stay tuned through the rest of this month for more music!

¡Hasta luego!

Destination: Xàtiva

The flag of Xàtiva.

…in which David comes up for air amidst working on his Master’s thesis.

¡Ha pasado mucho tiempo!

It has been a long time, hasn’t it? Since I last posted, I finished my second semester coursework, decided on a thesis-level composition project, and recorded alongside my classmates at AIR Studios, which involved me conducting a 54-piece orchestra comprised of some of the best freelance musicians in London. We have just finished our third week of the final semester of the Master’s degree, which sees me working on a written dissertation analyzing the music of Princess Mononoke while taking a course on how to use Ableton Live.

That’s the short version of where I’ve been these past several weeks, anyway.

Before I release the long-awaited London update, however, I promised that I would share pictures from my excursion to Xàtiva in April. Lamenting not having taken many opportunities since coming to Spain to leave the city of Valencia, I was really feeling my wanderlust and love of history overtaking me. In lieu of making a more significant trip during Spring Break, I opted to spend an afternoon in the ancient castle town of Xàtiva, a short train ride away from Valencia. In addition to Xàtiva being famous for its hilltop castle, it is renowned for being the birthplace of Roderic Llançol i de Borja, also known as Rodrigo Borgia, who would become Pope Alexander VI (the subject of The Borgias).

The man himself.

The hike up from the town towards the castle offers some beautiful views in both directions:

Looking up at the castle from halfway up the hill.

The view down towards the town from halfway up the hill prominently features the Iglesia Colegio, also known as “La Seu.”

Xàtiva Castle (el Castell de Xàtiva) itself, having been built and rebuilt over the course of over a thousand years, is actually comprised of two keeps (castells), which still retains great portions of its Iberian and Moorish-Roman architecture, found in its lower (Menor) and upper (Major) castles, respectively.

The view of the Castell Menor, across the ridge from the Castell Major.

The view of the Castell Major, across the ridge from the Castell Menor.

Now more of a tourist attraction than a military fortification, the castle features exhibits on the Borja family, the history and construction of the castle, and castle life during periods of war and peace, featuring examples of arms, armour, artifacts, musical instruments, and more, illustrating — among other things — the dichotomy and conflict between Moors and Christians that shaped the Valencian region over a period of centuries.

Plus, what adventure would be complete without a little dungeon crawl?

All in all, my jaunt to Xàtiva was a welcome change of scenery, and getting my castle on may have given me a little inspiration for the next piece that I wrote. Stay tuned, faithful readers, for more music and the long-awaited update about my trip to London and my recording at AIR Studios. I will be releasing a selection of works written during the second semester, which, as I mentioned previously, shifted the balance of composition towards electronic production, synth scoring, and greater use of MIDI. Check back here — and specifically, under the Composer tab — starting this coming Monday, June 16, for the Countdown to Graduation – Second Semester Collection.

Xàtiva, as seen from the Castell Menor.

From Fallas to Spring Break

Another month has gone by, which means that it’s time for another update!

When last we left off, I was dodging petardos and deafeningly-loud explosions, chomping churros and buñuelos, and vainly attempting to work during the raucous merriment of Fallas. Berklee gave us a few days off in the spirit of, “If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.” If there are two things that Valencia takes very seriously, they are brass bands and fireworks. Las Fallas provides the perfect opportunity for these two to intersect, and the grand finale of the holiday, La Cremà, is no exception. Here are a few photos and videos from the final days of the celebration, but these images cannot do justice to the spectacle that is Las Fallas.

The incredibly tall falla at Plaza de la Reina.

A massive Greek god-themed falla.


You bet we came back to watch this one burn.

Almost all of the streets in town were bedecked with some form of lighting for decoration, often with the name of the casal fallar (essentially, a community Fallas committee), sometimes indicating corporate sponsorship. This is similar to how a Business Improvement Area back home would decorate a street with lights for a holiday. As with all things, there is a minimum and a maximum, and while certain streets were more on the minimal side, others…

This isn’t a falla; this is a street.

…went for the gusto. This one even hosted nightly concerts and light shows.

La Rueda, a Ferris wheel assembled for Fallas.

There was even a Ferris wheel.

In the spirit of “the bigger, the better,” a Ferris wheel was erected alongside the Turia, not too far from where the nightly fireworks were being set off, giving those with perfect timing (including yours truly) a view of the pyrotechnics from the air.

The largest of the nightly fireworks displays was reserved for La Nit del Foc (The Night of Fire), the penultimate night of Las Fallas, which went a little something like this (VOLUME WARNING):

The degree of nightly antics and partying also increased proportionately:

Why, yes, that is a smouldering payphone.

Throughout the holiday, Valencianos could be seen about town wearing the traditional garb of the fallero or fallera.

Valencianos clad in traditional dress parade through Plaza de la Reina.

Never missing an opportunity to dress up, even I got into the act:

El fallero canadiense.

All of this led up to La Cremà, the final night of Las Fallas. All of the fallas in the city are fitted with fireworks, drenched in kerosene, and set alight, like so:

Each falla is given a proper send-off, with Roman candle salutes…

Remember everything they taught you about fireworks safety? Yeah, me neither.

…before igniting a detonation cord, which triggers a chain of explosions…

Starting with this one.

…which sets off the fireworks that were embedded inside the falla.

Told you we came back.

Valiant firefighters keep the nearby buildings doused with water to prevent them from inadvertently catching fire…

Yes, his job is to not put out the fire.

…as the falla belches gouts of flame and black smoke.

See? Smoking is bad for your health.

To be completely honest, for all of the pomp, explosions, and buildup, I was surprised at how subdued La Cremà was, especially compared to La Nit del Foc the night before. I was given to understand that La Cremà would transition from the burning of the fallas to an all-night dance party, continuing the trend of the previous several nights. Instead, the streets grew bare as the last of the fallas turned to ash, and the denizens of Valencia, rather anticlimactically, went to bed.

Life returned to normal the next day. In fact, were it not for a few barriers still on the roads, one would not be able to guess that Las Fallas had ever happened. Much like waking from a dream, we were all quite groggy the next morning. After all:

It has to be said.

Perfect day for meeting a dozen student directors from Barcelona, no?

As I mentioned in my previous post, a dozen students from ESCAC in Barcelona visited us at Berklee for a full day of networking. The day was divided into them speaking about their projects — many still in the conceptual phases — and us playing our showreels for them. As we effectively outnumbered them three to one, and as most of us showed the same material, I can only imagine how overwhelming it must have been for them. Still, I was pleasantly surprised at the visual quality that is now being produced by student filmmakers (much like the audio quality that can be produced by student composers, I imagine).

A week after Fallas ended, we concluded our study of Wwise in our Video Game Scoring course, and carried out a sample library recording session for Dramatic Electronic Composition. In preparation for the sampling session, we were visited by Eduardo Tarilonte, a prolific and accomplished virtual instrument designer. About a week and a half later, we were visited by Mason Daring, who brought along a clip from his latest film, Go for Sisters, for us to rescore for guitar, double bass, percussion, and synths. This cue is currently in the mixing process. Again, I was in the producer’s chair, but this time with Mason himself as my co-producer.

Spring Break has come and gone, all too fleetingly. Some of us chose to take it as an opportunity to put in a focused effort on our plethora of projects, while others decided to travel or otherwise put their feet up for a week. I tried to strike a balance between relaxing and working — I even managed a day trip to the castle town of Xàtiva (pictures will be posted later) — and while I may not have been as productive as I potentially could have been, I was thankful for the break.

Coming up in the imminent future, I will be writing a minute-long main title sequence for an imaginary television program and mixing it in the control room of the scoring stage for Advanced Scoring, designing a level with the Unreal Development Kit for Video Game Scoring, continuing work on my team collaboration with ESAT students, and turning 30.

¡Hasta luego!

Have Your Short Film Scored & Recorded Live in London! — DEADLINE EXTENDED!

Would you like your latest short to be set to an original orchestral soundtrack recorded by members of the London Symphony Orchestra at the world-famous AIR Studios?

I am a Master’s student at Berklee College of Music, currently pursuing my M.M. in Scoring for Film, Television, and Video Games. For my graduate thesis, I am seeking to collaborate with a filmmaker on an original short film that needs the professional finishing touch that only a live orchestral score can offer.

Whether your film is currently in production or post-production, or if you had a temp soundtrack on a previous project that you’d like to replace with one composed just for you, then this is your chance to work with a graduate student from one of the best music schools of its kind in the world. Best of all, because of the special nature of this project, there will be no cost to you for any recording, production, or creative fees.

What’s the catch?

1. For this recording project, I can only record a total of 3 minutes of orchestral music. If your film is longer than 3 minutes, or requires more than 3 minutes of music, then the score will have to be completed with samples/virtual instruments, a smaller recorded ensemble, or both.

2. I will be in London for this recording project from May 18-23, 2014. For best results, you can expect final delivery of the soundtrack sometime in June.

I will provide you with a good-quality demo of your score (created using samples) for your approval in May, before we head to the recording stage – and yes, just to get this out of the way up front, it will sound better live. 😉

What’s your pitch?

1. Pitch me your film! Tell me the plot, genre, duration, whether it is live-action or animation, etc.

2. Tell me why your film needs a 50-piece professional studio orchestra to record its soundtrack.

3. Anticipated date of picture lock (as applicable).

4. Your film’s delivery deadline.

5. Your plans for the film (festivals, distribution, etc.).

If you would like to have something in common with some of the biggest names in Hollywood – a professionally-produced score recorded at AIR Studios in London – please contact me with your proposal before April 15, 2014.


The Torres de Serrano illuminated in Valencian colours.

Looks like I’ve survived the first half of the second semester and made it to Fallas, a city-wide festival in which we welcome spring by fighting off winter with fireworks. The eponymous fallas (or falles), which are massive, elaborate statues of wood, mâché, and foam — alternately beautiful, comical, political, and crude — are erected in each neighbourhood, destined to be put to the torch in La Cremà (“The Burning”), a massive conflagration celebration on the night of March 19. Stay tuned for a future post with more pictures and stories.

Did I mention there were fireworks?

The Fallas season officially commenced on February 23 with La Crida, a ceremony at the Torres de Serrano where the Fallera Mayor (essentially, the Queen of Fallas) issues a call to all, far and wide, to join Valencia in celebrating Las Fallas. This was promptly followed by the first of many fireworks displays, as the overture to a cacophonous 3½-week period of nigh-endless explosions, concerts, and parties, including daily gatherings in the Plaza del Ayuntamiento (City Hall Square) for volleys of gunpowder explosions, called Mascletàs, like this one here (VOLUME WARNING!):

…all of which make the perfect backdrop for trying to work on projects and assignments, naturally.

We are currently in the throes of the most intense period of Las Fallas, which translates to a small break in the Berklee world; I reckon that we wouldn’t be able to concentrate, anyway, what with all this going on:

The Earth-shattering kaboom is in Valencia, Marvin.

There is still plenty to do, but we are grateful for a few days without classes. The semester has seen more bursts of intensity concentrated between relative lulls in activity, which accounts for the general lack of activity here. As always, my Twitter feed contains a more immediate glimpse of my world. There is much to catch up on, so let’s begin with the course round-up!

Advanced Scoring interspersed composing a mostly-electronic teaser trailer for the aborted television series, El Perseguidor (“The Chaser”), with surprise visits from George S. Clinton and Alison Plante, both from Berklee’s Boston campus, and Robert Kraft, whose visit turned into a de facto midterm as we presented group mock-pitches in a simulated bid to score Black Swan. We have also been privileged with seeing some workprint footage from a couple of Lucio’s latest films, La Vida Inesperada and Pancho, El Perro Millonario, both of which happen to be on the program at the upcoming Málaga Film Festival.

Recording/Mix Techniques has, thus far, covered microphone techniques for various instruments and the use of effects plug-ins for improving our mixes. We have been recording ourselves for this purpose, (violin, guitar, and trombone), along with some help from a couple students outside of our class (to round out a ska band!) — and I have been getting to pitch in as a Pro Tools operator. Pretty much, it’s exactly what it says on the tin.

Dramatic Electronic Composition has seen me create a slew of virtual instruments in both Kontakt and Omnisphere, use other students’ patches in electronic compositions, and score a scene that was originally without music from The Bourne Identity. Coming up after Fallas, we will undertake the building of our own sample libraries through sessions of recording other students (and hopefully, once Fallas is out of our system, nothing that we build will catch fire).

Advanced Video Game Scoring continues to introduce us to different types of audio programming and logic, first with building a simulation representing different musical behaviours within a hypothetical video game in Max/MSP, and currently with learning about the architecture of audio implementation in Wwise. I am also currently among a team of composers working on a collaboration with students from Escuela Superior Arte y Tecnología (ESAT), here in Valencia, which will be delivered by the end of the semester.

Advanced Dramatic Orchestration has continued in its vein of a more academic study of orchestration. Classes have included discussions on orchestral textures and orchestration techniques, in which we analyzed scenes which were evidently scored in the spirit of certain pieces of classical music (which has led to some interesting games of Name That Tune). We also had our second session with members of the Budapest Art Orchestra, recording their string section for a rescore of a sequence from Home Delivery, the music of which was originally composed by Alfons. In addition to producing my own session, I stepped in to assist a few students with theirs. On top of that, Alfons has had us prepare a composition demo showreel, complete with video (click here for the music-only version), in advance of an upcoming visit from student filmmakers from Escola Superior de Cinema i Audiovisuals de Catalunya (ESCAC) in Barcelona.

Looking ahead, we are going to be quite busy as we hurtle through the second half of the semester, with the ESAT video game collaboration and other assignments on top of working on our thesis projects. Stay tuned for another post about the biggest recording project we will undertake this year.

…but for now, Fallas!

¡Hasta luego!