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.

Sunday

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.

Monday

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.

Tuesday

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.

Wednesday

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?

AIRStudiosCollage2

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.

Thursday

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.

Friday

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!

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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.

BLEHHH!!!

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.