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I live in Brooklyn, NY and I love it here.  I came here for my career in 2009 and haven't once looked back. 

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Mickey-mousing, ballerinas and the love of a challenge...

The fan came out of the closet today.  No, it didn't tell me it was gay.  That's just how muggy it's getting.  It's not the heat but the humidity that, for me, heralds the arrival of summer…or in this case, foreshadows because obviously we're a few weeks off here.  Either way, it's starting to get uncomfortable and every time I run into one of my neighbors who lives up here on the top floor of our building, he warns me about how hot it gets up here during the summer since we're right under the roof.  "You'd better get yourselves an A/C!"  I keep telling him we have one.  For now the fan is helping fight the heat and humidity just fine.  It's actually quite cool in here and it happens to fit right on my window sill…granted it's the window to the fire escape but still, it's a perfect spot.  Last apartment I was in I had to stack it precariously on my guitar amp and then it barely reached above the level of the bed.

But anyway, I'm not here to talk about that tonight.  That was just to set the scene.  I've still got a lot of work cut out for me film score-wise and I haven't even started on the music for the next scene of "The Life." Now there's talk of extending the first one for submission to Sundance so I may have to crack open that file again and lengthen the music cue for the credits.  Shouldn't be too hard.  Meanwhile, the ballerina scene, Mohammad and I had a chat about it on the phone the other night and shared some ideas.  Luckily, we were right on par with where the music should go.  He was thinking exactly the same thing I had already thought, which is always good.  Plus, we were both in agreement about the need to tie the two scenes together musically as well.  Using elements from the first scene will be easy and may feel like cheating but it makes sense.  Continuity is a great thing.

Tomorrow, I'm also working on adding in a cello part to the score for the sci fi short.  A real one.  Recorded by my good friend Lacy and dropbox-ed up from Philly just today.  I'm just too tired to start on anything tonight though I am looking it over right now as we speak.  Just spent the earlier part of the day polishing off some changes to the last cue (the one that needs the cello part).  The first two are basically done and the third is the final cue of the film, the climax scene as it were.  The third is the longest because it encompasses two distinct scenes and one that sort of has the feel of a montage.  It's also two fight scenes, a chase and an escape all rolled into one.  It's been the most challenging, needless to say.

I think the bulk of the work of this film has been this cue to be honest.  The first two, once I had the sound palette chosen, fell together in a matter of days and then it was just minor tweaks to the placement of hit points, etc.  But this last cue has to hit pretty hard and also has a lot of nuanced things in it.  In other words there's a lot going on and the music ends up being in the foreground a lot.   But I do love a challenge.   The mechanics of a scene like this are mind boggling and scoring it feels a lot like blocking it must have felt.  Tedious.  I don't really want to say much else about the scene itself until the movie is actually done but suffice it to say, I'm not necessarily mickey-mousing (in other words, matching music precisely to the action) but there are a fair few things that do need to line up and several things happen that the music must not so much announce but support.  I was kind of talking about this before when I was mentioning how everything needed to build at the same rate as the action of the scene.  But additionally, exact hit points come into play and one has to alter the music in one of many ways, either taking out elements, bringing elements back in, striking a certain chord, changing the chord progression, varying the rhythm, accenting certain notes.  But also you can't do so in a way that's contrived.  Because that would be mickey-mousing.  Seriously, look that up, it's an actual industry term.

Anyway, enough about mickey-mousing.  I'm going to need to sleep so I'll be of some use creatively tomorrow.  I must always write these entries before sleep.  I'm always going on about sleep.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Many projects...

Pushing forward on the film score, parsing out tiny problems in the mix and zeroing in on a few final tweaks tonight.  I may be recording a cello part to replace the sampled one in a few days time.  A good friend will be helping with that.  And with any luck I'll be doing a final mix in the next week or so.  I also still have to compose something for the end credits.  Luckily I have a lot of material to draw from for that.

I just met with Mohammad today too about music for the next scene from "The Life."  We're thinking of either composing a tune for this windup ballerina doll that figures prominently in the scene, or at the very least sampling the sounds it makes and weaving that into the score for the scene.  He came by today and brought the ballerina doll and we recorded a bit of it.  Tomorrow I'll work on sampling the sounds and seeing what I can come up with against the music.  I have a few melodies written but we came to the thought that it might be better to use the melody the doll already plays when you wind it and just use the samples as a part of the palette of sounds for the score.  I won't say much more about the plot of the scene so as not to spoil, but I will say that I saw some of the edited footage from the shoot last Sunday and man, it looks good!

Psyched about that.  And psyched to have so much work coming in these days and from a diverse array of projects.  I've still got to finish the music for Steve's reel and when things come to a close after all this I have some other stuff lined up.  My own compositions.  Time to start composing again.  And now that I've gotten my brain wrapped around the use of my MIDI pedal and Mobius, I'm going to be working with loops and potentially starting a band, finally.  Just a little teaser there.

Meanwhile, been thinking about this lately, how Earth has an asteroid following it an almost 1:1 orbital resonance.  Mainly because I was watching "Another Earth" tonight and I got thinking about the physics of what would happen if another Earth actually did appear in our sky as close as the other Earth in this story does.  Tidal havoc from the planet's gravity.  I guess it'd be easier to suspend my disbelief if I didn't watch so many astronomy docs.  

Anyway, I enjoyed the music for this film immensely.   I'm always listening to the music in films of course.  Funny enough, its instrumentation was similar to what I'm using for the current film score I'm working on, piano, cello and electronics.  The synth sounds in this film are nothing like the palette of sounds I'm using though.  There are a lot of very nice moments in the film where the music, which had been subtle before, comes into the foreground.  It's very effective, in fact.  Anyway, it's worth seeing, though a little slow at times.

That said, I should get back to work. Or sleep.  One or the other.  Eventually both.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Bus ride #3, and gaining experience...

Bus trip #3 in as many weeks.  Going to VA via DC to see my sister and her family.  We have tickets to see Willie Nelson tonight so that should be fun.  It'll be great to see the kids again too.

Been on my laptop since I got on this bus an hour and a half ago, remarkably productive despite only about 5 hours of broken sleep.  It'll catch up to me soon.  Since there's still most of the ride ahead of me I'll probably sleep once I finish this blog.

Thinking about gaining experience this morning and honing sensibility and how valuable that really is.  I can read only so much about the craft of film scoring but actually practicing these things I learn is really the only way to get good at it and develop the sensibility one needs to excel at it.  Think about how certain things sound good as music for its own sake, but when you put these things against a moving image it may not necessarily work.  The things that make the music work against the image are often subjective but also universal and then at the same time hard to pinpoint with mere words.

I've been thinking about a certain part of this film in particular, a sequence involving a fight, an escape and a secondary struggle and then submission.  My first take of music for this scene was very song-like, rhythmic and repetitive and had developed to a certain point in the melody where it needed to be, but had done so far too early.  These are the kinds of things one must consider.  Not just mood, instrumentation or tempo but levels of intensity, buildup and decay I am working with must match the action precisely.  I can't get there too soon or take too long to get there otherwise the music will seem separate and transmit superficiality.  That's exactly what was happening with this particular scene.  I had made it seem a tad superficial because the music, while I had nailed the mood and tempo needed for the scene, was apart from the scene and seemed to be doing its own thing.  

Incidentally, this kind of sensibility, being in tune with what works and what the director wants, is fairly crucial.  A lot of musicians can write a pretty melody or capture a mood but to be able to do so at the same intensity and rate as what's on screen takes a lot of care and patience.  A lot of patience.  The first take may never work perfectly.

That said, getting better at needing fewer takes is apparently the name of the game now and is what I am hopefully going to take away from this experience to apply to the next job.  No news on what that is yet but will keep you up to date.  For now, I sleep.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Rhythmic Movement

The show on Thursday night was a great success…and well attended.  The lead up to it was a bit stressful but the cathartic release of being on stage and performing my music made it all worth it.  This is, after all, something that Tania and I (mostly Tania) have been working on for months.  To see it all come together in a single night was a thing of beauty.  I wish some of you out of towners could have seen it.

That said, there was a professional video made and several other cameras in the house.  Some things are already on youtube.  Not my music, yet though. If more of you had shown up I might have had a guarantee that I'd at least have some pictures of my piece being performed.  As it stands all I can show you guys are post pictures and the video of the body painting. Which was a hit!

Anyway, Galapagos Art Space is a world class venue and I was so excited to be performing there.  I arrived a full 2 hours and 15 minutes before the show out of paranoia that anything could go wrong with the massive amount of technical elements we programmed into this show.  Luckily, the sound guy was so professional and efficient that I truly had nothing to worry about.  Our set up took so little time that we were almost done before Tania had even gotten there.  She arrived around 5:15 with the body painter and the model.

By then, I had a table set up with all my equipment on it, with everything plugged up to the sound system, plus the camera I borrowed from one Mohammad Maaty plugged up to the house projector, screen lowered, piano and microphone in place for Tania and tables ready for model and painter.  All we had to do was test the sound equipment and set up the camera.  All the video elements for the slideshow on the second half were with the tech guy already.

Hanging out backstage before the show was a lot of fun, too.  Tania, Derrick, the model Steffi and I had the whole place to ourselves and brought drinks from the bar back there while we waited.  I got to see the pre body painting body painting as well as watch most of the show from the wings of the stage too because I had to be there to operate the camera, which had to be panned from the model to Tania's back between pieces, and the projector, which had to have the video source switched from the stage.

The body painting to Erik Satie's music came directly after Tania's world premiere "Rhythmic Movement" and was followed by works by Ginastera, Kapustin and Vladigerov.  The body painting had to be my favorite part of the evening as far as what I experienced as an audience member.  It was really beautiful to watch Derrick being inspired to paint by Tania's performance of Satie's Gnossiennes.  And also kind of fun to watch the model trying to remain perfectly still while he essentially tickled her with a paint brush.

The intermission was brief and we moved on to even more exciting stuff.  Tania performed work by Frederico Mompou, a Spanish composer who writes in a beautiful post-impressionist style, accompanied by the work of photographer Jack Dzamba (the same who let us stay at his place in Boston).  This was great to finally see all put together because I witnessed the photo shoot and had only briefly listened to Tania rehearsing the pieces.  It's beautiful music and somewhere floating around is the artist's description of the significance of the images.  The two pieces were called "La Barca"(boat) and "Cuna" (cradle).

After this, Tania had the idea to improvise inside the piano and have me do some of the same stuff with my laptop that I'd be doing for my piece.  The potential of this exercise was endless and I found myself wishing for more time to develop the ideas.  Sampling whatever noises she made and then looping them and turning them into material that I could freely play with and then interact with what she was doing was so much fun.  Heck, it's such a fun medium to work in that I was messing around during sound check and accidentally recorded and looped a snipped of the sound of the audio guy moving the piano across the stage.  So, I played around with it and made some fantastic rhythms and tones out of essentially a loud screeching noise.

After this came Tania's interpretation of John Cage's 4'33" which involved me asking her to dance, dancing for a few seconds and then remaining completely still for the remainder of the piece while the sound of a clock ticking came from my computer.   Each of those elements lent personal significance to the piece for Tania and it all related to the show's theme of rhythmic movement.  It was also fun to get to do something different on stage that could essentially be classified as performance art.

My piece went quite well and it was so much fun to hear it through big speakers while we were performing.  We had two monitors on stage for us to hear my samples as I played them back.  One part of the piece involved me actually recording and looping Tania's performance so she could perform another part on top of it, essentially adding another piano layer to the piece.  This was the trickiest part and because if I didn't time it exactly right the loop would eventually slip out of rhythm with Tania.  It went great despite how little rehearsal time we really had with full sound.  As it was, we were rehearsing the piece with the tiny speakers on my laptop at Tania's place and Tania could barely hear the looped audio that I was playing back.

I learned a lot about the process of doing something like this, what works and what doesn't and thankfully this will not be the last time we perform this piece.  It can only get better!

Tania closed the concert with two pieces by Pancho and Alexander Vladigerov (two Bulgarian composers, father and son, respectively).  These are both pieces that I have seen Tania perform before several times and they are always crowd-pleasers and great choices to finish a show on.

After the show, we went out into the audience and greeted everyone, took photos and eventually, a smaller contingent of the group met at Superfine for some food and drinks.  Perfect, since I hadn't eaten anything substantial since my breakfast at 2pm!  Superfine is a really great restaurant that centers their menu around locally sourced ingredients from sustainable farms.  With an ever changing menu based on what ingredients are available, I happened to luck out that they had a steak au poivre on the menu (with gluten free fries…bonus!).  A pretty solid meal to celebrate our accomplishment, I think.

All day yesterday, I took it easy since a friend from Philly who had seen the concert was still in town and we spent the day jamming with my looping software and then hanging out with friends.  Then somehow I ended up at the world's douchiest bar, Turtle Bay for a happy hour with some friends.  (Notice, I did not link to it…seriously don't go here).  Today, I work until 5pm and then I'm going to a co worker's wedding in Mill Basin, Brooklyn.  So, that should be fun.  Pretty soon, I'll have pics and video from the concert posted up.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Boston and the Lily Pad...

The show went great last night. And getting there from the bus station was no problem either…although there always has to be some element of uncertainty, preferably introduced at the last minute.

Tania and I were riding separate buses and texting each other back and forth the whole way up, trying to guess who would make it to Boston first.  I won.  When we met at the bus station it was only slightly after 4pm and Tania had to eat and run some errands in Boston before the show.  I was going to accompany her but time, as it usually does, was dwindling.  So, Tania was reconsidering her errands which included heading to Staples to make some copies, but decided last second to jump off the train (okay, not off but out of and not jump but run) a stop or two before me and do what she had to do.

Then I was off on my own and though I had hopstopped the directions (multiple times) to the venue, I couldn't quite remember which bus I was supposed to take from Central Square to Inman Square.  The first hop stop directions told me exactly what I wanted to hear but I didn't save or write down the information and every subsequent time I did the same search it kept telling me to go three stops further on the Red Line and travel back in the opposite direction on the bus.  Or it would tell me to walk up Prospect Street instead of taking one of three buses that I knew went down that street.  Instead of fumbling with my phone, hands already full of three heavy bags, though, I decided to do things the old fashioned way and just ask the bus driver "hey does this bus go all the way up to Cambridge Street?"  I received a precursory nod and a "yep" so I figured that was good enough.  Following on the map app on my phone I punched the stop request button just at the right stop and as soon as I turned the corner, there was the Lily Pad.  Not bad, eh?

Okay, so it really wasn't that hard to get there.  When I arrived there was only one guy there and not the audio guy that I had emailed with but someone else who works there.  A nice guy who was sitting around while he had the place to himself practicing the piano.  We had a nice chat about music while I was setting up.  He didn't seem to really know his way around the mixer fully but thankfully, I do. For the most part.  I had everything hooked up but I was getting very faint sound though I had the faders up and the gain "potted up" as they say and had troubleshooted everything else I could think of.  Then I remembered what the Pad buttons do on the top of the channel strips.  They give you a boost in audio gain.  Exactly what I needed…but incidentally, not what you want all of a sudden when you have everything else already turned up and audio going through the speakers.   Good thing the other guy had his ear plugs in…I, however, did not and was pretty startled by the sudden feedback.  Luckily, no one else was there except another of Tania's friends who had shown up while we were waiting.

Tania was stuck in traffic at this point and calling me with instructions of what to tell the audience members who were waiting for the show.  She really only arrived about ten minutes late or so, I guess.  I wasn't really paying attention since I had my setup all finished, usually the most intensive part for me.  The venue was slowly filling up with people and I was comfortably imbibing a Harpoon Cider (when in Rome) and chatting with the bartender, another musician who plays in a psychedelic rock band called Quilts.

When Tania arrived, since I was already set up, the concert started fairly promptly.  I turned pages for the Kapustin piece she played and then we proceeded to do some improvisation, her inside the piano and me with electronics.  I won't say much more about this because we will be doing something similar on Thursday and I want all of you to be uber curious and come to the show to see what we'll be doing.  After that we played Moon, Tides, Cycles and I feel like it went fairly well.  One of our best performances yet.  Of course, some in the audience said they thought the electronics were too quiet…might have had something to do with my fear of feeding back again.

After the concert, the photographer, Jack  Dzamba, whom I had met before the show and with whom we were staying, drove us to where he and Tania were doing a photo shoot.  Also something about which I will not speak as the details shall be revealed at the show on Thursday night!  Luckily, though I was hungry, I had new friends to chat with as Jack's assistant had brought along some of her friends.  We passed the time looking at my Google Skymap app on my phone and trying to find the super moon.

Thoroughly chilled, we dropped the girls off at Boston U and went on to have dinner at Trident Cafe and Bookshop on Newbury Street.  These guys were really great about my gluten intolerance as they take allergies and the like very seriously.  The manager personally dealt with it and asked the cook about everything I ordered just to be safe.  It was great.

Jack put us up at his girlfriend's house in Newton and we each had our own room in this beautifully kept cottage style house.  Coming in late at night, I really didn't get to see the outside that well and had no idea how big it was until we started to wind our way around the house and to our rooms.  His girlfriend's kids no longer live at home so the house was empty except for  her and Jack and four amazing cats, the names of which I cannot remember now.  So, where I almost didn't go to Boston for this concert and originally thought by agreeing to come that I was condemning myself to a night on someone's couch or floor, I found myself in an unlikely but extremely comfortable situation instead.  It was nice to meet new friends and receive their hospitality.

This morning we were dropped off at South Station with about a half an hour left to catch our bus, bought food in the depot and boarded the bus just in time to head back to NYC.  Now, back, shoulders and arms sore from all the walking and lifting, I sit here blogging and preparing for the show this week.  About to send out some press releases and personal messages to some friends and hopefully stay awake long enough to make some progress on the film score.

I had a rock star nap this afternoon after indulging in some Bare Burger at the Park Slope location on 1st and 7th Avenue.  All my cousin has to do is say the word burger to me once after a long weekend of travel and I'm sold.  Anyway, back to it.  For kicks, and before I go, check this out, we're in Time Out NY!

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Buses, again...

Weekend #1 of bus rides to far off destinations.  I'm heading to Boston now for the show at the Lily Pad in Cambridge.  At this moment Tania is on a Fung Wah bus heading to South Station as well where we will likely rendez-vous.  Next weekend I have to take the BM1 express bus to Mill Basin for my co-worker Madeline's wedding.  The following weekend I'm visiting my sister in Virginia so I have to take another Bolt bus to DC.

I'm going to hate buses by the time this is over.  Even free wifi is not so much a benefit as it is just a temptation to take advantage of it and thereby give myself mild motion sickness from trying to focus on my screen while the bus bounces around on the Cross Bronx Expressway.  In other words, this bus ride can't end fast enough.  Boston here I come.

Anyway, I guess I'm just glad I'm on the bus and pointed in the right direction and actually moving at a pretty good clip.  The MTA decided it would be a good weekend to make the R train skip my stop so I had to take it in the other direction to the next express stop and double back.  I still got to midtown a half hour early and got accosted by a bum who was asking for donations for some "get people off the street" charity.  He was offering copies of the Onion as incentives to donate.  I said what the hell and gave him a buck.  Now I have a copy of the Onion that I may try to read until that as well gives me motion sickness.  I thought about telling that guy he should get into voice over.  He had a great speaking voice and spoke incredibly fast and articulately.  Kind of makes me think of the youtube sensation voice over bum that was so famous last year for his gift.

I didn't dispense any such advice however.  It's a hard road trying to get into voice over.  And I'm sure it's hard enough getting off the street.

But I digress.  I'm excited about tonight's concert.  I have a new keyboard gig bag that fits all of my stuff so the only thing I have to sling over my shoulder that's so heavy is my laptop.  So getting there is going to be less of a hassle.  The venue, I know almost nothing about.  I looked at a few pics on Yelp last night.  And I also just found out yesterday that Tania wants me to turn pages for one of her pieces.   So, I guess I'm going to be on stage a little longer than I originally thought.  I'm probably going to blog again on the bus ride tomorrow to let you all know how it went.  But for now, I can hardly bear to keep typing on this while the bus is in motion.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Of lights, tunnels...

There's something odd but marvelous to me about how I can get only 3 and 1/2 hours of sleep due to being woken up by two phone calls, be sluggish all afternoon and evening (even after several cups of green tea and a bottle of yerba mate) and then somehow catch a second wind around this hour of the night.  I'm covering vacations for George this week and next, so I'm on the overnight shift Sunday through Thursday two weeks in a row.  A great time for this crap considering all the exciting things I have going on that are taking up all my time and energy.  But the light at the end of the tunnel is becoming clearer.  I have now glimpsed my work schedule for the month of June and I can see my last overnight shift, June 4th clear as day and can tell you with confidence that my days off (two whole glorious days in a row) are going to be Wednesday and Thursday and that my shift on Sunday does not interfere with choir rehearsals and I will need no nap before work every friggin' Sunday of my life.  I almost cried when it started to dawn on me.

Giddiness is coming from all directions nowadays, despite the still harrowing nature of surviving in this city.  I got another voice over gig, this one voicing videos for a vacation rental property business in Santa Barbara, CA.  Sent in my first takes on Friday evening and now I wait to hear if I need to revise or not.

On top of that, I'm working hard as ever on the film score while simultaneously preparing for my New England premiere this Saturday in Cambridge at the Lily Pad.  Bolt Bus again and I'm not sure where I'm staying yet but it should be a fun whirlwind weekend.  In addition, I'm highly anticipating the show at Galapagos Art Space next Thursday the 10th.  The prospect of performing this piece for piano and laptop is extremely exciting to me.  Up until a few weeks ago, I didn't know how I was going to achieve the outcomes I was hoping for with this piece.  In graduate school, I was inspired by the works my classmates were doing using Max/MSP to sample live performances of acoustic instruments and twist the sound using complex scripts and audio programs that they wrote themselves.  A lot of it was random and dynamic but the ultimate outcome being determined by what they had programmed their patches to do.  I wanted to have more control over the outcome but was hard-pressed to find a program that would allow me to sample and process the resulting sound on the fly that I wasn't going to have to spend weeks programming to my needs.  Until I started to think about what I was trying to do a little bit differently.  I was trying to build a veritable arsenal of audio samples that I could trigger with the push of a key or button or some kind of MIDI message.  My first idea was pretty intensive and it was dizzying to think of trying to attempt it during a performance on stage.  I found a better way though.  Basically, I found a program modeled after old school hardware loopers called Mobius and after fooling around with it for a bit, I realized that I could use the program's multi track, multi loop capabilities to essentially store audio samples/loops that I could play back at will by switching between them to create the soundscapes I was attempting.  It is also capable of performing simple operations on audio as it's playing back (like reversing it, speeding it up and slowing it down, repitching it and randomly shuffling it) so there was my solution for affecting the audio once it was recorded and looped.

So I spent the last few weeks building a workflow and programming my keyboard and Mainstage (a live performance tool packaged with Apple's Logic audio software) to do what I needed.  Here's a blog I wrote on the main site about it.

I'm really hoping some of you New Yorkers can come out to this concert.  It's going to be awesome.  Plus, this venue is incredible.  They have a freakin' lake in the middle of the seating area for cryin' out loud!  Check out the photo tour if you've never been.

Anyway, I'd better get back to work on the film score presently.