Interview with Mark Roos

Mark Roos

 Mark RoosThe Vermeers and God’s Square Mile

FSC:  What inspired you to compose film music?

MR:  Not to sound trite or “canned” but the reason I began to become passionate about film/T.V. was because as a kid growing up I was the picked “nerd” among my peers. I didn’t have many friends and music was where I found solace. I’m classically trained and I learned to turn towards music as a way of connecting—connecting with myself, with others and with the world around me. My teens and mid-twenties were filled with the usual rock and roll band aspirations, but as I got older, I returned to classical and symphonic music, finding I had a talent of using music in film/T.V. to connect the viewers with the director’s vision, in turn connecting viewing audiences with their own hopes, dreams and even fears.

FSC:  What distinguishes your music from other composers?

MR:  Most people say that my music, even upbeat compositions have “tension.” There are many, many amazing composers out there, many I deeply admire. One of the things I’ve learned is that there is no “competition” in writing film/T.V. music—every composer has their own voice and carries their own life experiences and histories into their compositions for the screen.


FSC:  What is, to you, the most important thing to convey in your music?

MR:  The most important thing I hope to convey in my music is emotionally connecting the audiences with the stories they are watching. These stories are often amazing, dramatic and joyous and the most important thing I try to connect with is amplifying, or pushing the emotional message to the viewer musically.

FSC:  What is, in your opinion, the best soundtrack to date?

MR:  James Horner’s “Titanic” Soundtrack. The way he incorporated the historical music of the time period in such an emotional and unforgettable way is simply nothing short of genius.  I also really am a fan of James Newton Howard’s score of “The Village.”  That score is hauntingly beautiful, simple melodies, with an orchestration that accentuates the emotion of each scene in the film.


FSC:  If you could compose the music to any upcoming major film project, what would you pick? Why?

MR:  Horror or dark drama. These appeals to me because it is an opportunity to step “outside the norm” and do things musically that normally wouldn’t work in a conventional film, say a children’s movie. You can use sounds and combinations and your own samples to create wonderful sonic textures that really grab the viewers.


FSC:  You compose for so many different mediums, what is your biggest challenge when switching between them?

MR:  Putting myself in the different psychological or emotional space, if you will, that’s required for different mediums, say, between T.V. documentaries and video games, because the audiences are different. They connect with the projects in different ways and it’s my job to be sensitive and aware of that to maximize the project’s message.

FSC:  Ok, are you ready for this?  John Ottman or John Powell?

MR:  John Ottman. Both John’s are amazing, but I identify and try to achieve the same heart-stopping grip his music takes when you watch one of the film’s he’s scored. His chord structure, in my humble opinion, may not be as “polished” as Powell, but somehow the way he infuses his melodies, well, it’s remarkable.

FSC:  Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

MR:  Media, all media, is changing, and there are more opportunities for great composers to find creative ways to express their art. I hope to have scored several feature films and T.V. shows and would love to do another video game soon. Just completed one, it had a 1960’s beatnik vibe—very, very cool to have worked on it.


FSC:  What is the importance of soundtracks in your opinion?

MR:  Usually, it’s the last thing that gets addressed in the creative process and the creatives (director, DP, etc.) are justifiably exhausted. They are usually hopeful and terrified—hopeful that my score will take their project to the next level or terrified that I will ruin it. My job is to listen, REALLY LISTEN to what they are saying, what they are not saying and deliver an outstanding score that will connect their project with their viewers. Do that, and I feel like I’ve had a good day.


FSC:  What has been your biggest challenge in your career so far?

MR:  Keeping up with all of the technological advances, which seem to happen on a daily basis. I need to continue recognizing that having the latest “shiny object” is less important—what really matters is the music. So, that being said, I’ve come to learn that the next piece of software is not going to help the inner creative process that enables me to connect with what’s been shown on the screen. That has to come from inside.

Looking forward to what Mark does next? Visit his site at www.rooscompositions.com

Mark Roos


Crooked Arrows (Brian Ralston)

Crooked Arrows Soundtrack Cover

Crooked Arrows by Brian Ralston (2013)

Get it:  If you are looking for a soundtrack that uses a good, classic sports style along with an ethnic Native American one

Don’t get it:  If you want a score that is more soft and elegant in nature

Released by Perseverance Records and performed by the Hollywood Studio Symphony Orchestra, Brian Ralston’s soundtrack for the film Crooked Arrows is quite intriguing from the earliest notes.  Part of it feels like it belongs in a classic sports movie, while other parts feel like genuinely classic Native American themes, mainly performed by flutist Chris Bleth.  The score shows consistently good melody and note flow.  There is a modern feel to the way the music was approached, but there’s also something about it that emanates an almost ‘ancient’ quality.  It is not too far fetched to believe that certain parts of this soundtrack could also be used for a film about Egypt, Greece, etc., all that would need to be done is replace the Native American techniques with those of the other ethnicity.

Only one aspect of this score is orchestral, though.  There is also a significant presence of modern music with electric guitars, drums, and so forth.  The theme is used consistently throughout and done well.  There are more shorter tracks here and less longer ones.  There is something about the way it is done that is great for a sports film.  It’s not all about sports though.  There also seems to be reflection, motivation, character focus, and some inspiration in addition to the action.  One part of it is almost like The Mentalist by Blake Neely meets James Horner’s Field of Dreams.  Interesting, right?  Well, it is interesting, because then another part will sound nothing like that, which is part of what makes Ralston’s style so good.

A well done soundtrack that is worth checking out.  Also, there are quick references to ESPN thrown in, but you’ll have to listen to it to fully appreciate it.

Click to check out our interview with the composer, Brian Ralston

Click here to listen to an audio trailer

Click here to see a neat behind the scenes look

Click here, here, or here to shop for the soundtrack

Check out Brian’s website at www.brianralston.com

Interview with Joel Douek

Joel Douek

Joel DouekTeenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (TV Series) and Sharkbite Summer

FSC:  What inspired you to compose film music?

JD:  Two things:  Im my twenties I was struggling with how to make a positive difference in the world, my role and my career.  I’d done some years at medical school then studied Human Sciences and Neuroscience and was now working in Humanitarian Affairs at the UN, which I did for about 8 years.  I found myself getting more and more miserable dealing with humanity’s worst on a daily basis: another war erupting up here, kidnapping of aid workers there, tens of thousands exiled or starving because of despots, political and religious rivalries. It was really getting to me, and I think my view of human possibility was gradually getting poisoned.   A friend and colleague one day said to me: “Instead of trying to take the bad out of the world, why not try putting the beauty into it.”  I think it’s the best advice I ever got, and it made me turn 180 degrees. I realized that was the better path for me.  I quit my job and went full-time into music.  I found a vehicle to dilute the bad by championing the good.  The music which I had dabbled with all my life became a way to express beauty, and this beauty became a way to tell a different story of humanity to myself and others.  One where the people were not malicious, but scared and bullied, indoctrinated into destructive ways of thinking and communicating, and yet replete with hope and energy and creativity, once we appealed to them on that level.  So that led me back to music.

The second thing was a concert I went to at Lincoln Center in NYC where Kurt Masur and the NY Philharmonic were showing the wealth and wonder of 20th century film music as the home of immense and legitimate musical expression. Korngold, Hermann etc… Masur was very deliberately making a point: that if you want to follow the thread of classical brilliance from the great composers of old, you’ll find it in film music.  I am convinced that if Mozart were alive, he’d be scoring films. Just as he and his contemporaries worked by commission, we modern day composers explore the film and media paradigm, which has replaced opera and concert as the main vehicle to compose, get paid and reach people.  Michaelangelo didn’t paint the Sistine Chapel on a whim, but as a commission, fraught with all the boundaries and limitations and overbearing supervision that film composers work under too: “paint my wife’s face as the Madonna and I’ll give you your fee”.  Anyway, that was Kurt Masur’s message and I received it loud and clear.   Working in film also suited me because I’m a bit of an introvert and never felt comfortable on stage in bands.  In film scoring I could be behind the scenes and explore threads of all my musical loves and influences – classical, world and jazz – in ways that I couldn’t do behind a drum kit at CBGB’s.  I really found a home in film music.

FSC:  You’ve done movies, television shows, shorts, documentaries, and all sorts of stuff.  What about video games?

JD:  Having written the music for so many animations: Yugioh, TMNT, Sonic X, F-Zero, Ultimate Muscle, Shaman King etc, many of them offshoots of games, I have a great curiosity for video game music, but I am not much of a gamer, except for the odd driving and flying game.  I thirst for information and knowledge so I find I don’t have the patience to inhabit the fantasy worlds in any free time. I don’t need to escape because I think the world we live in is the greatest fantasy, in both the good and bad sense. I’m trying to find ways to join the world, not escape it, as I already feel too far outside the line of conventional sanity!  Similarly I tend not to read novels, but factual books on cosmology, neuroscience, quantum physics etc.  Because I’m always on this (probably misdirected) hunt for meaning, I’m on the fence about video games even though could certainly enjoy composing for them.  That said, I deeply appreciate their value to others and I organize and champion as many video game music events as I can because of the creative and musical freedom that they engender.  Where working on Indie films gives us a marimba, a kazoo and a mandolin, video game music composers get a 100 piece Russian choir and seemingly unlimited time and money to explore and experiment, and that’s very enticing.

FSC:  What other composer do you see yourself most like, musically, and why?

JD:  I’m probably the last person to be able to answer that, but I can tell you who I admire, aspire to, who I resonate with.  That would be Alberto Iglesias, David Arnold, John Barry, Elmer Bernstein, John Powell, Roque Baños, Harry Gregson-WIlliam and of course the maestro – John Williams (particularly in his more lateral scores such as Memoirs of a Geisha).  There is an unashamed romance and emotionality in their work.  It’s as though they’re saying “somebody else can do the avant-garde – I’m going to speak about the human heart”.  In my listening, I am always drawn to the power and romanticism of Mahler and Bruckner and the subtle descriptions of Debussy and Ravel.  I can feel them taking their angst and darkness and transforming into beauty, and this is a theme that resonates strongly with me.  Although I’m a pretty positive person, I still tend to write the darker stuff, perhaps in the hope of transforming it too.  I struggle to write a cheerful commercial or light-hearted TV theme, yet requiems and musical eulogies seem to roll off the tongue.  So much so that I’ve thought of compiling some into an album called “Music to Die For”.

FSC:  What is it like to collaborate with other composers, as you did on The Tall Man?

JD:  I love it. I’ve been very fortunate to collaborate with such terrific composers, and I think we consciously or subconsciously encourage each other to reach a bit higher.  Although I didn’t have direct dealings with Chris Young and Todd Bryanton on The Tall Man, hearing their contributions provided guidance and inspiration and a bar I had to rise to. In my long time collaborations with composers Elik Alvarez and Freddy Sheinfeld we also pool resources, musical and other ideas, recommending musicians, orchestrators, studios, approaches and such.  Composing can be a lonely business and the demands of some projects can be crushing.  It’s great to have people you can rely on as honest sounding-boards or who can step in and share the work. And we also have an immense amount of fun in the process.


FSC:  What are the differences between composing for different mediums such as movies, shows, documentaries, etc.?

JD:  In very general terms, I find that movie scores inform in more thematic ways, creating a world around each character, their moods and actions. TV seems to emphasize transitions, helping the audience feel the change from one scene to another, keeping things moving and evolving.   Documentaries, at least the nature-type that I’ve done a lot of, are about bringing characters to life, whether they be places, plants, insects, animals, volcanos, weather patterns – we try to humanize them musically through the way they look and their activities.  There’s nothing, for example, that obliges a shark to be seen as evil and ominous. They may be eating someone, but really they’re just having their lunch.  So for nature docs it’s all about choices – how should this be perceived?  Another aspect of documentaries from a musical standpoint, which is why I love scoring them, is that we are often dealing with unknowns rather than clear-cut emotions. Journeys, landscapes, scientific explanations – none of these carry a particular message, so a composer has to steer very carefully not to box an audience into perceiving them in one way or another.  The audience should be able to feel their way in and come to their own conclusions.  Often the presence of music just says “this is important” and nothing more specific.  The music has to be ‘open’ rather than closed and unambiguous as it is in film and TV.

FSC:  What is it like to be a part of Discovery’s famed Shark Week?

JD:  I love writing music for Sharks having their lunch.  Seriously though, I’m happy to have worked on a few of these because for years they were the only thing I could mention to people that they’d actually heard of!  They are quite challenging in terms of keeping them musically original and not falling into Jaws stereotypes, even though audiences are probably looking exactly for that.  The human obsession with sharks is totally fascinating though.  I think we humans fascinate over things that suggest our fallibility, our inability to control – even when we are the supposed kings of all.  Tornadoes, Sharknados, wolves and asteroids carry this paradox of our supreme power yet total vulnerability.  They bring us back to a healthy sense of proportion, which reconnects us to the natural world around.

FSC:  Ok, we’re 10 years down the road, what director would you like to have worked with by this point?

JD:  I’m a music guy first and foremost and not a film buff (except for Star Wars), so I am somewhat ashamed to say I don’t really know.  I see possibilities everywhere and I suspect my ideal director is still fighting to get to the fore. Perhaps they’re among the new directors I am working with who are bursting with talent, and I can’t wait to see what they can do given a decent budget.  10 years from now I’d like to be still working with them.  As composers we need to nurture the relationships we have and grow together.  I admire many directors, but I want to form my own associations with those who speak to the present, to today’s and tomorrow’s sensibilities.

FSC:  What makes Joel Douek’s music different from other composers?

JD:  I like to think that being self taught, I don’t know the rules, so there aren’t any.  There are certainly pros and cons to figuring things out by myself, as I often feel I hear better music in my head than I can satisfactorily express… but I’m working on that!  Beyond this, the careers I’ve had before becoming a full-time composer have no doubt influenced the way I interpret the world around, and perhaps I see things a bit differently to those who have only worked in music all their lives.  I honestly see music as a beacon of light in our harsh and war-torn world. Not just a balm for our sorrows but a vehicle for us to grow individually, and as a species.  There seem to be a minority of psychopaths that maneuver themselves into positions of power in politics and industry, that hold so much sway they can contaminate everybody’s view of the world and human possibility, bring us to war and pit us against each other while they fill their pockets. Yet I am in awe daily of the enormous majority of people from all walks of life, and particularly the talent, creativity and altruism among musicians, composers, songwriters and our greater community of musical folk.  As mentioned before – we’re diluting out the bad.  So while I try not to take myself too seriously, I certainly see music as a lofty cause!

For more on Joel, visit his website at www.otmny.com


Anonymous Rejected Filmscore (John Murphy)

Anonymous Rejected Filmscore Cover

Anonymous Rejected Filmscore by John Murphy (2014)

Get it: If you like a newer style of soundtrack that is a good combination of orchestra/rock styles

Don’t get it: If you want a score that relies more on the harp, piano, cello styles.

WARNING: Avoid this soundtrack if you do not like songs getting stuck in your head!

Seriously, though, there’s something unique about this score to be released August 16th by Taped Noise that sticks with you after hearing it.  It isn’t like other scores that “blend in” to a certain mainstream style.  Rather, this is most definitely it’s own score.  The emotions are clear.  The variety between tracks is well done, you don’t get tired of hearing this style or that style because it changes.

Although we will not try to speculate as to which film this was intended for, your mind cannot help but wonder.  Especially after listening to it, there is a particular intrigue as to what score was chosen over this one.  Here, there’s emotion, motivation, sadness, inspiration, awe, and more.  It isn’t by any means a one track score, no pun intended.

An electric guitar and drum set will take over this powerful part, but before long you’ll be listening to a soft moment with strings.  But then a strong brass presence overlaying the strings adds even more emotion.  If you wait just a bit more, you’ll notice a choir to add humanity to the piece.  The choir can be strong, adding a nice sense of the strength of humanity at times, but also sometimes subtly so.  The whole soundtrack changes feelings well throughout its entirety.

Overall, a great listen if you like the style of music.  Definitely worth trying out by clicking the preview link below.  John Murphy was right to release this soundtrack without the assistance of the film.

UPDATE:  This score is now available on a limited edition white vinyl from the John Murphy Store now.  Experience it in a depth that only a vinyl can give you — get to the store now!

Check out our interview with John Murphy!

Click here to preview the soundtrack

Click here , here or here to shop for the soundtrack

Visit John’s website at www.johnmurphyofficial.com

Interview with John Murphy

John Murphy

John Murphy Snatch. and Sunshine

FSC:  What inspired you to compose film music?

JM:  I remember watching Fistful of Dollars when I was a kid and suddenly being aware that there was music playing. I must have been about five or six. I’d never really noticed the music before and I thought why would they do that? And I kept listening to see if it happened again. And then it hit me. It’s better when the music is there! That’s why they do it! And after that I always listened for it. And a few years later I saw Dr. No and I heard the James Bond theme for the first time. It just blew me away. I didn’t want to be James Bond, I wanted to be the guy who played the guitar riff! I’d just started playing guitar and I used to sit in the bathroom for hours playing it over and over. That was the first time I thought what a great job that must be.

FSC:  You’ve collaborated a fair amount with director Danny Boyle.  What has that been like for you?

JM:  I did five films with Danny, and up until Sunshine, it was the easiest, most creative collaboration I’d had. Every director is different and they all have their own weird ways of dealing with music. But a few, like Danny, and Michael Mann and Frears too… they’ll talk more about the actual film than the music. And that always worked better for me. So with Danny we’d talk about how the film should feel, the backstory of the characters, how we wanted the audience to feel at all these different moments… all that stuff. But where the music was concerned he’d basically leave me alone to experiment and work it out. He’d never say, “this has to be this kind of track,” or, “this has to be strings”… or piano or whatever. He was savvier than that. He knew he’d get something more original if he left me to it. And once we had something we were both into then he’d either get involved or he’d say that’s it. But when he did get involved things usually got better for it. He knows his music and he understands how important it is with film.

FSC:  Some have compared your dramatic scores with those of Hans Zimmer.  What is your reaction to that?

JM:  Really? That’s the maddest thing I’ve heard all week.

FSC:  In fact, a more specific example is I’ve seen where you’re music has been compared to Zimmer’s work on Inception.  Not too bad, huh?

JM:  I haven’t seen Inception yet but I remember when it came out seeing a few posts on the social media pages comparing it to Sunshine. But by all accounts Inception is a fantastic score. So if there is something in there that reminds some people of Sunshine then I’d take that as a huge compliment. Hans is the man.

FSC:  “Adagio in D Minor” is a fantastic piece that has a lot of weight to it.  What were you trying to accomplish when composing this piece?

JM:  With my own stuff, meaning tracks I’m not writing for a film, I never really sit down to write a certain thing, or set out to accomplish anything specific. It’s just me doodling aimlessly in my own world. Although ‘Adagio In D Minor’ appeared in Sunshine, and later on in Kick-Ass, I actually wrote it in Liverpool in ’99. It was a rainy Sunday morning and I’d just got in from an all-nighter and couldn’t sleep. I was slumped over my piano with a banging head ache and it just came out all in one go. Once I’d played that first round I heard the rest of the track in my head so I just kept on playing to the end. I rearranged it later for strings but really it was all there the first time I played it on the piano. Some tracks are just like that. So no grand vision sadly. Just me with a hangover trying to play as slowly and quietly as I could.

FSC:  But what does that say about your talent? If you could just come up with that piece of music without a specific intent to do so?

JM:  To be honest, it’s much easier for me to write when I don’t have any specific agenda. That might sound strange coming from someone who’s spent the last sixteen years of his life composing film scores  –  but when you’re writing a score, so much of your headspace is taken up with working within the parameters of the film, emotionally and dramatically, and the technicalities of making it all fit together musically, that a lot of times the quality of the writing, the actual music, suffers. But when you’re just writing something for the sake of writing it, without having to take all these other things into consideration, and without pressure or deadlines, it becomes simple again. It becomes about the writing. When you’re doodling for the sake of it it’s just about the music. You have an open road before you and it can go wherever it wants.

FSC:  Anonymous Rejected Filmscore – what can you tell us about it?

JM:  A few years ago I had my first score thrown out. This happens a lot and to better composers than me. What bothered me was it was one of the few scores I’ve written that I actually liked. And in my head, it became this kind of ‘lost score’. So I promised myself that one day, I would open up the sessions again and finish it the way it originally sounded in my head. And that’s what I did. Only instead of just finishing the demos I decided to choose twelve of the tracks and mash them up to see what happened. On a film you’re inextricably bound to do what’s best for the film, almost always to the detriment of the track. And I’m fine with that because that’s what you’re being hired to do. But suddenly I had all this material no one cared about so I could do whatever I liked with it. So I took the original themes of these tracks and messed around with them to see what happened naturally; let them be what they wanted to be. No playbacks, no meetings, notes. It was fantastic. The only downer was, because it was just a pet project, I had to grab days here and there in between ‘proper’ work to work on it. So it was done in bits and pieces. But it was still a blast.

Tyler Barton, my engineer of the last seven or eight films, produced the album, and it will be released on Taped Noise on August 16.

FSC:  What is your favorite film genre to compose music for?

JM:  I’m not sure I have a favorite genre as such but I definitely feel more at home with the darker stuff. It’s just a deeper well to draw from. And I much prefer doing indie films to studio films. I’ve always found it more difficult to be creative with studio films. The bigger the budget the less chances they’ll let you take. So anything dark and indie I would say.

FSC:  What would you say distinguishes you from other modern film composers?

JM:  If I’m going to be honest I would say it’s my weaknesses. In terms of film music I’ll never be an all-rounder and at best I’m an average orchestrator. If I was lego I’d be duplo! But those weaknesses forced me to over compensate when it came to original ideas and strong themes. I didn’t spend time with complex orchestrations because I didn’t know how to. So I used that time to experiment with different ways of achieving the same things. I knew my weaknesses so I worked hard to come up with ideas and ways of doing things that weren’t obvious or mainstream. At the end of the day, in terms of cinematic music at least, I think it’s original ideas that show your DNA, not how complex or technical your music is. That’s my excuse anyway!


For more information, visit John’s website at www.johnmurphyofficial.com