Macbeth! Macbeth! Macbeth!

Last night was opening night for the GRADS Society production of Macbeth – which I had the honour of composing the music for. I also got my feet wet in the world of sound design for this one! It has been a fantastic experience working on this production – music for theatre has it’s own unique challenges and it has been a real ‘workout’ to get out of my comfort zone.

The production runs until June 9. Below are some snaps I took from the dress rehearsal, followed by some musical snippets ;) Go see it!



Farewell ND

Last week I received some sad, but not entirely unexpected news – I will no longer be teaching music classes at the University of Notre Dame in Fremantle. I truly loved the challenge of teaching music to non-musicians, it’s a real shame to say goodbye.

I began my music journey at ND in 2007 with a class called Music Appreciation (TS307). During the 13 week course, we began by learning the basic building blocks of music – melody, harmony, rhythm etc and then did a series of listening exercises – learning how to listen perceptively. This followed with a crash-course in music history, starting with the middle ages and heading all the way into the 20th century.


What I loved about teaching this class was improving it. Each semester, I would look back at the previous semester and come up with ways to enhance the learning experience – sometimes this would be a tweak here and there, other times a major change. I believe the class became ‘tighter’ with each semester.

After TS307 followed similiar classes – Music in Theatre (TS310) and Music in Media (CO205). As with TS307, these classes were geared for non-musicians and focused on music for the stage (Broadway musicals) and media (film, TV, advertising). Sadly, TS310 only ran twice and CO205 just once – the main issue being (so far as I can tell) low student numbers. ND is the smallest university in Perth – one reason why many students choose it – but the downside is that classes such as mine are at risk of falling by the wayside.

Loosing CO205 in particular was a real blow – not least because I love film music but also due to the amount of time & effort that went into preparing that course. As well as spending many hours carefully planning the listening list and assessment structure, I had to hire a video editor to help prepare all the film and TV excerpts. I bought a new set of audio speakers purely for this class, as the speakers in the classroom weren’t really up to scratch for film music. Being attached to a 13 foot ceiling, they were also too far away. So I had speaker stands made for the speakers that I bought. I went all out for CO205. I do hope I get the opportunity to teach something similiar in the not-too-distant future.

Anyway – here are some class snaps from over the years – if you’re a former student reading this, I hope you enjoyed the classes as much as I did!

Expanded Big Band?

Greetings!

I see it has been quite a long time since I have put up a blog post. Needless to say I am working a new project that is going to take quite a while….but hopefully it’ll be worth the wait :)

In the mean time, a fellow musician emailed me the other day with some questions about the concept of an ‘expanded’ big band – which I have used on the 2 jazz big band EPs that I’ve recorded. Since it might be interesting to some other folks, I decided to post the questions/answers here:

What were your reasons for adding the additional instruments in the first place?
                                                                                                                                                                 Back when I was at college, as a jazz composition/arranging student we were given a big band to work with, the West Australian youth Jazz Orchestra (WAYJO). This was our training ground. My teacher at the time, Graeme Lyall, decided to expand the traditional jazz big band line up – I can’t exactly remember why he did this, other than to create a unique sound for the band and to give us some extra writing chops I suppose. At first he added 2 horns, tuba and percussion. Then it became 4 horns. Then it became an extra trumpet and trombone. Then he added 4 woodwinds. Then another 4 woodwinds…..and it kept getting bigger and bigger. It actually became a little too unwieldy for my liking, but my favorite setup was adding 4 horns, tuba and percussion. So that’s where I got the idea from.
What is your philosophy or process when writing for expanded big band?

 - First of all, I do believe in giving these instruments meaningful parts to play – as you say, if not then why are they there? Nothing worse than a player who attends a rehearsal to play only 4 measures, which can’t much be heard anyway since it’s with the rest of the band. If we’re going to have these extra sounds available, then USE them. Give them the spotlight every now and then. Make people in the audience say ‘oh wow, there are french horns in this band’.
 - When it comes to balance, I use Sammy Nestico’s approach of ’1 trumpet or trombone = 2 french horns’. The horns just don’t cut through as much, partly due to the fact that the bell is facing backwards. 4 horns in unison however, can bring a solid sound as we know. The rest of it….it comes down to having a good knowledge of orchestration in general, I think. E.g. the tuba is great for adding in extra weight to the bottom of a chord – big fat sound – but when it comes to short/punchy articulations, the tuba doesn’t ‘speak’ like a bass trombone or bari sax. Again the bell is facing upwards, not forwards, and due to its size, short articulations generally sound ‘fatter’ and could be sluggish/impractical at fast tempi. Every instrument has its strengths and weaknesses – I think being a good orchestrator is partly about knowing what those strengths/weaknesses are, and using it to our advantage. Percussion – well, that’s a whole other discussion :)
 - As most french horn players are classically trained, it’s best not to ask them to ‘swing’. So, usually I avoid any exposed swing phrasing for the french horns and tuba. Same would apply to a string section if you had one. There are times you can get away with it somewhat, though. If the whole band is playing a swing shout chorus, then usually the horns can fit in with that, and the fact that they have not studied jazz doesn’t usually expose itself as a problem.

Bill Hayes playing percussion on 'The Manhattan EP'

Who are your influences in this writing?

Not many big band writers out there have used the expanded lineup, but there are some. Oliver Nelson has some killer arrangements with horns and percussion. Check out ‘Complex City’ - that one has timpani! Also Thad Jones and Stan Kenton have used the expanded lineup from time to time – Kenton especially so, sometimes having 5 trumpets, 5 trombones etc. Quincy Jones has an album called The Quintessence which is will worth checking out.
Hope that helps!

Teaching at ND

Well well. The semester has flown by. I had intended to write this blog at the beginning of my semester at University of Notre Dame Australia back in February, but was busy getting new course materials together. Around March-April I thought to myself “oh I must get onto that teaching blog…..”…then came the exams, and before you know it, here we are – semester is over, it’s term holidays now and I haven’t done this teaching blog yet. Anyways, this is us:

I have really enjoyed building and teaching the brand-spanking-new Music in Media class. The course is designed for non-musicians – we begin by studying the building blocks of music itself – rhythm, melody, harmony etc, before diving into film music, which makes up the majority of the 13 week unit.

I did my best to cover a cross section of the great movie composers of the last century – but of course, with only limited time, several big names had to be left out. That said we did look at examples from the ‘golden era’ of Hollywood – Erich Korngold, Max Steiner, Bernard Herrmann – as well composers that were active a little later, Maurice Jarre, Ennio Morricone – and the composers of today, Hans Zimmer, Alexandre Desplat, Danny Elfman and Thomas Newman, among others. The full list is here.
It was fascinating to see how the genre has changed over the last 80+ years, and to study the vast array of effects music can have in film. It was a ton of work but I learned so much putting this list together. Although I will tweak it slightly for next time – we could do with a few more comedy scores and the list is rather orchestra-heavy – I think it worked well for a first run.
As most film music involves computers and recording studios etc, we also touch on music technology – boy, what a class that was! I wasn’t able to bring my class to my home studio, so….I (for the most part) brought my studio to the class.

2 hours of setup the night before, for only 90 minutes of class time but it worked great. Good thing it doesn’t happen very often though!

We finished the semester with TV music – Game of Thrones and Breaking Bad – and finally we looked at how music works in advertising. Companies such as Nike tend to excel here – check this out!

The only downside was that we only had 7 students – and, while a small class is a good class – isn’t doesn’t bode well for the future, as the Dean may decide to cancel a unit that has poor enrollment numbers. It appears that had it not been for a timetable clash, we would have had more students in class. I believe it is important for graduating film & communications students to have SOME idea as to how music actually works in media.  So….here’s hoping we start listening to more film music semester 1, 2019 ;)

Recording in NYC

6 weeks ago I had the privilege of recording some new big band music in NYC, for my upcoming EP. Having recorded The LA EP last year, I was keen to get a ‘New York sound’ on this release – which, I believe, we did.

We headed to Avatar Studios on September 25 and 27 with some of New York’s finest session musicians, put together by trombonist and MD David Gibson. I am forever thankful to Dave for putting together a fantastic ensemble of great players and great people – these players had never worked with me before, but that didn’t matter – everyone was supportive and positive, no ego.



Special thanks must also go to my fellow Perth jazz man Troy Roberts (now based in NYC) for recommending Dave to me. In contrast to The LA EP, I knew almost no one at the start of this project – Troy and Dave helped make it happen. As with LA, the NYC sessions were filmed for YouTube & BluRay thanks to Robot Fondue.
Although having an entirely new band, studio and film crew, we did however bring on board the same engineer from last time out in California, Allen Sides, and my production assistant Kyle Newmaster. It was great to work with them again and I’m really happy they were available for the project. Here you can also see assistant engineer and ProTools whiz, Thom Beemer.


As a writer, one of my main goals with this project was consolidation. After getting a lesson with Vince Mendoza following the LA EP, we came to the conclusion that some of the LA charts were a bit too drawn out – Vince talks about ‘the waiting room’. “Don’t leave me in the waiting room”. Those charts were 7 and 9 minutes each. As such, the charts on this EP are shorter – around 4-6 minutes each. To my mind at least, the structure is tighter and more succinct – but you be the judge.

The results should be ready soon and I can’t wait to share them with you!

JAZZIZ Summer Sampler

I am privileged to be a part of the latest Summer CD Sampler put together by JAZZIZ magazine. Disc 1 includes ‘Choose Your Own Adventure‘ from The LA EP. Thanks to JAZZIZ for their support and allowing me to be included with some pretty impressive names on the sampler! Can’t wait to listen to the other tunes from the likes of The Yellowjackets, Esperanza Spalding, Bill Frisell and others.

The summer issue of JAZZIZ is out now :)

An Open Letter to the PSO

The Perth Symphony Orchestra, a relatively new arts organization, recently put a notice on their facebook page (which they have since deleted) asking  for local composers to submit music for one of their up-and-coming chamber music concerts. They stated that no money was available to pay the successful applicant – but that they were willing to showcase local works.

My response, which I had posted in the comments section of the original post, is as follows:

Dear PSO:

While I appreciate it being very difficult to set up a new orchestra with funding etc, as a composer myself I believe it is not fair, nor professional, to ask for free music. Are you asking the musicians to perform for free? If not, why is it that you think you should exempt composers from being financially compensated in the same way?
Unless a composer has their work performed by the Berlin Philharmonic at the Super Bowl, ‘exposure’ or ‘showcase’ is not an adequate form of payment. Musicians in general are tired of hearing this argument. Composers and arrangers should be paid fairly, just like anyone else. If you pay the players – then you should pay the writers too.
I have written music for free on occasion, for local theatre companies – but in these instances, EVERYONE was working for free. The actors, director, stage crew etc were all  providing their talent and skill voluntarily. Under these circumstances, I’m happy to provide music for free.
While a university composition student might be happy to hear their work performed by a student orchestra, I believe that a professional organization such as the PSO should treat composers and arrangers professionally also.
I completely understand that setting up any new arts organization is not easy, particularly when it comes to funding. I commend the PSO for all the great work they have done thus far, in providing some unique concert experiences and engaging with the community. That’s terrific, and Perth needs more of this.
But if PSO is ‘not in a position to offer a commission’ – then I personally believe it’s better not to ask for free music in the first place.

Thank you,

Myles Wright

This sort of thing happens far too often. Large parts of society seem to think it is ok to ask artists to work for free. Another example from the UK:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3589135/Sainsburys-apologises-canteen-artist-volunteer-advert.html

Now, comparing the PSO to Sainsburys  might not seem legitimate, as they are two very different companies – but the principle is the same. If you don’t have the money for it – then don’t ask for it.

And finally, this fellow from Canada came up with the perfect response for a similiar situation:

Lets try to bring about some positive change – if you’re an artist reading this and any person or company asks for your work for free – politely tell them that you wouldn’t expect a plumber or electrician to work for free, and that artWORK is work.

 

 

Workshop Bop

Greetings everyone,

Recently I put together this track for a private project, and had a lot of fun doing it. It features Benn Hodgkin on trumpet, Sean Little on tenor sax, Blake Phillips on trombone, Simon Jeans on guitar and Glyn McDonaold on piano. Enjoy!

Q & A Session with Jóhann Jóhannsson

On Monday 29 Feb I had the privilege of attending a Q & A session with Icelandic film composer Jóhann Jóhannsson. Here in Perth for the Perth International Arts Festival, he thankfully had time to speak with the Australian Screen Sound Guild. Jóhannsson has scored recent films such as Prisoners, The Theory of Everything and most recently Sicario, for which he received an Oscar nomination.

I found the discussion very interesting for a number of reasons, which I will outline in the notes that I took below.

Jóhannsson’s entry into the world of film music was somewhat unusual – so far as I can tell from the discussion, Jóhannsson ‘fell’ into it. Despite being a big fan of film in general, Jóhannsson never set out to be a film composer. He began playing in alternative rock bands, formed his own contemporary ensembles and also wrote music for a theatre company in Reykjavik. It was through these avenues that he began to develop his own sound as an artist, with the release of his debut album Englabörn in 2002.

Fast forward a few years and film directors in Iceland began to license some of his works for various films. After that, directors starting asking Jóhannsson to write original music – based on the musical style that he had now created. Jóhannsson also mentioned working in Denmark for 8 years, stating that the country had a strong film industry.

What I find interesting about this – is that Jóhannsson wasn’t one of the many aspiring young film composers who arrive in Los Angeles hoping to make a career. He created is own musical identity first – which then attracted the attention of film directors.

In fact, when asked by one audience member “what advice do you have for new film composers today?” his advice was to create one’s own musical identity. This is in contrast to the frequent advice I have heard over the years – that is, to be as versatile a composer as possible in order to accommodate the varying needs of the industry, make strong professional connections etc.

On Sicario:

(A thrilling and tense drama based on the Mexican drug cartels, I saw this film recently and loved it – it’s full on! Not for the faint-hearted.)

Jóhannsson’s first communication with director Denis Villeneuve was via text message: “The music has to be powerful”, wrote the Canadian.

After reading the script, Jóhannsson began writing a few cues even before filming. While most of the music was written at the rough-cut stage, which is the norm, occasionally Jóhannsson writes some music prior to production to play to Villeneuve. “He loves that…” says Jóhannsson. Villeneuve continued to refer to these early musical excerpts during the production process.

At the rough-cut stage, Jóhannsson received the footage with no temp music – highly unusual – and mentioned that this is the way he and Villeneuve prefer to work. Having formed a working relationship together on Prisoners and The Theory of Everything, Jóhannsson says that there is less and less dialogue between them with each successive film/score they make.  The relationship is none-the-less challenging, as Villeneuve “expects something he hasn’t heard before”. Both men are now working on their fourth film together, Story of Your Life.

Jóhannsson visited the set during production, something he loves to do – in the case of Sicario, the vast & barren landscape in particular was of interest to Jóhannsson, and this inspired part of his approach to the score. The music had to be ‘visceral’, ‘powerful’ and ‘physical’ – music that you feel, rather than hear. Consequently, drums and percussion feature heavily. (And wait until you hear that ominous cello/bass glissandi – a key motif in the film).

War music was an influence, but only a subtle one. Regarding precisely where music should start and stop in a film, Jóhannsson states that Villeneuve usually has a good idea of musical placement from the outset.

When asked about the relationship between music and sound design, Jóhannsson tends not to draw too heavy a line between the two – “think of the whole” was his approach. “Write with the sound designers in mind”.

Thanks again to ASSG for putting this together, its not very often that us folks in Perth, Western Australia get to hear from such an experienced and unique film composer.

The LA EP + Big Band Sheet Music

Seasons Greetings to everyone :)

The discs for The LA EP have finally arrived! *Hands in the air*

Special thanks to Grant Salinger at Motionlink for the Blu-Ray authoring and the great team at ProCopy for their help during the final stages of production. And of course a big thank you to all the special musicians and production crew who helped bring this to life **THANK YOU**

You can purchase The LA EP here.

Big band sheet music from the EP is now available here.


Best wishes to everyone for 2016!