All posts by Garrett Tiedemann

Is ‘Serial’ the first podcast to have a soundtrack released on vinyl?

Serial score vinyl

Serial broke a lot of barriers last fall, winning a Peabody to cap off a remarkable year. With audience stats skyrocketing beyond those of any previous podcast, its success opened new doors for audio storytelling online. It’s also now the first podcast, to my knowledge, to have its score released on vinyl.

The music for Serial was all original, giving the series a distinct sound. Nick Thorburn, who I interviewed earlier this year, composed the main theme along with a number of other tracks before Mark Henry Phillips came on to handle the sound design and additional scoring duties. Thorburn released his music digitally last year and for Record Store Day this year decided to release his score on vinyl.

If you missed scooping this wax on Record Store Day, no need to worry. You can still pick up a copy at Turntable Lab as you anxiously await the new season of Serial.

Bryce Dessner invents new instrument for Sō Percussion

Chordstick

It’s one thing to compose music for performance, and it’s another thing to compose music that requires an entirely new instrument. For his sophomore solo release Music for Wood and Strings Bryce Dessner, a composer who is also a guitarist in the band the National, chose the latter, enlisting Sō Percussion to be his guinea pigs performing 10 movements featuring what he calls the “chordstick.”

Record label Brassland commissioned the above film by Derrick Belcham, Zara Popovici, and Sean Dwyer to present what is essentially “a hybrid dulcimer.” A cross between a hammered dulcimer and an electric guitar, the construction of the chordstick allows for a more percussive playing technique, building atmospheric ambiance.  Members of Sō Percussion thought they would be more like dulcimers, but they actually “sound and look more like two guitars laid out.”

Brassland released the record on May 19, and you can find it at all the usual places for streaming and downloading. If you’re interested in Dessner’s views on contemporary classical music, check out his 2013 piece in Boing Boing.

New website celebrates the centenary of John Cage

John Cage website

The New World Symphony has revealed a new site devoted to John Cage, commemorating the centenary of his birth. Funded in part by the Knight Foundation, Making the Right Choices: A John Cage Celebration is a free website designed around videos of the New World Symphony performing Cage’s work during a 2013 festival held in the New World Center—the Frank-Gehry-designed home of the New World Symphony).

“Some of the videos primarily capture the live event,” explains the site. “Others take the performances much further, adding layers of visual interpretation that provide deeper insight into the spirit of his works.”

The New World Symphony pursues its mission of preparing “highly-gifted graduates of distinguished music programs for leadership roles in orchestras and ensembles around the world” by teaching experimental ideas and innovative thinking in order to enrich and challenge minds with classical music.

Music lovers can now find new understanding and love for one of the most important figures of the 20th Century.

 

BAFTA honors go to ‘Penny Dreadful’ and ‘Sherlock’

Sherlock

The 2015 British Academy Awards were bestowed by the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) on Sunday night. The BAFTA awards are a celebration of film and television on the scale of our own Academy Awards; many believe they have an even more acute eye (and ear) for quality.

Of the many honors bestowed came three for Showtime’s Penny Dreadful in Production Design, Makeup and Hair Design, and a Best Original Music award for Abel Korzeniowski. I spoke with Korzeniowski last year about the incredible richness and experimentation of his classically-inspired score for the show’s first season. The BAFTA honor is a well-earned reward and comes just in time for the show’s second season premiere this Sunday on Showtime, which the network will be offering for free.

In addition to Penny Dreadful, fan favorite Sherlock (above) took home awards for Sound and Editing. I spoke with the composers David Arnold and Michael Price of Sherlock last year and learned how vital their work is to the show’s success. While the award may not be a win for the composers personally, it’s a great success regardless that reflects the creativity and hard work put in by the show’s entire creative team.

Jóhann Jóhannsson Brings ‘Chaconne’ and ‘Drone Mass’ to the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Johan Johannsson

Following the acclaim of his Golden-Globe-winning score for The Theory of Everything, Jóhann Jóhannsson is set to premiere two pieces at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art  on Tuesday, March 17. Uniting with the American Contemporary Music Ensemble and the 2014 Grammy Award-winning vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth; Jóhannsson will perform pieces titled Chaconne, featuring violinist Yuki Numata Resnick; and Drone Mass, which “uses texts based on the Coptic Gospel of the Egyptians.”

Jóhannsson’s art, impressive as it is on record and on screen, is even impressive in a live setting; often, the composer includes an electronic visual media component that shows him to be an experimentalist at heart—a composer who knows how to bridge classical music and a contemporary milieu.

The specific venue for this performance, however, will be anything but contemporary: the Met’s Temple of Dendur. If you’re going, don’t forget the kids! Though adult tickets are $40, kids can come for just $1.

Oscar-winning composer Hans Zimmer gives boxing a new soundtrack

Hans Zimmer boxing

Hans Zimmer can now add Premier Boxing Champions to his list of credits. Tapping the Oscar-winning composer—arguably the most influential film composer working today—makes sense as live sporting events begin to turn more narrative, modeling the storytelling tricks of cinema and television to capture audiences’ interest.

A video shows Zimmer at a boxing gym in California, recording percussion with musicians from the London Symphony Orchestra, the Royal Philharmonic, and the London Philharmonic. Listening closely to the sound of boxing allowed Zimmer to craft music that fits well with the sport’s soundscape—rather than just floating above or rumbling below.

With Hans Zimmer this year, and Brian Tyler last year for the NFL, the best film and TV composers are increasingly being drawn into the world of sports. Whether this is good or bad is hard to say, but it is at the very least interesting, demonstrating that sports producers understand the importance of keeping score.

‘Knight of Cups’: New Terrence Malick movie features a ton of classical music

Knight of Cups

On Sunday Terrence Malick’s new film Knight of Cups premiered at the 2015 Berlinale International Film FestivalThe much-anticipated feature from the revered director was met with typical fanfare, with lots of buzz about the film’s big-name stars—including Christian Bale, Natalie Portman, and Cate Blanchett—and how the film was actually shot without a completed script. (Malick himself was, as expected, absent.) Portman was quoted in a tweet by Berlinale: “I admired Terrence Malick as an artist. Now I got to know him as a human and that made me admire him even more.”

Malick is well-known for his frequent use of classical music, and his new movie has an enormous amount of music in it. In addition to music by Vaughan Williams, Grieg, Beethoven, Debussy, Pärt, and other composers, the film includes an original score that continues Malick’s collaborative relationship with composer Hanan Townshend—a relationship that now spans at least three films. The movie also includes music by indie rock bands like Explosions in the Sky and Thee Oh Sees. A complete list of music in the film appears at The Playlist.

Knight of Cups, which stars Bale as a discontented Hollywood screenwriter, has received wildly varying reviews: the London Times says it’s Malick “at the top of his game,” while the BBC says it’s the worst film ever by the director known for Badlands (1973), The Thin Red Line (1998), and The Tree of Life (2011). It’s expected to be released in the U.S. this year, though no date has yet been announced.

‘Frequencies’: New film showcases the music of video game ‘League of Legends’

There’s a new film out called Frequencies: The Music of League of Legends. Created by Riot Games, it provides an inside look at the importance of music to crafting the video game experience and the ever evolving worlds of League of Legends. According to the film’s website, “Frequencies is a behind-the-scenes look at…the moment when creativity, collaboration, and passion collide to forge and reinforce story through music.”

Though it’s in one regard a promotional piece, the film’s length and quality go far beyond typical puff pieces: providing a unique look, for fans and non-fans alike, at the many pieces required to produce a score of true art. Introducing us to how these ideas are developed, it’s a further step in highlighting the important role music plays to the video game experience and represents why, the craft of composing for video games is gaining increasing recognition.

The focus of the film is on the people who make it happen: reinforcing that even in our digital age, where so much is presented to us by machines, true art arises from the collaborations of people. Watch the film below, and for more about video game composers, check out Emily Reese’s terrific podcast Top Score.