FILM COMPOSER BLOG

Essay on the sound of buildings in and around New York City.

During the Middle Ages, smell was the unspoken plague of cities. Today it is sound. Streets, public spaces, bars, offices, even apartments and private houses can be painfully noisy, grim and enervating. And we seek respite. The architects of the High Line did not focus especially on the sound of that popular elevated park.

But a good deal of the pleasure of walking along it — and of a visitor’s sense of escaping the city while being in the middle of it — derives from its height, some 30 feet above the street, and the corresponding change in the sonic environment. The rumble of traffic below the High Line physically assaults pedestrians at street level.

The article has Vine-like videos demonstrating sound environments around NYC. Listen to the contrast between Grand Central Terminal (a giant space) and Penn Station (with low ceilings).

My favorite locale is the Lafayette Bistro in Manhattan. It sounds…warm.

http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/12/29/arts/design/sound-architecture.html

Posted 1 month ago by John Piscitello

While I haven’t seen Ryan Coogler’s awesomely-reviewed Creed yet, it made me want to find the Rocky theme “Gonna Fly Now” on YouTube.

If you search you will find two versions of it – the original 1976 Bill Conti song, and a remix from the 2006 release of Rocky Balboa. It’s fascinating to hear them back to back.

The original 1976 release is familiar, but if you’re critiquing it by today’s mix standards, it’s a bit bass heavy and lacks sparkle. The trumpets rush the opening fanfare a little bit. The drum fills are indistinct and buried.

The 2006 version is faithful to the original, but clear, bright and well-balanced. Definitely a needed refresh for 2006 cinema sound systems. But one thing bugs me in the remix: the opening trumpet fanfare sounds like a sample library. It’s suspiciously buzzy-sounding. Also, the rushing of the beat has been edited away. And I think that rushing was very important to how listeners responded to the original track.

So maybe the 1976 mix is a little outdated stylistically. Dull and leaden at the start, with a hi-hat that sticks out and a too-obvious vibrato in the singers. But it evolves. By the time those disco strings rise to their climax, the track catches magic.

I can’t explain it, but the cleaned-up 2006 remix is sort of like a Photoshopped oil-on-canvas painting. I suppose too much processing of music has the same effect as on food. It’s not that you won’t eat it, but the fresh stuff is best. That 1976 recording is nothing short of thrilling. Try it, below:

 

1976:

 

2006:

 

Creed trailer 2015:

 

Posted 2 months ago by John Piscitello

 I have been coming across organs a lot lately. First by seeing the films Prisoners and Interstellar just a few weeks apart. And now, while researching another finicky and hard-to-maintain instrument, I stumbled upon an article and slideshow about the Disney Hall organ in LA, reminding me of the lovely experience of hearing it  during a performance of a suite from “Close Encounters” a few years ago (which seems, by the way, influenced by the appearance of organ in the “Jupiter” movement of Holst’s “The Planets”). The organ can produce pure low bass tones that add power and mass to the orchestra like nothing else can.

Well, two soundtracks don’t quite make a trend, but it’s remarkable to church organs used  so extensively – and so differently – in two major films that couldn’t be more different.

The main theme from Prisoners contains shades of Arvo Pärt and tintinnabulation:

I’m not, by the way, in agreement with those who said the organ was too loud in Interstellar. Come to think of it, this cue sounds influenced by Arvo Pärt too:

Posted 1 year ago by John Piscitello

no place on earth DVD onesheetIn October 1942, Esther Stermer, along with family members and other families, sought asylum underground to evade being caught by pursuing Nazis. They remained hidden below for nearly a year and a half. The film tells their story and documents the survivors’ return to their village 60 years later.

No Place On Earth premiered at the 2012 Toronto International Film Festival and released in theaters with Magnolia Pictures in April 2013. We recorded the orchestral score in Los Angeles. For woodwinds we used alto flute, clarinet, and bassoon. The only brass were french horns. Harp and piano augmented the string ensemble, and it was all augmented by synth layers form my rig. We recorded the whole score in a single day (and you can listen to the Varese Sarabande soundtrack on iTunes).

See No Place On Earth on Netflix. Also on DVDBlu-ray,  iTunes and Amazon Instant Video.

Rotten Tomatoes scored the film 79% fresh with 39 critics’ reviews:

The motion picture soundtrack is on iTunes and Amazon.

Here are soundtrack highlights on Soundcloud:

 

No Place On Earth Trailer:

Posted 1 year ago by John Piscitello

Asian Journal covered the launch of “Sayaw” at its premiere in San Francisco in October 2014.

 

Posted 1 year ago by John Piscitello

whats the t onesheetI wrote music for What’s the T?, a documentary by director Cecilio Asuncion that explores lives of five transgender women. Cecilio asked for different moods of music, which I provided without seeing a cut of the film. I saw it for the first time at Frameline 37 in San Francisco.

Since we made the film, Transparent and Orange is the New Black have created sensitive, fictional portrayals of transgender women, but nothing is as vivid or fascinating as the real-life stories in Cecilio’s film.

Read more about What’s the T? in the LA Times and Huffington Post.

Watch the film on Hulu or DVD. Or this full embed:

Posted 1 year ago by John Piscitello

Print Interviews:

 

Audio Interviews:

With Kaya Savas of Film.Music.Media:

 

With Mark Hasan of KQEK.com / Big Head Amusements:

 

With Chris of Soundtrax.fm:

 

Media features:

  • FanVoice featured “This is Life” from The Short Game.
Posted 1 year ago by John Piscitello

short game onesheetThe Short Game tells the story about the best 7-year old golfers in the world competing in the world championship at Pinehurst Golf course in North Carolina. I composed additional music for The Short Game, which premiered at South by Southwest Film Festival and opened in theaters in 2013. Netflix acquired the film and made it their first Documentary Feature in 2014.

Instead of the orchestral styling of No Place on Earth, The Short Game’s score was based on indie pop. The standout racks are “I Don’t Break“, a pop song which plays at the climax of the tournament, and “This is Life“, a sweet, very long cue which closes the film.

You can watch The Short Game on Netflix and DVD.

Reviews were positive. Rotten Tomatoes rated it 83% fresh with 18 reviews. Here are a few:

Variety: Finding the most entertaining angle on one of the world’s dullest sports, The Short Game has built-in word-of-mouth that should help it break out of the docu sandtrap and roll down the fairway.

Washington Post: You don’t need to like golf to like — perhaps even to love — The Short Game.

New York Times: On a cuteness scale — where 10 is a fuzzy kitten yawning in a hammock — the chattily uninhibited 7- and 8-year-old golfers of The Short Game score high.

On the production side, director Josh Greenbaum talked about the logistics of shooting the Pinehurst golf tournament, which occupies a major portion of the film. 18 camera crews and a lot of difficult logistics, as covered by Filmmaker Magazine:

“For the most part, we’re shooting at the children’s level, not down at them,” says (director) Greenbaum. He didn’t want the angle of the camera to provide any editorial perspective by shooting down or up at them.”

Josh Greenbaum also talked about working with kids in an interview on Golf.com:

This is a 7-year-old driving the ball 185 yards or eagling from the sand. So we had to find ways to remind you that these are kids, so those few times that they did break down or throw their clubs or start crying on the course actually helped us do that. I told the cinematographer to get the caddy or the bag or a tree in the frame while they’re hitting the ball so that the audience realizes, “Oh my God! They’re so tiny!”

Here is a sampling of my music in the film:

And the trailer:

Posted 1 year ago by John Piscitello

Google wrote about what they consider to be “The Eight Pillars of Innovation”. They reflect my experience when I worked there. I’ll leave it to you to deep-dive into the article, but The Eight Pillars are (with comments in parentheses):

  1. Have a Mission That Matters – (great startup advice, but for filmmaking, ambition can work against creating an emotional experience for the audience.)
  2. Think Big But Start Small – (big-companies especially need to hear this. Artists are of course by necessity used to starting small.)
  3. Strict for Continual Innovation, Not Instant Perfection – (on the other hand, Apple prefers to hold products back until they are perfect at launch.)
  4. Look for Ideas Everywhere – (yes, however films can benefit from a singular guru who sift through innumerable production ideas in pursuit of a clear vision.)
  5. Share Everything – (I’ve often heard comedy writers talk about how they learned this on the improv stage.)
  6. Spark with Imagination, Fuel with Data – (another way of saying is be prepared for many creative ideas to be rejected by reality.)
  7. Be a Platform – (creativity doesn’t mean you have to reinvent everything. Superhero and zombie concepts are simply platforms. What you create upon them can be wonderful.)
  8. Never Fail to Fail – (yes, but in order to fail frequently, you need to be capable of a high volume of output. You don’t want to be creatively spent when an idea is rejected and you have to start over.)

I find Google’s Eight Pillars too complicated, so I invented JP’s 2 Pillars of Coming Up With Original Stuff:

  1. Time – The longer you work on the idea, the farther down the road you can go. Time lets you travel beyond the Trope and the Obvious and discover new creative lands.
  2. Concentration – If the phone buzzes,  the pressure of a deadline weighs upon your soul, or even if you’re just plain hungry, your mind is less free to explore.

I always saw Silicon Valley’s free food and wifi buses as schemes to free up employee time…so they have more Time to Concentrate!

Posted 1 year ago by John Piscitello

Foo Fighters – Something from Nothing. Sounding very much like the perfect 90s band they were. And are.

 

Gwen Stefani – Baby Don’t Lie. This may not sound like her 90s band, but the video rocks a Windows 95 screensaver look.

 

Taylor Swift – Welcome to New York. This song will be inescapable. The full song is on Grantland…below is a 30-second preview:

 

Posted 1 year ago by John Piscitello