Monthly Archives: April 2011


This demo is really two different pieces. The first tells a complete story in sixty seconds – a daredevil botches his stunt in front of a huge crowd.

The second part sets a mood. It’s a classic “six months later”moment – the star is out of the game, sitting at home depressed and unable to complete.
First the tech: this is recorded entirely digitally – everything was done on my studio computers. I’m primarily using LASS, East West, VSL, and Cinesamples. I did the mix in Digital Performer with a few Waves plugins. The reverb is MOTU’s ProVerb using LASS’s impulses. Like everyone else, I ran the virtual instruments in Bidule since DP hasn’t released a 64-bit version quite yet.
The style: One filmmaker who heard it described it as “very Disney”. That wasn’t exactly a complement, but then I would describe it as “old-school”. This demo is about orchestration: no synths, no guitars, no beats. If we brought this to an orchestra, we’d want the players to nail it in one take.
I’d love to bore you all with a blow-by-blow of how I wrote this and way, but suffice to say, I’m using tools of the trade to invoke different mood. If you like this demo, let me know.

 

Posted 6 years ago by John Piscitello

A composer in South America emailed me and asked for advice on getting a visa to the US so he can pursue becoming a working composer in Los Angeles. I told him I’d write a response on the blog.

Let me first alert readers: I’m no expert on getting US visas. My only experience is with my wife’s visa (she is a Russian citizen). So unless your strategy is to marry an American, I’m not the first person to ask. ūüėČ

Other than that, my advice is: separate getting the visa from your desire to work as a composer. The most important thing is to come to LA and start getting to know people in town. So focus on getting the visa first. Then worry about getting work in LA.

Your chances for an H1-B are better with bigger corporations. You will have to consider positions that are  non-composery. But pick a place where your coworkers are people you might work with in the future. Video game studios are a natural fit. For instance, Michael Giacchino was in marketing at Dreamworks Interactive and got his break when he made a demo in his off-hours for a Jurassic Park game they were releasing.

Then there are academic programs at UCLA and USC. You don’t have to get into the film or music grad programs even. It can be business. Just get an F-1, get here, spend all your spare time on your music and networking, and work out a strategy to stay here after you finish school.

If you’re serious about being a working composer, these won’t be diversions, they’ll be ways around an obstacle.

Posted 6 years ago by John Piscitello

My, the F-word is having a great year. ¬†First there is¬†P!nk’s “F-ing Perfect” (19 million views, embedding disabled). I’ve always liked P!nk. Something very honest about her songwriting.

Then there’s C-Lo’s “F You” (52 million views). My fave.

Enrique Iglesius has “Tonight I’m F-ing You” (9 million views). Not exactly romantic, but it gets attention.

It’s enough to make me want to watch this (1 million views). Not safe for work!

Posted 6 years ago by John Piscitello
Here’s a cue from “The Slap”, a political comedy written and directed by Jamie Campbell for the Scary Cow Film Festival in San Francisco.

The story: a cheating governor finds himself in the midst of a sex scandal involving a hidden camera and a slap. It’s¬†Patton meets, er, The Big Lewinsky.¬†The ¬†twist: the whole thing is a honeytrap was set by his wife.

The demo is two cues segued together. “Man of the Year” underscores the governor accepting an award in DC. “A Wandering Eye” starts when he relaxes and scans the crowd for beautiful ladies.

For “Man of the Year”, I wrote a string-and-brass chorale worthy of a serious public servant. Then when the governor behaves like a cad, we hear ticki-ticki percussion and sly bass with a restrained island vibe – suggesting the hedonism that lies beneath the guy’s public character.

The stills are shots from the film – one in the midst of a cable news scandal, the other when negotiating his way out of the crisis with his wife.

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Posted 6 years ago by John Piscitello

I’m wrapping up work on a short film Sati Shaves Her Head, produced by Amar and Tejal Shah.¬†It’s an adaptation of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Bernice Bobs Her Hair, which was a bit of a career-maker for the author, being his first short story to land his name on the cover of the Saturday Evening Post.

It’s also the original Mean Girls – wealthy college-aged women competing for boys and being alternately friendly and nasty to each other. Bernice is the outsider who learns to be cool. Sati Shaves her Head transplants the story to Beverly Hills and gives it a South Asian slant:

“Sati, a girl from a small Indian town, goes to California to visit her cousin Nikki for the summer. Nikki feels her fobby cousin is a drag on her social life…” (more)

Point your iPad here to read the Fitzgerald original. A quick read, surprisingly Gossip Girl-like.

The film comes in just under 30 minutes, and there is a ton of music, 18 separate cues. We’re licensing ¬†tracks for party scenes (once that is set I will post the bands and their songs).

For the original music, I’ve created a score combining Indian and Western instruments. Since the story is set in Beverly Hills, the music sounds more American than Indian. Sarod and tabla are mixed with pitched percussion, guitars and mandolins, woodwinds and strings.

As you might guess from the title, Sati (played by Sonal Shah) goes through quite a transformation. The music needs to reflect this journey¬†Sati is at turns awkward, hurt, confused, excited, jealous, humiliated, scarred, and winning. Not to mention the various hair styles. Hannah Simone is Sati’s cousin Nikki, and the relationship between them is something of a cold war. I can say this much: nobody ends up with the same hairstyle they start with.

I’ll get some demos up…
Posted 6 years ago by John Piscitello
I’m no fan of these “sound of pi” musical compositions. People claim there is a secret relationship between pi and music, yada yada.

Here’s how they work. Take pi’s digits – 3.1.4159265 etc… – and map them to notes in a major scale. In C Major, “1” becomes “C”, 2 becomes “D”, etc. Since there are only 7 notes, you have to wrap around once you hit 8, 9, and 0, which weighs the melody towards “C” “D” and “E”.

Now I’m the first guy who’ll bore you with why the Western tonal music system is based on the relationship between math, nature, and human physiology, blah blah blah. So you’d think I’d be jazzed about pi-based music.

Here’s the problem. 3.14158265 is an¬†arbitrary¬†representation of pi. It’s base-10, which has nothing to do with nature. Why not write pi in¬†hexadecimal – 3.243F6A888 – and map the digits to an octatonic scale? Or map duodecimal pi digits – 3.184809493B9 – to a 12-tone scale?

It turns out, pi’s base-10 digits are so arbritrary that they actually make an acceptable random number generator¬†for computer scientists.

“What pi sounds like” is just clever YouTube marketing for ambitious composers who know to get noticed on the Internet. Do not be seduced by their crafty and ingenious marketing! ūüėČ

Having said that – this guy Michael John Blake’s version of “What Pi Sounds Like” is pretty awesome. Check it out.

(Michael, if you’re reading this – it really is good, and it’s a meme with legs. You could do a whole album of irrational numbers. You can do “e” next, then maybe¬†‚ąö2,¬†then¬†log23.)
 
Posted 6 years ago by John Piscitello

Yes, it will be in theaters! We are playing for one week at the Landmark Lumiere at California and Polk starting Friday, June 3rd. Tom Sizemore stars. I will show up for the Friday premiere.

I’ll update when tickets are on sale, or you can “Like” the movie on Facebook¬†or RSVP to the event.

I actually have not seen the revised cut which adds Tom Sizemore’s character. Here is Jared Mobarak’s¬†review¬†of the previous cut (Jarod is a prolific film reviewer, and actually put Contractor’s Routine on his ten best list of 2010).
Once again, here is the trailer:

More making-of videos on the Contractor’s Routine YouTube channel.

Posted 6 years ago by John Piscitello
Some of my composer friends scoffed at Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross winning the Oscar for Best Original Score for The Social Network.

Perhaps it was the unchanging ambient pad that played in the opening scenes. Or that the most memorable piece of music was an arrangement of In the Hall of the Mountain King. Or that art composers don’t care about the the sound design of the snare drum on a particular beat. Or that there wasn’t an orchestra.

I managed to predict this Oscar (although my Oscar pool predictions were generally horrible). My thinking was: Alexandre Desplat (The King’s Speech) A. R. Rahman (127 Hours) and Hans Zimmer (Inception) had all won before. John Powell (How To Train Your Dragon) wrote a very traditional score, and would be at a disadvantage. Nothing electronic-sounding had won an Oscar since Chariots of Fire in 1981¬†(Slumdog Millionaire is the closest ).

This, by the way, was all without every having seen the movie, and without hearing the actual score.

Then I saw the movie. I have updated my theory. Now I think it won because of the first six piano notes in this clip:

Those six notes summed up the whole film: Isolation. Loneliness.

Just goes to show, you don’t have to write a fugue to express powerful emotions.

Posted 6 years ago by John Piscitello
This music may sound familiar, it was used in the score for Master and Commander.

It’s also very influential.

The Tallis Fantasia would have made suitable temp music in Lord of the Rings, Braveheart, How to Drain Your Dragon, and perhaps even the upcoming Your Highness.  It is is very English in character, but it would be suitable as temp music in any historical European setting.

Great for epic mountain range travel shots, romantic partings and homecomings, religious moments, and of course racing home in response to terrible news.

It also happens to be very listenable as background music.

Posted 6 years ago by John Piscitello
I was telling a friend (someone not involved with music or film) about my study of counterpoint and fugue. I’ve been writing in canon, minuet, theme & variation, and passacaglia forms, with the goal of writing fugues like Neo can fight Kung Fu. All within the 18th-century Baroque style, like this C minor fugue by Bach:

The Well-Tempered Clavier is all well and good, but that’s not the sound Michael Bay’s going to want in Transformers: Dark of the Moon. So my friend was puzzled and said to me: why are you writing in a style that isn’t the style you want to write?

I tried explaining. I’d been writing bigger pieces, and while the filmmakers and I were very happy with them, it was hard work. ¬†I hadn’t felt “in control” over the notes as quickly as I would have liked in the process. If you want to be able write huge, powerful scores – thousands-of-notes-on-the-page – you have to control the notes on the page like Neo controls the Matrix.

Fugal form also develops handy skills (if you’re not familiar with the form, try the¬†Wikipedia entry¬†or this funny video by a composition major). For example, fugue lets you write a very small amount of material that can be easily varied into a long piece. Bach’s B flat major fugue in the Well-Tempered Clavier Book I has just three short melodic phrases that keep switching between the fugue’s three continuous voices. You write four good bars of music, and you have everything you need for two and a half minutes of music. It’s a handy technique in a film where you have to develop a musical mood over a long time.

That explanation wasn’t bad, but here’s perhaps a pithier one: Fugues are like wrenches and dodgeball. If you can dodge a wrench, you can dodge a ball.¬†If you can write a fugue, you can write a score.

My inspiration…

Posted 6 years ago by John Piscitello