FILM COMPOSER BLOG

I agree our culture is too loud. Our mobile phones certainly don’t help – you have to raise your voice to be heard on the other end, and earbuds inure us to overloud volumes. I pity this guy:

A year ago, I thought it a brilliant purchase. Especially since a charming, creek-side writer’s cottage was grandfathered into the property…resplendent with trees, meadows and wildflowers.

But then came the insidious waves of hikers and mountain bikers and their incessant, loud chitchat augmented by shouts of encouragement, bike bells and . . . singing.

It started to grate on me. I could not write. Apparently, my next-door neighbor was having a similar problem. The same cadres of von-Trapp-family hikers clomping on the periphery of his lot were also driving him and his dog nuts. Since the hiking trails were not technically on our properties, it seemed there was nothing we could do to stem the tide of annoyingly happy campers.

We should all try and be low talkers.

Posted 4 years ago by John Piscitello

No Place On Earth is out on DVD and Blu-ray this week (with an updated onesheet). It’s on DVD but you can also get it as a digital download on iTunes and Amazon Instant Video.

No Place On Earth is a good watch, I promise!  77% on Rotten Tomatoes, Variety called it “A substantial contribution to Holocaust cinema,” and LA Times said “Add one more extraordinary survival tale to the canon of Holocaust documentaries”.

The Playlist

covered the film when into wider theatrical release back in April and ran a clip, which happens to feature the opening cue from the soundtrack, Coming Out, watch it below.

Posted 4 years ago by John Piscitello
I recently did a Twitter chat with @HBSAlumni. They asked me about leaving Silicon Valley to pursue film scoring, recent projects like No Place On Earth, and my recommendations of favorite film scores (hint: I may have brought up this concert of Ennio Morricone conducting):

Posted 4 years ago by John Piscitello

Anita Elberse of HBS wrote about how master violinist Joshua Bell was ignored by busy DC Metro commuters and the career lessons for artists.

Here is an account of what happened in the metro (entitled Pearls before Breakfast”):

Anita Elberse describes the importance of a strategy for presenting your work:

Bell’s performance at the metro station was purposefully devoid of any indication that suggested he is, in fact, a superstar worthy of people’s attention. It was the worst marketing strategy imaginable: the wrong location, the wrong time, and (with his street clothes) the wrong image. If the goal had been to attract attention, even a few little adjustments would have gone a long way: picking a place in the station where commuters naturally stand still, placing a banner displaying his name, or hiring a few fans to serve as his cheering section, to name just a few examples. In many ways, everyone who is competing for attention in the workplace needs a strategy, too — even paying attention to seemingly minor details can go a long way.

True that.

Here is more Joshua Bell, this time with proper lighting and microphones, playing Shubert’s Ave Maria:

(The funny thing is – the Metro station video is where he’s been seen the most on YouTube, that has about 3 times the views of his next-biggest video.)

Posted 4 years ago by John Piscitello

From their review:

Very rarely do you find a new voice amongst the scoring community that stands out above the rest as something truly special. A voice that truly has something to say and isn’t fitting into a mold or pattern. John Piscitello is a voice just like that, and this relatively new composer is making a grand mark with his score to the stirring documentary No Place On Earth.


John Piscitello’s score is a masterpiece and for this to come from a composer who is practically getting started is just awe inspiring. The music feels alive and has a very distinct personality with many sides to it.

Here’s one clip from the soundtrack, “Coming Out”:

Posted 4 years ago by John Piscitello
A friend pointed me to this interview with Don Veca about the original Dead Space game. Here’s my favorite bit:

This was the birth of the game “fear emitter,” which is simply a first-class game object that designers can place in the world or attach to other objects, most notably, the enemy alien creatures. Fear emitters are simply a “sphere of influence.” However, with this one tool, we can affect a myriad of audio sources, such as music, streamed ambience, adaptive ambience, reverb control, general mixing parameters, or whatever. But… of course, the devil’s in the details.

And here’s a little bit of Dead Space gameplay video to give you an idea. It starts with action, but moves to an exploration sequence where you can get a sense of these horror emitters.

Posted 4 years ago by John Piscitello

Tom Garner is a postdoctorate in Denmark who has written a very readable article about his research in “sonic emotioneering”. Put another way, how to scare the pants of the audience with sound design:

“Of the research that has been conducted, several objective acoustic characteristics (that are expected to be effective irrespective of other factors/contexts) include:

  • Rapid onset/offset (tempo): Increases anxiety by way of connoting urgency.
  • Source delocalisation: Obscuring the source’s location via masking with other sounds, moving a sound quickly and irregularly through a 3D sound environment and/or, utilising reverberation to generate reflections that disorientate the listener.
  • Extreme frequency: creating high screeches or low rumbles that reliably connote threat of an unknown nature.
    • Defamiliarisation through distortion: taking a sound that is characteristically comforting and distorting or blending it with other sounds to decontextualize the original sound and create a sense of the uncanny and unease.
  • Immediate attack: Sudden shifting from silence/low volume to high volume.
  • Extended acousmatic attack: Slowly increasing volume but with no visible source, suggesting an unseen threat is approaching.”

Some of these techniques seem applicable to scoring and some do not. What’s very interesting is the importance of a 3D sound environment, which brings to mind the importance of producing music in surround sound (and just like with visual 3D, it’s a good idea to think using surround starting in the earliest sketching phase, not just at the end during the mix).

The idea of disorientation is powerful. Common horror techniques might start with ambiguous ambient pads, slowly introduce dissonance to amp up tension, then launch a sudden attack of extreme rhythm and dissonance.

This paper inspires to work more with auditory distortion. Perhaps you can giving the audience a familiar musical theme – it doesn’t have to be creepy – to work as their comfort zone. As the characters descend into isolation and danger, the music disorients the audience by subtle skewing – using pan, timbre, reverberation and EQ, and perhaps lessening reliance on dissonance and bizarre sound design.

What comes to mind is a piece I’ve posted before by Giacinto Scelsi, the Italian composer whose Hymnos is based on a single note, which evolves with extreme precision throughout the orchestra. While I find the piece itself to be very beautiful (and not at all terrifying), you can imagine how this music in an interactive environment could be used to signal varying levels of danger and peril in the game environment.

Here it is, in

2 parts:

Posted 4 years ago by John Piscitello
Kaya Savas from Film Music Media interviewed me about No Place On Earth. He asks good questions, some of which I had never thought about before!

Film Music Media has lots of composer interviews, and what I really like are the articles that branch out beyond film music to overall geek-fandom: read their takes on Marvel vs. Michael Bay, Dad comedies on network TV, and Batman vs. Superman.

Posted 4 years ago by John Piscitello

Color correction and visual effects master Stu Maschwitz shows how to take an ordinary piece of footage and completely remake it with common digital color tools. The reference pictures are Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Terminator Salvation, Where the Wild Things Are, and The Taking of Pelham 1-2-3.

I’ve observed with USC / SCA filmmakers working on color – overhearing comments like “there’s too much green in that shot – see that? we need more yellow here” makes you realize that some people have more of an eye for color than others.

This video makes for a great education for the colorblind like me.

Episode 22: Creating a Summer Blockbuster Film Look.

There is something of a long introduction to the video, so skip ahead to 3:25 or so

to hear Stu’s breakdown.

Posted 4 years ago by John Piscitello
Soundtrax.fm is a film music radio station. I enjoy their playlists quite a bit, which tend towards current and recent movies and video games. The station is on
iTunes or as a web player.

The station recently added No Place On Earth into rotation and I did an interview with the host Chris Brown. Listen to the entire interview or just tune in, they are sprinkling short interview segments into the rotation.

UPDATE: Here’s the YouTube embed:

Posted 4 years ago by John Piscitello