I had been thinking about Prince this week. I’d heard Let’s Go Crazy on the radio and wanted to write about it. Waking up to the sudden news that Prince passed away, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned from him.

Prince’s The Hits / B-Sides Disc One used to play on my car stereo a *lot*. I liked it because those songs were mostly from outside Prince’s “peak” period, and I didn’t know them until I got the disc.

Two things stand out about these 17 songs. One is, a lot of Prince’s writing is I-IV-V blues: examples are Kiss, 7, U Got the Look, Cream, Sexy, M.F., When You Were Mine, Alphabet Street

And the E. A. B. principle from Vinyl thoroughly applies. Every song has a “new” sound element. It’s never a melange of typical instruments. The best example might be “Kiss” – a I-IV-V blues that could have been written in minutes, with a mix that overflows with ear candy. The elongated gated-reverb kick drum interacts perfectly with the rhythm guitar – or is that a synth? My ears can’t tell, and that’s why I love it.

Then there’s 1980’s “When You Are Mine”, which has the quintessential 1980s guitar sound. It’s that sort of breezy, 50s-ish, California post-punk guitar sound, all attack, with the bottom cut out. It’s like a little piece of bubble gum you want to keep popping over and over.

Listening to Prince’s catalog, it’s all so effortless and confident.

But the masterpiece is “Let’s Go Crazy“, a hail mary pass of a song, filled with one astonishing moment after another.

Nothing was ever more radio-ready for 1984 than his preacher’s sermon intro. The over-vibrato’d organ, bananas synth glissando, and strangely beautiful Afterworld where “you can always see the sun, day….or night”…these stood out, to say the least.

When the actual groove starts, it’s a touch over-enthusiastic, but it works because of the mix. This kind of high energy, joyous groove is nearly impossible to pull off. Too much or too little of anything, and you’ve got a “Walking on Sunshine” on your hands.

Minus the extended intro and ending, the actual *song* part of “Let’s Go Crazy” runs under 3 minutes, and makes an ideal study in sustaining momentum. A lot of famous hooks tire a bit by the 3rd chorus. But Prince elaborates his ideas just enough to keep things falling forward. Listen for the background singers’ echoes and doublings, the keyboard drop propelling a section transition, and how Prince’s performance grows increasingly agitated. Even the guitar solo’s genius final lightning riff is like a nitro injection, raising the stakes.

Like Bach’s C Minor Prelude, the song doesn’t end so much as it explodes. The arena-concert finale takes several unexpected twists – the first cataclysmic ritardando, the sudden guitar break, and Prince’s final shout to God – “Take Me!”.

It’s an ending so inspired, so beyond craft, a composer cannot possibly learn from it. One can only admire, and enjoy it.


Posted 3 years ago by John Piscitello

A Facebook discussion forum for media composers recently had a conversation about “starting points”. How do you deal with the fact that some composers may have more connections, resources, or advantages than you do?

It developed into a conversation about perseverance and attitude, and reminded me of an experience that taught me about “creating luck”.

Years ago in Boston I was walking with a college buddy to dinner somewhere. I said let’s take Commonwealth Ave, a quiet street. He said no way, if we walk on Newbury Street we’re more likely to run into somebody we know.

We took Newbury, and sure enough ran into a couple of women our age whom we’d met once or twice before. Spur of the moment, they joined us for dinner, making the whole thing a lot more fun.

I remember my friend’s wise counsel that night often, to remind myself to be consciously open and create possibilities. Whatever our relative starting points, it’s a long road for all of us. I figure if I’m trying to get somewhere, it might as well be by Newbury Street.

Posted 3 years ago by John Piscitello

One of my composition professors once told me “don’t be overly pre-occupied with originality”. For years I’ve been trying to understand that advice, but this scene in Vinyl puts it together.

The Nasty Bit’s lead singer Kip gets frustrated while trying to write a song, complaining “there are no more notes”:

Two thoughts on that scene. First, the folks making Vinyl really love and get music, and I hope the show succeeds.

Second, in high school, I thought the exact same thing: I-IV-V was overly simplistic. Despite the fact it occurs in masterpieces over and over, like the first 30 seconds of Beethoven’s Sixth:

So, there you go. Don’t worry too much about originality. Form and progressions are just the foundation for your composer voice. If I-IV-V worked for Berry and Beethoven, you can probably use it as a foundation too.

Posted 3 years ago by John Piscitello

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.

Posted 3 years ago by John Piscitello

While I haven’t seen Ryan Coogler’s 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:






Creed trailer 2015:


Posted 3 years 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, 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 4 years ago by John Piscitello

no place on earth DVD onesheet

In 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 4 years ago by John Piscitello

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


Posted 4 years 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 4 years ago by John Piscitello

Print Interviews:


Audio Interviews:

With Kaya Savas of Film.Music.Media:


With Mark Hasan of / Big Head Amusements:


With Chris of


Media features:

  • FanVoice featured “This is Life” from The Short Game.


Posted 4 years ago by John Piscitello