James Peterson.

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With so many of the established film music composers passing away in recent years collectors of film music must be thinking who do I listen to now? What scores for movies can I look forward to? Will we ever see the likes of Goldsmith, Bernstein, Waxman, Rozsa etc again?
Indeed has film music got a future in the 21st century? All relevant and fair questions, I as a collector of film music too have pondered about the future of music in films, but I am pleased to say that after listening to the work of composer James Peterson, I tend to sleep a little sounder in my bed. His score for THE RED CANVAS must be the soundtrack of the year, it is a powerhouse of rich thematic material that has substance, life and direction, this score is for me the one I would without hesitation recommend to anyone who loves the art of film scoring, it revitalises a medium that has in the past five or six years lost its sparkle and zest, with the exception of a handful of works. Peterson has in one score rekindled a flame of interest that I hope will continue to burn for many years to come.

John Mansell: Your latest score to be released onto CD is THE RED CANVAS, how did you become involved on this project, and can you tell us something about the movie?
James Peterson: I was hired by director Ken Chamitoff. I was college friends with him but had lost contact in recent years. He did a Google search for me and discovered my ‘Moving Images Suite’ on MySpace. He was impressed and emailed me and that’s how it all came together… totally out of the blue. THE RED CANVAS is a mixed martial arts film with an emphasis on family drama. The filmmakers are all avid martial artists and the technical advisors and performers are all world class athletes in mixed martial arts fighting.

John Mansell: Staying with THE RED CANVAS, from what I have heard of the score, it evokes the golden age of Hollywood, by this I mean it has certain similarities to the styles of Waxman, Newman and predominately Rozsa, is this something you set out to do, or did it just come about as the composing process progressed ?
James Peterson: I did not set out to write an old-fashioned score. The references to Rozsa most specifically are embodied in a theme I wrote in homage to Ben Hur. It seemed appropriate because these fighters are gladiators of sorts. Also I truly love Rozsa’s writing and wanted to honour him. I think my music is a synthesis of many different styles of music channelled through my individual voice. I love classical music and jazz. I am a fan of 20th Century orchestral composers like Bartok, Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel, Harris, Copland, Amram, Barber, Hindemith, Grainger and many other as well as the film music giants. Though I really do love the Golden Age composers especially North, Herrmann, and Rozsa, I find that my favourite film music is actually from the 70s and 80s where I feel film music reached its zenith. Scores like JAWS, CLOSE ENCOUNTERS, STAR WARS (the first three), RAIDERS, POLTERGEIST, STAR TREK, THE OMEN, and BASIC INSTINCT all were formative works in my listening history. I identify with Williams and Goldsmith and the other greats because of their fluency with harmony, great thematic writing and sensitivity to motivic unity/integration in their scores. While writing this score my ambition was to create highly thematic music that could exist on its own outside of the movie while simultaneously serving the movie’s dramatic contours, something with which all of my favourite composers are masters.

John Mansell: What size orchestra did you utilise on THE RED CANVAS?
James Peterson: Prague FILMharmonic Orchestra: 84 Pieces. 60 Strings, 20 Brass, 4 Woodwinds. Percussion was realized with sample libraries overdubbed in my studio in Santa Monica.

 

james 2John Mansell: Would you say that composers such as Rozsa have influenced you in your style of writing, or scoring projects?
James Peterson: My influences are from my favourite music, in no particular order:
• Jazz: Miles Davis, Chick Corea, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Clifford Brown
• Rock and Pop: Donald Fagen, Steely Dan, The Police, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Queen, Nik Kershaw, Earth Wind and Fire, Radiohead, Oingo Boingo, Depeche Mode, Take 6 and others.
• Classical/Orchestral: Bach, Handel, Debussy, Ravel, Ives, Stravinsky, Bartok, Harris, Copland, Bernstein, Gershwin, Hindemith, Amram, Corigliano, Adams, Berg, Barber. Grainger, Persichetti, and others.
• Vintage Film Composers: Goldsmith, Rozsa, North, Amram, Herrmann, Elmer Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Leonard Bernstein.

• Current Film Composers: John Williams, James Horner, Chris Young, Joel McNeely, Edward Shearmur, Theodor Shapiro, Bruce Broughton, Marco Beltrami, Elliot Goldenthal and Danny Elfman and others.

John Mansell: When you start work on a project, how early in the proceedings do you like to become involved. Do you find it easier to start at the script stage, or do you prefer to come into contact with the project at the rough cut stage?
James Peterson: I’d say the earlier the better. I had three weeks to write the score for THE RED CANVAS and it was a real push. I’m happy reading scripts but would like to see a late cut of the actual film so that my impressions and ideas are fresh the first time I see it. It is cool to have a bit of time to let your ideas brew. There’s so much of this that I think operates on unconscious levels. Stuff just sorts itself out in the background as you are writing and thinking about the work. Mental time “before” you sit down at the keyboard is critical. I usually have a pretty good idea about what I will write before I launch Sibelius and Logic.

John Mansell: I think I am correct when I say you starting scoring film in 1997, when you wrote music for a movie called BROKEN ANGEL, what was this film about and how did you become involved?
James Peterson: BROKEN ANGEL was my very first film project; it’s a story about abuse and homophobia. It’s a USC student short directed by James Cude. I went on to work with him on a syndicated television series called RON HAZELTON’S HOUSE CALLS for three years and completed 72 episodes of weekly scoring. Student films can sometimes pay off.

John Mansell: Had you always thought that you might work on scoring films?
James Peterson: I think the first time I thought about scoring films was in high school when I turned to my buddy while in a movie during the main titles and said “I think I could do this” to which my buddy said “yeah right”.

John Mansell: Where and when were you born?
James Peterson: I was born in Los Angeles and grew up about an hour south in a suburb called Irvine in Orange County. 

John Mansell: You have written numerous concert works and worked for ballet companies etc, how different is it working on film as opposed to working on a concert piece, or ballet, is scoring pictures more disciplined and maybe at times constricting?
James Peterson: I think the biggest difference between film music and concert work is the time pressure. Film always needs it yesterday and the budget and stress levels are much higher. In both you have clients you are working to please and the differences there are as many as there are personalities in the world. Sometimes you click and sometimes you don’t. It’s always more fun to work for clients who like you and appreciate what you do. 

John Mansell: What musical education did you receive?
James Peterson: Bachelor of Arts in Music UCLA.

John Mansell: When working on a score, how do you work out your musical ideas, do you use a synth/computer? Or do you stay with the more conventional piano and manuscript process? 
James Peterson: After I have had some time to think about what I am going to write I like to sit down at the piano or synth and work on my musical ideas then I turn to the sequencer to flesh things out a bit. Then I move to the score page. I use Logic Pro for Sequencing and Sibelius for score prep.

John Mansell: In 2006, you provided additional music for SCREED which you actually directed and produced, what was this project, and who provided the main score if you wrote additional cues?

James Peterson: SCREED is a short film that I wrote and directed. Robby Elfman, my orchestrator on RED CANVAS, provided the score. I wrote some additional cues for it.

John Mansell: You worked on a number of commercials. Around 80 I think, in such a short space of time what do you try to achieve when providing music for an ad?
James Peterson: Advertising music is very specific. The creative directors know what they are looking for generally and provide samples of the styles that work for them. On a 30 second spot pacing is tricky because it can feel rushed. Each spot is unique and most often you’ll write and re-write until you get it. It is rare to get it right the first time. There are always tweaks.
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 A rarity in modern film music, this is a score that is inspired by the legendary Miklós Rózsa – James Peterson masterfully writes very maturely for orchestra, with beautiful motifs, themes and counterpoint!
 

John Mansell: You also conduct, do you find it better to conduct when scoring a movie, or maybe do you think it is better to be able to be in the recording booth keeping an eye on things, also do you carry out your own orchestrations?
James Peterson: I do conduct but only when recording in the US. Because of the language barrier, when working in Prague I like to work with Adam Klemens because he is an excellent conductor and native speaker of Czech. The orchestra also knows him and trusts him. Whether I am on the podium or in the control room I always have Robby Elfman as a score reader in the booth making sure everything is coming down properly.
I do orchestrate but I also work with Robby Elfman as my orchestrator. It’s just the two of us. I don’t use a huge team of people. Though I am able to orchestrate myself, time often doesn’t allow it. I also like to have a second set of ears and trust Robby’s judgement implicitly. I deliver very detailed scores to him. He checks for proper voice-leading, chord voicing, blend and balance etc. I believe we have a terrific synergy working together. He is transparent as an orchestrator and doesn’t colour my work by imposing his ideas or changing the nature of the work. If he adds/deletes anything there is always discussion. When Robby finishes his round of orchestration and delivers his scores to me I am the final word as to what is in the delivered score and execute the final touches.

John Mansell: When working on a movie, how many times do you view a film before you start to spot it or get specific ideas about where music should be placed and what type of score is required?
James Peterson: In my experience so far. The director shows me the film once. Then we spot it. I go away and do a number of cues. Then show and tell. Hopefully that goes well. Then Fix stuff and move on to the next set of cues until everything on the list is checked off. 

John Mansell: What are you working on at the moment?
James Peterson: I am working on getting my next film; “seriously”. This week I just did a cool arrangement for a drum and bugle corps called ‘The San Francisco Renegades’ who have an amazing brass and percussion ensemble. Very eager to hear it as it was scored for 74 brass and 35 percussionists. The Loudest Show on Earth!

John Mansell: Your score for THE RED CANVAS is released by Movie Score Media, did you have any input into the content of the CD?
James Peterson: Yes. I requested that “Moving Images Suite” be included as a bonus. Mikael Carlsson chose the order of the pieces and did a fantastic job on the sequence of the album. I really had no comments or corrections. I am very satisfied with how it all turned out.

John Mansell: What do think of the state of film music at this moment in time?
James Peterson: Well one of the things that I find a little sad is that melody and theme seems to have fallen out of favour a bit in film scores these days. I really like strong melodies and I think sometimes that is perceived as being old fashioned.

John Mansell: What do you think is the purpose of music in film?
James Peterson: To cover up the sound of the film projector. It has very important dramatic effect on images. Watch a horror film without its score and see how scary it is. Not very. Some films work without music but it is quite rare. The trend in many of today’s mainstream films is that music is just another element of sound design to add to the bed of sound effects. I think film music can be much more than this.

John Mansell: Were any of your family musical at all?
James Peterson: My mother taught herself how to play the piano and encouraged my brother, sister, and me to take music lessons at an early age. My brother and I played in the school bands and orchestras and my sister was a part of the colour guard in the marching band. There was always music around growing up. I am the only professional musician in my extended family. 

John Mansell: As a composer do you have a preference to working on certain types or genres of film, or are you happy working on any type of film?
James Peterson: I am happy working on any type or genre of films. I really like horror, action and sci-fi because they tend to have the kind of scores I would like to write. I think the most difficult thing to do is romantic comedy. I haven’t done one yet but it seems the most difficult to me.

John Mansell: What is the biggest orchestra that you have worked with and what was this on?
James Peterson: The Red Canvas Orchestra of 84 members was my biggest film orchestra, The Renegades 74 Brass and 35 percussion is now the largest ensemble I’ve ever written for.

My thanks to James Peterson for his time and his patience on this interview.

Frederik Wiedmann

weidmanIn recent years many of the veteran film music composers such as Jerry Goldsmith, Alex North, Henry Mancini and their like have passed away, many collectors and film music enthusiasts have felt that their passing has left a void within the film music fraternity that will never be filled. However with young talented composers such as Frederik Wiedmann coming into play, we still have hope of returning to film scores that have substance, atmosphere and presence.

John Mansell: Your latest score to be released onto CD is THE HILLS RUN RED, how did you become involved on this project?
Frederik Wiedmann: A few people from the crew of RETURN TO HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (Dark Castle Ent.) worked on THE HILLS RUN RED – so they called me to meet with director Dave Parker. I showed Dave some of my music and we discussed what would be most effective in his film. Shortly afterwards I started scoring it – which took about 3 months.

John Mansell: You utilised the Czech film music orchestra on the score for THE HILLS RUN RED, was this something that you wanted to do, or was it for budget reasons etc?
Frederik Wiedmann: It was budgetary reasons that I had to record in Eastern Europe. I have worked with the Czech Philharmonics many times before, always had a great experience with them. The orchestra performs at a very high musical level, and I am always happy with the result. Their in-house engineer, Milan Jilek, is a pro, and knows how to achieve the sound I am going for. Plus having great orchestrations to begin with (created by Hyesu Yang), helps get the best results in Prague.

John Mansell: When you start work on a project, how early in the proceedings do you like to become involved. Is it helpful for you to see a script, or do you prefer to get onboard at the rough cut stage of the process?
Frederik Wiedmann: Usually I get really involved with writing music at the “rough cut” stage. Although it happened on a few occasions that I was given a script way in advance, which helps me to prepare for the project, meaning I have a lot of time to create new sounds that will be unique to the film. In some cases there are certain on-camera music situations that need to be dealt with way before they even start shooting, in which case I am actually writing before the shoot.

John Mansell: What composers would you say have influenced you in your style and approach to scoring movies?
Frederik Wiedmann: I would say that my biggest influence has been composer John Frizzell. I used to be his tech assistant a few years ago and worked on over 20 pictures for him. I’ve learned a lot about the process of scoring feature films, as well as the technical side of music production, which has become a great asset of mine.
There are many other composers that I admire for their music, probably too many to list here in this interview.

John Mansell: You were responsible for additional music on WHITEOUT, was this because the producer/director felt more music was required after the main score had been recorded?
Frederik Wiedmann: No. The reason for the “additional” music credit was merely the amount of music we had to produce, record, mix etc in a short period of time. I was really brought in to help out where I could. It was a rather complex score, with lots of percussion and synth elements that needed a lot of attention.

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 The Hills Run Red Scoring Session, Prague 2009 – Jan Chalupecky conducting the Czech Film Orchestra.

John Mansell: When did you first think about writing music for film?
Frederik Wiedmann: I believe the score that made me aware of this profession was John Barry’s DANCES WITH WOLVES. I went to see the film back in Germany when I was 12 years old, and fell in love with the music. It was also the first soundtrack I ever owned. However, at that time I didn’t really know much about scoring films, so I really started to consider it as a career when I met composer Nik Reich in Germany. He showed me how he worked and it completely blew my mind, and it was very clear to me that it was what I wanted to do.

John Mansell: Where and when were you born ?
Frederik Wiedmann: I was born in 1981 in Stuttgart, Germany.

John Mansell: Were any of your family musical in any way?
Frederik Wiedmann: Well, my sister, Katrin Wiedmann is a professional singer-songwriter in Germany. If we got any influence from the previous generation in my family, it should be my parents. My father is an orthopaedic surgeon and my mother is a teacher at the Gymnasium. However my parents love classical music and listen to it all the time. My dad even plays classical piano as his hobby. Besides that, I think I grew up listening to a lot of Brahms and Mozart.

John Mansell: What musical education did you receive?
Frederik Wiedmann: I played the violin from age 6 to 14, then switched to Jazz Guitar. My guitar teacher Hans Hazoth taught me not only about playing guitar, but also showed me the depth of music theory, which opened my eyes (and ears) in a completely new way. That’s when I started to compose a lot, while still in high school. After graduation I moved to Boston, Mass., and attended Berkley College of Music, where I graduated as a film scoring major in ‘05.

John Mansell: When working on a score, how do you work out your musical ideas, do you use a synth/computer? Or do you stay with the more conventional piano and manuscript process?
Frederik Wiedmann: I write, produce and mix in Logic 9 Studio. There are very few occasions where I work out a theme on a piano or manuscript paper. It happens mostly in my computer. Everything has to be mocked up eventually these days, and I get more inspired if I have all the instruments at my finger tips, as opposed to just a piano.

John Mansell: How many times do you like to watch a film, before getting any ideas about where music is best placed, and what type of music you will compose?
Frederik Wiedmann: I’d say on average I watch the film once by myself, take notes on things that I feel while watching it for the first time. Then I like to watch it with the director, or producer (whoever will be directing me), and hear their thoughts. Then I watch it again on my own, with both ideas written out, and I can usually start the scoring process from there.

John Mansell: What do you think about the temp track process, by this I mean do you find a temp track helpful, or maybe off putting?
Frederik Wiedmann: More often than not, I find it helpful. In most cases I am not given a lot of time to complete my scores, and usually my movies require a lot of music (70 – 80 minutes). It is good to have a starting point, that everyone (producers, directors etc.) agrees with. In rare cases, you can end up shooting in the dark too many times to find the right “tone” for a film, which takes away a lot of time of the actual scoring process.

John Mansell: What are you working on at the moment?
Frederik Wiedmann: I am working on Robert Lee King’s (PSYCHO BEACH PARTY) latest comedy, called 818. We are still in the final stages of the scoring process, but a large chunk of it has already been recorded, featuring vocalists and primarily guitars.
Another film that we j.ust completed is called CYRUS, starring Halloween’s Danielle Harris, Lance Henriksen and Brian Krause. This one is a dark thriller, about a serial killer/cannibal somewhere in the mid-west. This score features western/country instruments like Dobros, Fiddle, and Acoustic Guitars.

John Mansell: When a score of yours is released onto compact disc, do you have any input into what tracks are to go onto the disc?
Frederik Wiedmann: In most cases I make the selection and the edits for a soundtrack. On THE HILLS RUN RED I chose the tracks together with director Dave Parker. He was very involved in the score creation and like me; he wanted the soundtrack to be as interesting as it can possibly be. You can thank him for the great titles of the soundtrack.

John Mansell: What do think of the state of film music at this moment in time?
Frederik Wiedmann: These days I feel that more and more people realize the importance of film music. There’s also a rising number of universities offering film scoring courses, in the past few years there have been many new film music festivals in many different countries, as well as film music concerts. I am really glad to see all this happening. I feel grateful to be a part of this industry.
weidman 3John Mansell: What do you think is the purpose of music in film?
Frederik Wiedmann: I believe the music in a film has to help tell the story. The musical underscore should never feel self-important, and should only express what’s necessary to emphasize the emotions of the story.

John Mansell: Do you conduct at all?
Frederik Wiedmann: I have conducted in the past, I do however prefer to sit in the booth and produce the score from there. Then I can really focus on everything that is important to me. While conducting I am mostly too focused on things that won’t help me create the best score possible.

John Mansell: What do you do musically away from film?
Frederik Wiedmann: There are many other media, besides film, that require music, and I was lucky enough to be a part of that industry as well, such as website sound design, commercials etc.

Many thanks to the composer, for his time and also his patience

Planet of the Apes.

Planet_of_apes_LLLCD1193Back in the 1960s the original PLANET OF THE APES burst onto cinema screens and begun one of cinema’s most successful series of movies. As a young boy I remember taking an unofficial afternoon off from school to go and see the first in the cycle and was immediately struck and intrigued by this original and exciting movie. What also attracted me even more was the haunting musical score by Jerry Goldsmith. I think it was probably this movie and its score that made me realize just how important music was in film, especially the hunt scene with the use of a rams horn on the soundtrack which heralded the arrival of apes on horseback with rifles chasing and riding down mute humans in a world which had been turned upside down by nuclear war. I followed the series but for me none of the sequels really hit the mark or made that much of an impression upon me in the film or score departments. Yes, the scores were good and the movies for the most part were entertaining, but I felt after BENEATH THE PLANET OF THE APES the series kind of lost it’s way a little. So when I heard about plans to revive the series or even begin a new cycle of Ape films I was, shall we say, a little apprehensive. I felt a little better when I heard it was director Tim Burton who would helm the new version, and also even more settled when it was announced that Danny Elfman would score the movie. Burton injected darkness into the story. In fact, although based around the same or similar storyline to that of the original version, this new movie was tougher, more hard hitting, darker, more menacing and in many ways more plausible or real. The musical score is one of Elfman’s most accomplished and polished works. He created an entire landscape of  diverse percussive sounds and effects and fuses these elements to create the foundation for his innovative, quirky and ominous soundtrack. The composer straight away sets the scene and paints a threatening and frightening picture with his darkly rich and foreboding opening theme, “The Main Titles (Film Version)” track 1 (disc 1). This pounding and relentless music which accompanies  the impressive title sequence begins out in space but soon segues into a close up of ape armour, clothing, headgear and weapons etc.
The music works incredibly well in the opening sequence and creates a perfect and befitting atmosphere. Percussion is the foundation as I have already said but Elfman builds on this and adds malevolent sounding brass and low strings, combining these with electronic effects and an overall sound which can only now be associated with this composer as in brass rising and falling and being punctuated by percussion and driving strings.  The theme builds and intensifies growing in urgency and tension; the composer masterfully creating a perfect accompaniment to the images and establishing a powerful and imposing musical foothold on the proceedings.
Having always loved Goldsmiths’s “Hunt” music in the original I was curious as to what director Burton would do and, more importantly, what Elfman would conjure up for the hunt scene in the new version, if indeed there was a hunt sequence. I am glad to say there was and Burton acquitted himself well and so did Elfman. Track 4 (disc 1) “Pod Escape/New World/The Hunt”, is an urgent and frenzied composition from the offset. Central character Davidson (Mark Wahlberg) attempts to break out of his escape pod after it has crash landed in a dense jungle and is sinking in a pond. Elfman provides this sequence with suitably frantic music, high brass and equally furious strings commence proceedings, but these are short-lived and a lull seems to fall on the composition but this quiet interlude is also short lived and soon we hear the underlying apes theme emerging from the depths of the cue; brass then builds and gains momentum, ferocity and tempo. Manic sounding percussive components rule the day and establish a fearful and threatening background, underlining and punctuating the blaring and forceful sounding brass – Elfman setting in place an unstoppable force of instrumentation which seems to force its way forward, giving no quarter to anyone or anything. Track 22 (disc 1) “Preparing for Battle” is a composition full to overflowing with tension and is real edge-of-the-seat material – the sequence appears close to the movies conclusion and Thade (the ape leader portrayed marvellously by actor Tim Roth) has massed his army ready to attack the humans, his aim being to wipe them out completely. He sends the first wave of simian warriors into battle and they launch a terrifying charge at their foe accompanied by Elfman’s equally fearful, terrorizing and powerful music. The attack is quelled by Davidson as he unleashes the full blast of a space crafts blaster upon the advancing apes, killing many and stunning others.
Elfman utilizes growling brass and martial sounding percussion interweaved with strings to add a sense of urgency. He builds the tension well with his amalgamation of percussive sounds and effects which dominate the cue and are bolstered by brass and gain energy to become a frenzied, chaotic sounding combination of elements, but work effectively within the context of the movie and create an atmosphere of nervousness and dread. This release from La La Land Records is for me a dream come true, for it contains the entire film score on two discs which include a number of alternate cues and bonus tracks plus a handful of source music cues. Also included on a third disc is the 2001 soundtrack album. The set has a total running time of 212 minutes, 42 seconds. It is beautifully presented and packaged with great art work and graphics plus wonderful liner notes from Jeff Bond.