As a composer, Peter has a rapidly growing list of feature film credits. Peter’s musical style in his feature film scores varies widely; from the bold symphonic gestures of the animated epic adventure Kaptara (2012), to the contemporary urgency and delicate romanticism of the fast-paced rom-com Syrup (2012).
As an orchestrator and additional arranger, Peter has had the distinct pleasure of working with a number of other respected film composers, including but not limited to Danny Elfman, James Newton Howard, and Christopher Young. Recent film credits include several high profile releases for 2013; Hunger Games: Catching Fire (Dir. Francis Lawrence), After Earth (Dir. M Night Shyamalan), Epic (Dir. Chris Wedge), and Fast & Furious 6 (Dir. Justin Lin). His work with veteran video game composer Garry Schyman has received critical acclaim, most notably on the highly successful Bioshock franchise.
Peter has already seen recognition from within the music industry, with scholarships awarded by both ASCAP (Steve Kaplan Scholarship 2010), and BMI (Pete Carpenter Fellowship 2010). Most recently, Peter was nominated in the category ‘Best Young European Composer’ at the 2012 World Soundtrack Awards.
One of your latest projects is the score for an animated movie. How did you become involved on KAPTARA ?
I responded to an ad placed on the Los Angeles Craigslist in late 2010 I think, and did two custom demo tracks for Patrick, the director. We met up during the demo process and hit it off, and seemed to see eye-to-eye on a lot of things conceptually from the very start (and this was while the film was still in the script stage). I then had to wait over a year to see anything on screen! Animation takes a long time.
The score sounds very grand throughout, what size orchestra did you employ for the soundtrack, and what percentage was performed via electronic or synthetic components?
There were three different-sized orchestras, primarily because of budgeting, but the idea was that the score should sound as if it were recorded with a single-sized orchestra. Some cues would segue from one orchestra to another, if the scene didn’t require the larger forces for part of it. The largest group was around 70 musicians, and had a slightly over-sized brass section with 6 horns and 4 trombones. The score totals about 72 minutes, and 69 minutes were recorded, which is basically every instrumental cue written for the movie. There are a handful of synth/sound-design cues that had overdubbed ethnic instruments/voice, but I was very conscious about making sure everything had a live element in it. I felt that this was more important than ever, as the film itself is entirely ‘synthesized’; from 2-D background drawings to computer-generated character faces and movements.
You utilize a female voice on the score, who is the soloist and did you have this artist in mind when you were writing the vocal parts, they seem to have an Armenian or maybe Macedonian sound to them?
The soloist is the Los Angeles-based singer Belinda Ulla Capol, who is originally from Zurich, Switzerland. She has a very versatile voice, and was able to capture a lot of different styles for me that would have taken 2 or 3 different performers to cover. The vocal moments in the score are very scene-specific, rather than artist-specific, so it was great that Belinda could consolidate all these moments with her distinctive musicality. We also had a menagerie of other overdubbed instruments, including didgeridoo, lots of different ethnic winds, and hand percussion.
How much time were you allowed to write the score and were the films producers or director very hands on when it came to the spotting and scoring of the picture, or were you more or less given a free hand ?
When it comes to workflow, this was definitely a very unique project. I was attached to the production very early on, which allowed for a good amount of dialogue between myself and the director Patrick. I wrote the main theme at the story-board stage, and played it to Patrick on the piano, who left the studio humming it, so I knew I was on the right track. From there, I didn’t start scoring to picture until they had a locked cut of the ‘rough layouts’. This is the stage in animation before any backgrounds or textures are added. There was some initial motion capture done, so at least the character movements were realistic, but some of it was still placeholder ‘puppets’, that would float along the ground a bit like a tardis, and have no bodily movement at all. All the male/female characters looked the same, and no one had any hair, so I really had to use my imagination, and go over with Patrick who-was-who if I wasn’t sure. At the same time though, it was a very liberating experience, as most of the visual drama was still as yet ‘untold’, so it encouraged me to be a lot more depictive in the music. The great thing was when the backgrounds and character textures were added in, everything came together great, and I think the music was probably the better for it.
How much music did you compose for the movie?
Aside from the demos, there is about 72 minutes in the film. Only one cue was left out of the final cut, as we felt the film needed to breathe at that moment (it is still in the soundtrack though, at around 1:35 in track 2)
When scoring a project do you approach it in a set way or do you have a set routine when you are working on a movie, by this I mean do you like to establish a central theme at first and then develop the remainder of the score around this or do you score larger sequences first or leave these till last?
The approach to this score was very methodical. The film’s format is a tried and tested one, and there is a strong story combined with strong characters, so it laid itself out very thematically. All the themes were written first, and then I wrote the score chronologically using them – with one exception; the opening prologue animation was the last piece of the puzzle to get rendered, so the first cue in the movie is actually the last cue I wrote. It was very satisfying to write the score this way, and it is also how it is presented on the soundtrack. Every cue is exactly in sequence with where it appeared in the movie.
How much research into instrumentation did you carry out before starting work on KAPTARA?
Not much! There is nothing especially challenging instrumentation-wise in the score, and the use of the soloists was scene-specific, so it was really a case of capturing the right sentiment for the scene, rather than getting a very virtuoso performance from the musician.
How does scoring an animated movie differ from working on a live action film, if indeed it does?
Well I think you have to work a lot harder on an animation! In the case of Kaptara, the music was adding an important emotional layer to what are essentially computer-generated acting performances. Motion capture was used for a lot of the body movements, but facial expressions and lip-sync were all completely synthetic, so the music really had to get behind the veil of the CGI and add the emotional depth that a live action performance would already have. Although the score isn’t a Disney cartoon-like score, it does track a lot of the gestures in the film closely. The director and animator had the freedom of having any camera movement and angle they liked, which was great for the film, but it also meant that the music really had to match that level of intensity, otherwise the film was in danger of coming across as a sort of ‘video game’ capture, rather than something scripted.
Do you orchestrate all of your scores for film?
If time allows, yes. I work a lot as an orchestrator for other composers, so it’s a step in the process that I appreciate. Kaptara was a little unique in that I wrote every cue on paper, and immediately orchestrated. I then sequenced the score in Digital Performer. This is completely backwards to 99% of how a score is written these days (although I’m not saying it’s the wrong way at all – it’s just a very slow way!)
Do you conduct at all, or do you prefer to monitor proceedings from the recording booth?
I am a trained classical conductor, and I also work as a studio conductor in Los Angeles, but I believe a composer’s place is firmly in the booth when it comes to their own music.
The score for KAPTARA is due to be released soon on compact disc, were you involved in the selection of tracks that are on the CD and how much of your score is on the release?
Yes I did provide the track sequence. The sequence is exactly how it appears in the film, which is something I like very much, and probably won’t be able repeat on other projects. I think it says a lot about the strength of the script writing and directing that the score can be presented in this way and remain cohesive. Aside from a few very small transitional pieces, the entire score is included on the CD release.
What musical education did you receive?
I studied music composition and conducting at the University Of Birmingham, UK, graduating in 2002. In 2007 I moved to Los Angeles to study film music at UCLA, and I have remained here after graduating to continue working.
Did you always want to be involved with writing music for film?
The simple answer is yes! I originally wanted to write for natural history documentaries (even before the Blue Planet series put documentary scores firmly on the map). I haven’t had the chance to do one yet, but I hope to one day.
The score for KAPTARA for me is very much in the mould of what I refer to as Old School film music, by this I mean it has real themes and is powerful and sweeping in its style and sound, what composers would you say have influenced you in any way?
I didn’t really go out of my way to score the film in any particular style – I just went with what I thought fit the imagery well, and what Patrick the director responded to. As far as influence goes, I think every composer rubs off on you one way or another. I’ve been very lucky to have worked as an orchestrator or assistant to a lot of different composers, including Danny Elfman, James Newton Howard, Bruce Broughton, Christopher Young, Garry Schyman, and many others here in Los Angeles, and I think I’ve taken something away from all of them – consciously or otherwise.
Do you come from a family background that is musical?
Not really! People seem to think I was delivered by storks.
What would say is the purpose of music in film?
That would depend on the film. I’ve had spotting sessions where the first thing the producer or director says is “so we were thinking of music going the whole time”. I’ve also worked on projects where it is a battle to get anything in at all, without it being ‘too much’. Obviously music can’t be doing the same thing in these two different scenarios. It can be one person’s security blanket, or another person’s editing tool. I did a film where they couldn’t afford all the ADR it needed, so then it became an all-purpose filler to cover up bad background noise. And then occasionally it can just be music, pure and simple.
How do you work out your musical ideas, do you use piano, keyboard or more technical means?
Kaptara was all worked out at the piano and on paper first, which is very unique in this day and age. Mostly I will write straight into Digital Performer.
What is next for you?
I’m wearing my orchestrator’s hat for the next few months on a couple of video game projects that have to remain un-named, and then after that we’ll see!