by Jonathan Jarry
California-native Scott Glasgow has worked in recent years for some of the big names in Hollywood - Bruce Broughton, Ed Shearmur, and Christopher Young among others - and is beginning his career as a solo composer. He graduated from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music in 2001 with a Master's degree, and his score to Chasing Ghosts, in the spirit of Elliot Goldenthal, brought Classical elegance, forms, and structures to an otherwise darkly modern score. His latest assignment was to reinvent the music of the American anime Robotech with his score to the movie Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles. SoundtrackNet spoke with Glasgow about his space operatic score to Robotech, as well as other projects.
How were you brought on board Robotech?
I had met Chase Masterson (from "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine") a few years ago singing at this club called "The Dresden" (it's the main club in the movie Swingers and a well known old-time Hollywood hangout). We became friends and she mentioned that she had just done the voice-over to a film called Robotech. She also mentioned that they may be looking for a composer and said she would put my name in. Now, in this town of Hollywood, people say stuff like that all the time but hardly do I ever expect them to do it or to have it lead to anything. In this case, it did. A short while later I got a call from the director of Robotech, Tommy Yune, asking for a demo CD. I sent over all my big live heroic tracks and a couple more weeks passed. During that time, I signed on to my first real feature film called Chasing Ghosts (released by Sony in 2005). Luckily, I became so busy working on that score that I really didn't think about what was happening for Robotech; however I still had my hopes. Ultimately, I did go over and meet with them and we decided to draw up contracts. It worked out really well: right after I finished Chasing Ghosts, I would be jumping into Robotech (at least that was the plan, little did I know that Robotech had unforeseen delays in production ahead of it which would cause great problems down the road for my scoring schedule and budget). I read the script and watched the pencil test before heading to Europe to record Chasing Ghosts. Then, as soon as I landed back in the States, I scored the short Robotech commercial for a United Nations PSA (which can be found on their website) and finished Chasing Ghosts. Then I headed right into work on Robotech. That lasted eight months of stop-and-go work until we finished in Feb. 2006.
Ulpio Minucci, the composer who scored the original Robotech series in the 1980s, had a very distinctive style that made use of synthesizers. Your score to The Shadow Chronicles is fully orchestral with a few exotic touches. Why did you feel it was necessary to update the sound of Robotech?
All film scoring is collaboration so it was a combination of what I heard in my head and what the production company wanted me to do with the music. I knew that they wanted me to incorporate some of the original themes, especially the main title that is synonymous with the show now, but many of the other themes just didn't work for me dramatically with the scenes I was watching and scoring. Many of the sounds of the original had to be updated. I really come from the big orchestral feature film type of scoring and the old show's music was mostly TV scoring in the 80s with drums, a bass, guitars, synths, some strings, some brass and lots of tricking the ear into believing there were more instruments playing than there actually were. With samplers and other advancements in music production, it was possible for me to go much further than Ulpio could have back in the 80s with the budget we had to work with. On top of that, this was a feature film! I don't know if I ever thought of this film as a "direct-to-DVD" film that should get a quick TV style score that some people in the production team might have even wanted. I was always thinking on a much larger scale. I think the director saw that and liked it so he let me run with that. [Play "Race You Back!" from Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles MP3]
What makes The Shadow Chronicles a "leitmotif score"?
It's the use of clearly defined themes representing a character, an object, or an idea. The score is very intentional as to where each theme is in the film and what it is representing. The "Locket" theme is very important for not only representing this locket that one of the characters carries around to remind him of his sister who died in the war, but also to remind him of why he is fighting in the war [Play "Legacy of War" from Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles MP3]. However it also has a dual meaning of memories of better times for all of the soldiers, or of home, or of many of the emotions that soldiers might go through during a time of war. There is also a major theme for "Ariel" (an alien from the race they are fighting at the start of the film who is in love with a human), which acts as the main theme for her but also the love theme for them [Play "Ariel" from Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles MP3]. There is the main antagonist theme; however, in this case, one theme was just not enough for this complicated group, so I used a bunch of other musical symbols such as a specific chord, a scraped spring sound, another short motive and some textures associated with this antagonist which I guess expands the idea of a strict leitmotif score but still gives great cohesion and depth to the music and the characters it represents. All of these ideas make my music to Robotech a leitmotif score and I should point out that I have posted a "track-by-track analysis" of the entire CD on my website so you can read along and hear where each theme comes up - however I do suggest seeing the film too since the themes are linked to what is happening on the screen.
How did you come up with the majority of the themes on Robotech? Do you wake up in the middle of the night and write something down or do you sit down at the piano (or keyboard) and try to see what might work?
I never sit at the piano with a blank page: that is a terrible place to be for any writer of any sort. I have to come to the piano with ideas that need to get worked out of my head. The worst situation to be in is a forced creative environment but unfortunately that happens quite often with us film composers when we run out of time and simply have to deliver the music. That is a tough place to be. Most of my ideas come to me when I am doing something else: cooking, taking a shower, driving, walking, or even just watching the film over and over again, listening in my head for an ideas. It does get better and better each time I do it. Usually when watching a film for the first time I do have ideas from the start. For Robotech, because I knew I was doing a leitmotivic score, it was a little more difficult. I just kept sketching themes out until I was happy. I also studied other great leitmotif works like stuff by Wagner, Erich Korngold and ultimately John Williams' Star Wars (which has to be the single most important leitmotivic scores ever written) but also Indiana Jones. I studied the phrases, where they would make leaps or change the phrase for the chord, or how the shape of his phrases worked. All this study helped me in my decisions about the themes and motives in Robotech.
Do you think leitmotive scores have fallen into disuse in Hollywood?
Yeah, generally, most composers are writing "thematic" scores, which is different since the theme is presented in the same way or mode every time and is not necessarily representative of a character, object or idea. In a leitmotivic score, the theme can be in minor mode one scene or major mode in another scene, or transposed, inverted, fragmented, played one on top of another, which is generally much more pliable and more potent to me. It is a very seductive way to write music for film. If a character such as Ariel in Robotech is sad, I can play her theme in minor, or if she is happy I can take the same exact theme and play it in a major mode. It really is a very powerful way to score a scene and a tremendous amount of fun to write.
One good example of leitmotives in my score and how they can tell the subtext of characters would be my theme for Janice. The character Janice in Robotech is a half-human, half-robot but also very beautiful and innocent, so I decided to treat her with this simple innocent theme. However, Janice is also complicated due to the fact that later we learn she may be working for the antagonist of the film so I decided to bring in the antagonist march theme in an innocent way above her theme. It is subtle and most people will not recognize it on first listen but, if you watch the film a few times, you start to hear this "bad guy" theme over this innocent simple theme for Janice symbolizing her possible connection to them. It is one of my proudest moments in the score. The idea of subconsciously foreshadowing a character's duality in music is just very interesting to me. [Play "Janice in the Lab" from Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles MP3]
What kind of limitations did you have to face on Robotech? How did you work around them?
Budget and scope. I think when we set out to do this large space opera type film and score, I'm not sure any of us realized what it might cost to pull that off. Then, when delays and other scheduling confusions set in, the budget began to shrink. In the end, we did what we had to which was to make sure the sections of the score that just had to be live were recorded (like Ariel's love theme). I would have loved to have recorded the whole score live because it was an orchestral score and not a synth score, but it just didn't happen and I still had a job to do. In many cases, my sample demos were very good so we left them (to give you an example: "Infiltration") [Play "Infiltration" from Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles MP3]. I do want to say that every cue except four cues (only one on the CD) had some live element in it. I invited over many musicians to my studio to record with me, so in the end we were able to come out with a nice sounding live-ish orchestral score which in the film is totally believable; on CD, it is more noticeable. In the end, I am very happy with this score and so is the production company. There is talk of doing more live work on the next film, which is currently in pre-production.
You chose to represent the Invid with a very peculiar combination of zorna, cornetto, serpent, didgeridoo, island drums, and synthesizers. How did that come about? Where did you find musicians who could play these instruments?
The main idea of the Invid was to not give them a specific theme but to give them this heavy percussion and ethnic winds texture (the director called it a "tribal / earthy sound"). After getting some background on this invading alien force from the original 80's TV show, I thought this texture would represent them perfectly and it worked so well for Jerry Goldsmith in his Planet of the Apes! With the musicians, the truth is, I just asked the players I've worked with before if they played anything else and all of them jumped on the idea, telling me they played a little of this and a little of that. Suddenly I had a bunch of exotic winds / brass to work with and that is what I ended up using. It's amazing what you might find in this town if you simply ask. I mean, who would have thought my trombonist friend could play the serpent? By the way, most of these guys are right out of school, in their early 20s - what the hell are they doing playing a zorna?? Anyways, in the end it was the players who dictated which of these exotic instruments I used; however, I certainly had colors in my head (I wanted a serpent for sure). [Play "The Battle Begins" from Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles MP3]
How did you come to work with Melissa R. Kaplan, who provides the vocals on the album?
I met Melissa while working for Edward Shearmur (composer of Sky Captain, Charlie's Angels, Reign of Fire, K-Pax). She sings for Ed quite a bit so when I started to get my own films I stayed in touch with her. When it came time to deal with certain dramatic moments in Robotech, I asked her if she would like to sing for me and she did. It's really that simple. I love her voice and work. She is a special type of artist that is rare and unique. I hope to get the opportunity to work with her again in the future.
What are your thoughts on the mix of your score within the movie? Did you find yourself constantly fighting the sound effects, especially in the battle sequences?
Ughh, yeah—that is rough. What can I say? It is a space battle movie so you have to expect lots of gunfire, explosions, and other noises (engine noises, especially) to fight for the same sonic space as the score. I think the mix could have been better and stronger with the music. I mean, somehow, even in those Star Wars films, you can still hear the score. In Robotech, I have to really "squint my ears" to hear it. Also they mixed this thing like a TV movie and not like a feature film. It's not the way I would have done it (or my music editor) but it wasn't up to me. Also, keep in mind: I had to mix all my music myself before sending it to them to mix into the film because there simply wasn't enough money to hire a proper music mix engineer on this score. Again, the limitations of the budget were affecting the overall sound of the film, which is very common in low budget independent filmmaking.
I hear discussions are underway for a sequel. If you return to provide the score, what musical direction would you like this new score to take? How would it evolve from the music from The Shadow Chronicles?
If they ask me back (which I hope they will), I think I would like to take us even farther into the new trends of film scoring with more percussive and strummed instrument sounds while keeping the big space opera sound I have already developed. Take what Bear McCreary is doing with Battlestar Galactica and combine it with my Star Wars inspired orchestral leitmotivic score: I think you know where I am going with this. I think what Bear is doing on that show is simply brilliant and if I could find my own way to do something similar without copying him I would probably go for it. Just a huge full sound that is big and orchestral but also has that tight, small group like Bear has with the Oingo Boingo guys on his show would be great! But until you get there, all these ideas may simply be just that: ideas. Everything always changes once you start working on any project. We'll see what happens.
You have worked with many different directors. Can you tell me a little about each? Kyle Dean Jackson on Chasing Ghosts.
Kyle Jackson is a good friend whom I met when he was still at USC as a film student. I was looking for ways to score films and simply posted a flyer to score films at the USC film school. He called me to do his short, we connected and have been friends every since. On one of Kyle's shorts, he needed that French cinema sound so I wrote pieces for mandolin (played by me), accordion (played by Bear McCreary), and a couple of other cool instruments. It came out great! [Play "Stealing the Mona Lisa" from Fame & Francoise MP3]. I didn't hear from him for a few years after he graduated but one day I get an email about a film he is working on and if I'd be interested in possibly scoring it. He sent me a clip and I just about fell out of my chair! It had Michael Madsen, Mike Rooker, Gary Busey, and a bunch of recognizable actors in this cool dark noir thriller film - it was awesome!! I think for Chasing Ghosts he just trusted me to do my thing, also he had heard some tracks I had done for a film that was never released called Left for Dead. That film was also a dark thriller in the style of Se7en, which is basically the mood of Chasing Ghosts so I think that helped a lot too. I have to say, Kyle is possibly the most talented director I have ever been around. He has that magic, that "something special" that is intangible but you feel it. Kyle (with Alan Pao and Corey Large) has a post house in Santa Monica called Tunnel Post that deals with color correction on films (among other things) so he is always throwing my name out there to other filmmakers looking for composers, which led me to working with Alan Pao (who was a producer on Chasing Ghosts) and Brian Hartman (also a producer on Chasing Ghosts).
Alan Pao on Toxic.
Alan Pao is really quite wonderful with his film style. He knows exactly what he wants even if he doesn't always communicate it to you which makes for a "mind-reading" type of environment for a composer but also presents an interesting challenge. All of this pushes you to expand your limits as an artist. For Toxic I had to create an electronic score which covered a lot of different styles from groovy vibes to ambient synths to horror-type orchestral to basic thriller tracks. I recorded some live saxophone and flute on top of my synth tracks it came out nice and will be out in 2007. Alan is connected very tightly with Corey Large so many of these music decisions go through them too. Corey was also responsible for Chasing Ghosts so you can see in what a small town full of interconnected people this career takes place.
Brian & John Hartman on Hack!
Hack! is one of those complicated projects that just dragged on for months for many reasons. John and Brian Hartman really trusted me to do my work when it came to scoring the film. They are really awesome film makers whom I respect tremendously. In November of 2006, I flew to Bratislava, Slovakia to record 60 strings then returned to mix it for them. What a tremendously cool experience it was to conduct this large orchestra through some diabolically tricky music! It was a fun score that utilizes a lot of parody so you will hear a little Psycho (a very vague reference), a little The Ring, a little Interview with the Vampire, etc. But also you will hear lots of my own themes and fun textures (like circus music and even some bagpipes!). Hack! should also be out sometime this year.
Tommy Yune on Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles.
With Robotech, Tommy and Matt Friedman (the music editor) would come over every week or so to hear cues and make comments. I don't remember many rewrites with Robotech or even any problems with the cues. I think, for the most part, Tommy liked what I was doing and the passion I was bringing to my work on the project. Obviously, the end with the recording became a little challenging but ultimately we all survived and I am happy with my working relationship with Tommy.
Pearry Teo on Gene Generation.
Pearry is one of the most creative people I have worked with so far. He talks about big ideas and general concepts and not about "hey, look at this cool crane shot". I like Pearry a lot. He uses his mind's eye to express what he wants musically, which can be really vague concepts at times but it also intrigues me. He has a natural sense of realism about him even though he is dealing with such fantastical non-reality ideas. Pearry is the real deal. He works in Hollywood films with Hollywood esthetics but creates his own unique world like few others do. Gene Generation is a film along the lines of Blade Runner with a cyber-punk edge to it. Definitely worth checking out when it comes out.<#GOOGLEAD#>
And Brett Hart on Bone Dry.
Brett has impressed me greatly with his knowledge of music and film. He knows more film music than any director I have ever met (which can be a little un-nerving). Brett has temped his film with some great pieces by Goldsmith, Isham, Barry, and even some Corigliano, which has to be a first for me. Since I am just starting Bone Dry, it is hard to gauge our working relationship but so far I am excited to work with such a well-educated director who has an obvious passion for films and film music. This film really harks back to the days of psychological thrillers like The Hitcher or The Duel and itstars Lance Henricksen (Aliens) and Luke Goss (Blade 2). Their performances really make this film special. It is film to be on the lookout for and Brett is a director to be watching.
What kinds of textures did you get to explore on Chasing Ghosts?
The texture of Chasing Ghosts was basically a dark orchestral sound mostly in the style of Howard Shore, but also with a "film noir" bend. I almost went for the flügelhorn that dominated Jerry's Chinatownbut then again, why? It's already been done so I stuck with a sweet piano to offset the dark, brooding low strings that dominate this score. There are also a lot of bowed metal sounds and other eerie percussive textures. The main thing about Chasing Ghosts is the architecture of the music. There is a passacaglia for each of the murder scenes, which builds up, bigger and bigger each time we return to the next murder scene all based on the same musical idea. There is also a big build up cue called "Interrogation for Violin and Orchestra" where I do this sort of Gorecki's Third Symphony sound, but add a solo violin on top of that in a sort of concerto style (or maybe just free arioso style). [Play "Interrogation for Violin and Orchestra" from Chasing Ghosts MP3]
Your score to Chasing Ghosts was released by then-fledgling label MovieScore Media. How important are these smaller labels to the emerging composers?
Invaluable! Mikael Carlsson is simply amazing and innovative. He is giving a voice to a whole generation of composers who would probably never be heard of otherwise. In fact, most of the film scores he has released, I have never seen the films for, but the music that he is getting out there is really great. I wish there were more label people out there like Mikael trying to actually bring good music to people and not worry about making tons of money (which I am guessing he is not). He gets these albums out to people, gets reviews, gets people talking and, most importantly, gets unknown composers and their high quality work heard! That is what all composers ultimately want: to be heard, to have an audience, to have people respond to their music. Mikael is doing this and I personally cannot thank him enough for what he has done for me and for my Chasing Ghosts release. Keep in mind, Michael is also a composer himself and I even had him write a track for me in Toxic. Mikael is a very special type of guy doing important work.
Have you done custom sampling of instruments or voices for a project? Do you think it's a necessary tool for young composers who wish to step off the beaten path and craft a unique voice for themselves?
Custom samples are vital to a composer. It's what makes my demos and my colleagues' demos stand out from a crowd. Many of the commercial sample libraries out there do not seem to be programmed in a simple or useful way for a composer to be efficient or effective in their work. Project SAM seems to be the one sample library that seems to understand what us practical film composers need from sample libraries. Hans Zimmer did some brilliant sampling many years ago that is still a standard when it comes to programming, but those sample are only for his "guys" at Media Ventures (now called Remote Control). I end up using my own custom samples for my textures, hits, effects, and other such things and then use commercial samples for my standard orchestral textures. I have been doing custom samples since my days in school. I have samples of me in the percussion department at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music banging on these huge metal pipes, or doing timpani glissandi, or even putting some chains in a piano; I still use these samples today!
What kind of software do you use to compose, edit, and mix your music?
I use Digital Performer as my primary sequencing software, but I also own ProTools for some special digital audio editing. My studio consists of five computers (going on six). One is my main system where I sequence; one is basically a mixer with dozens of inputs (over 80, I believe) and handles all my general effects like reverb; then I have 3 PCs which run Gigastudio, one for strings, one for brass, and the other for winds and percussion; and all of those use fiber optics to send the audio over to the mixer computer. It's a nice system where I can print all the audio needed in any breakdown (i.e. just the percussion) to the mix stage for the filmmakers to mix with the dialogues and effects. Of course, I use tons of virtual instruments too, but if it's orchestral (except for the custom fx) it is on those computers running Gigastudio. If it's an ethnic instrument, a vocal solo, a strange synth FX, or anything not orchestral, I use MachFive (a plugin sampler) for that. It seems to work very well for me.
There was a detailed article on me and my studio setup (including photos) on the MOTU (Mark of the Unicorn) web site back in 2005 when I was working on Chasing Ghosts.
You have worked for Christopher Young on The Grudge and An Unfinished Life. You were also an assistant to Elia Cmiral on both They and Wrong Turn. You did score preparation for Ed Shearmur's Nine Lives and The Skeleton Key. What are some of the important things these composers taught you about composing for film and the business itself?
Well, you learn a little something from everyone you work for. Every single one of these guys has a different way of working and no one is doing it necessarily right. It is what works for them and that trains you to find out what works for you. I think it is an invaluable step for a young composer to work for another, more successful composer to get a feel of what you have to do to get the job done. It is a much more difficult job than most people can realize and until you do it, you won't know.
Is there a score that made you want to become a film composer?
Oh, yeah: Jerry Goldsmith's Alien. You know, it is ironic since I remember back then, when I was really young, everyone was talking about Star Wars and I remember saying how I liked the darkness of Alien more. Now, years later, I am writing my own Star Wars type score for Robotech and I think it effects me still. Actually, if you listen carefully to my score to Robotech you will hear both the textures of Goldsmith's Alien and the John Williams leitmotif approach to Star Wars – sort of a combination of both compositional styles in one score. Also, Goldsmith's Alien is one of the only other scores I know of that uses a serpent as one of its instruments. Alien is a stunning score that still blows me away even today and probably will for many years to come. It's simply a brilliant score by a brilliant composer!
Would you say that studying at a conservatory and being taught classical music is necessary to be a good film composer? Has it helped you?
I would say no. I don't think any school training will help you be a film composer; however, good training does means that when you do write, you will have a level of craft and experience with orchestral instruments that other untrained composers won't have. I think if you want to be a film composer you just need to go out and find films to work on. For me, the conservatory was necessary. I needed to know everything about music and writing for the orchestra that had come before me to know what I had to say with it. It was really an artistic reason for me to go through as much schooling as I did but I do not think it has helped me get a single film scoring gig. Also, I had a very fortunate situation of working at record labels early on, which allowed me to listen and study the styles of just about every classical composer that ever lived. At one point I had thousands of CDs of every classical composer and I listened to what made each composer unique (I tried to get their style in my ears). It helped me find inside what I had to say with music myself. I'm not sure that is necessary for everyone but I do think you need to be prepared as an artist for the call when it does come.
"The Dreams of Poe" for Choir and String Orchestra, a piece you composed for the concert hall, had its premiere in L.A. in the summer of 2004. Is concert work something you enjoy doing? How does it differ from film scores?
I do like writing concert music but finding commissions is very hard. Otherwise, you are simply writing for yourself and that is tough for me. Ultimately, I want people to hear my work and to write something that potentially no one will hear is not my idea of being a composer. I would love to do more concert music, but the opportunity has not presented itself yet. Writing concert music is different from film music in a couple of important ways. One, it is not a collaboration. Film music is collaboration with a director or production company; concert music is just the composer by himself writing what he feels. Second, concert music has its own structures. Film music follows a scene. You know the funny thing is, film music is not a style. I hear people all the time say they write in a "film music style" but music without a film is not film music. Film music is music attached to a film so without a film, it is simply orchestral music or music to an imaginary film (ironically, Arnold Schoenberg has a piece called "Accompaniment to a Cinematographic Scene" – I guess making my point). From an artistic point of view, there is no difference anymore musically in what you can do with a concert work versus a film cue; however, there was about forty years ago. Now, anything a concert composer can write, I can write in my film scores and it is totally acceptable (almost – serialism still doesn't work and probably never will). In my mind, the division between film music and concert music is long gone now. The only difference in my mind is that film music is a collaboration and concert music is not.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Right here, working in Hollywood, composing scores for films. When my Robotech CD came out, I think that was the first real tangible moment when I felt I had achieved something. I hope to have many more of these "moments" in the years to come.
Do you have any advice for people seriously considering a career as a film score composer?
You had better have a major passion for it because it will not be about money for many, many years! I would say most people who come to Hollywood to try this career do not make it. It takes a special personality and a tenacious attitude to hang in there to even get a little piece of this career. The competition is fierce. There are hundreds of really talented composers here in Hollywood ready to go and, might I add, submitting their demos to your directors for the film you are up for. It is a "non-career" for most. Also, you must live in L.A., which is quite expensive. As a friend of mine put it, you have to have eight months of living expenses in the bank for every month you work in Hollywood, and that applies no matter what level you are at. Do you have eight months of living expenses in your bank account right now?? So either you have a wealthy family willing to support you, or you have talents you can bring to a working composer to be their assistant (and hopefully get paid), or you get damn lucky to find work and, even if you do get lucky to get that first big film, let's hope you get lucky again because getting the first film seems impossible before you get it, but getting the film after that one is even harder!! It's a dream that some of us follow because we are passionate about music and films. It is not about money; however, it is true that the top ten percent of film composers do make a very nice living. You just have to be ready and content to live your entire career in the bottom ninety percent in order to live your dream. Then, if you're lucky, you may just get the opportunity to do a little more and live the dream that only ten percent of all composers do. It can happen to any one of us. All you have to do is believe in yourself and have the indefatigable character to sustain the many years of developing your career against the odds.
The soundtrack to Robotech: The Shadow Chronicles is available from Varèse Sarabande. The movie was released on DVD in 2006 by Sony. Glasgow's score to Chasing Ghosts is available from MovieScore Media. The movies Toxic, HACK!, The Gene Generation and Bone Dry are slated to be released later on this year. There is no word yet on soundtrack releases.