thoughts on music, design and literature

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Need Your Help!

My good college friend Jon Goldman, whom I've done three projects with, has entered his film 'Paul Sussman's Eleven-Step Guide To Self-Actualization' into the Netflix Find Your Voice Competition. He's currently a semi-finalist, and sitting in sixth place. In order to qualify for a chance at $350,000 worth of funding to complete the film, he needs to place in the top five, and he needs every possible vote he can get.

Please take a minute to click on the link below, and cast five stars for 'Paul Sussman's Eleven-Step Guide To Self-Actualization'. It's a great script, with a great writer/director and a swell composer attached (me).

Netflix Find Your Voice Competition

Also of note; this project is a bit of a reunion for me and fellow Stanford alums. The actor you see portraying Paul Sussman is my old housemate Andrew Leeds, and the music you hear playing in the trailer is by the On Ensemble, co-founded by Shoji Kameda and Kris Bergstrom, whom I played taiko with back at Stanford.

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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Headline: "RIAA Copyright Fine Totals $192 Million"

Whoa. Regardless of your views on the issue, I don't think there's any doubt that this is a huge tactical blunder for the RIAA:

eWeek: "RIAA Copyright Fine Totals $192 Million"

It's terrible press from the RIAA, and isn't doing anything to sway public opinion on the notion of the big bad record company.

Here's where I stand on the issue. File sharing is not a bad thing. I've discovered many a band because someone sent me an MP3, at which point I subsequently went out and bought their album. However, if you get enjoyment out of music, you really ought to help support the artist who created that music. That doesn't just mean buying the album, however: you can also help by spreading the word about their music and helping promote it amongst your friends (which, ironically, may involve file sharing).

The problem is, however, that if you think that music should simply be free, with no obligation to help the artist, then the artist you like will soon be forced to stop making music because they can't pay the bills. And once that happens on a wide scale, the independent music scene will crumble, leaving us in a world devoid of anything outside of major-label mainstream pop (heavily supported by product placement). For an example of such a market, turn to China: no one makes a living doing music there without heavy corporate sponsorship.

So support indie artists!

(On that note, tonight I'll be attending a concert by Chinese American singer/performance artist Jen Shyu, a multi-talented old friend of mine from Stanford.)


Monday, June 22, 2009

Metropol Orkest: Utrecht, Holland

Just stumbled across this! It's a Portuguese blog post, written about a Dutch orchestra that's playing a certain Swahili song written by a Chinese-American composer (me).

I really have no idea what it's saying, but I believe it's a performance by the Metropol Orchestra of Utrecht, Holland, and I believe they recently did a concert of video game music where Baba Yetu was the encore. This was reported to me by a friend who happened to be there, but until I stumbled across this blog post, I never knew footage of the concert existed.

I must say, it's pretty rockin'. The drum kit is a great addition. Between this rendition, and the slow gospel version done by the Angel City Chorale, I'm beginning to think that there's a lot more classical crossover/popera/fusion potential for the song that I'm not realizing.


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Hui-a: Maori Fusion Music

My Maori friends Hui-a (made up of Jerome Kavanagh and Ben Mullon) have released their debut EP, Got To Live. Both artists are of Maori ancestry, and I had the good fortune to work with them in December of 2007, during my recording sessions at Abbey Road. They perform a haka and whakorero on the final track of my album, a Maori song called 'Kia Hora Te Marino'.


Also guesting on the EP is the singer Kevin Mark Trail of The Streets. The album's a great blend of traditional Maori chants and instruments, accompanied by contemporary beats. Anyone who's a fan of traditional music blended with modern instrumentation ought to give it a listen.

I quite like the title track 'Got To Live' myself. I think it would make great late-night driving music for the Los Angeles highways. It's amazing how some of those Taonga Puoro sound like wolf howls.


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Saturday, June 13, 2009

More Composition Questions, Answered

Mark, a student at the Berklee College of Music, had this question for me recently:

I've come to a point where I realize that I've somehow lost my intuition for music. I just was wondering if you've ever experienced a time in your career where you've thought that you couldn't write music anymore, because you had to absorb too much knowledge and transcribed too much soundtracks?

How do you find a balance between writing from the soul and technique? I do very hard to find my balance. When I look back in the earlier days I did compose only from the soul, now somehow I do the complete opposite.

It's a bit of a tough question. I can't say there was ever a time in my career when I thought I couldn't write any more music, but there are definitely times when I feel like I'm on fire and everything I turn out is gold, and times when I'm frustrated and grinding my gears. Everyone you talk to in any sort of creative art will tell you this happens all the time, though, and the best thing you can do is just try to work through it.

The most important thing is to always just keep writing music. The worst thing that can happen is for you to fall into some sort of creative slump, where you're prevented from writing music by the mere fear that what you write is going to be bad. This is how creative careers go down in flames--when you find yourself so intellectually stifled by your own frustrations that you can't bring yourself to start creating.

I've always said that you have to write a lot of bad music, before you start writing good music. It's almost like you have to get the bad stuff out of your system. I think that your college days will be particularly confusing because you're bombarded with expectations from your teachers and peers, and pulled in many different creative directions. You don't really have a voice yet--you're too young, frankly. You won't have a voice until well into your thirties, forties, or later. Don't sweat it, it will come.

As to your second question, I think one should ALWAYS write from the soul. Technique is certainly very important, but it should never be viewed as a replacement for writing from the soul--nor should it be seen as being in competition. Rather, it's something that should supplement what you do. I almost always write exclusively from the soul, and then apply technique and craft to honing the details. The broad swaths of a composition are written instinctually--things like fine tuning counterpoint, orchestrations, voicings, etc. can happen later, when you can take your time to bring the full bearing of your training on the small details, without fear of losing the big picture.

However, if at the moment you're composing based solely on technique, don't worry about it--it's what you SHOULD be doing. You're in school. You SHOULD be absorbing as much technique as you can, and be crafting technique-based music for the purpose of internalizing all the techniques you're learning. Do it for as long as you can bear it, and don't worry if you feel like you're losing your instinct. You're NOT losing your instinct--it's just taking a back seat for the moment, while you absorb different techniques that will serve well as tools in the future. Eventually you'll rediscover your instinct, develop a confidence in your own style, and start writing instinctually again. And on that day, since you've already put in the hours learning all the techniques and crafts, you'll find that they're useful tools in your toolbox--tools that you can whip out as needed, or put away when you don't feel like using them. Or better yet, they'll have subconsciously worked their way into your instinct, and the music you write will be both soulful AND technically sound.

So don't worry for now. Everything will be okay in the end, I promise. Hope that helps?

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Tonehammer Samples

A colleague of mine, Troels Folmann, is a very well-respected composer in the game industry, having scored such award-winning titles as Tomb Raider Legend and Tomb Raider Underworld. Many of us first met Troels through his fantastic annual lectures at the Game Developers Conference, in which he teaches us his tricks on how to improve the quality of our sampled orchestral mockups. It's always one of the highlights of the week for me.

He's a big proponent of custom recorded samples. In fact for years, he simply brought a Zoom field recorder around with him everywhere he went and just created his own sample library, recording off-beat objects like handrails and furniture, salvaged junk, etc. Now he's making that custom library available for purchase, and it's definitely worth checking out if you're a media composer.


Tonehammer is the company he founded with sound designer Mike Peaslee. Their catalog is rich in offbeat, unusual instruments: examples include a hangdrum, whale drum, cylindrum (essentially a PVC pipe instrument), marching band, detuned piano, etc. And if that's not enough, he has a couple sample sets called 'Anti-Drum Vol. 1 and 2', in which you can find samples of water coolers, stopwatches, Converse sneaker squeaks, soda can tabs, and a leather couch (which is actually quite an impressive, usable sound!).

I bought seven of his sample libraries, and was immediately able to use them in a project I'm working on. They're definitely worth a listen.

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Saturday, June 6, 2009

Angel City Chorale: "One World Many Voices"

The Angel City Chorale performed 'Baba Yetu' tonight in their One World Many Voices concert--a full evening of music from around the world. At the invitation of the choir, I attended the concert, held at the Wilshire United Methodist Church in Los Angeles.

2009SpringEflyer_ACC_OneWorldManyVoices_FINALthumb.jpg acc-20041206.jpg

Their rendition of 'Baba Yetu' was excellent! They turned it into a slow gospel number... totally unexpected, but really effective. It made me think that there's a lot of potential for releasing such an arrangement/recording of the song. (Special nod to the tenor soloist Vini Marques, who did a great job as well.)

As for the rest of the program, it was a very diverse set list, including songs from Bulgaria, Argentina, Russia, Mongolia... really, it was right up my alley. Kudos to Sue Fink, the Artistic Director of the choir, for such challenging and diverse programming!

They're doing one more performance tomorrow night, Sunday June 7th, at 7:00 PM. Los Angeles locals should consider checking them out--they're quite an impressive group. Click here for more info.

Hopefully I'll get to work with them some more, perhaps on some future choral works--perhaps even some of the songs on Calling All Dawns.

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GameMusic4All Review of GSPO Pops Orchestra did a review of the Golden State Pops Orchestra concert a few weeks, in which I conducted. Quoth the reviewer, Anthony Ruybalid:

I have never played Civ IV before (and probably never will) but composer Christopher Tin really makes some phenomenal music which can even be enjoyed completely outside of the context of the game.

Thanks to Anthony (whom I got to meet at Video Games Live yesterday) for the review!


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Friday, June 5, 2009

Video Games Live: Greek Theatre, Los Angeles

Another Video Games Live concert last night. The shot below is taken right before the encore. In the old days, kids waved their lighters around. In this day and age, they wave their cell phones, PSPs, Nintendo DS's, iPhones, etc.

Did the usual Meet-And-Greet afterwards as well--signing autographs (along with my fellow composers) for the gamer fans. Always great to interact with them!


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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Soweto Gospel Choir Recording 'Baba Yetu'

The final stop on my tri-continental trip was Johannesburg, where I was scheduled to rehearse and record with the Grammy-winning Soweto Gospel Choir, darlings of the world-music scene and perennial Grammy favorites. They will be the featured artists on my re-recording of 'Baba Yetu' for my album, Calling All Dawns.

The Soweto Gospel Choir, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, performing my music... now THAT'S exciting.

Here are pictures from the rehearsals:

SGCRehearsal1.jpg SGCRehearsal2.jpg

And here we are at the recording session:

SGCRecording2.jpg SGCRecording1.jpg

(On a side note, I promise that I really *do* have more poses than 'left arm raised' and 'chin down in thought', but for some reason the camera seems to catch me in one of these positions more often than not.)

Richard Mitchell did the engineering. The studio was SABC Studios Johannesburg.


I'm very, very pleased with how it turned out. The choir has some amazing voices, and the new version of Baba Yetu is going to be awe inspiring.

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