My latest commercial

For the last 18 months I’ve been working a lot with commercials. I work as a freelancer for a company called Hum which is a composer house focusing on music for TV. For every commercial they get we are a group of around 10 composers who each will write a track. Then the client chooses the one they like the most. So every commercial is a competition, which can be really challenging for the composer, but pretty ideal for the client who most of the time is working under serious time constraints. (So are we, we usually have less than a day to write 30 seconds of music.) Over the last months I’ve built a pretty big library of commercial tracks that Hum sometimes tries to license. Below is an example of a track I originally wrote for an Audi commercial that was licensed for the Olympics for a commercial for Walmart. For those of you in Norway who don’t know what Walmart is, it’s a huge American retail store that sells everything from food to sports equipment.

Learning from the big guys

It’s been a while since last blog, but I’m happy that it is because I’ve been super busy. I have decided that 2010 is gonna be a very productive year, and so far I’m off to a good start. For the last 4 weeks I’ve written 12 commercials, demoed for a feature film and landed a short film. Additionally I’ve been working on songs for my band Postulat’s new EP. I’ll write more about these projects later.

In light of the upcoming Oscars I wanted to share a couple of anecdotes about some of the composers who are nominated for best original score. Among this year’s nominees I happen to have met several of them. In fact one of them helped me get my first feature film. The second year I lived in LA I attended the USC Film Scoring program. Every week we had a composer come in and talk about their work experience. In one of those classes Marco Beltrami came in. I knew he had scored the Norwegian film “I Am Dina” and I really liked the music for the trailer. Oftentimes they use licensed music for the trailers, but for this one it seemed very tailored, which was one of the reasons why I liked it so much. During our break I went up to him and asked him if he was the one who wrote the trailer music, which he was. He seemed very surprised to find out that someone in LA knew about this film which was not very well known in the States, and was excited when I told him I was from Norway. He asked for my info and we decided to meet up for a chat. He also got a chance to listen to some of my work. Later when a music supervisor friend of his asked him for suggestions for a someone who would wanna score this film on an ultra low budget, he recommended me. Even though it was very little money it was a really cool opportunity for someone like me who was still in school and who needed to start making connections.
I have yet to see “The Hurt Locker” which Marco Beltrami and his long time assistant Buck Sanders are nominated for, but I’m happy to see that he continues to do really well. This is his second Academy Award nomination after he was nominated in 2008 for “3:10 to Yuma”, which I thought was a very inventive score.

I’m a member of the Society of Composers and Lyricists, which is a great forum for meeting other composers in the industry. During the year they arrange screenings of films followed by interviews with the composers. I love hearing the composers’ thoughts about their approach and process. One time they showed “Syriana” and had an interview with composer Alexandre Desplat. He is one of my all time favorites in film scoring because of his strong sense of beauty and elegance. His melodies flow beautifully and his orchestrations are transparent and simply gorgeous. His scores for “Birth” and “Girl With A Pearl Earring” are great examples of this. Alexandre Desplat was very much like his music – light, pleasant and well dressed. In other words very French (just like he said himself). So I have to say I was quite star struck when I met him. My friend and I went up to him to tell him how much we appreciated his work (my friend was the tough one, I sort of tagged along slightly nervously). But I was thrilled when he said that he had a scoring session for “Firewall” the following week and asked whether we’d be interested to come. That is one of my favorite things about living in LA: Getting the treat of going to scoring sessions with the big guys. I love the atmosphere at these recording sessions, how everybody is there with the mindset of creating the best result possible. How the musicians always blow me away – every time I hear an orchestra I feel this deep affection for all of them because of the beauty they bring into the world just by doing their job. I also love to watch and learn from how the composers think on their feet and take instructions from the director and translate it into music. “You want it less noble? OK, take out the trumpets for bars 35-40.” It’s such a specific way to learn. You can read a lot of textbooks on film scoring, but there’s no better way to learn than to be at a recording session.
I really enjoyed “Fantastic Mr Fox” for which Alexandre Desplat is nominated. To tell you the truth I was kind of surprised when I saw his name in the credits. He has a very specific signature and sound, and I wouldn’t have guessed it was him. Now that I listen to the music again, it makes sense. The transparency, the beautiful melodies and the clean orchestrations are all there. I guess the difference is it’s more playful and humorous than his other work. Some of the tracks are also for smaller ensembles which make them more intimate. And he uses a slightly different instrumentation than he normally does. But it’s cool to hear that he can do something new and still do it really well.

I’ve never met Hans Zimmer who is another nominee this year, but my friend Diego Stocco worked with Hans Zimmer on the score for “Sherlock Holmes”. Diego created an instrument called the experibass, which is basically the strings from a viola and cello attached to the body of a contrabass. (You can read more about Diego in Johannes Ringen’s blog as well). I thought it was one of the best scores I’ve heard in a long time. I loved the creative instrumentation and all the ear candy it provided. It fit perfectly with the time period and style of the whole film. It’s really interesting to look at the videos of the musicians who are contributing in various ways (although I always feel physical pain when I watch people destroy instruments!!). You can check it out here:

And with that I wish you all a great weekend!

“The Attic Door” Part 2 – The Power of Silence

Les innlegget

It is funny though how you feel that when you get hired as a composer you should deliver the best possible music with beautiful themes and colorful layers because that makes it more interesting to listen to. Having 15 seconds rest felt like I was cheating. But Danny kept reminding me that less was more, and he was right. In the end the minimalist music was the right choice for this particular movie. It’s an intimate, quiet film with multiple emotional layers. Piling on with musical layers would have overwhelmed the picture. It was a bold choice, but I think the right one.

Scoring The Attic Door part 1

The latest feature film I scored is called “The Attic Door”.  It’s a beautifully shot psychological thriller drama about two siblings left alone in their house in the Utah desert while their parents are away. Every day they struggle to survive on their own while they wait for their parents’ return. As the story unfolds, they discover they are not  alone and they must face their fear of something hiding behind the attic door. Although this is a psychological thriller, the movie is also a touching story about love and loss.


I was brought on as a composer a couple of months before they started shooting the film. I got to read the script and as they started cutting the movie, I was able to watch the  evolving versions of the film. I remember sitting in a cold loft while I was in Norway visiting, trying to get underneath the skin of the story. If time allows it, I prefer to spend a lot of time with the script or the cut of the movie not thinking about music at all. In order to be able to write the appropriate score, it helps to try to absorb the film and let it live in my subconsciousness. Getting to know the subtext of the film gives me a guideline for what the score should convey. So I watched the cuts, made notes and spent a lot of time analyzing and thinking about what this film was truly about. Through conversations with director Danny Daneau we realized we were very much on the same page, which of course was very helpful throughout our collaboration.
I spent about a week analyzing the movie’s dramatic and emotional content before I started playing around with musical ideas. Few of the ideas made at that time ended up being used. Sometimes you need to go through a lot of crappy ideas to get to the right ones. That is another advantage with the luxury of time, that you can allow yourself to really work deeply into your material to find out what works and what doesn’t. During this period I also listened a lot to composers such as Lutoslawski, Penderecki, Stephen Scott and John Cage for inspiration. Stephen Scott is a contemporary American composer who has created the so-called Bowed Piano Ensemble. I saw them in concert and was blown away by the sounds that came out of the instrument that I thought I knew well after playing it for more than 20 years. The way they use the piano became a big inspiration for my own use of the piano in this score.

Early on we decided that we wanted to limit the amount of instruments in the score. Financially it made sense as we were working on a relatively tight budget, but that wasn’t the main reason. The characters in the story are forced to utilize the available resources to their maximum in order to survive. Having very few instruments that were used in all possible ways would reflect this. I also think I work more creatively when I have limitations. Especially since this film didn’t have much temp music at all, I had to come up with everything from scratch, which sometimes is a pretty daunting task.
Danny pictured strings pretty early in the process and so did I, so eventually I decided on viola, cello, contrabass and piano. I chose the lower strings because I felt their timbre resonated well with the feel of the movie. These instruments are very versatile which was a requirement when you only have 4 players. It was also interesting to me not to have violins as I tend to use that a lot.

Inspired by Stephen Scott’s Bowed Piano Ensemble I used rosined fish line on the strings inside the piano to get haunting and less traditional sounds from the piano. Some melodies were played on the piano, but mostly I used the piano for sound effects by hitting and rubbing the strings inside the piano with various objects. Here’s an example of the bowed piano (at 0:58):


Bowing the piano

Bowing the piano

I added very few effects in the mixing process to keep it as organic sounding as possible. The movie is set in the 19th century so I wanted to create sounds that only sounded like something that you could create with real instruments. With the strings, I pushed the players (luckily they were all really good sports) to play way out of their range and using various techniques. Sometimes the poor bass player was playing harmonics up to an a above the staff. Of course it helped having amazing players. (These are players that are on the roster of John Willams’ contractor, to give you an idea of their level.) It was one of the most fun sessions I’ve done in my career so far actually.

Here’s another audio sneak peak from the score where I rub the strings inside the piano with a metal stick, hit the strings with my hands, and have the string players play in a very high range:


Hello from where the sun always shines, at least above the smog.

A lot of the things people think about LA are true. It is a bizarre place. Living here is like living in a bubble with some of the world’s most self-absorbed, but also friendly and extraordinarily talented people. It’s a place where everything is available, everything is possible, where no one really stares at people with wedgie panties (that’s with no pants covering) at Starbucks because they are used to strange, and where it’s sometimes hard to distinguish the local news from a movie. Where else would live car chases be a normal part of the evening news? Here people get way too creative in the attempt to get their 15 minutes of fame.

But in a city with 18 million people you can of course find a lot of “normal” people too. And despite the forest fires, the occasional earth quake, the painful traffic, the frightening lack of wrinkles in old people’s faces, it makes sense why people still wanna live here.  At least for a little while. There’s always something going on. The city has a pulse that never stops beating. There’s so much creativity here. And there’s a lot of hard work. With that combination you can get so much done, which is one of the great things I appreciate with LA.

As a composer I have access to some of the best musicians in the world – I’ve had world class cello players recording in my closet, and they weren’t even complaining, because they love to be able to work –  some of the best audio engineers, music stores, recording stages and studios.  The other day I was mixing a project that was due two days later. During mixing I kept cringing the more I listened to my synth flute. So I decided to email a flute player I know to ask him whether he had the opportunity to record for me. The next morning I received his tracks and was able to mix it in well in time for my delivery date. Everything happens fast here. People work all the time and with the craziest deadlines. If a director needs 20 minutes of music for their movie in say 5 days, someone in LA is willing and able to provide that. And even do it really well. In fact it happens every week in TV. The show “Lost” for example, has about 20 minutes of music per episode. From the day the composer receives the final cut of the episode, he has less than a week to write, record and mix the music. I simply thought that was impossible until I got here. In this town technique is more important than inspiration.

So that sets off this new blog, in which case inspiration has been more important than technique. I’ve never blogged before, so I hope you’ll bear with me!