Music for Theater
Hallmarks of Horror
Directed by Alexxander Evergreen
Performed by the White Lake Youth Theater
The play, Hallmarks of Horror, is basically a comedic guided tour through every horror movie trope conceivable. It touches upon several subgenres of horror from multiple eras from the 50s to today, and contains an endless assortment of veiled references to several horror concepts, characters and films.
My design concept for composing the music was to delight the audience by supporting all the horror references with music cues that payed homage to them while still maintaining a level of fright that was appropriate for Youth Theater.
This satirical piece opens the play on a scene of a normal American nuclear family experiencing an over the top, idyllic breakfast. The scene is used to humorously juxtapose the horror elements of the show.
This piece is used to emphasize the saccharine sweet nature of the moment so that the horror elements stand out. This is one of a couple of pieces in the play that I used a Mellotron keyboard to evoke a vintage orchestral sound.
The family breakfast is undercut by a shifting of lights and the entrance of the narrators, who will guide the audience along on the tour of horror.
In keeping with the TV show angle, this piece of music was used to evoke the themes of paranormal anthology shows from the 50s - 70s like The Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. The primary instrument is an FM synthesizer, which gives the theme it's electrical, alien quality.
Along the way, a main character picks up an ancient book and unwillingly becomes enchanted by the spirit that haunts said book.
This piece is colored by a variety of regular sounds that are manipulated with echo, reverb and unnatural playback speed to evoke an ancient, otherworldly, phantom quality. Such sounds include piano and violin, but also a tea kettle played multiple octaves down and a whispered voice played in reverse.
When the narrators introduce the mainstay of the creepy doll, they also take the time to lecture the audience on how music can be used to enhance the creepiness of the doll. They use four very different types of music cues to illustrate how music influences an audience's fear.
This first piece is composed to sound like evil personified. Using delicate chimes works to evoke the innocent nature of the doll, but it is corrupted by the creepy melody and the additional religiously oriented instrumentation like church bells and a Gregorian choir. Numerous recordings of screaming voices are used as well to create a humorously hellish feeliing.
To create the violent music, I took purely percussive approach, starting with the furious beating of a frame drum and layering samples of stringed instruments playing a "Bartok pizzicato" patch with massively dense tone clusters, and used one of my brass bells as a quiet lead in to the shockingly loud din.
When the narrators pivot to the point that scary music can be eerie, a sound evoking a musical saw or theremin is used.
To create this weird circus music, I used a flute based organ patch to simulate the sound of the circus mainstay, the Caliope, and sweetened it with Timpani playing alternating notes in major fifth intervals to create a bouncy, hyperactive feeling. To weirden the effect even further, I used a "wow" effect to evoke the unnerving sensation of unstable pitch.
Doll Music - Various
There are numerous scenes sprinkled throughout that depict Zombies feasting on brains or flesh.
The zombie music is used to illustrate this visceral scene with, rotten sounding drones. I created them with a desktop drone synth, flipping a switch between two sawtooth oscillators.
Hallmarks of Horror pays special attention to the mainstay of the masked Killer, down to their motivations, fight moves and weaknesses.
This song is composed as a pastiche of every slasher theme I could think of, specifically Friday the 13th and Halloween. It makes heavy use of a rudimentary retro synth and a roland drum machine, as was a staple of 80s horror.
Whenever a mob of monsters crosses the stage, a throwback to universal monster music is heard.
These pieces are composed with dissonant chords moving in parallel motion and once again use Mellotron sounds to evoke the sound of a vintage orchestral recording. The secret ingredient to get the very specific sound of universal music are the Timpani sounds supporting the fundamental pitches.
This sound combines traditional percussion instruments like concert cymbals and a bass drum, but also very low keys on a piano, wood and metal hits and rolling thunder, performed at extremely high velocities. The sound of fingernails on wood is used to give a forward momentum to the sound.
For this moment, the narrators introduce the supernatural inanimate object that will eventually bring ruin to any character that has the misfortune of coming in contact with it.
This piece utilizes rhythmic, throbbing bass tones to evoke a controlled cerebral reaction. It is built upon with raw electrical sounds and bizarre elastic waves. It builds to a crescendo until the object (in this case a beach ball) claims the life of it's victim. This piece pays homage to the films of David Cronenburg. Particularly Scanners.
Like the doll music, this piece is comprised of innocent sonic elements, specifically children's voices that are made unnerving by using the Boy's Choir patch of a Mellotron, and a classroom recording of children singing, distorted and played back in reverse. The distorted synthesizer is an homage to more modern Horror Films like The Black Phone, It (2017) and The Invisible Man.
Agnes of God
Received a KCACTF certificate of Merit for music composition, 2019
Pieces like this were composed to be sung live onstage by the actress portraying Agnes. They aurally support the joyous, reverent, innocent face that she presents. They are stylized after movements of the Catholic Mass and follow strict conventions for composing sacred music like this. Stepwise chromatic motion, an avoidance of large intervals between notes and free meters are used to support evoke the sound of sacred compositions. However, in order to evoke the joy that Agnes sings with, I broke convention by making the pieces have a wider, livelier sound by composing in a reasonably large range and with long melismatic phrases.
This piece was one of two expressionistic compositions that underscored the hypnosis scenes. These compositions are broader and feature a full choir to convey the idea of Agnes's mind being open to Dr. Livingston and Mother Miriam. The conventions of composing sacred music remain when Agnes is calm, but those conventions are jettisoned when she recalls the darkest moments of her life and gets further away from the light of God. Dissonant harmonies and polyphonic textures are incorporated gradually as Agnes fear increases. Techniques like this would have been considered blasphemous in sacred compositions. These emotional shifts unfold in realtime with the scene.
Instead of the much more common usage of using thematically or spatially related pre-existing recordings for the Intermission, I composed an Entrac'te containing musical quotations of melodic phrases that appear in other sections of the play.
The Night I Died at the Palace Theatre
Directed by Alexxander Evergreen
Performed by the White Lake Youth Theater
The Night I Died at the Place Theatre is a comical and complex entry in the murder mystery genre. The play weaves between the testimonies of the dysfunctional cast and crew of ramshackle dramatic theater, after their megalomaniacal director, Dexter, is found dead.
For this piece, the Director and I instinctually agreed that an overall "mysterious jazz" musical underscoring would best suit the dark, comedic tone of the story and genre. Music served multiple purposes for this show, including supporting individual character monologues, filling the space of scene transitions and underscoring pivotal moments in the mystery. During pre-production I envisioned the music coming from the world of the play, being performed by a janky house band that worked for the titular theater. The imaginary band was composed of a minimalist ensemble of electric guitar, electric bass and a drum kit. The guitar and bass were performed with real instruments being run via direct out into my computer, where they could be processed with synthetic amplifiers and the drums were programmed samples. I composed and recorded simultaneously, while listening to an audio recording I had taken of a rehearsal with the actors. This workflow allowed me to work quickly and efficiently, resulting in the thirty minutes of original music being completed in only a matter of days.
The first half of the play consists of all the actors at the theater giving their testimonies to the police, asserting their innocence in the crime of Dexter's murder. Each of these testimonies is supported by an underscoring that supports their individual idiosyncracies.
Glenda's music is composed to evoke the elegant opinion she has of herself, with a sound reminiscent of hazy nightclub music. As her alibi begins to fall apart and she panics, the music likewise begins to break down with descending chords and instruments dropping out.
Kalene Cooper's music uses an upbeat pop rhythm that evokes a materialistic, glamorous vibe that supports Kalene's detached, egotistical personality. The music drops out humorously near the very end when Kalene embarrasses herself.
Luther is the slow-witted archetype of the group. This music is composed to humorously evoke the sense of the neurons in Luther's brain firing weakly, and gradually slowing to a halt.
This song is used to recall cliffhanger stingers that preceded commercial breaks for radio dramas in the murder mystery genre. This piece caps off the first half of the play and the melody reoccurs as a leitmotif for Detective Jimmy Todd as he pieces clues together. It is also heard at the very end of the play when the story ends on an intriguing plot twist.
This piece accompanies a clandestine conversation between Jimmy and the mysterious janitor Theodore as the latter attempts to deliver the final trump card in what would be the framing of an innocent character. The shadowy, noir-ish atmosphere for this scene is created on the strength of homophonic musical textures and muted drums.
Jimmy delivers a very complex evaluation of how he deduced the identity of Dexter's true murderer. As the mystery is demystified in conversational acrobatics, the guitar expressively tendrils around the plot twists over static rhythm section ostinatos.
Unrealized Composition for a Radio Drama
In the Spring of 2020, I was commissioned to compose this piece as a theme song for a radio drama adaptation of a short play entitled "Fugue". The composition was approved, but the radio drama was never finished. The play is narrated by three young girls as they recount the event of their deaths at the hands of a child murderer.
The dialogue of the play is delivered with an earnestness, which I sought to convey with the carefully contoured melody. The piano is accompanied by a glockenspiel and a celesta, which are normally sounds associated with whimsy. These elements work together to convey the tragedy of the death of the innocents. Additionally, this piece was run through a convulution reverb mimicking a large train station, giving the piece a limbo-ish quality that supports the natures of the characters as ghosts.
Fires in the Mirror
Composed with Allen Harrison
Received a KCACTF certificate of Merit for music composition, 2017
"I want you know how compelling, unobtrusive and, down right perfect I found the music. It was truly exceptional and beautiful. I also appreciated the quiet and thoughtful manner in which you worked."
- Roger Held, Director of "Fires in the Mirror", Professor at Michigan Technological University Department of Visual and Performing Arts.
Fires in the Mirror recounts the 1991 death of Gavin Cato and the riots that followed. It is structured as a series of monologues from 21 different residents of Crown Heights, each offering conflicting accounts of the accident and the events leading up to it. Each monologue had a different tone, a different character with a different personality, a different personal history and a different delivery. Allen and I composed to reflect this. We wanted to write music that would free the audience to experience and interpret the events in their own way, thus the music isn't cue based. It only occasionally follows beats from the script, but mostly it takes a broader approach and suggests as a whole, how the monologue should feel, rather than change at every event recounted. From the diversity of the cast, characters and monologues, the music adopts several different styles as well, where needed. Our music for Fires in the Mirror touches upon elements of Klezmer, hip hop, jazz, orchestral, blues, ambient, noise and religious.