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Archive for the ‘Composers’


Meet the Composer: Ron Jones

February 21st, 2009

Composer Ron Jones

Ron Jones has led the kind of Hollywood composing life many people would envy. He started in cartoons back in the day (The Smurfs and The New Adventures of Scooby-Doo and, a Seth MacFarlane fave, Duck Tales) but also has a great following from his years on  Star Trek: The New Generation. Seth brought him into my orbit on his Family Guy prequel, Larry & Steve, and he continued on other Frederator shorts like the original The Fairly Oddparents (and it’s great theme song), The Dan Danger Show (I posted a couple of his complete scores here), and A Kid’s Life. But, of course, his great visibility has come from the enormously diverse body of work he’s done with Seth at Family Guy and American Dad. And let’s not forget his own “Influence Jazz Band.”

All the composers we’ve been charmed to work with over the years are talented, versatile, and smart. With Ron I’d have to add thoughtful and articulate. Speaking with him about his music is always enjoyable and a learning experience for me.

And recently in an email Ron was talking about “creativity and fun. That is the heart of what I live for.” What more could you ask for in a collaborator?

Thanks Ron.
Composer Ron Jones

“The Dan Danger Show” soundtracks

February 9th, 2009

Dan Danger 2002
This post has moved here. So sorry for the inconvenience.

Steve Tompkins (and Edward Gorey. And Michael Mantler.)

November 20th, 2008

Steve Tompkins
Steve Tompkins in his Nickelodeon writing office, with The Gashlycrumb Tinies poster

If this gets too complicated, I’m sorry about that…

Last week I was walking by the office of one of Fanboy & Chum Chum’s executive producers, Steve Tomkins*. I noticed his cool poster of Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies, which he was obviously very proud of and it got me to telling him of my unusual, casual run in with Gorey’s work back in the day.

The Gashlycrumb Tinies by Edward Gorey

My soft spot for Gorey comes from a particular circumstance. In 1976, I was working with the composers and musicians Michael Mantler (who I posted about last month) and Carla Bley, when Mike released his LP which used Gorey’s writings as the libretto for his compositions called “The Hapless Child and Other Inscrutable Stories.”

Get your own at Scribd or explore others: Culture Music music poetry

I’d never heard of Gorey (his Amphigorey hadn’t quite crashed into the mainstream), and Mike had always had a taste for interesting authors he liked to compose to (like Harold Pinter or Samuel Beckett.  And Mike’s always unique casting had me quadruply intriqued (Robert Wyatt for the prog-rockers, Mike (on trumpet), Carla, Steve Swallow, & Jack DeJohnette for the jazzbos, and Terje Rypdal all of them). Check out a track, and pick up some MP3s.Michael Mantler > The Sinking Spell

So, while it’s always fun saying hi to Steve*, I got an extra cultural dose of nostalgic inspiration the other day. Thanks bud.

* By the way, in addition to doing a hilarious job on Fanboy & Chum Chum,  I found out about another unsung showbiz story. Who knew that Steve Tompkins created Ari Gold on Entourage?

The Hanna-Barbera Pic-A-Nic Basket of Cartoon Classics.

November 1st, 2008

Hanna-Barbera Pic-a-Nic Box

Anyone who knows me is aware of my music habit, and close readers of this blog will pick up on my affection for cartoon music in particular.

So it was extremely gratifying when my friend, Rhino Records founder Richard Foos, agreed to indulge me in the 1990’s with a (now out-of-print) four CD boxed set of Hanna-Barbera Cartoons themes, underscores, sound effects, and other audio ephemera and artifacts of our historic studio. It was compiled and produced with passion and knowledge by cartoon writer/producer Earl Kress.

I’ve posted before about my worship and respect for the under appreciated HB music director and composer Hoyt Curtin but I’ve finally gotten around to scanning the great booklet Earl put together for the set. It not only includes a listing of all the sound in the box, but has great essays by Bill Hanna, Joe Barbera, David Burd, Bill Burnett, and Barry Hansen (Dr. Demento). Plus Marty Pekar conducted an interview about the studio’s unique sound effects library with Joe, Bill, Greg Watson, and Pat Foley. (As we get around to it, you can look at separate transcripts of the essays here.)

For a quick preview, here’s a Quick Draw McGraw track from the box set, composed, arranged and conducted by Hoyt:

Hoyt Curtain & The Hanna-Barbera Studio Big Band >Quick Draw McGraw (Underscore & Syndicated End Titles)

Cartoon Music Week.

October 20th, 2008

The Carl Stalling ProjectQuick Draw McGrawTom & Jerry & Tex Avery Too!The Three LIttle PigsTerry S. Taylor's Imaginarium

Last week was a Cartoon Music Week over on my music blog. I tried to survey a bunch of approaches to the classic styles; maybe someday soon I’ll try a more contemporary take. Given your predilections I figure you might like it.

My mentors: Michael Mantler

September 30th, 2008

MIchael Mantler  
Photograph of Michael Mantler by Tod Papageorge, 1968

I’m luckier than most. My life’s been filled with a lot of folks who’ve shown me the way. Parents, teachers, friends, bosses. Most of them would be horrified to be identified as my “mentor,” but that’s just what they are. An advisor, a counselor, who helped shape my world view.

Composer Michael Mantler was one of them. He was first hand proof that talent, planning, vision, drive, hard work, and sheer force of will could combine to accomplish dreams beyond anyone’s expectations. He didn’t have any particular interest, I think, in showing me much of anything really, but he was an incredible role model, trying to keep his family’s heads above water, struggling against all odds to be viable fringe artists in a highly commercial world. It was a time in my life that would never be repeated, and one that made a huge difference to me.

Mike would probably recoil at the whole idea of mentorship –by now, we’re probably more like friends or something– but I don’t know what else to call it. He was already a young legend in avant-garde jazz  when, as a naive 18 year old, I crashed my first professional recording session he was producing, his then wife Carla Bley’s “Escalator Over the Hill,” He patiently figured I was a friend of one of the superstar orchestra’s if he even noticed my presence. I went on to play their records on college radio, and then he  and Carla trusted me right out of school to work at their innovative artist record distribution service (itself an outgrowth of their incredible, idealistic collective, the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, JCOA). I wasn’t too impressed with the job I did, but a few years later Mike asked me to be the sound man and assistant roadie on Carla’s first big band tours. It was an unforgetable experience not only for the music, but for the pride with which Mike managed the unruly, artistic bunch they’d gathered. I repayed them after a year by ducking out days before our first European tour (a real loss on my part), but it didn’t stop us from staying friendly for the 30 years since.

Thanks Mike, you made a real difference in my struggle to become a professional adult.
……

It wouldn’t be right to talk about Mike without mentioning some of his stunning work. His music isn’t for everyone (on his website he quotes one reviewer saying “‘Silence‘ is possibly the least listenable record I have ever heard”) and requires a dedicated listener, but the rewards are great. Aside from his playing and composing, Mike was no slouch as a producer either. He always knew to not only get the very best musicians, but that it didn’t hurt if they had name value for sales (check out Robert Wyatt, Jack Bruce, Don Cherry, Jack DeJohnette, Pharoh Sanders, Cecil Taylor, and Don Preston, among many others). A few of my favorites:

No Answer

And here’s one of my favorite of Mike’s recordings, featuring a jazz avant-garde superstar orchestra, from the 1968 “The Jazz Composer’s Orchestra“:

The Jazz Composer's Orchestra

The Jazz Composer’s Orchestra > Preview
(Composed & conducted by Michael Mantler; Soloist: Pharoah Sanders)

Meet the Composer: Mike Reagan

May 13th, 2008

MIke Reagan

Mike Reagan, aside from his various film (Oliver Stone’s Any Given Sunday or Elmo in Grouchland), TV, and videogame projects, has been our honored composer on Ape Escape Cartoons and the 52 episodes of Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!. He came by the studio the other day and was telling me about the trés cool set up he’s put together for the music on Ape, and rather than my explaining it to you, I thought I’d let Mike do the honors himself:

I am having a BUH-LAST writing the music for Ape Escape! Working with Kevin Kolde and Karl Torge has really challenged me in the best way possible - really getting to stretch my muscles in this series. Their knowledge of music is pretty wide - we’re just a bunch of big kids doing what makes us laugh - it’s just fantastic. They introduced me to the world of Hoyt Curtin, Les Baxter, Bert Kaempfert and so many other great composers - music I’ve heard all my life, just hadn’t taken the time to really crawl inside it.

Each episode is pretty fast paced, with many twists and turns - so there’s just a ton of music to write. Everything from themes to accentuate the stupidity of some characters, to writing music in the style of Bernhard Kaun for the Frankenstein monster episode or 50’s style montages… the list goes on and on. Glad you liked the Frankenstein episode!

MIke Reagan

To quickly access each theme, I’ve created a system using pictures on a USB device that’s essentially 128 buttons that you can assign to just about anything. So, I basically save markers in Logic for each theme, then assign a series of key commands to a single button to grab what I’m hearing in my head and paste it at the right spot. After 18 episodes I’ve got over 40 buttons programmed right now, but there’s room for 128. I’m going to do the same thing for Wubbzy - get another box of 128 buttons and start organizing themes in the same way. For the pictures, I search through the Ape Escape quicktime movies and capture the screen shot that’s most appropriate for each theme. Specter, Jimmy, Nathalie, Monkeys, and Professor are the main themes, so there’s different (and multiple) pictures for them, but there are also montages, falls, stings, sinister themes, location based music like Paris, Hospital waiting room, Vegas, etc… that get pictures on their buttons, too. For instance, there’s a Paris love theme that has a picture of the Iefell Tower, and the barnyard / Turkey in the Straw tunes have pictures of a chicken.

MIke Reagan

It’s so much faster associating a piece of music with a thumbnail picture as opposed to remembering a marker number or a folder path… this keeps the creativity at the forefront, and the math and memorization on another planet.

To quote Napoleon Dynamite’s brother Kip:
“…I still love Technology, always and forever”

Sammy L’s monster at Random!

May 24th, 2007

sammymonster.jpg

One of our favorite composer’s young sons were at the great screening of Random! Cartoons at ASIFA-East (join!) Tuesday night and we received this picture in the email afterwards (notice the logo print-throughs from our program):

“It’s not that Sammy’s not interested in hearing about pitching, just that he’s interested in the kind of pitching that’s done in pinstripes and can be measured with a radar gun. I’ve attached what he drew to occupy himself during the panel discussion (I particularly like the textual annotations).

“But he loved the toons, and the rest of us (including [his brother] Jacob, who’s going to do two weeks of NY Film Academy this summer) enjoyed the panel as well.”

Meet the Composer: Geoff Levin

December 2nd, 2005

geoff-git.jpg
Here’s another of my irregularly appearing features on composers who are working in cartoons, one of the unsung (bad pun intended) areas in animated filmmaking.

Geoff Levin is the rare artist who’s made a career for himself in a multitude of areas. Of course, he’s composed for cartoons, but also for live action feature films, TV series, and documentaries. And he’s a songwriter, guitarist, and recording artist to boot. In fact, he’s scored the Academy Award nomiated animated short The Janitor as well as James Cameron’s Last Mysteries of the Titanic.

We first met Geoff on some projects at Hanna-Barbera in the 90s, and then again as the guitarist and mixer on our original seasons of Oh Yeah! Cartoons. And most recently he did over 20 episodes of the Bill Burnett & Larry Huber creation ChalkZone, where he worked overtime to compose each score with a completely unique style suited to the individual theme of an extremely diverse series (unusual by any standards of TV production).

Thanks Geoff, we look forward to hearing your work on our productions again.