Brown Fosters ‘New York”s ‘Musical Universe’

Bill Brown has composed every episode of CSI: New York since the show premiered in 2004, and as the series enters its sixth season, the composer remains excited about his job.

Brown met director Deran Sarafian while working on a Budweiser commercial in 1998. A few years later, the pair worked together on the film Trapped. When Deran was filming the pilot for New York in 2004, he gave Brown a call. The next day, Brown met with CSI creator Anthony Zuiker. “That was a cool meeting,” Brown said. “Anthony was so excited about the show, and he and I talked about our shared interests in music. I think [Stephen] Sondheim even came up at one point, and that was a surprise for me because I rarely mention it, but Sondheim was a big inspiration for me growing up.”

The composer had not watched the two existing CSI shows before coming in to work on the New York pilot. “[B]efore we got started, I rented every season of CSI in existence at that time and watched every minute of every episode, and honestly, I was hooked,” Brown shared. “CSI had this wonderful mood about it. Everything contributed to it; the writing, the cast, the direction and pacing, the music, the locations. Everything. I was honestly a big fan of the show after watching it for something like a week straight on DVD.”

“Once I was hired to score the pilot for CSI: NY, I learned our goal was to bring something really fresh to the franchise, and to take it in a totally new direction,” Brown continued. “The producers for CSI: NY were already listening to a lot of orchestral film music in preparation, and when I came on board we folded all of my orchestral music from games into the mix of ideas (some of those cues even became temp score for the pilot and subsequent episodes). There was definitely something darker and grittier about the pilot of CSI: NY compared to the other two shows and the score needed to reflect that.”

Working on the New York pilot “was a very exciting time,” Brown said. “I was involved very early on in the summer of 2004, so we had about 6 to 8 weeks to flesh out the score for the pilot. It was more like scoring a film actually in the time that was available to work on it. The pilot’s score was very traditional ‘film music’ in its essence… lots of melodies, counterpoint, orchestra, piano, leitmotivs; the whole nine yards. Not to mention, we must have gone through three different full iterations and approaches before we landed on the final score for the pilot.”

Zuiker wanted New York to have its own theme. “Together, we all came up with this idea that I would go home one weekend and write a bunch of themes, and present them so everyone could pick ‘the one,'” the composer explained. “So I sequestered myself to the studio and wrote six of them that weekend. One of them was this lilting, almost Irish-sounding melody that I thought might come in handy for something more romantic, or dramatic down the line. But I thought certainly some of the stronger, muscular themes I put together would ‘win’. I was actually really surprised when the reaction to that ‘lilting’ theme was unanimous. That was the one!”

“In season 3, the sound of the whole score, along with a new orchestration of that theme (what we now call the NYC theme) fell into place,” Brown continued.. “There is a suspenseful, filmic, orchestral element that is most always present, along with this layered, almost orchestrated ambient rock sound that evolved over the first few years into a very specific sound that really works for the show.” Since season three, the composer said, “it has been less about re-creating the wheel, and more a matter of my making sure each episode has a score that feels unique to that episode, supports that episode 110% and still lives in the musical universe we’ve created for the show.”

When Brown looks back at the earliest episodes of New York, he can tell “how much I was stretching and growing during that time.” He continued, “We all worked really hard together that first season to find the voice of the show. It was challenging, and interesting, and fun, and very hard work, – and worth every minute of it. The melodic, ambient / orchestral sound that I presented in the pilot still exists in the show today, and at the same time, it has evolved as my writing has evolved and as the show has evolved. I also enlisted the help of some incredible musicians early on. Steve Tavaglione, Peter Maunu, Judd Miller and George Doering (among others) continue to contribute their amazing talents and unique voices to the score of CSI: NY. It wouldn’t be the same without them and I feel blessed to be able to come back each season and continue working with them.”

For each episode of the show, Brown must compose “between 15 and 30 minutes” of music “in about 5 days, give or take.” The forensic montage scenes, which don’t have any dialogue, provide a unique challenge for the composer. “The challenge is of course that the music is driving” the scene, Brown said. “The beautiful part is I can use a theme that I’ve already tied into the narrative of the episode, and really open it up and expand on it during a process scene. That’s probably my favorite thing to do. I love the elegance of it. Or there are times when I’ll feel like creating something that plays against what we’re expecting to hear.. Anything that really gets underneath the scene and adds another layer that isn’t on the film already – that’s what I’m looking for.”

Brown said he doesn’t have a favorite episode of New York, but he enjoyed working on season five’s “Grounds for Deception”. The episode was written by leading lady Melina Kanakaredes (Stella Bonasera). “[M]ost of the episode was based in Greece, and it opened up this whole exotic-intrigue thing to play with,” he explained. “Chasing the evidence musically and thematically was really interesting to do with that story-line and Stella’s narrative was filled with emotion, and with some really important new information for our audience about her mother, it was a compelling canvas to work with for me. Every episode has a soul of its own for me, the music is just a reflection of that.”

The composer has worked on every episode of CSI: NY since it began. “I think it’s a very specific thing, being the composer for this franchise,” Brown said. “It is undoubtedly the biggest thing that has happened in my career to date, and I think the CSI franchise is recognized in the industry as a pretty amazing achievement by all of those involved with it. I’m not being chased around by paparazzi (every day), but my colleagues have been really supportive. And for me, it feels great to be doing it. Sometimes I sit and watch the show, 2 days after we mixed it, and it’s this amazing feeling of accomplishment for me. That’s cool. Whether or not it will open doors in the future is sort of a mystery.. But I love that about this industry. I love that at any point, around the corner there could be some unbelievable, magical thing waiting down the road, something you never thought was even possible. In the meantime, I am all about huge amounts of gratitude for my life right now.”

Source: The Daily Film Music Blog

Rachel Trongo


Rachel Trongo

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