Interview: Bill Brown

Composer Bill Brown has been with CSI: New York since the show’s first season, scoring the music that highlights the show’s twists, turns and character moments. Most recently, Brown was tapped by CSI creator Anthony E. Zuiker to score the cyber-bridges for his new Level 26 novel, Dark Prophecy. The soundtrack to Dark Prophecy was released the same week the book was published from Moviescore Media, which comments that the score “fuses live orchestral elements with electronic and ambient textures, and features a number of thematic ideas. The album features dark suspense music and contrasting reflective underscoring, as well as some exciting action.”

Brown took time out of his busy schedule to share with CSI Files his experience scoring both Dark Prophecy and CSI: New York:

CSI Files: Congrats on the release of the Dark Prophecy soundtrack! How did you come to be involved with the project?

Bill Brown: Anthony Zuiker (the creator of the CSI television series and Level 26: Dark Prophecy) contacted me this past summer and asked if I would be interested in scoring Dark Prophecy. I said, “Of course!” Anthony and I first worked together on CSI: NY.

CSI Files: Steve Dark (Dan Buran) goes through a pretty powerful emotional arc in the movie, and has a big breakthrough at the end. How did that inform the scoring of those scenes?

Brown: We knew that the score needed to connect things thematically in our initial meeting, but I don’t think any of us knew how “Henry’s Theme” would become such an integral part of the storytelling until the project was almost completed. The really dark moments for the main character [Steve Dark] were more internal struggles and challenges that I supported texturally, in a more visceral way. But the bigger story was about the key relationships in his life, which are supported with thematic development in the score. A recent review of the CD said it’s not a score you can listen to passively, it demands your listening attention. I think that is true because some of the score is more about the physical experience, and getting underneath that experience in an organic way (like in track 5, “Deeper Waters”—all of these bending, discordant acoustic instruments creating an atmosphere). The tracks that relate to the arc of Dark’s relationships; “Henry’s Theme, ” “Hangman, ” “Dark’s Decision, ” “Five Of Pentacles, ” “Death and Life” and finally, “I Choose Life, ” use more thematic development to help the audience relate to the characters—something I’ve always been quite fond of in film scores myself. As a side note, one of my favorites is track 7 “The Fool. ” I just decided to take that scene in a different direction and love the haunting sound that came out of the strings… kind of eerie, but strangely grounded at the same time… go figure!

CSI Files: There’s some pretty dark material in the movie! Does that take you to a dark place when writing those cues?

Brown: I think part of my job is that I have to be able to empathize with the characters on an emotional level in order to get inside the scene and support it, or play against it… or whatever we are trying to achieve in telling the story. I would just say (to put it simply) I work to understand what they are going through and the music I write reflects that.

CSI Files: How much did you collaborate with Anthony Zuiker on the project? How involved was he in the process of writing the cues?

Brown: Anthony helped clarify for me what in the score needed to be intimate and internal, and what needed thematic support. Our initial meeting was really helpful in that regard. Once the scoring process was underway, Anthony, and Josh Caldwell (the film’s editor) helped clarify where we needed to get more specific thematically, and where we needed to pull back and create more textural, internal moments. Listening to the CD, it’s almost like an opera where you can hear the story unfolding in the music.

CSI Files: What was the actual scoring session like?

Brown: For Dark Prophecy, I used a remote recording facility here in LA called Orchestra.net. After the score was approved, I turned the midi sequences and my audio demos over to my orchestrator to prep for the session, which took us about a week to do for Dark Prophecy. We sent the scores and parts files to Prague so they could print them out a day before the session, and then I showed up at 10:00 am at the remote recording studio here in LA (7:00 pm in Prague) and we started recording.

During the recording, I talked with the conductor through a direct Internet connection as they performed the cues to discuss things like dynamics, and other performance notes so the cues were performed exactly as I was hearing them in my head when I thought them up. We had a 4-hour session with 10-minute breaks per hour for all of the cues in Dark Prophecy. A bit of a breakneck pace but I’m happy with the results! The next day, I received the audio files from the mix via the Internet and took the next few days to mix and integrate the live orchestra into the cues.
 After the film dub, I went back and re-mixed most of the cues for the CD release.

CSI Files: You’ve also done the music on CSI: NY since the show’s beginning. Is it challenging to keep the music fresh for a show in its seventh season?

Brown: I have to put a lot of work into every episode for sure, but it doesn’t feel (especially) challenging to me because the show itself feels fresh this season. I’m really enjoying these new episodes—I feel like we’re telling stories as well or better than we ever have in the history of the show. I’ve been working very hard every season to bring my best to every episode, and I’m very proud of the work. I’m also really proud of everyone involved in the making of the show, it feels great to have accomplished so much in collaboration with everyone involved.

CSI Files: How has the music evolved over the course of CSI: NY‘s run?

Brown: The first season was very dark, and actually, just a bit of trivia, had the most comedic score material out of the 7 seasons so far combined! I established the orchestral/ambient/rock vibe pretty early on. That sound has been evolving over the seasons. I think the full score ‘sound’ of the show really came together in season 3. Everything had matured and the score was really firing on all cylinders by that time. During the past few seasons, I’ve been bringing more acoustic elements to the score. In season 6 of CSI: NY I was recording and experimenting with various live instruments in my studio constantly—and have a whole bunch of photos on my Facebook fan page of the process. I really like how the score has evolved, and continues to evolve!

CSI Files: Do you have any episode scores that stand out as particular favorites? Which ones and why?

Brown: To be honest, I usually like the one I’m working on currently the most. But just looking at last season, I enjoyed scoring Carmine Giovanazzo‘s episode “Sanguine Love” last year. Lots of interesting sounds that were fresh for the show in that one including some nice cello work by Tina Guo. Tina also played on some of my other favorites from last season including “Manhattenge” and “Point of View”. The later score was one of my favorites. A brilliant story written by Pam Veasey inspired by the films of Alfred Hitchcock. We decided to score this wonderful five-minute action sequence at the end of the episode by threading the score in and out of a live string quartet performance. So you first hear the score, which gave way to the live quartet performing in this wonderfully orchestrated and filmed ball in a Manhattan Conservatory, which led back into the score as a chase ensued, and finally they are all playing at once—the sound of a big orchestra and the quartet all sawing away together creating this wonderful cacophony… I had a lot of fun scoring that one. Tina’s performance added so much to that episode… really brought the cello parts in those cues out and breathed life into them. I also found a very fresh sound for the ending action/suspense cue in “Manhattenge,” a very sparse, modern cue with a focus on string orchestra and specifically Tina on cello once again… in the style of John Adams or Steve Reich, and then more open for the suspense, like you would hear in [Alban] Berg or [Arnold] Schoernberg‘s work. And that’s only 3 episodes! I enjoy giving this kind of attention to each episode because it winds up being more fulfilling for me, and I hope it serves the show well.

CSI Files: What is the process involved in scoring episodes of CSI: NY? How much time do you have to write the cues and score each episode?

Brown: I get together with the producers, writers and editors of the episode, the music supervisor and my music editor and we’ll watch through the episode and talk about the music and sound in detail. I usually get the locked picture in the next day or two, and then deliver the score about 4 or 5 days later. I usually get at least a few live sessions in during those 4-5 days, and then the day after I deliver the score, we all meet again to spot the next episode! Good times…

CSI Files: You’ve also scored video games. How do those differ from scoring television?

Brown: I’m working on one right now and the fact that we had the opportunity to record this huge, modern orchestral score with full (live) orchestra was really a blast! I’m just finishing up the final cues for now and it’s all sounding amazing. (TBA in 2011.) There are a lot of technical things with writing for games that are 180 degrees from writing for film and television. You have to understand how the music will work in context, in real-time. We’re basically creating a 4+ hour reactive continual score experience… it’s exciting stuff. I look forward to hearing it all in context, with the live orchestra in 5.1… delicious!

CSI Files: Do you have a dream project? If so, what is it?

Brown: Whatever David Fincher is currently working on!

Kristine Huntley

Author

Kristine Huntley

Kristine Huntley is a freelance writer and reviewer.

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