Bill Brown, CSI: New York's Sole Composer

By Chris Fullman
Posted at December 21, 2004 - 5:58 AM GMT

Bill Brown, sole composer of CSI: New York, took some time out of his busy schedule to give CSI Files an exclusive interview. Bill has composed music for movies like Ali, Finding Forrester, and Any Given Sunday, as well as for the Quake, Wolfenstein, Command & Conquer and Tom Clancy's game franchises. CSI: New York is the first television series Brown has composed music for.

CSI Files: First off, thank you for taking the time to interview with us; we understand your schedule is most likely hectic, so it is greatly appreciated.

Bill Brown: My pleasure. My schedule has many deep and exciting layers of hectic in it for sure. :)

CSI Files: How did you become involved with CSI: New York?

Brown: I composed the music for a film with one of the current CSI:NY producers, Deran Sarafian (also one of the directors for CSI) and he gave me a call over the summer. I wrote a CD of demo music for the show and then put together a DVD reel to share with the producers of the show. The rest is history... ;)

CSI Files: When CSI: New York first broke the scene in Miami's episode "MIA/NYC - NonStop", it had this heavy Daylight-style score, with orchestrations and strings. almost a bit Armageddon. When CSI: New York started, there was a heavy difference. Was this your decision, or that of the producers?

Brown: The crossover episode was great in that it ventured into some new territory for the franchise - bringing more of a traditionally film-orchestral sound to the show. We folks in the business know how challenging that can be to do with keyboards - so whenever it is done elegantly - I really enjoy hearing it. (I know I enjoy creating orchestral stuff myself) In the first show of this season, "Blink" - you probably heard more of that orchestral sound than any other episode so far, probably because we were still exploring and finding what fits the show best sonically. I think the sound for the show after these first 11 episodes has solidified in that we know better what works and what doesn't for our show. That traditional orchestral sound still finds it's way into every episode at some point - it's really fun finding those moments... and then there is a more eclectic, modern approach that has seemed to grow out of my style melding with Jason Alaxander's most excellent music supervision vision on the show and the input of the entire team. We'll just continue to grow and evolve from here.

CSI Files: Since you've been on board, a number of your reoccurring themes have taken shape, perhaps attaching themselves to certain characters in the show. Do you find a strong theme per episode or a character's musical identity crucial to the emotional attachment a viewer faces when they watch the show?

Brown: I've found that having a sound that is familiar to the audience and re-connects them emotionally with the characters in some way is helpful - it seems to help ground the narrative and bring another layer to each new situation the characters find themselves in. Thematic development has always been interesting to me - my favorite scores are those that have a recognizable thematic element that helps to tell the story. In the case of each of these shows - I find a connective theme or element for each story - and then bring the character themes into those settings - so Danny's theme might find it's way into a quasi-classical cue, or Stella's theme might find it's way into a sultry shower scene - and then you'll hear it later as she's collecting evidence and solving the case - she was at rock bottom - so the theme comes out one way, then she turns it all around and solves the case with the rest of the crew's help - that's a good opportunity to help tell the story with music.

CSI Files: Lets talk about your musical influences. Have you followed the work of John M. Keane (CSI: Crime Scene Investigation) or Graeme Revell (CSI: Miami) before you were attached as composer for CSI: New York?

Brown: I have a great respect for John's work on CSI! They just passed 100 episodes and are still re-inventing themselves and entertaining us every week - and that is no small deal. Now that I am aware of what the writing and recording schedule is like myself - my respect goes even deeper for both his work and each of the composers for CSI:Miami's work as well. All I can say to my fellow composers is my appreciation for coffee has expanded in the last weeks! Know what I mean? But I'm cutting down now that there's a bit of a holiday break.

CSI Files: I've found a strong influence from your music with that of Hans Zimmer, who I'm sure you agree, is probably one of the best composers of our time. Notably, I've recognized textures from his Mission: Impossible - 2 score with some of your segments for the show.

Brown: That's funny that you say that - we actually haven't referenced MI:2 in any of the show's temps and I'm not really familiar with the score with the exception of maybe some of that wild flamenco stuff which I love playing. I'd be interested to watch it again and see what your hearing in there.. I'll bet it's nice whatever it is.

CSI Files: It is one of [Chris Fullman's] favorite soundtracks, so I admit I may be trying to force an influence on you.

Brown: [Laughter] Ah-ha! I caught you! :)

CSI Files: Can you tell us anything about some upcoming episodes you're working on, musically wise, that is. We'll try to avoid spoilers.

Brown: [Laughter] Well, in early January you'll hear my latest which introduces live duduk for the first time in the CSI:NY score - and some really terrific live cello solos again... (don't tell anyone!) I have been really conscious of bringing a live, organic quality to the score - and I'm very fond of themes as I mentioned earlier - so you can look forward to more of those.

CSI Files: Generally, the timeframe is 30 minutes of music per week during production schedule. Do you find yourself sometimes in a rush to get music out, or does it seem to go smoothly?

Brown: So far I've been able to pace myself and really focus on each cue to make it special -which I'm grateful for. The days are very, very long.. hopefully my wife will still recognize me when I'm finished with the season. ;)

CSI Files: What is the interaction you have with the show. Do you work hand-in-hand with the director, or are you trusted in your musical expertise to take an episode and hand it back with a soundtrack?

Brown: We spot each show with just about the entire team there and get the concept together collaboratively. I take those ideas back to the studio, create music and bring them to the mix at the end of the week, and repeat.

CSI Files: Temp tracks are not all that uncommon in Hollywood. (For our viewers, a temp track is when a director attaches music they've heard from other soundtracks or artists to a rough cut of the film to show the composer what they're looking for.) Do you come in contact with this method a lot?

Brown: We usually temp the show with music that I've written from previous shows to convey an emotional idea to the producers - and to get on the same page as a team - then I take that feel and translate it to the new settings.

CSI Files: Lets talk about equipment. Computers and keyboards/synthesizers have become key in today's soundtracks, while full session orchestra's have diminished. What mix do you use? (IE, mostly computers, mostly orchestras/live musicians)?

Brown: I always bring a few live players onto each show - it just wouldn't sound the same without them. There's a lot that I do with the keyboards - a lot. That's TV.. it works well for the medium.

CSI Files: Do you use a PC/Mac. What about sequencing/mixing software. Reason, ProTools, Acid/Sonic Foundry?

Brown: All of the above - yes, yes and Logic Pro...

CSI Files: What's your favorite instrument and why?

Brown: I would have to say piano - it's the original orchestra mock-up - and still is in so many ways...

CSI Files: What's your favorite filter effect (IE reverb, delay, flange) and why?

Brown: Right now - delay (just listen to the show - you'll understand.)

CSI Files: Thanks again for taking your time to interview with us, and we can't wait to see what you have in store for us in the future! Best of luck to you!

Brown: You're welcome!

If you enjoyed this interview, and want to learn more about CSI: New York's composer, Bill Brown, please visit his website at billbrownmusic.com.

Discuss this interviews at Talk CSI!

Find more episode info in the Episode Guide.


Chris Fullman is a regular contributor. For more information, please visit his personal site at fullmanator.com.