On April 25th I performed in a set at the Mixed Signals concert at the Dairy Center for the Arts in Boulder. I was joined by Antidata (aka Wes Milhomen) who performed a set with modulars, Andromeda, and some Elektron gear and Victoria Lundy who performed on Theremin. One of my favorite parts of the evening was our last song which was a collaborative jam (as seen in photo above taken by photo by Bret W. Moreland). Wes was on Andromeda, Victoria on Theremin, and I used a Nord Lead 4 for the piece.
I’m a HUGE fan of the television show Helix and especially love the score which is composed by Golden Globe-nominated composer Reinhold Heil. Here is a brief bio from Reinhold’s official web site.
A multi-instrumentalist with a broad musical range, he first came to prominence as the keyboarder of the legendary German punk band, the Nina Hagen Band, and as a producer of international pop stars. His film and television credits include Run Lola Run, One Hour Photo, The International, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, Deadwood, Without a Trace, and the epic adventure-drama Cloud Atlas. He is currently scoring Helix for Syfy. He lives and works in downtown Los Angeles.
I googled around a bit and found no interviews on Reinhold’s work on Helix so I reached out to him with some questions about his work on the show. He was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer these questions and offer a fascinating behind-the-scenes look into his work on the show. Note, one of his answers contains spoilers and I wrapped the answer with with **** Begin Spoiler Alert **** and *** End Spoiler Alert ***.
Mark Mosher: How did you get involved with Helix?
Reinhold Heil: My agent asked me to submit a demo and I did. I put a lot of effort in that because I love the genre and really wanted to show what I have to offer. Apparently they liked the demo and gave me the job without an interview. They must have been swamped with the shoot that had just started in Montreal, so most of them weren’t even in town. As it turned out they were all wonderful to work with and I had a lot of fun doing the series.
Mark Mosher: When Did you Start Working on the Show?
Reinhold Heil: On Helix I [started] developing material in August 2013, while they were assembling the first episode. So there was definitely an early involvement, but it was already inspired by the look of the show and the characters.
Mark Mosher: There are some very happy – dare I say - “elevator music” style and old Wurlitzer organ/drum machine styling’s in the show. Do you use vintage gear (and if so what gear) for these cues, or are you using virtual instruments or libraries?
Reinhold Heil: Funnily most people don’t understand that I have mostly nothing to do with the elevator music. It becomes very obvious when they are using classics like “Road to San José” or “Fever”, but the only easy-listening pieces I actually contributed to Helix are the main and the end-title. And I did the adaptations of the two pieces from Tchaikovski’s Nutcracker that happen in episode 6.
I’m not involved in the selection but check out the two transitions into “Fever”. They are pretty smooth and I did work hard on those. I did try to have the score segue seamlessly into the source pieces as often as I could. Some of them are exceptionally well chosen and used to great effect, but the guys in the writers room and show runner Steve Maeda as well as Producer Stephen Welke are the people to give credit for that.
Mark Mosher: These twisted “happy” cues are so great and act as an emotional signal to viewers that very bad things are just about to happen. It’s such a clever idea and it makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck when I hear any happy music in the show - lol. How did this idea for using happy and lounge sounding orchestrations come about and evolve?
Reinhold Heil: When we had a rough cut with a music layout for the first episode, executive producer Ron Moore (Battlestar Galactica), who was really busy with another show at the same time, came to the editing room and shook things up a little. That’s when he had the idea to use Dionne Warwick’s “Road to San José” for the gruesome opening and the very end of the episode. And that’s where the main title got its direction from. Then the other producers embraced the idea and ran with it.
Mark Mosher: The show has a lot of contrasting visual themes including stark white walls, dark outside night white-out scenes, and white hazmat suits against black ooze. Within each episode, the score also has huge emotional contrasts. How much of your work on these pieces was influenced by the visuals?
Reinhold Heil: I knew I wanted mostly a cold and technical sounding score that had some little-heard electronic approaches that I have been developing for the last 15 years. Stuff that a lot of film makers don’t really go for, and I don’t blame them. A lot of that material is made in a painting program that allows for visual manipulation of sound files. I have developed a certain style using this program and I rarely get the opportunity to show off these unusual sounds. It was lucky for me to have Steve Maeda as the show runner of Helix because he embraced the weirdness. But the show is also about interpersonal relationships and the fate of humanity, so there needed to be a completely different layer of emotional music. So - when you also count the easy-listening aspects - I was able to show quite some range.
Mark Mosher: How much time do you have to create all the cues for an episode?
Reinhold Heil: There was a period of searching while the first three episodes were edited. A few main themes and an overall palette of sounds and ideas were developed during that phase. But once we came close to airing the show it became hairy, especially since Syfy threw us a curveball by airing the first two episodes on the same day. So we lost an entire week of post-production! From January on we were working on three episodes simultaneously, one in the layout phase, one addressing notes from the producers and one in the final mixing stage with all the finishing touches. Obviously not every minute of music needs to be whipped up from scratch, since themes need to be repeated and consistently applied to help the viewer navigate the narrative. But every cue was worked specifically to the scene it was used for, so there was no way I could have done this all by myself. I have two very young, and until recently quite inexperienced assistants who went through an intense training period and came out on the other side being ready for anything that people might throw me. Their names are Steven Gernes and Juan Carlos Enriquez.
Mark Mosher: Sound effects and music are so tightly interwoven in most of the scenes in Helix. Do you build these into your cues or collaborate with sound designers?
Reinhold Heil: I wish there was more collaboration. But editorial is in Los Angeles and audio post production in Montreal. So the editors developed their own little sound library and generously applied it. The idea was that Arctic Biosystems, the massive research facility built on the ice of the Arctic Circle, had a life of its own and created all these humming, droning and AC noises that in itself were adding to the tension and horror. That’s what I had to work with (or against) and it never came to the point where I actually received the final sound design work from Canada. So we worked around something that was then replaced and sometimes we needed to re-work cues or make tough decisions on the mixing stage where it was either the music or the sound design.
Let’s hope the next Helix location is sonically less challenging! You might be surprised how many more layers of the music you can explore.
Mark Mosher: There are some fantastic classic synth sounds in Helix. Menacing bass lines, warm drones and pads, and what sounds like expressive ribbon controller work within the cues. It all sounds fresh with a nod to classic science-fiction films. Are you using vintage gear for this, modern hardware, or virtual instruments for these sounds?
Reinhold Heil: I was using my old CS-80 and it does have that unique ribbon controller. But that was just the icing on the cake of a bunch of virtual instruments. My own sound creations are mostly in Apple’s EXS sampler or Native Instruments Kontakt. The virtual synth I use the most is U-He Zebra (see Modulate This! posts on Zebra). It’s a true modular monster that could never be replaced by an analog machine. I prefer the fact that my sound designs can be stored for reuse and that I find all this power extremely well organized in menus rather than walls and walls of patch-cord labyrinths. I have owned modular analog systems and loved them back in the Eighties. I know it doesn’t appear hip to admit to the use of virtual instruments, but trust me: a lot of the people you see posing with their modulars don’t really use them all that much. There is just no time and the results are fleeting. I prefer building sound libraries that I can recall in an instant and modify for the situation at hand. It’s the only way to produce a TV series as musically demanding as Helix.
Mark Mosher: Many of the characters are quite complex and it’s difficult to tell who’s side someone is on from episode to episode. Plus there are mind-blowing reveals which shake up the context of the show completely changing how viewers see a character. All this being said, there are definite thematic undertones for characters and situations. Do you get early insight into – pardon the pun – the vector or arc of a character, or are you working episode to episode attempting to tie the themes and motifs to each character as you go?
Tone 2 has released the Synth Legends soundset for their analog modeled virtual instrument Saurus. Here is an audio demo.
Exploring Saurus' True Analog capabilities the Synth Legends soundset takes you into the depths of aged circuitry, modular setups and authentic analog, delivering 200 classic synth patches. An inspiring collection of vintage instruments, Synth Legends perfectly mirrors the unique character of analog hardware, replacing popular analog synths like the Moog, Oberheim, Prophet 5, Korg MS20 and the Arp Odyssey.
Gritty basses, weaving arpeggios, expressive pads, screaming synths, dirty leads and vibrant brass, providing you with all the sonic flavors of the analog era.
* 200 presets by professional sounddesigners. * Comfortable installation. * Perfect integration into the user interface. * Many patches can be ‘morphed’ using the modwheel.
Perfect for many genres, such as Old School Electronica, Soundtrack, Ambient, Techno, House, Funk, Synth Pop and a wide variety of other music genres.
Saurus is a goto instrument for me as it’s easier on the CPU than a lot of circuit modeled plugins making it a good choice for live performance. It’s also a great value at $119. If you don’t have Saurus you can learn more about it here http://tone2.com/html/saurus%20synthesizer%20%20vst%20au.html. Below is a video I did a while back doing an improv with Saurus.
This is single patch improvisation recorded in one pass with no edits using Tone2's virtual Synthesizer Saurus. A single instance of Saurus is used with no other effects or editing other than what is built-into the synth. I'm starting with a factory patch in the "Lead" bank called "1970s Soloist H". I only touch the computer once during the performance in the middle to turn up the gain in the mod matrix so that LFO modulates pitch.
Prior to recording I mapped all sorts of parameters to my Novation Remote SL MK II Keyboard.
- XY map to Filter and Rez - Bank 1 of the top 8 knobs are mapped to filter parameters and OSC Balance - Bank 2 of top 8 knobs are mapped to effects parameters - Bottom row 8 knobs are MIDI mapped to Oscillator noise type AM/FM, LFO Speed, Glide rate - The first 4 sliders map to the volume ADSR - The next 4 sliders map to filter ADSR
I used my projector to paint my wall with Saurus to the knob movement you see on the wall is in real-time and corresponds to my controller movement.
The History Center in Tompkins County will open the highly anticipated exhibition Switched-On: The Birth of the Moog Synthesizer on Friday, May 2nd. Telling the story of Bob Moog and the development of the groundbreaking electronic instruments bearing his name, Switched-On will provide museum-goers an interactive, engaging opportunity to learn about this important chapter of our region's history. Based on a series of wide-ranging oral history interviews done with family members, colleagues, and contemporaries, and done in partnership with the Asheville, N.C.-based Bob Moog Foundation, the exhibition provides unparalleled insight into the unique genius of Bob Moog and the ways in which he ushered in a revolution in music. Switched-On is the first major exhibition on Bob Moog and Moog Synthesizers to occur in the region, and will run through May 31st, 2015.
First Friday Gallery Night Friday, May 2nd, 2014 5:00 - 8:00 p.m. The History Center
I wanted to turn you on to a few electronic-music events that I will be participating in this week in Boulder.
Boulder, CO Date: April 24 School: University of Colorado, Boulder Time: 11am (faculty meet), 2pm (break-out sessions - student only), (Public Event @ 6:30pm) Presenter(s): Mark Mosher (Artist), Ben Samples (Artist), Dave Hillel (Ableton) Venue: University of Colorado at Boulder, College of Music, Room# N1B46, 18th & Euclid, Boulder, CO 80309-0301 RSVP: No RSVP needed More Info: Eventbrite
Ableton is proud to partner with University of Colorado at Boulder for the Ableton University Tour, a day and evening of student workshops and public presentations held at the University of Colorado campus in Boulder, CO. Students are invited to join Ableton representatives and Certified Trainers for an afternoon of break-out sessions exploring composition, sound design, production techniques and performance utilizing Ableton Live and Push. Day time activities will be followed by a free evening presentation open to the public, featuring performances, tips and tricks and unique approaches for music-making from artists and Ableton experts. Special guests for the Boulder event include Mark Mosher (Artist), Ben Samples (Artist) and Dave Hillel (Ableton).
I’ll be performing a concert set at the at the Dairy Center for the Arts next Friday April 25th at 8pm. In this concert I’ll be performing songs from my cinematic alien invasion album series including songs from my new album Fear Cannot Save Us which is now available on Bandcamp, iTunes, Amazon,and CDBaby. Joining me in this concert will be Wes Milholen (aka Antidata) on modular synthesizer systems, and Victoria Lundy on Theremin.
I’m helping to organize this show and we’re going to use a similar show format that was used for award winning Watt? Show (see this post on our Westword Magazine Best of Award). In this format each artist play a set. As with our Watt? show. We’ll also be back in the wonderful Performance Space at the dairy which has elevated show seating and comfy seats. There is a bar and snack bar in the lobby and you can bring your wine or beer into the theater. It’s just a great way to see a show of this sort.
We’ll kick the show off with Wes Milholen (aka Antidata) performing a set that features original pieces on analog modular synthesizers. Next up will be Victoria Lundy will be playing a variety of classical and original ambient pieces on Theremin. There will be a brief intermission followed by my set with will also include “invader cam” which is an synchronized interactive visual performance.
Something new we’ll be adding in this show is that we’ll have visuals for all three performances. We’ll close the show with a collaborative piece we worked up at a recent rehearsal.
To give you a feel for what the show will be like, here is a soundcloud set with music from all the artists.
We rehearsed the flow and progression from modular, to theremin, my all digital set followed by a collaborative piece and worked really well so I hope you’ll join us for the show.
I stumbled on to a live video of this cool piece called “Amphis” by Luke Abbott. Enjoy.
Luke Abbott live performance of 'Amphis', filmed at Wysing Arts Centre on 8th March 2014. 'Amphis' features on the forthcoming Luke Abbott album 'Wysing Forest', to be released by Border Community on 23rd June 2014.