Brief list of credits
You, Me And The Apocalypse, In Saturn’s Rings, Gears Of War 2,3 (Additional Music), What About Love, The Lying Game, The Astronaut Wives Club (additional music)
Hi Pieter, thank you for taking time to do this interview. Tell us a little bit about yourself and how did you get your start as a composer?
I was born in Guatemala to a Dutch mother, half German/half American father. I moved to Austria when I was 8, then to Panama, Costa Rica and then Boston where I went to college. Eventually landing in Los Angeles where I live now.
I studied music composition for film as well as music production and engineering at Berklee College of Music in Boston. The only logical place to pursue my career in writing for picture was in Los Angeles.
When I first got here, I was a runner at Record Plant in Hollywood. This means I was making sure the studio was clean, picked up lunch orders, made coffee, etc. While there, I met scoring mixer Alan Meyerson who, I found out the night I met him when I looked at all my score CD’s, was Hans Zimmer’s engineer for many years.
He was working on ‘The Italian Job’ score for John Powell when we met. Eventually, I ended up as Alan’s assistant/runner for a bit. This, combined with a Berklee connection, landed me at Hans Zimmer’s studio.
While I was there, I met Steve Jablonsky who was on a very steep climb to success. I hounded him until he hired me as his assistant. I started out as his tech and pretty soon I started writing on ‘Desperate Housewives,’ which was my first writing assignment with him.
Soon after, he got so busy that more writing was thrown my way.
This collaboration lasted for 5 years until I went on to pursue my own projects.
Let’s talk about You, Me and the Apocalypse for a bit. How did you get involved with the show?’
Almost 7 years after working on my own projects, I got an e-mail from Steve saying he had this TV show. He asked if I’d like to do it with him. I agreed immediately!
How did you approach the score of You, Me and the Apocalypse and what do you think were the main obstacles scoring the show?
When I started, Steve had already discussed a basic sound palette with the show’s producers and had written themes. For the first few episodes, we had to make sure to establish the sound. The challenge came when we almost had to throw it all out the window as we had a pretty drastic change in the plot and score direction. This meant changing instrumentation and going from a very acoustic sound to a much more electronic/synth based score.
It wasn’t so much an obstacle as much as a chance to really flex that muscle and figure out how to integrate the previous 4-5 episodes into the new sound. I think we did pretty well as toward the end of the 10 episodes, we had a really terrific blend of the two!
Let’s talk about Gears of War series. How did you get involved with the project, and what were your tasks during the production?
I was able to contribute to both of these games because of my relationship with Steve. On Gears of War 2, I was still working directly for him. I wrote a bit less than half the score, and I was responsible for all things tech. Getting orchestrators what they needed, getting the engineer what he needed for mixing. We scored this at Skywalker Sound with a group of wonderfully talented players.
On GOW3, I had already gone on my own and he asked me to contribute, this time only as a writer.
How would you compare working on TV, film and video games? Which one do you find to be the most interesting?
The structure and technical aspect of storytelling are different on all these platforms. Video games are very non-linear. Naturally, the story is, but as the player, you are deciding when things happen depending on where you go and what you do. Consequently, the music has to follow suit.
What’s really beautiful about the way technology has moved is that in games, it allows you to trigger the music depending on what’s going on during gameplay. As a composer you have to write it in such a way that different stems, or tracks of the music, are triggered autonomously as well as jointly. This means all, say, 7 tracks of one piece of music will work together in any combination. For example, Strings and percussion, Strings, Choir and Synths, etc.
“Traditional” television is divided into Acts, which are broken up by commercials. So, in a one hour drama you have 6 acts that amount to 45 minutes. Musically, you have to score an overarching 45 minutes that’s broken up into smaller chunks. Before each commercial break you have to keep the audience engaged and in suspense so they keep watching after each commercial.
This is changing a bit now with things like Netflix and Amazon, for example, where the scoring is done more like a film. 45-50 minutes (1h 30m for a film) of an uninterrupted story.
I love the pace of TV quite a bit! Because of the quick turnaround times, there is no time to doubt yourself, and you are forced to commit to your initial idea and impulse from the start. I feel like this is a very natural reaction to composing, but it certainly takes a lot of training to get there. I know I’m still trying to get ‘there’ (if, in fact, a ‘there’ exists!).
Of course, there are those times where you just have to select all, delete, and start again. But, failing faster is the way to go!
What was your favorite moment so far and what do you consider being the best work you have done so far?
I can’t say that I’ve had a favorite moment. Each project is composed (no pun intended) of many different ‘favorite’ moments. You learn each time, on each episode, on each cue. I tend to be very optimistic, and, even those times when I get a note from a producer to re-write a cue which I thought was perfect, I don’t allow myself to wallow for too long. I prefer to move on and re-do a cue, and most of the time, they are right!
My best work? Unless the phrase ‘This is my best work’ doesn’t end in ‘YET’ please, someone slap me! More often than not, the process is: ‘I’m happy with the work I’ve done with the allotted time and resources provided’. It doesn’t happen until much later, maybe months, that I go: ‘Hm, that wasn’t so bad after all!’ That is the beauty of writing to picture! The collaborative nature allows for someone else to go: ‘This is good, I like it!’.
As artists, unless we don’t have a deadline, we’ll never stop trying to perfect what we do.
Based on your website, you spent a lot of time traveling the world. How do you think that helped in your musical career?
My father used to work for a shipping company, which is why we moved so often. Guatemala, Austria, Panama, Costa Rica. I wouldn’t be the person I am had I not been afforded the opportunity to travel as much as I did! Traveling and learning languages opens your mind and ears exponentially. I was exposed to so many different types of music and I’ve been able to grab on to a mountain of different genres.
Having a musical ear also really helped me learn the languages as I’m able to pick up a lot of the nuances and subtleties of their rhythm and melody, for example. It’s quite fascinating.
This one is for the gearheads. What tools and technology are you currently using and why?
I don’t use any magic tools that aren’t available in a store somewhere! Having said that, I’m a big Cubase guy, which is my writing software on a Mac. I have a Mac Mini to offload some samples.
I had a custom desk built that integrates my Midi keyboard. I also use a Midi wind controller (Akai EWI4000s) which, as a woodwind player, allows me to more naturally play woodwind and brass.
I use RME audio interfaces, Adam A7 speakers and an SPL 2Control as my monitor controller.
What are you working on right now and can you tell us more about that project?
I’m currently working on an IMAX documentary called ‘In Saturn’s Rings’ about Saturn that was made from real photographs mostly taken by the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft launched in 1997. It arrived in Saturn in 2004. The images are absolutely breathtaking.
Feb of 2017 will see the release of a feature film I’ve scored called ‘What About Love’ with Sharon Stone and Andy Garcia.
Any hints, tips or motivational speeches for the readers?
There are 2 mantras I try to keep in mind every day that apply to whatever you’re trying to accomplish:
1) Listen more than you talk: In any relationship, always listen actively. Whether it’s with a director, your spouse, your child. When you’re listening, don’t think about what you’re going to answer. Just listen.
2) Fail faster! Try, and fail, and try and fail again. But try. No time is ever waster and whatever steps you take to get ‘there’, even if you ‘fail’, will make the path clearer to your goal.