Interviews‎ > ‎

Composer Interview: Chris Tilton

posted Apr 29, 2011, 8:42 AM by Kaya Savas
Chris Tilton is one of today's on the rise composers. His video game and television work stand with some of the industry's top veterans. Chris' music is not only emotionally resonating but his style is a unique one. Chris is a close friend and collaborator with Michael Giacchino and has worked on many of Michael's scores in the past. Right now Chris is responsible for the score behind the show Fringe on FOX. His video game scores include Black, Mercenaries, Mercenaries 2, Fracture and Jumper: Griffin's Story which many consider to be even better than John Powell's score to the film. He scored a short film called La Lune which is a tiny little masterpiece. Chris was nice enough to answer a few questions a while ago, but since his score release to Fringe: Season 2 got pushed back twice I held out on posting this interview. Well, the CD will finally be released on May 3rd so now is the perfect time to familiarize yourself with one of my favorite composers working today!


Kaya:

Growing up what were the major points in your life that guided you into music and what made you want to compose music for visual mediums?


Chris:

My parents had a piano in the house, and I used to always bang on it. When I was 8, I asked to start taking lessons. My interest, admittedly, went through phases of great interest to not much interest throughout the years. After my freshman year of high school, I decided to try writing something, and that's when the piano became more of a tool to help me write. It's also when I decided what I wanted to do, and film scores seemed to be the logical thing to shoot for at the time, as I had already obsessively been listening to scores like Batman, Robin Hood, E.T., Terminator 2, and Star Wars. 


Kaya:

If you had to define your style what would it be?


Chris:

I don't know if I have one particular style. It really depends on the project I'm working on. I'm sure there are things I probably do sub-consciously on a regular basis, but I'm not sure I'd be able to point them out myself.


Kaya:

When you write music what elements of the story inspire you the most? Characters? Setting? Cinematography?


Chris:

I would say the characters first and foremost, but it's really all of those things that come together to form a story, and that's what the music should be supporting 100% of the time.


Kaya:

What’s the hardest emotion to convey in music?


Chris:

Hmmm. Hadn't really thought about that, but I'd say it gets tricky when the characters emotions get tricky, or conflicted. A good character has a lot of conflict and/or gray area in his or her emotions, and that's probably when you have to spend a lot of time thinking about what you're going to do musically.


Kaya:

Working on Fringe must pose some challenges. How long does it take you to compose 1 episode from blank page to final mix?


Chris:

I usually have about 3-4 days write the score, and one day to record. So far in season 3, it's averaged about 20-25 minutes of music per episode.


Kaya:

Michael Giacchino worked a little bit on season 1 with you and Chad Seiter. Did he bring any words of wisdom of how he approached scoring on a TV timeframe?


Chris:

I guess it's not words of wisdom, per say, but more just watching Michael do what he does over the past... going on 10 years now, working for him. I think the primary thing I've learned from him when working in TV is to just make sure you hit the points or emotional beats you need to hit. In the world of TV, people's attention spans can be short. It's so easy to just change the channel, so it becomes increasingly more important to just hit those right moments no matter what. If there's time, then you can go back and finesse or refine what you've done.


Kaya:

With TV scoring do you usually score in the moment or are you already thinking about how the music is going to grow throughout the season and beyond?


Chris:

I'm thinking more in the moment. I want to be scoring it as if I'm right there reacting to the show, emotionally, with the audience. Sometimes it's appropriate to foreshadow, but most of the time I don't know what's going to happen next either! Where the show goes, is where the music goes. I do try to keep things consistent though. So far, I think each season of Fringe has had a little bit of it's own identity, musically.


Kaya:

Did working on Alias help you prepare at all for Fringe?


Chris:

Absolutely. Michael said when he started working on Alias, it was like composing boot camp. And that's exactly what it felt like when I started writing for it in the later seasons. You've got to train yourself to just get it done, which makes you much better prepared for any time constraints in other mediums.


Kaya:

You’ve done a fair share of video games. Now, a few composers have told me that video game scoring is no different than composing for a feature. Do you agree with that?


Chris:

It's no different in philosophy, in that you're job is just to help tell the story. It's more complicated now, because different game engines and different developers have different ideas of how they want to approach music. I'd say the intent of the music is the same, but the way in which you tackle that has gotten to be a lot more complicated. Sometimes you're just writing music to a scripted scene, sometimes you'll be writing music in layers so it can easily evolve, or devolve, in a natural way. On a side note, I think games have too much music which ends up turning into wall paper. It's easy to see where that came from, as games from the late 80s and 90s relied on music to create the mood and setting. Now we have all sorts of tools to convey emotions or atmosphere.


Kaya:

So, I absolutely love La Lune. I think it’s an extremely beautiful score that conveys so much in 7 minutes. I still listen to it all the time. I know this isn’t really a question but I just wanted to tell you [Laughs].


Chris:

[Laughs] Well thanks. I had fun writing it. 


Kaya:

I guess to wrap things up here what kind of music do you listen to?


Chris:

When I have time to, I like to check out what other composers are doing. In film, tv, and games. I usually buy soundtracks, but don't always have time to listen to the whole thing. I try to see the films, shows, or play the games they were written for most of the time.


Kaya:

Favorite composer?


Chris:

Well, I'm not gonna name just one! In the classical world my favorites are Lutoslawski, Shostakovich, Prokofiev, John Adams, Aaron Jay Kernis. In the film world, I think it's obvious to say John Williams, but Henry Mancini is also one of my all time favorite composers. I love his ability to blend all sorts of styles in pop culture (at the time anyway) into his scores. He was a fantastic melody writer, and was great at making bad ass jazz scores. But he also had this whole other side to him, like what you hear in "Wait Until Dark." That score seemed like an obvious inspiration for Elfman's great score to "A Simple Plan." I always love what Elliot Goldenthal does, though he's been off the grid as of late. I liked Daft Punk's score to Tron Legacy. Am I allowed to say Michael Giacchino?


Kaya:

Is there a score of yours that you look back on and are extremely proud of?


Chris:

Well, I try not to dwell on past stuff too much. It's not up to me to decide if anything I've done is any good.


Kaya:

Now for my favorite question. If you could choose any film ever made to re-score with no disrespect to the original composer which would you choose?


Chris:

Oh boy. Well, it's hard to WANT to re-score something without disrespecting the original composer, isn't it? I don't know if I can pick anything specifically, but I think it would be interesting to take a much older film, say from the 30s or 40s, and re-score it with more modern sensibilities. Older films tend to have more music, and be more operatic in their approach to scoring, where as today, things tend to be more introspective and subtle. But then again, the filmmaking was often the same way, so who knows if it would even match up. Would be an interesting experiment.


Kaya

Well I guess that wraps things up. Thanks again, Chris for your time. Keep up the excellent work. Looking forward to the season 2 score release of Fringe and everything you have in store for the future.


Chris:

Thanks!



Fringe: Season 2 will be released on May 3rd, 2011 by Varese Sarabande.


Also check out Chris Tilton's official site at christilton.com for free scores! Yes, that's right! Download a select few of Chris' scores directly from his site or listen to some samples from all his other work!



Comments