Composer Pieter Schlosser enriches television, film and video games with his musical vocabulary

Pieter Schlosser
Pieter Schlosser. Photography provided by CW3PR.

Pieter Schlosser is an award-winning television, film and video game composer known most recently for scoring NBC’s hit show You, Me and the Apocalypse. Based in Los Angeles, Schlosser grew up traveling the world with his family, enriching his musical vocabulary with each new culture and each new country.

This summer Pieter Schlosser was interviewed by a writer in Texas, Nicolette Mallow, to discuss topics like how world-traveling influenced his music, the differences between scoring for the UK versus the US, what lead him to study at Berklee College of Music in Boston and other miscellany.

Pieter spent a great deal of his childhood traveling, living in Guatemala, Austria, Panama and Costa Rica. He attended Berklee College of Music in Boston before moving to Los Angeles to pursue a career in television, film and video game composing. A multi-instrumentalist and polyglot, Pieter has had his work featured in the music of Grammy-nominated world music group Editus. Last year, he worked with the Costa Rica National Symphony Orchestra, arranging a full orchestral performance of his original music. In 2014, he won the ASCAP award for Top Television Series for his work on Freeform’s The Lying Game. Pieter Schlosser also composed the music for Lifetime’s The Client List and provided additional music for ABC’s Resurrection and The Astronaut Wives Club. Pieter worked on Desperate Housewives and is credited with bringing the signature Latin musical styling to the show. Currently, he is composing the music for the highly anticipated IMAX film, In Saturn’s Rings. He is also scoring the major motion picture, What About Love, starring Sharon Stone and Andy Garcia, set for release in 2017. Pieter worked in Hans Zimmer’s Remote Control Productions studio for 5 years alongside many high profile composers on various projects, such as Friday The 13th and the Transformers film and video game franchise. In addition to Transformers: The Game, Pieter demonstrated his versatility by providing additional music for some of the most popular video games of this generation with Gears of War 2 & 3 and The Sims 3.”

Nicolette Mallow: Will you tell me about your childhood background in music and how growing up in so many countries influenced your career?

Pieter Schlosser: Music was always around when I was growing up and it was always playing in the house. My mom played the piano; it was an old upright piano that ended up in our home. My dad was always a big fan of music, too. Dad loved to play jazz. My mom favored classical. The love of music was inherited from my parents. When I was in Guatemala, I didn’t play an instrument. I just listened to music and sometimes I even stole my mom’s tapes and records. When we moved to Austria, I was eight and that’s when I began to start playing the piano. There is a mecca of music in Austria. Everyone plays music. I wanted to join the choir and that’s where it all really began. After spending three years in Austria, my family and I moved to Panama. I kept singing in the choir. It was a Swedish choir in Panama and we sang around Christmas time. There was one person who played saxophone and I thought it looked cool and so I began lessons. Then we moved to Costa Rica and I made a friend with someone on the island and I joined band and played jazz. As I became obsessed with music, my grades began dipping… I loved moving around the world, even if my brother didn’t like it so much. My dad worked for BHL and that’s why we moved around the globe so much.

NM: Did you have a favorite place out of all the countries you and your family resided? Was there one musical style or culture that inspired you the most, or did they all equally fulfill your musical talents?

PS: It’s hard to say because, as a kid, it was pretty normal having all these different cultures and musical styles around me. I can’t say or pinpoint one thing that influenced me most. Growing up in Guatemala, Austria, Panama, and Costa Rica is like having a little book of musical notes and rhythms that I can use—and the combination of all these things is a nice balance that enriches my craft.

NM: What lead you to Berklee College of Music in Boston?

PS: While I was in Costa Rica, the Costa Rican-North American Cultural Center had a series of Universities do a Master class followed by a concert. Berklee College of Music in Boston was always there, including many other amazing programs from Miami and Texas. At one point I called or wrote a letter “Hey can u send me a Berklee sticker with the logo?” And I put it on my saxophone case. Suddenly I decided that’s where I wanted to go. It was the only college I applied to and I sort of felt a calling to enroll. Austria was a back-up to study jazz, but I was set on Berklee. So I applied and sent in an audition tape to Admissions and eventually I was offered a partial scholarship to attend. I accepted.

NM: How did your professional career in film and television begin?

PS: After college, I moved to LA. “The Record Plant” (a recording studio) in Hollywood was my first gig and I was a runner: food orders, trash, coffee and other office errands. During that time I met a scoring mixer who works with a ton of composers including Hans Zimmer. At the time he was working on the remake of “Italian Job”. Eventually we reconnected, and he hired me for little things in the studio. I got to attend a scoring session which was amazing. Ultimately, through him and my contacts with Berklee: I became an intern at Hans Zimmer. There’s no other place like working at Remote Control Productions. Anyway, that’s when I met Steve Jablonsky and later on Jablonsky hired me for “Transformers”. And then I started working on other film & TV projects.

NM: What is one of the most significant variations between scoring for television in the US versus music composition the UK?

PS: When we scored the UK version of “You Me and the Apocalypse” there are no commercial breaks. In the US version of the show, it’s 45 mins divided into 5 acts. Most shows in the US have commercials breaks, excluding HBO or Netflix.

NM: Have you always liked video games?

PS: Yes, I like video games. When I was younger, I enjoyed watching my brother play video games much more than I wanted to play myself. I am not entirely sure why I didn’t enjoy participating, but I preferred to watch.

NM: In regards to The Costa Rica National Symphony Orchestra, what original music of yours did they play? Is there a link or audio to hear this performance?

PS: The music community in Costa Rica is relatively small, so everyone knows each other. I became friends with members of a band called ‘Editus.’ In 1998, they were putting an album together titled ‘Calle Del Viento’ and released in 1999. I was just starting to write music then and I dared to pitch them the first piece of music I ever wrote. They loved it and included it in their album! Fast forward 16 years to 2015 and I got an e-mail saying they would be putting on a concert over three nights of that very album but this time, playing with the Costa Rica National Symphony. They asked if I’d make an orchestral arrangement of the piece. You can find the original recording of this piece called ‘El Sendero Menos Caminado’ (or ‘The Road Less Travelled,’ which is a line in a Robert Frost poem called ’The Road Not Taken’). The orchestral piece recorded in 2015, I believe, is currently being mastered and prepared for release. The song can be found on iTunes and Spotify.

NM: Now that you’ve obtained success and first-hand experience within the industry, do you have any advice or helpful insights for other aspiring composers?

PS: The best bet when it comes to writing music to picture, whether its film or television, the best route is to find some sort of mentorship with another composer so you can hopefully be getting paid while learning on the job. I wish there were a more solid answer. But I think it’s different for everyone and you have to figure it out as you move forward. It’s important to remember that there is not one way or one path to success in this field. Just remain passionate and even stubborn to your craft, but keep a smile. It’s tough but hang in there and you’ll persevere.

For more information about Pieter Schlosser, please visit his website at www.pieterschlosser.com. Schlosser also has a SoundCloud page that features various tracks of his music.

Roc Chen: Music Composer and Asian Creative brings cultures together around the world with the magical power of music

Roc Chen

Roc Chen. Photography provided by CW3PR.

Roc Chen is a Sichuan-born, award-winning composer who has created music for film and gaming. Recognized within the U.S. and China, Chen’s music has the power and the beauty to bring cultures together from around the world, which is no easy task. His film roster includes “Chinese Zodiac” with Jackie Chan, “Forbidden Kiss” and the Chinese adaptation of “Everybody’s Fine” (American adaptation ft. Robert DeNiro). Roc also partnered with DreamWorks to create music for the film “Kung Fu Panda 3” and his music is present in the award-winning, internationally broadcasted documentary TV series “A Bite of China.” Chen’s video game work even dabbles into “World of Warcraft” and “God of War” orchestrasas well as the “Might and Magic” series and his latest work underway with “Prince Adventures.” Recently partnering with Danny Elfman to bring music to Disney Shanghai’s newest ride, Alice’s Maze; Roc Chen’s music brilliantly celebrates the fusion of the American storyline of Alice in Wonderland with Chinese culture native to the Shanghai location.

This summer Roc Chen was interviewed by Nicolette Mallow. The two discussed his background in music, technology, and the power of music and how it can feel like time traveling. Mallow also inquired about the challenges and rewards of merging Eastern and Western cultures for film, Disney, DreamWorks and much more. And Chen opened up about how his music can be like an invisible, magic mirror that reflects everything inside the listener’s heart. The written interview proceeded as follows.

Nicolette Mallow: Will you please tell me about your background in music? Did you always know that music composition was your life calling? When did you begin to play music and write music? As a child, what did music feel like?

Roc Chen: When I was a kid, sometimes I woke up in the middle of the night humming the melody from “The Godfather,” and I thought to myself, “Maybe I should be a film composer when I grow up!” Like many kids, I learned to play classical piano at the age of 4, but unlike many kids, I loved to keep the sustain pedal down to create a bigger reverberation (just like in film scores). And, of course, my piano teacher would always get mad at me for doing that. I’ve always known music, especially film music – it’s my life calling. However, I spent my college life in what is considered a Chinese Stanford (University of Science and Technology of China). We had a large and great orchestra band there and the conductor asked me to be the assistant conductor, so I’ve had the chance to learn from each and every different instrument – not from a book but from a real orchestra band. Later on I also obtained a Master’s Degree in Composition from the Conservatory of Music. I consider myself pretty lucky to have a background in both music and technology!

NM: Art has the power to take us places, particularly music. Music can take listeners back in time within seconds. Music can evoke feelings or fantasies within us and it’s almost like time-traveling… What do you feel are the most powerful components of music that allow us to transcend time, space and imagination?

RC: All the components of music such as melody, harmony, counterpoints are powerful enough to allow us to transcend time, space and imaginationbut personally I think the most powerful one is the abstract part within the music. Pop songs take us into a specific world because the lyrics/words are quite specific and straight-forward. But instrumental music such as film scores without any lyrics or words are abstract, so it takes people to their own and unique places, to the different secret places deep within each person’s heart. This is also the beauty of scores. Film scores, though there are specific picture/scenes synced with it, can allow us to re-create those scenes and characters in our own way when we hear music outside of the cinema. It’s like everyone is a director and everyone directing his own version of that film in his brain. This is the beauty of film scoring. And of course, there are certain skills and ways to evoke those feelings or fantasies in the way of composition.

There’s a music piece of mine, “Deep in Their Hearts,” originally composed for the most renowned documentary in China called “A Bite of China Season 2”. It has moved nearly a billion people in China and around the world. I tried to tenderly and beautifully play the piano with a melancholy and nostalgic melody. It was performed by beautiful strings, woodwinds, with some abstract inside harmony, fine orchestration and counterpoint. The result is this music cue, which has moved lots of people and has surpassed pop songs to reach the top of the Chinese billboard. Thousands of fans came to my Chinese Twitter to express their feelings hearing this music to me and it’s actually quite interesting to read those comments. Some people say it reminds them of their childhood loneliness; some say it reminds them of some moving moments in that documentary; some people say it makes them cry with happiness. Some people say the woodwinds in this cue are funny and playful. It’s all different – and I feel like my music is like a mirror – each person saw and found their secret place deep in their heart by hearing this magical mirror.

Roc Chen_Head Shot_1

Roc Chen. Photography provided by CW3PR.

NM: What are some of the distinct differences between Eastern and Western music styles pertaining to film?

RC: Well, this is a little bit of a huge topic that I could talk about for days and write a book about. The scale of notes and melodies are different between the eastern and western worlds. Still, as for the relationship between music and film: I think one of the most distinct differences is the eastern style is more implicit while western style is more straight-forward and passionate. As I’ve been traveling between LA and Beijing a lot, I also found this difference within people’s behavior between the two countries. I guess one of the benefits of my goal as trying to be the most international composer is I can always get to know more about people from both worlds.

NM: Would you please share with me the challenges of integrating Eastern and Western music? Is it difficult to please both audiences?

RC: Many Hollywood films with pure western music are also enjoyed by lots of eastern audiences, but most of this music hardly reaches their hearts. So sometimes with only a few elements from the East can really move the eastern audience and ironically enough it moves the western audience too! Also, each film project is different and I’m always very careful with this challenge by always listening to the director’s ideas regarding the direction of the film. I always offer my suggestions and opinions on the direction of music but I would respect my director’s opinion because it is the film – a combination of many arts. It’s a whole project we’re going to present to the audience, not just music. There’s a project I did, “Heroes of Might and Magic VII,” the 7th game of the famous “Heroes of Might and Magic” video game franchise. I write some of the cues in a pure-western style and some cues have a little bit of East and West combined flavour. It all depends on the specific occasion.

NM: What lead you to work for Disney Shanghai?

RC: I guess people loved what I did for “Kung Fu Panda 3” as a Chinese music consultant, and then I got introduced to Disney by my friends at DreamWorks. But really, I think it’s because of my specialty of knowing both East and West which lead me to work for Disney Shanghai.

NM: In regards to Asian American crossroads within the entertainment industry – how did you begin to infuse the American storyline of “Alice in Wonderland” with Chinese culture native to the Shanghai location of Disney?

RC: First of all, it’s always teamwork! It is done by Danny Elfman, myself and another beautiful lady from Disney Imagineer. We put Chinese lyrics such as the translation of “Alice Are You Lost” and other lyrics written initially by Danny into the melody and make sure it really sounds great in Chinese. A lot of times, you’ll hear directly translated songs sounding very, very weird after translation. This requires a lot of experience of the Chinese culture and customs along with musical experience of the tone, pitch and rhythm of each note and its relationship between other notes. We tried many different ways to avoid a common phenomenon in Chinese music which is called “Dao Zi,” meaning the pitch of the notes will not violate or conflict with the tone of the Chinese words. I also had my female choir friends at Beijing singing the melody in Chinese beautifully while we remote-recorded them here in Los Angeles. We also did a lot of tweaks during the recording session.

NM: Do you have a favorite genre of music that you love to write? You are talented at composing many forms of music. But do you have a favorite style?

RC: Well… It’s really hard to pick one favorite style for me as I’ve worked in a lot of different styles and genres. But my favorite one is the one that best supports the film. As long as the form of music can do a good job to support the camera and film – that’s my favorite!

NM: Your career is most impressive and I have watched many of these films. However, I must admit that I have a fondness for “Kung Fu Panda”… Was that your first time writing music for animation? What did you enjoy most about this DreamWorks project?

RC: With this film, Hans Zimmer is the music composer while I worked alongside him as the Chinese music consultant. I offered direction and guidance on the Chinese instruments, Chinese musicians, the articulations and specialty of Chinese instruments. I also consulted on how to combine the instruments with Western orchestra music to the DreamWorks music team. I enjoyed turning the song of the last scene of “Kung Fu Panda 3” into Chinese and recording 40 amazing pop choir singers from Shanghai so when the film was released. Everyone could hear the final product of “animal” singing in Chinese happily in the end scene!

NM: Do you have any upcoming projects you’d like to highlight?

RC: I just finished recording with an orchestra in Nashville for a new animation feature I scored, and I’m also going to score some new exciting feature films, animations and TV series but due to NDA reasons I’m sorry to say I can’t disclose them right now.

NM: Lastly, I grew up reading the book “Joy Luck Club” by Amy Tan about four Chinese American immigrant families living in San Francisco. It’s a bittersweet, tragic and beautiful story that I still enjoy reading in adulthood. Since I was a child, I’ve always been fascinated by the history of China and I hope to visit someday. And of course when the movie came out I enjoyed the soundtrack. My point in mentioning “Joy Luck Club” is because for years, I’ve always wanted to learn more about the roots of classical music in China. But I never know where to start… Is there a book you’d recommend or a certain time period to study for those who want to learn about the roots of music in China?

RC: This is a great question! But frankly, I personally think the best book of Chinese music history or Chinese musicology is not in English but in the language of Chinese. Just like if you wanted to learn the western musicology: you’ll have to read that greatest musicology book in English. When I was in the Conservatory of Music, there was a school book called “History of Chinese music” which nearly covers all different kinds of music from pre-Qin Dynasty times, to Tang Dynasty music, to Qing Dynasty and even modern music of China. It also covers the musicology of a lot of different areas of China such as the music from the north of China – which is so different from the south of China. Music from HeBei Province is also so different from the music from the ShanXi province or the ethnic Uygur group in Xin Jiang areas. I have this book in my Beijing studio and I’ve always wanted to purchase an English-translated version to keep in my Los Angeles studio. Without any luck, I Googled and searched Amazon and didn’t find this book or any book just as great. Maybe some book publisher could work with me to translate a classic book into a new one in English. For those who want to learn about the roots of music in China, most people will probably say the Tang Dynasty is the best time period to study as it is one of the most brilliant time for all kind of arts. But I would personally recommend the eras around the Qin Dynasty such as the Three-Kingdom era, Warring States period, etc. If you research it and dive deep enough, you’ll see music in those ages are clearly fundamental not only to Chinese music, but also to the music of the Eastern world.

www.rocchen.com