All posts by Erica Pope

Kate Simko Spotlight: Celebrating Women Composers

Kate Simko 2021 - photo credit: Rui Pignatelli

Photo credit: Rui Pignatelli.

Kate Simko is a London-based composer and electronic music producer. Originally from Chicago, Illinois, she attended Northwestern University’s music school and is formally trained in classical piano and jazz.

 

Simko interned in Los Angeles on feature films while her electronic music career simultaneously began to soar. Her 2011 house track ‘Go On Then’ appeared on the Beatport Top 10 Deep House Chart.

 

Simko moved to London where she completed a master’s degree in composition for screen at the Royal College Music. She created the London Electronic Orchestra while in attendance. The LEO has performed worldwide and released a self-titled vinyl album to much critical acclaim.

 

Simko’s recent film and television projects include the 2017 LA Film Festival premiere 20 Weeks; PBS Sacred Journey; PBS Independent Lens We Believe in Dinosaurs, soundtrack released in 2019 by Lakeshore Records; and the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival premiere Underplayed, soundtrack released today by Lakeshore Records!

 

We reached out to Simko to discuss her start in music and her recent project, Underplayed.

 

SSM: You stated in a previous interview that you became interested in house music while you were in college at Northwestern University. Can you speak into why that genre of music first caught your attention?

KS: I first got into house music as a teen going to underground raves in Chicago and the Midwest. It was a really exciting time in Chicago for house music, as well as post rock combining electronics with rock instruments (bands like Tortoise, the Sea and Cake, etc. on Thrill Jockey).

I was always was more naturally drawn to electronic beats, and loved how it was mainly music without words like classical music. At Northwestern I took over as the head of dance and hip hop music at the radio station, and that’s when I first started DJing on the radio and went from being a fan of the music to a DJ and couple years down the line releasing my own records.

 

SSM: You attended the Royal College of Music in London, England, to study composition for screen. What was it about film scoring that pulled you in that direction?

KS: Ever since I started learning how to produce music I wanted to score for film. I studied Music Technology at Northwestern and my final graduation portfolio project was to self-teach myself Pro Tools and score a student film. A couple years later a film faculty member requested me to score my first feature film, The Atom Smashers. It was an amazing experience, and also made me realize my limitations as a composer. I moved to London to learn how to properly write for orchestra and take things up a level.

 

SSM: Underplayed explores the gender and ethnic disparities within the electronic music scene by interviewing some of the genre’s female pioneers and next-generation artists. How did you come to score this film?

KS: Gabe McDonough (at MAS in Los Angeles), who I’ve known for almost 20 years from Chicago days, contacted me to do this score. We’ve kept in touch and he knew I had a background in electronic music and scoring so put me forward to score a demo scene.

 

SSM: Can you speak about the conversations you and the director, Stacey Lee, had with how to incorporate a score in a documentary about electronic music, featuring such talents as Rezz, Alison Wonderland and Tokimonsta?

KS: The first conversations with Stacey had to do with creating a score that sat comfortably next to the various niches of electronic music in the film. We didn’t want the score to fit into a genre box, but instead weave in and out of the artists’ sounds.  It was a lot of fun to score this film, and underscore the experiences of female DJ’s and producers that I could genuinely relate to. All of the artists in the film are so inspiring!

 

SSM: While in the UK, you created the innovative classical-electronic, all-female led ensemble London Electronic Orchestra, which has performed all over the world. How did the LEO come into conception?

KS: When I was getting my masters at the RCM,  my composition professor, Howard Davidson, encouraged me to incorporate orchestral instruments into my sound as an electronic producer. To be honest, I expected to set aside electronic music during my masters  and focus on classical composition. Instead, I was able to combine these two passions into one, which is how LEO was created.

In March 2014, I did a concert in the Britten Theatre at the Royal College of Music, alongside a 25-piece student orchestra. The 300-capacity concert sold out and a London-based management company contacted me after that show and helped me bring LEO into the real world. Looking back it was all pretty surreal and happened quickly.

 

SSM: You have had such a phenomenal career from DJing in clubs, creating an orchestra to scoring feature films. Who are the artists that are currently inspiring you?

KS: Ah thank you.  It’s been such a strange and challenging year, but one perk has been more time to listen to music at home.   I’ve been listening to a lot of jazz music.  Classic albums from artists like John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver etc. Also London-based jazz artist Nubya Garcia, Kelly Lee Owens, Acid Pauli, oneohtrix point never, Jayda G, and Jamie XX.

 

SSM: What’s coming up next for you?

KS: Currently I’m finishing an orchestral-electronic album with Jamie Jones, and starting a new solo album.  I’ve just joined the faculty of Composition for Screen at the Royal College of Music, teaching 1-1 composition to masters students.  Excited for all of these projects and can’t wait for the next film score to come in either.

 

Follow Kate on Instagram and listen to the Underplayed soundtrack below!

Underplayed Soundtrack Available Now: [Download/Listen]

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Interview: Music Supervisor Laura Katz Talks Silk Road

credit: Patrick Pattamanuch

Los Angeles native Laura Katz is the founder of music supervision company Supe Troop, where she specializes in music supervision services for all types of media.

 

Prior to launching Supe Troop, Katz led Cutting Edge Group’s Los Angeles music supervision services division for feature films, television shows, video games, and other visual media projects, where she oversaw bespoke composition, creative supervision, clearance, licensing, soundtrack album releases, and more.

 

Katz’s notable film credits include The Grey, That Awkward Moment, Stuck in Love, Chappaquiddick and Big Time Adolescence. She also music supervised the Insomniac Games Xbox One 2014 release, Sunset Overdrive, which earned her a nomination for a Guild of Music Supervisors Award. Her upcoming projects include Stowaway and The Ice Road, and she is currently working on FXX’s television anthology Cake.

 

Katz collaborates with directors and producers to create opportunities for original songs in films, such as the original end title song from American Chaos, “All I Want,” by Matt Berninger (of The National) & Steph Altman, and “Requiem for a Private War” by Annie Lennox from A Private War, which was nominated for the 2019 Golden Globe Award for Best Original Song, Motion Picture.

 

We reached out to Katz to discuss music supervision and her latest project, Silk Road, score also out now on Lakeshore Records!

 

SSM: From Where Hands Touch, which is set in 1944, to Big Time Adolescence, which is current, you have worked on a wide range of films from different time periods. Are there general criteria with which you judge if a song will work for the projects you supervise? 

LK: Music supervision is simultaneously very specific and always the same – each project will require certain criteria be met, whether that’s time period or genre or mood or all of the above and more, but all also just need to feel right and accomplish what the director is going for. It’s always a collaborative process, but digging for that right song is the best part!

 

SSM: What are you best tips to those who are looking to submit tracks for placement? 

LK: I honestly think the best thing you can do as an independent artist is link up with a reputable third-party licensing company that already has working relationships with music supervisors and has already proven themselves a trusty resource. Other than that, make sure you know all the details of your music and have them organized – where all the rights lie, what the splits are, samples cleared (if there are any in the first place), etc., because what works creatively isn’t going to be something anyone outside the production knows.

 

Leave it to the supervisor to find the right music and just make sure you’re there with all the information and ready to seize the opportunity! I would also say make sure you have contact info very available and respond quickly – make it smooth for us to place your music!

 

SSM: Your latest project, Silk Road, is based on the true story of Ross Ulbrecht and his arrest for creating one of the largest underground black-market websites, the Silk Road.  Can you speak about the process of narrowing down the music for the film and what mood you were looking to create? 

LK: Tiller Russell, the director, had a clear vision of what he wanted, so we jumped in to find him options that hopefully ticked all the boxes of what he was looking for! There’s quite the variety of musical needs as the film progresses; we worked with Tiller and the film’s editor placing songs and I think we ended up with a great mixture of notable indie artists (like Temples, Liars, and The Rapture) and ones that are more under the radar. Early in the film we have a gem of a soul song called “I’m Sorry I Hurt You” by Nat Phillips that I loved immediately, and that’s an example of one we all agreed on pretty quickly. 

 

SSM: What projects do you have coming up that we should know about?

LK: I’m continuing to work on a television anthology show called Cake on FXX that’s so much fun, and I’m also really excited about a film called The Ice Road starring Liam Neeson, Laurence Fishburne and Amber Midthunder. Another film I music supervised called The Marksman just came out and stars Neeson, as well. The first movie I ever music supervised was Neeson’s The Grey, so it’s a bit of a nice circle there!

Follow Supe Troop on Instagram!

Silk Road Soundtrack Available Now: [Download/Listen] 

 

 

Five Facts – Assassin’s Creed Valhalla Original Game Soundtrack!

 

The Assassin’s Creed Valhalla game is out! Critics, gamers and soundtrack fans are loving the music in the game.

To celebrate game-titan Ubisoft’s assembling such a renowned team of talented musicians, including Jesper Kyd, Sarah Schachner and Einar Selvik, we wanted to list five cool facts about the music!

Check out five facts below and listen to the soundtrack, released digitally worldwide by Lakeshore Records on Nov. 13, 2020!

 

#1 Although Jesper Kyd and Sarah Schachner have worked on other Ubisoft game soundtracks, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla is the first time they collaborated on a title together.

 

#2 The ACV composers come from all backgrounds but have an interest in the Viking culture from the Danish Kyd who stated he saw this project as an opportunity to connect with his Scandinavian roots to Schachner who grew up with a full-sized replica of a Viking ship in her backyard, and for which her mom wrote a children’s book about called Yo, Viking!

 

#3 For the ‘Assassin’s Creed Main Theme,’ Kyd devised the initial vibe and melodic motif. Schachner expanded on the melody and structure, producing it into a full arrangement and Einar Selvik lent his voice.

 

#4 Some of the instruments used on the soundtrack include a Carnyx (ancient Celtic war horn), horse-haired bowed, bass and alto tagelharpa, tagelharpa cello, crwth (bowed lyre), animal hide drums, rebec, and metal drums.

 

#5 In interviews, Kyd and Schachner stated they wanted the theme to transport the listener to another time and place, filled with mystery and uncertainty, evoking Eivor’s journey – the drive, the bond with family, and the character’s search to find something.

 

Soundtrack Available Now: [Download/Listen]

 

Interview: Jesper Kyd Talks Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

Jesper Kyd is a BAFTA award-winning Danish film, television and video game composer. He is known for his experimental approach to crafting iconic music for blockbuster video game franchises and pushing musical boundaries.

Kyd has received top honors from the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, Critics Choice Film Awards, Hollywood Music in Media Awards and Game Audio Network Guild. His music is regularly performed worldwide, such as the Danish National Symphony, Krakow Film Music Festival and WDR Symphony.

His recent work includes Borderlands 3, State of Decay 2, TUMBBAD and Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, which had its soundtrack released digitally by Lakeshore Records on Nov. 13, 2020.

We reached out to Kyd to discuss all things music and his recent release for Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed Valhalla.

 

SSM: What or who inspired you to work as a composer? 

JK: When I was 13, I got a Commodore 64 computer. The C64 has a built-in analog soundchip which enabled a whole new level of computer music to be created. It was so impactful it created a new music genre that’s still around today, called Chip Music (chiptune), 8bit music or SID music (named after the SID chip inside the C64). Listening to C64 music composers as well as artists like Mike Oldfield, Vangelis and Jean Michel Jarre were early influences at the start of my music-making career.

The projects I work on have also been a huge inspiration. I write a lot of music for fantasy and sci-fi genres as well as historical-inspired scores so creating atmosphere, a place to travel to musically, is one of my favorite aspects. Finding ways to create unique and original scores is what I look for, whether it’s a film, a TV series or game. It’s important to work with great people in a creative, supportive and friendly environment so a maximum level of creativity can be achieved.

 

SSM: You have been scoring video games since your teens. What are some of the biggest changes you have noticed in gaming music from when you started and now? 

JK: These days more bands and film/TV composers are scoring games, and writing music for games is much more desirable compared to when I started out. Back then composers often had total creative control on the music style and lots of input on the implementation of the music. These days there are audio departments responsible for implementing when and how the music should play and that makes it possible for composers who have never worked on game scores before to write music for games. But in general, things haven’t changed that much for me, since I work on projects where I’m hired to be creative and to bring something unusual or new to a project.

Other changes include bigger live budgets since AAA games often have music production budgets the size of AAA movies. For example, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla was created by Ubisoft Montreal in conjunction with 16 other Ubisoft game studios creating content for the game.

 

SSM: Assassin’s Creed is such a successful franchise, spawning sequels, novels, action figures and a movie. Can you speak about how you began working on the initial project? 

JK: Sure, the first Assassin’s Creed game was shown to me through concept art at a video game trade show behind closed doors. I could hardly believe what Ubisoft was trying to achieve and no-one had attempted anything like this before. Assassin’s Creed helped give birth to a whole new genre of open- world games, where you could climb any building and go anywhere in the world. The parkour aspect really made for a whole new experience; it was like a platforming game in a realistic detailed open-world.

The first Assassin’s Creed was a huge challenge and we had to invent and figure things out as we went along. The foundation of Assassin’s Creed was created here and that included the music style which to this day uses many of the same building blocks we came up with for AC1. The first Assassin’s Creed was a huge blockbuster and these days the series has sold over 155 million games making it one of the most successful video game franchises of all time.

SSM: For Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, was there a specific tone you wanted to convey to gamers? 

JK: It was important that the score felt atmospheric and authentic to the time period. The vast open spaces in nature, from fjords to snow-covered mountain tops, from forests to rolling hillsides, it needed an open, epic and vast music style that gave a sense of scale. There was no comfort of city living, like many prior Assassin’s Creed games, this game takes place outdoors in rugged nature and at times hostile environments.

I recorded live instruments with a lot of air and used vintage equipment to help simulate instruments being recorded outside. Also, the Animus influences the music with a futuristic tone, meaning the live recordings are run through a lot of effects and filters to help remind us the game is played in a simulator.

 

SSM: What’s coming up next for you? 

JK: Right now I’m scoring a feature animation fantasy film which is a lot of fun to work on. So much work goes into a single frame of animation, which takes hours to render. It’s a totally different way to compose music compared to video games.

Check out the Assassin’s Creed Valhalla soundtrack below and follow Kyd on Instagram @kyd.jesper!

 

 

Interview: Einar Selvik Talks Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

Einar Selvik is a Norwegian composer and founder of Wardruna, a project renowned for its innovative and genre-creating renditions of old Nordic songs.

Selvik merges the scholarly with pop culture by integrating old Nordic instruments, poetry and poetic meters in a contemporary soundscape. He lectures about his work with historical music at universities, such as Oxford, Denver, Reykjavik and Bergen. Selvik’s work is used by top Old Norse scholars to exemplify how music might have sounded in early Scandinavia.

Selvik and Wardruna contributed on History Channel’s Vikings soundtrack, in which Selvik also appeared as a singer on two episodes of the television series. He was awarded the Egil Storbekken’s Music Prize, which is a national award given to those who have made extraordinary efforts in Norwegian folk music, especially with older folk instruments.

More recently, Selvik was tapped to work on the Assassin’s Creed Valhalla game soundtrack with co-composers, Sarah Schachner and Jesper Kyd. The game is set in 873 AD in warring Norway and follows the Viking invasion of Britain. The full album is out now on Lakeshore Records. 

 

SSM: How did you get involved with the Assassin’s Creed Valhalla project?

ES: I was first approached by the musical team of Ubisoft through my publisher BMG in 2018. They were familiar with my work with Norse and Nordic music and had already been using a lot of my Wardruna compositions as temporary music in the game ad was interested in discussing a possible cooperation. I made an initial pitch with my musical ideas and we had some discussion over the phone before we decided to meet up in person.

A delegation from the AC music team came over to Bergen, Norway where I happen to be holding an acoustic “skaldic” concert in the royal medieval feasting hall “Håkonshallen”. This format of performance is in many ways very close to parts of the musical expression they wanted me to work on, so it was quite an appropriate occasion and backdrop to start planning our further collaboration on ACV!

 

SSM: The track ‘Vígahugr – Lust For Battle – Skaldic Version’ is awesome! Can you speak about your process with creating this track and the instruments you used?

ES: Thank you! It is in fact one of my favorite pieces from this whole material and also one of the songs I would consider as reflecting most authenticity in terms of the composition as a whole. The Norse culture was predominantly an oral society and so we clearly see that in the oldest song traditions we have here in the north, rhythms and melody are often guided by the (often) complex poetic structures.

The Vígahugr song gives good example of just that and also clearly reflect the tonality of ancient Scandinavian music. The lyrics is an excerpt of a poem composed by one of the most interesting Viking age skalds there was, Egill Skallagrimsson from the saga Egill´s Saga. They rather vividly express the rousing and build up before a battle, and if people think that Metal lyrics are brutal in nature, then they haven’t read much Viking age poetic battle descriptions, ha ha!

The backbone of the song is vocals and a seven stringed Lyre. Based on the historical sources we have; Lyres were the most common string instrument in Northern Europe in this time period and that is naturally also reflected in my work on the game. I also use bowed lyre (AKA Taglharpa, Haargigje, Jouhikko etc.) which is the earliest bowed instrument we have in the Nordic region.

The sources are conflicted on whether or not the instrument bow was used in the Viking age, but archelogy from both Ireland and Denmark suggest it was. Further, I have used bone flute as well as various percussion and animal-hide framedrum.

Assassin's Creed Valhalla (Original Game Soundtrack) - Jesper Kyd, Sarah Schachner, Einar Selvik

SSM: You have been involved with so many projects, from playing in the metal band Gorgoroth, fronting the Nordic folk project Wardruna to working on music for History Channel’s Vikings. What do you find is the most challenging part of the creative process for you?

ES: Yes, I´ve been very fortunate to get the chance to gain experience from many different types of musical formats and concepts. I guess one of the main challenges is to find the balance between being patient and working with deadlines. I like to let the songs take me where they want to take me rather than squeeze them into a predetermined shape or structure.

Not pushing it too much but still being pro-active. I generally like to take my time with my writing so when I started working the soundtrack on Vikings I really had to learn how to work faster without compromising the art itself. More instinctively and really tuning into my artistic impulses and intuition. I think that whole process helped me further develop my skills as a composer.

 

SSM: As someone who travels the world holding lectures and workshops about life in the Nordic region, what do you find is a common misconception about Vikings?

ES: Well, there are quite a few both positive and negative stereotypes and misconceptions out there. I guess the most common one is that the whole of ancient Scandinavian history has been named and defined by what a small number of people in the Nordic population did for a short amount of time. The word Viking is first and foremost a verb defining what some people did when they went off to sea, trading, raiding and warfare – which by the way wasn´t exclusive traits to the Norsemen.

They were, however, the best at it back then and dominated the period with their superior ships and fearless mentality – which again makes it very understandable why these Vikings have dominated the views on Norse history as a whole as well. Still, I would say that the old Norse culture has far more interesting things to offer than just warriors and warfare.

 

SSM: What’s coming up next for you?

ES: These days I am still doing musical work for AC Valhalla and also focusing on the new Wardruna album Kvitravn set for release in January 2021. The plan and hope are of course to start doing concerts again but with the current situation we have to plan for all sorts of scenarios depending on when the world goes back to some form of “normality”. If the concert restrictions are continued I will focus my time on writing music and studio work.

Follow Selvik on Instagram @einar_selvik!