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In The Vault - Interview with Composer Kevin Blumenfeld

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Have you heard about go90's new series, In The Vault? If you haven't now's your chance! Thanks to composer Kevin Blumenfeld for sharing his thoughts on the series with us, and giving us an insight into his work.

How did you get connected to or approached in composing for “In the Vault”? What was the initial appeal of the project?

I was first approached by director Charles Hood. He and I have worked together for years. Most of our projects have been some form of comedy, romantic comedy, or dramedy. In the Vault was very different from anything we had ever done together. As a thriller/drama/mystery, In the Vault was a new direction for us working together. So while I had done other projects of that genre, I was excited to show Charles that side of me. It was a lot of fun, creatively.

Why should viewers watch "In the Vault"? In a few words how would you describe the show?

The thing I love about this show is that you have tremendous depth with these characters and the issues they deal with. They’re all relatable in some respect. But just from an entertainment perspective, it’s such a fun mystery. I specifically asked Charles and creator/director Ben Epstien not to reveal any surprises. I wanted to approach each episode from the perspective of an audience member. Not only was that a much more fun way to work, but it made sure I wouldn’t telegraph anything that could potentially reveal secrets.

Is there a scene or sequence that you composed in the show that you are most proud of that you can talk about and reveal why it resonated with you?

I’d say one of my favorite scenes to score was a scene near the end of episode two, “Jane”. You have this wonderfully choreographed sequence of all the main characters interacting with each other on the dorm floor. It’s a nearly two minute scene that’s entirely one shot. It really just allows the score to set up “okay here are the suspects. Take your pick. Now off we go into the series.” It was a lot of fun.

The show is categorized as a horror/thriller. Is this genre harder to score then let’s say a comedy?

I wouldn’t say it’s harder than comedy so much as it’s just different. My score for Play by Play has a much more organic template and tends to score moments in a more structured way. For thrillers, you’re trying to evoke a completely different emotion, so some of the techniques and pacing might be a bit different. In the end, I enjoy working with melodic motifs, regardless of genre. Very often, you’re scoring scenes that require a lot of delicate underscore. You need to create an emotional presence without really being noticed. So it’s a lot of fun when you can be a bit more expressive and stretch out a bit.

You created a more electronic score for this show, why is that?

Yeah, this score was entirely electronic. It was something Ben felt very strongly about. He had a very specific tone and style he wanted me to capture. It was a lot of fun creating the sonic template. With a more organic approach you can think, okay, let’s start with this section of the orchestra or use the piano or guitar or mallets in this way. But when it’s entirely electronic, you can structure the composition in similar ways, but the instruments need to be assembled, modified or created from scratch. So for me, that was both fun and challenging.

Which character do you like composing for most & why?

Very tough question to answer. Each character gives us a deferent narrative perspective as well as personal journey. I love them all in their own way, but if I had to choose, I’d say Chris. We’re very lucky to be given an emotional perspective from this character that I hope many people can relate to one way or another. We felt a sort of responsibility to do the story justice.

What kind of equipment, software and instruments do you rely on for your scoring work?

My studio setup consists primarily of several powerful computers and various pieces of hardware. I use Vienna Ensemble Pro as a host for my various libraries. Cubase as my main sequencer. Then it’s all bussed into my Pro Tools rig, where everything gets printed. I use Barefoot mm35s to monitor, which sound amazing. I also have various studio instruments that I’m constantly adding to. Aside from that, I keep things very simple and accessible.

From your unique perspective, where do you think the film and television industry is heading in the near future? Are there any new innovations that are in their infancy? In particular, what do you see as the biggest opportunities and obstacles you'll have to face as a composer?

Great question. I think one of the biggest innovations has been the advancement made to streaming services. From Netflix to Hulu to Amazon Video to newer companies like go90, there’s such a demand for content. It’s really amazing. Not only does it provide a lot of fun and exciting work opportunities, but it expands the creative palette. Everyone still wants to be unique and bring something fresh to the table. As far as obstacles go, there will always be new elements to the mix, forcing you to adapt to a changing climate. It can be from a creative, business, financial or even social standpoint. It will always be changing and keeping us on our toes.

Since you started out, what do you think are the biggest changes that the film and television industry has experienced from your point of view as a composer?

I’d say the biggest change has been the technology and mainstreaming of sample and sound libraries. While this has brought a world of wonders to the composing community, it also presents its fair share of challenges as well. Orchestral samples have become so realistic that it’s enticed the notion of “So why do we need to spend the money on a real orchestra?”. I believe the original intent of sample libraries was to allow the composer and filmmakers to hear more accurate mockup of what the score will eventually sound like on the scoring stage, making for fewer last minute costly changes to address. They also provide a much needed opportunity for low budget projects to achieve the orchestral style and sound needed for the film or TV show. But no matter how amazing these samples become and no matter how good a composer is at writing and programing, nothing will ever compare to the resulting product of working with a real orchestra. To have that disappear would be like only using cgi actors instead of real people. It would be devastating.

To finish up, what are the most challenging, and the most rewarding parts of your job?

The most challenging part of this job is the blank page staring at you when you first start a project. Whether you’re a painter staring at an empty canvas or a chef staring at a pile of ingredients, there’s always that moment of “now what?” or “can I do this?”. You want to find this sonic identity and bring the score to life. Sometimes it takes a bit. Ultimately, it just happens. It always does. Once you find it, it’s amazing. There’s a rush to it. There’s always a strange combination of confidence and nervousness during a playback session. But the feeling you get when you see a client’s positive reaction to a cue is honestly the best. I have a client who has the tendency to punch me in the arm when he loves a cue. It’s both painful and awesome. When it’s all said and done, we’re in the business of making music, telling stories and (hopefully) making people happy. Not to sound super cheesy, but that’s the ultimate reward right there.

Thanks to Kevin for taking the time to share such detailed answers with us. You can check out In The Vault on go90 here, and Kevin's score for the series is available on iTunes here.

Photo credit: Leon Bosket

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