I’m a HUGE fan of the television show Helix and especially love the score which is composed by Golden Globe-nominated composer Reinhold Heil. Here is a brief bio from Reinhold’s official web site.
A multi-instrumentalist with a broad musical range, he first came to prominence as the keyboarder of the legendary German punk band, the Nina Hagen Band, and as a producer of international pop stars. His film and television credits include Run Lola Run, One Hour Photo, The International, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, Deadwood, Without a Trace, and the epic adventure-drama Cloud Atlas. He is currently scoring Helix for Syfy. He lives and works in downtown Los Angeles.
I googled around a bit and found no interviews on Reinhold’s work on Helix so I reached out to him with some questions about his work on the show. He was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to answer these questions and offer a fascinating behind-the-scenes look into his work on the show. Note, one of his answers contains spoilers and I wrapped the answer with with **** Begin Spoiler Alert **** and *** End Spoiler Alert ***.
Mark Mosher: How did you get involved with Helix?
Reinhold Heil: My agent asked me to submit a demo and I did. I put a lot of effort in that because I love the genre and really wanted to show what I have to offer. Apparently they liked the demo and gave me the job without an interview. They must have been swamped with the shoot that had just started in Montreal, so most of them weren’t even in town. As it turned out they were all wonderful to work with and I had a lot of fun doing the series.
Mark Mosher: When Did you Start Working on the Show?
Reinhold Heil: On Helix I [started] developing material in August 2013, while they were assembling the first episode. So there was definitely an early involvement, but it was already inspired by the look of the show and the characters.
Mark Mosher: There are some very happy – dare I say – “elevator music” style and old Wurlitzer organ/drum machine styling’s in the show. Do you use vintage gear (and if so what gear) for these cues, or are you using virtual instruments or libraries?
Reinhold Heil: Funnily most people don’t understand that I have mostly nothing to do with the elevator music. It becomes very obvious when they are using classics like “Road to San José” or “Fever”, but the only easy-listening pieces I actually contributed to Helix are the main and the end-title. And I did the adaptations of the two pieces from Tchaikovski’s Nutcracker that happen in episode 6.
I’m not involved in the selection but check out the two transitions into “Fever”. They are pretty smooth and I did work hard on those. I did try to have the score segue seamlessly into the source pieces as often as I could. Some of them are exceptionally well chosen and used to great effect, but the guys in the writers room and show runner Steve Maeda as well as Producer Stephen Welke are the people to give credit for that.
Mark Mosher: These twisted “happy” cues are so great and act as an emotional signal to viewers that very bad things are just about to happen. It’s such a clever idea and it makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck when I hear any happy music in the show – lol. How did this idea for using happy and lounge sounding orchestrations come about and evolve?
Gary Numan will be playing Denver tonight (April 4, 2014) at the Gothic Theater. Show starts at 8pm. He’s currently on tour supporting his fantastic album Splinter (Songs from a Broken Mind). I caught the show at the Mountain Oasis Festival 2013 and will be at the show tonight. It’s an incredible show so if you are in Denver area come on down.
For those readers not in Denver and for those who have not yet bought the album visit so visit http://www.numan.co.uk for more information on the album and tour.
Gary was kind enough to take time out of his schedule to answer a few questions for Modulate This!
Mark Mosher:I love the amazing amount of sonic space and dynamic range in the mix of Splinter.
I especially like how your vocals are right up front and you can hear
the amazing detail in the music and sound design. Even when songs like
“Who Are You” are running at full tilt, the mix has enough sonic space
so you can make out interesting sound elements like scraping metallic
noises and such. Can you shed some light on the overall development of Splinter
and your collaborative process with producer Ade Fenton to create an
album with such drive and emotion without losing all the sonic detail?
Gary Numan: No
special tricks or processes were employed to get the album to sound the
way it does, just a lot of attention to detail and care. Ade worked
very closely with Nathan Boddy with the mixing at their respective
studios in the UK and those mixes were sent over to me for feedback.
There was a lot of communication and discussion obviously as things
progressed. The songwriting part of it is fairly simple. I start with a
piano and work out the melody and structure. When I’m happy with that I
turn to the technology and begin to flesh the song out, building the
dynamics and mood. A rough guide vocal without real words follows so
that I can get the phrasing exactly right without trying to squeeze in
lyrics that don’t really fit, then, when I’m happy with that, the actual
lyrics, then the final vocal. At this stage I will have a fairly well
developed demo that gives Ade the guidance he needs to know where I see
the song going. Those files are then sent to Ade and the production part
of it begins. From then on it’s a lot of to and fro as we move the song
forward. We do argue but it’s rarely angry, we’re always trying to get
the song as good as it can be rather than win a contest between us. It’s
quite difficult to comment on the way we work as being anything unusual
because it really isn’t. I write the songs and create reasonably high
quality demo’s, Ade makes them sound much better and, quite often, will
take the song in a new direction. Sometimes that works, sometimes not,
but I’m always happy to try out his ideas and see where they take us.
Mark Mosher: My favorite track on the album
is “A Shadow Falls on Me”. It has such an interesting arrangement. The
non-vocal elements of the song are conjured up in a wake behind your
vocals. The end result is you really pull the listener along and make
them try and anticipate what’s coming next. Was this a idea pulling the
listener along with the vocals and melody a conscious idea from the
beginning or something that happened as you developed the song?
Gary Numan: Yes, pretty much. The idea was to build
the song with each new vocal section, increasing the level of emotion
and power at each step. Ade came up with a huge drum part that was great
and changed things considerably but it was just too much to have
running from start to finish so we adapted it and used the idea to build
an even bigger series of steps, following the original idea but with a
greater shift in power and emotion each time. Interestingly the vocal
line started out as my first attempt to collaborate with the band
Battles. They weren’t too keen on my first vocal idea for their My
Machines song so I used it on A Shadow Falls On Me instead.
Mark Mosher: There are some amazing textures and sound elements on Splinter. What’s your creative process for creating unique sounds to support your song writing?
Gary Numan: Sounds can come from anywhere. Walking
around the street with a recorder kicking things, slamming things,
scraping, dragging, whatever. Using software packages like Omnisphere
and Massive, whispering words and phrases and then manipulating those
sounds beyond recognition, recording journeys, trains, cars, absolutely
anything and everything, and then finding ways to mess with those source
sounds until you have something you’ve never heard before. There is no
process as such, just a real pleasure from finding new ways to create
Mark Mosher:There is a fantastic video on the Nine Inch Nails YouTube channel where you make a surprise appearance and perform “Metal” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ehMqEXUspfs) back in 2009. You’ve gone on to share the bill with NIN for a series of concerts and NIN guitarist Robin Finck both plays on Splinter and has played with your touring band. Can you tell us more about the Gary Numan-Trent Reznor-NIN connection and perhaps how this connection has deepened since you have moved to LA?Gary Numan: Trent came to see us at a show I was playing in Baton Rouge many years ago, this was when he was making The Fragile. He brought with him a copy of a song of mine that he had covered called Metal which was fantastic. After that, whenever NIN played in London I would go and see them and we would meet up briefly for a chat. Then in 2009 I was invited to join them on stage at their O2 gig in London, then to do the same thing when they played the last four shows of that version of NIN in Los Angeles that same year. When I moved to Los Angeles Trent wrote the first of my Testimonial letters for the US authorities which really helped. As soon as we moved to the US he invited to his house a couple of times and made us feel very welcome, then the recent shows and some other social things. He’s been a good friend, in his own, quiet way, on several levels and I’m very grateful to him.
Gary Numan: It’s a very cautious thing for me. The
musical side of that idea is very exciting but the political side of it,
or at least the horror stories I’ve heard about it, are really quite
daunting so I’m not sure whether it will suit me or not. I’m just
finishing my first film score, which I co-wrote with Ade Fenton on this
occasion, for an animated movie called From Inside. A grim and
heavy story about a pregnant girls journey on a mysterious train after
the world has been destroyed. It has been a gentle first step into
writing scores for both of us and again, I’m very grateful to the people
involved, John Bergin the Director, and Brian McNellis the Producer,
for giving me the opportunity and for making it a stress free project.
We’ll see where it goes from here.
Mark Mosher: Rather than fall back on
“nostalgia” you have really pushed the envelope to try new ideas
throughout your career. Do you have any advice for Modulate This readers
on how to take the “long view” of their craft and their music careers?
Gary Numan: I’ve always been aware that everything
you do today will stick to you in the future so you must be very
careful. You need to think about how today’s actions will be perceived
in the coming years. Will they hurt your reputation, weaken your fan
base? Are you doing things now for short term gain that might kill your
career growth in the coming years? I’ve made some terrible mistakes over
the years but the thing that has always been important to me is never
to rely or dwell on past glories, no matter how big they might be. Try
to move forward musically with every album, don’t be afraid to try new
things, constantly, and avoid nostalgia at all costs. Of course, if you
just want to be rich then milk the nostalgia route for all it’s worth.
Plenty of people make very good livings by simply repeating things they
did decades ago but I think that’s a pretty empty way to look at
creativity. Write music because you genuinely love what you are doing,
not because you think it might get you on the radio or keep the record
label happy. I went through a period of writing ‘strategically’ and the
music suffered and I did nothing that I’m proud of or still play today.
It was soul destroying actually and almost ruined my career. For the
first part of my career, and certainly for the last 20 years, I’ve
written songs with no thoughts at all about how they might achieve
commercial success. I want that of course, but you must NOT try to
design your music to achieve it. Write what’s in your heart, what you
love, and then hope for the best as far as commercial success is
Special thanks to the fantastic photographer and musician Rod Tanaka for coordinating this interview.
Alan Pollard has been a keyboard technician for over 20 years working with major artists such as Björk, Queen, The Human League, Goldfrapp, The Cure, Stevie Wonder, Paul Weller, Annie Lennox, Emerson Lake & Palmer to name a few. These days, he specializes in programming and running Mac based sequencing software for touring live shows. He also designs and builds reliable installation, live and studio keyboard / computer systems.
Alan was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to answer some questions about his work and offer some insights for those who want to purse projects of this nature.
Mark Mosher: Your website mentions you “specialize in programming and running Mac based sequencing software for touring live shows.” What is your “go to” software for sequencing live shows and why?
Alan Pollard: Most tours I work on I use Apple’s Logic mainly because I tend to end up syncing various instruments and sending program changes etc. So Logic’s integration of audio and midi tracks makes most sense to me.
Mark Mosher: How did you first get started in this line work?
Alan Pollard: I worked in a music shop when MIDI was first introduced and set up some early sequencing set-ups for studios. When I left I pretty much went straight onto a tour doing the same thing as I had been doing in the store.
Mark Mosher: How has performance and stability improvements in laptop technology changed your strategy for live performance rig design and what new challenges have laptops introduced?
Alan Pollard: Using laptops makes a smaller set-up than having a racked up desktop and is also easier to have back-ups; I often set up the show on my personal Macbook Pro to use in emergencies. I still think that if a tour set list is pretty much set in stone and the band are not likely to change much then a hard drive playback system is more stable. But you often still need the computers with you in case songs get added or changed. The ability to work on a track back in the hotel room with just a laptop makes some things a lot easier, as trying to sync up drum parts at the side of a noisy stage at a muddy festival site is not always the best way 🙂
Mark Mosher: You are currently touring with Goldfrapp. Their latest album “Head First” is loaded with synth including some classic analog sounds. What is your role on this tour and what approaches will you be taking to reproduce these sounds live?
Alan Pollard: I worked closely with Will Gregory for a couple months before the tour getting all the sounds we needed from the album stems and sampling other original parts. Angie Pollock plays all her keyboard sounds from within Logic. We are using a mixture of ESX samples and soft synths (eg FM8 and Surge) to reproduce the parts needed. I have backing parts on hard drives but also run Logic to send program changes to Angie and the electronic drums (Akai’s) as well as start the 2 hard disk recorders in sync.
Mark Mosher: I read that on the Björk tour that you were using Reactable. How do you think tangible interfaces such as Reactable change the way you perform music and connect with audiences?
Alan Pollard: That particular Björk tour was about having the electronic aspect controlled in a very tactile way so that the audience could see things were happening and not just faced with someone hunched over a laptop. The reactable was obviously a big visual synth. But we also used Tenori-ons, Lemurs, korg kaos pads and various fader banks, which all meant that there wasn’t too much mousing and you could see that the guys on stage were performing.
Mark Mosher: Do you have any tips for musicians performing with laptops on how to harden or “crash proof” their rigs?
Alan Pollard: As I mentioned before, I always start by saying do you really need it running from a laptop or could it be played back from another source, ie hard disc etc.
Then I would say you need backup; lots of backups. And not all in the same place, leave a drive with a clone of your machine at home, and carry one with you away from the rest of the gear.
Next test your show in order all the way through. You never can be sure that one song may throw up a problem for another when played back to back. And if anything ever goes wrong, don’t say it was “just one of those things”, find the problem or reason, there almost always is one. Also if you can have a clean laptop just for music and don’t go over board with every plug-in and soft synth, just have the ones you need for the show.
Mark Mosher: Are there hardware synths or controllers that you tend to bring out on every tour and do you bring a backup for each hardware synth?
Alan Pollard: Yes I always try and have a spare of everything, but I have to work with the band and their budget 🙂 My off stage rack tend to have similar things in it but it depends on the tour.
Mark Mosher: How much time do you usually have to create a rig and program a live show?
Alan Pollard: It really varies, usually you know and can start planning a month or so before, i.e. order equipment and locate masters etc. Sometimes you might just come in at the start of rehearsals, a couple of weeks before the first show, and you just have to make do with the bands equipment and get it in a road worthy state as best you can.
Mark Mosher: You’ve worked with the likes of Bjork, Queen, The Human League, The Cure, Stevie Wonder, Annie Lennox to name a few. What was the most technically complex and challenging show you’ve worked?
Alan Pollard: They all have their own challenges, but I guess that the last Björk tour had the most going on for me. My playback rig off stage, Damian Taylor with laptop & keys, tactile interfaces and mixer with feeds from other players. Mark Bell running Abelton live and various effects. The reactable, a real harpsichord, all synced together with MIDI metronomes for the brass section!
Mark Mosher: Do you have any words of advice you can give to Modulate This readers who might want to pursue a career in programming for touring live shows?
Alan Pollard: Tricky one…listen to people, everyone’s got something they can teach you and a valid opinion. I’ve learned a lot from touring with some very accomplished players and crew. Also it should be fun, remember its for people’s entertainment and that’s the bottom line.
The Supreme Beings of Leisure are an electronic/trip-hop band based out of LA, California. According to their entry on Wikipedia “The release of the first Supreme Beings of Leisure album sold over 250,000 units with very little promotional touring. Instead, SBL opted to use the internet to market and promote the album, being the first band to ever do a “Virtual Internet Tour”, and among the very first to use Flash animation for their videos. The “Supreme Beings of Leisure” peaked at 47 on the Billboard Heatseekers chart according to allmusic.com, and is in the top 100 of the Trip-Hop Dance & DJ music category according to Amazon.com sales ranking.”
The band is currently a DUO made up of original members Geri Soriano-Lightwood (Singer/Songwriter), Ramin Sakurai (Multi-Instrumentalist, Programmer). In addition to working with SBL, Ramin produces, remixes, and composes music for artists, television and movies. After a 5 year extended break SBL released its third major studio album, 11i,on February 12, 2008 with Rykodisc Records.
I recently had an opportunity to ask Ramin a series of questions about the making of 11i, and on the affect of technology on his process for making music.
Mark Mosher: What was the primary music production software you used in the creation of 11i? Ramin Sakurai: That would’ve been Protools versions 6-7. Some of the songs started off in other programs like Live or Reason but they always ends up in Protools.
Mark Mosher: Can you give us brief overview of your studio rig? Ramin Sakurai: The main studio rig consists of a Protools HD3 with two 192 i/o’s and a G5 dual 2.5ghz. I run a 3.1ghz PC for GIgastudio. I use quite a bit of outboard gear as well. I believe a record can be recorded and mixed entirely in the box but you need a little help with some analog gear. I use Avalon, multiple API, NEVE-type preamps along with various compressors.
Mark Mosher: How has the advancement of music production software and ability to produce from a laptop changed your workflow for this album?