Tribeca, Manhattan: Watching AMC’s serial thriller Rubicon this past Fall, our ears perked up big time. The original score — composed by Peter Nashel — brought the picture to life in such an exhilarating and unexpected way as it advanced an often dialog-free puzzle of a plot, uncovering a secret society and murderous conspiracy. Cool show, amazing music.
And what was so amazing about it? For starters, the music was authentic and you could hear it: the live instrumentation and ambient space, the smallish ensembles, the soloing cello and piano, and the surrounding room sounds. Combined with tastefully appointed, undulating and accenting electronics, Nashel created a kind of electro-chamber music and, well, we needed to know more.
We discovered that Nashel, partner at Duotone Audio Group in Tribeca, was composing this music and recording it with small ensembles each week at Avatar. After Rubicon wrapped, we scored an interview with him and when we visited, found him already hard at work on a psychological thriller of another flavor, Fox’s Lie To Me. He’s also scored a couple high-profile documentaries this year: Client 9 and Freakonomics.
Read on for our conversation as Nashel fills us in on his world and the opportunities he’s discovered in the new golden age of television…
You popped up on our radar via Rubicon. The music, especially in the first few episodes, really made the show in my opinion. Well done!
Thanks! I’ve gotten a lot of really great feedback. I’ve been hearing from all kinds of people steadily — fans of the show, composers and even post-production houses who want to use it as temp music. It’s been really great to hear such positive feedback!
I bet. And I know you’ve been at this awhile — co-founding Duotone back in the mid-90s. Tell us a bit about your background: what’s your primary instrument and where are you coming from as a composer stylistically?
I originally started as a jazz saxophone player years ago, and what I got out of my years of study was a working knowledge of the keyboard. I’m not really a piano player, but I have arranger’s chops on the piano. I can kind of piece things together; that’s how I conceive of everything.
Stylistically, I’m most interested in music that combines real instruments with electronic elements. There’s so much immediacy that you get from real musicians, and air in a recording, and the breath and vibration that you get from real instruments that you just cannot get from synths, particularly when synths are simulating real instruments like sample libraries. Getting a performance out of real players, there’s still nothing like that.
Combined with electronics — when the electronics are done well — it can really take on a quality that people cannot quite place. They’re not sure what they’re listening to. For instance, a lot of the score of Rubicon would be mixtures of sine waves with real instruments, and I’m not sure that people were necessarily able to separate the two because it just kind of created this cool palette. I love how that sounds.
To me, the overall impression it made was more organic than electronic and yet hard to describe — modern-classical, electro-chamber music?
Yes, well I’m also really moved by music whose genre you can’t quite figure out. And I think that stems a little from my love of watching actors who I’m unfamiliar with inhabit a role. I felt that when I watched The Wire, Sopranos, Mad Men. These aren’t huge movie stars that I’ve seen a million times so there’s a part of my brain that can really believe in those characters.
Musically, I like that as well…instead of ‘oh, yes this is that thriller movie score,’ you’re thinking ‘what is that music?’ It’s something unique and somewhat new to you.
In the case of Rubicon, what kind of direction were you given? I’m curious because sometimes it’s what the producers or music supervisor think they want musically that pushes a composer into a genre. So what were those initial conversations about?