Exclusive Interview: Composer John Kaefer
Doing what he loves since 6 years old, composer John Kaefer has had some time to polish his craft. Whether it be the numerous documentaries he has scored or Crackle’s much buzzed about legal thriller, “Sequestered,” the passion that comes out in his work is undeniable. We talked to Kaefer about some of his previous projects as well as scoring one of the first ever digital live action series that is being packaged with the highly anticipated videogame “Quantum Break” being released for Microsoft Studios and Xbox One April 5, 2016.
What was the hardest part about scoring “Sequestered”?
Initially, it was just finding the voice of the show. It wasn’t necessarily hard, but it’s always a challenge to find that original sound to a show and make it unique. So I would say that was the most challenging thing from the start, just putting my stamp on it and also supporting the show and the drama.
Tell me more about the voice of the show you’re speaking of and how it reflects your score?
It has elements of intrigue, mystery & comedy so I tried to create a balance that consisted mostly of an organic score but also one with an electronic hybrid sound that created some lightness but driving energy. I come from the classical world as well and I usually like to incorporate elements of minimalism into my work. So I felt like I could use that as well. Overall, the score has a modern approach using different elements of modern minimalist scoring with an acoustic and electronic hybrid pallet.
How closely did you work with the director of “Sequestered”?
I worked very closely with him. We would usually have a spotting session and just talk about where he wanted cues. I scored them and if there were comments we would come back and adjust. I have to say that towards the end of the series, we were kind of locked in. I knew what they wanted and we had a specific sound going, and so it was actually really good. There wasn’t a huge amount of feedback by the end and usually the changes were small, if there were any. They were both great and fantastic to work with and overall I had a fantastic experience with everybody working there.
What was the scoring process like? Did the director give you specific ideas of what he wanted or did you have a little more freedom?
There were certain references and vibes that they wanted, but there wasn’t a specific musical direction. He didn’t say, “I want the piano to play this theme” or anything that specific. He just wanted a general vibe and a general approach. We talked about scores they liked within that genre and we talked about thematic ideas of the show. We learned from each other what the score needed. In general I tend to be collaborative in the way that I work and it tends to have a better result.
You have scored a lot of different mediums. Is there a big difference between scoring a documentary and a tv show?
The schedule is very different, as I’m sure you’ve talked to other composers that work in film and television. Usually the schedule for television is very accelerated and can be very fast depending on the situation. With the documentaries that I worked on there was more time and so there is a little bit of a difference. They both have their challenges and I like the approach of both. I think that I do well with deadlines and under pressure. It’s the way I have always worked and so I like the intense schedules.
How did you get involved with “Quantum Break”?
The producers from “Sequestered” were producing the live action series for “Quantum Break” and they brought me on. I’m not sure if you know the way the game is structured, but there is a live show within the game and they were producing the live action show component of it. They brought me on and we tested a few scenes to get some ideas, and it was good match again. So it worked; that’s with Lifeboat Productions. They are really fantastic to work with.
What do you hope fans will come away saying about your score?
With this score especially, I really wanted to have a postmodern sound even more so than “Sequestered”. And so I hope that they find the score very interesting and compelling, but at the same time that it works within the show. I don’t want to distract from the action on the screen, I want to support it. I am hoping that they find the music interesting in and of itself, but at the same time they think it works well with what they’re doing and what they are watching, so it doesn’t take away from the experience, it adds to it. I personally think it does, but I wrote it.
What was your favorite part about working on “Quantum Break”?
My favorite part was working with the live action series director, Ben Ketai. He was very open to lots of different musical ideas and we just clicked musically. We have very similar aesthetics and tastes, so that was fun in that I was writing music that I really enjoyed also. So the process of just coming up with ideas, it sounds silly, but it’s why I got into composing. I have been composing since I was 6 years old and I love the idea of creating new sounds, textures and melodies from scratch. This gave me the opportunity to do that for a really cool project and have visibility. So it was kind of win for me, it was really fun.
You can learn more about John at www.johnkaefer.com