N.Y. composer scores big in film biz
Most people might think breaking into the business of film composing is a daunting proposition, but for scoring veteran Carter Burwell, it was simple — “Blood Simple” to be exact.
Burwell, whose oeuvre includes striking, unorthodox scores for such films as “Fargo” and “Being John Malkovich,” began his life in the film biz after a friend introduced him to the rookie writer-directing team of Joel and Ethan Coen.
From that meeting came a gig to score for the Coen’s first film, the noirish 1984 thriller “Blood Simple” — and a close professional relationship with the Coens that has spanned Burwell’s entire career.
“In many ways, ‘Blood Simple’ was my favorite because I knew so little,” he explains. “I never bothered about working the music around dialogue or action. There’s something special about the naivete of the first project, and I advise directors to hire first-time composers as often as possible for that reason.”
Burwell sticks close to his roots in the geographic sense as well. Born in New York in 1955, he has made Gotham his personal and professional home base since he graduated college. He recently solidified his ties to the Big Apple by installing a state-of-the-art sound studio in his 3,000-square-foot Tribeca loft.
The facility was designed by veteran studio architect John Storyk, who built the legendary Electric Ladyland Studio for Jimi Hendrix in 1968. It includes a 5.1-channel mixing station for building digital surround effects into Burwell’s scores.
Being in the city gives the composer an artistic perspective that he feels is a great asset to his work.
“Anyone who’s been to New York knows that people of all sorts come from all places and end up there,” he says. “And, unlike Los Angeles, they actually meet — on the street, in the subway, in the clubs. For me that heterogeneity is the gift of New York. I also appreciate being in a town where the film business is incidental at best.”
Burwell is already putting his new digs through its paces: Among the scores on his plate are Universal’s “The Bourne Identity,” starring Matt Damon, and Spike Jonze’s upcoming Sony feature “Adaptation,” with Nicolas Cage and Meryl Streep.