Brian LaGuardia - Composer, Orchestrator, Arranger

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The Colorado Symphony!

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I have had the enormous pleasure of working for the venerable Austin Wintory in the past as a copyist on some of his phenomonal video game projects like Abzu and The Banner Saga 2. He is such a wonderful person on top of being a top-notch composer that I have constantly been trying to impress him in order to get his attention…and, incidentally, some work.

Fortunately, those efforts paid off! I a couple of months ago, he hired me to create two arrangements for the Colorado Symphoy’s Symphonic Tribute to Comic-Con! The first was the theme to his new score The Pathless; another collaboration from the folks over at Giant Squid. This one featured a neat instrument you don’t get to see very often (unless you are in Sweden on a regular basis): the Nyckelharpa. Writing orchestral accompniment for this one was neat, but the real fun came when I got to sit down and have a beer with the soloist, Morgan, and check out this strange, steampunk-y violin-hurdy-gurdy hybrid. It’s the first sound you hear in this reveal trailer:

The second chart was much more difficult, but so rewarding! Austin finished his score for The Banner Saga 3 not too long ago. I immidiately got my hands on the ost and then music-edited the best bits of all three together into one massive suite. I posted about this on Facebook and not only did Austin give me permission to do this with the Arapahoe Philharmonic, but also requested that I cut everything but the stuff from the third installment and shoot that over to the Colorado Symphony as a second chart! This was super involved to arrange, both for me and for the orchestra. All kinds of wierd effects, aleatoric brass fanfares, thundering percussion and strained dissonance just lent such an epic sound to those 8 minutes in Boettcher. Here’s a small taste of that!

I was utterly blown away by both of these requests! Technically not the first time I’ve ever arranged for a professional orchestra, but it IS the first time I have been able to see it, and also the first time arranging for my home town ensemble, the Colorado Symphony. Not only that, but he also shouted me out in the middle of the concert! So much gratitude to this wonderful person and first-class composer for giving me such a unique opportunity! I can’t wait to see what he writes next!

A Time Forever Before

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This past summer, I had the rare privilege of working on an incredible short film about a hotel for weary time travelers. This was my first (and hopefully not last!) collaboration with the talented Christopher Miller, who crafted a charming, strange and utterly mesmerizing little fantasy film. These sorts of films are rare on such a small budget, and it came off beautifully! It is also probably the most fun I’ve had scoring any project, because I got to get not just thematic, but also a little weird.

One of the first ones I developed was based on the song Chris wrote to be sung as source music by our main character as he waits for his love to wake. The lyrics were of course phenomenal, but I actually ended up constructing the melody from the actor’s performance after the fact, who wasn’t actually a trained singer! It started with a soft accompaniment for that performance, then I decided “well, this would serve perfectly as the love theme throughout the score.” Just look at the lyrics he wrote!

When you wake we will go far away

To a place that we’ve never been

A house we will build on the top of a hill

Overlooking the forest and rivers.

Somewhere in time, somewhere away from this place

Where nothing ever changes.

Beautiful, isn’t it?

After I helped the melody along a little, I started using it in the incidental score as the love theme, which turned out even better than I expected it would. The best use of it was at the end, when the conflict is resolved and the lovers are reunited.

Zeb and Eala

It ended up with a LOTR vibe that really jived well with the style. And even better, I got to bring back my talented mother to record the song officially for the end credits! This ended up being particularly special for both Christopher and myself, as he lost his own mom not too far back and dedicated the film to her. Since my own covered the song he wrote in her honor, this whole project felt intensely personal. Moments like these are why I write music in the first place.

A Place We’ve Never Been

Another theme I’m particularly proud of is the Time theme. This doesn’t really represent any one character, but rather the mystical aether that various characters (mostly Zebulon) reach out to. It first appears with the arrival of a time traveller, Isonah, establishing what a wondrous place this hotel is.

A Traveller Arrives

Every time the Time theme is stated, it is done with very exotic instruments: Yayli Tanbur, some synth and at the forefront: an Erhu. This was recorded live, usually by the talented Michael Fitzmaurice (my old Erhu teacher) and sometimes by me! I absolutely fell in love with the sound of this instrument ever since I first heard it in Bear’s Battlestar Galactica soundtrack. There, it represented Kara Thrace’s “Destiny” theme. It also made an appearance in the 2009 Star Trek reboot for Spock’s theme. In both cases, the instrument lends itself well to an exotic and spiritual sound, which fit the idea of navigating time with old sextants and crystal balls perfectly.

There are a couple of minor themes in here as well. King Clement’s theme starts out as a brief and very processed Trumpet fanfare that then morphs into a low, harsh and relentless synth bass melody, usually accompanied by low male choir.

King Clement

There were also a couple of opportunities to go completely nuts. The best one was when the evil Clement, Zebulon’s father, mercilessly tortures Zeb just to see if he does, in fact, have powers that will make him rich. The Erhu returns, but it is all over the place, scrambling to find some semblance of control and peace that will not be found due to Clement and his sadistic minstrel, Yovar.

The Test

And finally, the cue I took the biggest risk on: Onion’s Theme. Onion is not just Zebulon’s friend and mentor, he’s also boisterous and jolly. He holds nothing back and has such a zest for life that I couldn’t help but bring the strings, Dulcimer and even a Horn in to make sure the score had just as much energy as he did. To my utter and relieved surprise, the director liked it!

Onion

I sincerely hope I get a chance to work with Christopher Miller again. When it is so easy to recycle to the point of being generic, Chris has already found his voice and is creating unique and wonderful projects. But either way, his future is bright! I’m just glad I was a part of it.

The album is now available on the “Albums” page, as well as my Bandcamp. It also features some concept art from Christopher’s wonderfully talented wife, Bethany Miller. Have a look!

And now, onto the next adventure! Till next time.

PS: The Director was so appreciative that he sent me this wonderful Vynal copy of Raiders of the Lost Ark. Easily the best thank you gift I have ever recieved from a director. I look forward to many more collaborations with this awesome dude!

Twilight Murmurs

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It has been a spring of collaboration with my family! First my mother was a featured soloist on an art film I had the privilege of scoring, then this gem of a project for my cousin. I could get used to this!

More than a year before the premiere of this piece, my dear cousin Miranda approached me and asked me to write a concert work for a very unlikely combination of instruments: Horn (Miranda, left) and Marimba (Danny, her awesome boyfriend on the right) for her senior recital at the University of Denver. Normally, I like to have an image, scene or story in mind before I even start writing, but in this case I was so struck by the combination of instruments that I started there: what can these two instruments do well, and what would the DNA of such a duet sounds like? I mulled this question over for a few months while I handled other projects – that’s composer jargon for “I procrastinated,” by the way.

Finally, I decided that since they are both pretty mellow timbres (for the most part – horn can get pretty rowdy if it wants to) that it should mostly be kind of a mellow, flowing piece. There’s something about the marimba especially that is so calming that agitated ostinatos and frantic fever dreams of sixteenths just seemed wrong. So I wrote a flowing A section of the exposition and as I did so, the descriptor “Twilight” just sort of popped into my head, which I decided to make more descriptive and sexy with “Murmurs.”

Now that I had strayed into familiar territory – finding imagery to help inspire – it was smooth sailing. Given the title, it made sense that the piece slowly lose energy as it goes along, mirroring the setting of the sun or the activities of most of the humans on our planet as twilight turns into evening (except maybe composers – ha!).

I couldn’t have been more proud of these two players. I ended up writing a piece that was far more difficult than I ever intended; and worse, I delivered it a mere month before it was to be performed. Granted, it is only seven minutes, but there were two sections that are just murderously difficult for the players. The first one is a lyrical stopped melody I wrote in for the Horn. I wanted to go for a softer, more Miles-Davis-y quality in the B’ section, not realizing that horn players are very rarely asked to play stopped for extended periods of time, much less lyrically. But my cousin pulled it off with her badass self!

Murmurs 1

The other one was a solo for the Marimba. Yes, I know, I’m a percussionist. But I am very rarely a percussion soloist, and I almost never play four-mallet marimba. So I plugged away happily writing this solo with a bunch of open sixths, which of course sound phenomenal on the piano or sample library but are extremely difficult to play quickly and accurately on a Marimba. Fortunately, Danny is an incredible player, and I also made sure to tell him that my intent with that section was to have a lot of rubato anyway, so I told him to take his time. The result was stunning.

Murmurs 2

What musicality! There was almost no instruction from me…the players took my notation and made magic out of it!

Similarly, the final section of the piece came off brilliantly, ending with a single bowed Marimba tone that is handed off from a very quiet muted horn.

Murmurs 5

This was an extremely special moment in my life, not just because it was the first concert piece I ever wrote that was performed in an official music hall, but also because two incredible people very dear to me were the ones to bring it to life. I hope that if someone ends up performing this piece again, it is a similarly special experience for them.

The Cave

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I am privileged to have a couple of friends who always call me when they need a film score. One of them is Dream, a very talented young woman finishing up her education at USC. When she approached me to score a “really weird” art film, I jumped at the chance for several reasons. One, I hadn’t really done anything like it before, and working with a new genre or “flavor” is always interesting to me and is a tremendous opportunity for growth. But also, I saw it as an excuse to finally bring my insanely talented mother onto one of my projects!

My mother, Tracy T. LaGuardia, is a phenomenal classical violinist. She is concertmaster of the Arapahoe Philharmonic and one of the most in-demand gigging musicians in Denver. The reason for this isn’t just that she’s well trained in classical music. She can also fiddle with the best of ’em, improvise with a Jazz trio…her versatility is a sight to behold. This is precisely why I wanted her on this project, because strange aleatory so often demands versatile, creative players – especially in a solo situation!

Initially I was going to record a full string quartet doing all kinds of wacky things, essentially building up my own sample library. However, I quickly realized that not only was that woefully inefficient, it was also unnecessary and a gigantic pain for a low-budget situation. I also got to thinking: why would I want more? There are sample libraries for the truly large sounds, and this whole film is a study on loneliness, so a single, solitary fiddle was starting to seem more and more appealing.

As the liner notes to the album suggest, I don’t actually want to explain the film too much, but I would like to share some insight into the recording process. The two moments where the soloist goes absolutely bonkers are both sex scenes. These were temped with similarly strange and frantic tracks with a crazed accordionist, which immediately communicated to me the unsettling cognitive dissonance of what was going on, as well as the frantic, primal energy. I did not write a single thing down for her. All I said before we started was:

Go completely insane, like a Death Metal soloist or a Ligeti Violin Concerto. Lots of double-stop tritones, crazy portamento and psychosis.

Fortunately, she also threw in some fiddle influence as a result of her extensive experience improvising in that manner, and it turned out even better than I hoped. She got both sequences in one take! The beauty of what she did here is that it captures that unsettling and primal energy, but also throws in a couple of other elements that are equally appropriate: some fiddle influence, because nothing says hot sex like music that makes you want to go “yee-haw!’, and finally the sort of “Devil’s Instrument” vibe that you can only get from a violin.

This was a truly special experience for me. Being able to share my music is the whole reason why I create it, but to be abel to share the creative process itself with my own flesh and blood is so meaningful and heartwarming that I really don’t care if nobody listens to it. It’s enough that it happened, and I hope it happens again!

That being said, the Album is now available to stream on Bandcamp or the Albums page, or you can download it from Bandcamp for a modest fee. Have a listen!