For this edition of Listen Local, we welcome Kansas City-based composer and UMKC Conservatory of Music student Gavin Brivik. Brivik is an accomplished composer of scores for short and feature length films, the collaborative nature of which Brivik describes as simultaneously "challenging" and "a lot of fun." Enjoy our interview with Gavin, read his film and book recommendations from the Johnson County Library catalog and listen to samples of his work.
Tell us about yourself. Where do you live and work? What does a typical day look like for you?
Well I currently live in Kansas City and I attend the Conservatory of Music at UMKC. I am majoring in music composition and I want to pursue a path in film/tv composition. I work at the university as a building monitor, as well as a seasonal employee Whole Foods Market in Overland Park.
I usually wake up around 8am and attend class until 3pm each day. After that if I don’t work as a building monitor, I compose scores for short films and feature length films. I have a lot of film work right now, so I am pretty much working every night either as a composer or as a university employee.
While it seems like I would have no social life with all the things I am doing, I find time to go to the gym pretty often and hang out with friends on the weekends. I have to relieve the stress of my busy life or I would go crazy.
You describe yourself as “film score composer/producer/song-writer/guitarist.” Which of these is the most fun and/or challenging for you?
Well recently I have found myself primarily scoring films. This is definitely the most fun and challenging work I have ever had. As the film composer you have such a vital role in the film. The music can make or break dramatic moments and the director relies on you to bring their vision to life. It’s a lot of responsibility to bring the right music to the picture, especially when you have a deadline coming up.
The challenge is deciding the style of music and when and where to place it. Some directors have very specific ideas for the style and placement, but for others it’s very open ended and a lot of those decisions are up to the composer. While this is extremely challenging, the entire process is a lot of fun. Working as a composer can but a very isolating job but in the film industry it’s very collaborative. I think that’s why I am so attracted to film composition as opposed to concert hall composition.
Describe your creative process. What tools do you use? How do you break through creative blocks?
The director will usually send me rough edits of the film or the final cut. I always have a notebook next to me to take notes through my first viewing because I want to note any initial emotional responses I have to the film. These emotional responses are so important because these are the feelings the audience will have upon first viewing.
So with those notes, I call up the director and discuss the style of music and placement. Maybe I want to build that scene to heighten a feeling, or maybe I want to do a very subtle texture and let the acting carry the scene. Once the director and I narrow something down, I start working on the music.
I compose most of my music with a keyboard/guitar and my computer. I run Logic ProX and work with both electronic and orchestral music. I find this software to be user friendly and that helps the process
If I ever have a writing block, I just go listen to music that inspires me. This is something that works for me and everybody has their own way of working through this. I find the deadline helps me write material, and a lot of film composers think the same thing.
What projects are you currently working on?
I am currently finishing up a short film called “Marcel” about a lonely antique shop owner who is too attached to his antiques to sell them. He gets audited and loses his shop which leads to his insanity.
In May, I will be starting a short film by a KU film student, and this summer I will be working on three projects: a feature length film called “Into the Limelight,” a miniseries called “Captives” and another short film called “Table for Two.”
Who or what inspires you?
I am always watching new movies in my free time and going to see local musicians perform. Submerging myself in local art and cinema inspires me. I also play the guitar in a band, which I’ve found inspires a lot of compositional material.
North by Northwest -- directed by Alfred Hitchock and music by Bernard Herrmann.
The Green Mile directed by Frank Darabont and music by Thomas Newman.
There Will Be Blood directed by Paul Thomas Anderson and music by Johnny Greenwood.
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
Lord of the Rings by J.R.R Tolkien
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote