Techno: It's not just for clubs anymore. Composer/guitarist Brian Tarquin writes the high-test electronica that helps drive a wide variety of TV shows, including MTV's Road Rules, NBC's Extra and Celebrity Justice and, of all things, ABC Daytime's All My Children. This may sound surprising, especially to those who disdain the soaps, but Tarquin's cues inject youth and edge into the dramatic formula, and he (along with music supervisor Terry Walker and other composers) was recognized with the Daytime Emmy Award™ for Outstanding Achievement in Music Direction and Composition for a Drama Series this year.
“They're trying to broaden the demographics of the show, and they're getting a whole new sound,” Tarquin says. “I think people think of soap opera music as traditional: orchestral music, organ music. But they have become more sophisticated than that, and I'm able to give it a more techno, hipper soundtrack.”
Tarquin writes and records in his own Jungle Room Studios (L.A.), which is fitted with a Soundcraft Spirit Studio console, and Tannoy PBM Series and Yamaha NS-10M monitoring. He has also done film work (The Hot Chick, Chill Factor, Desert Heat, The First 20 Million Is Always the Hardest), and he makes his own electronica albums with partner Chris Ingram under the band name Asphalt Jungle, but he spends 50% of his work time on All My Children. He works on a monthly schedule with the program, during which time he develops a library of cues that may be used in different ways, following a plot. “They send me some scenes and I put some sketches together: different tempos, varying feels,” Tarquin says. “I do a lot of light orchestral moving into more of a hip hop groove or a techno drama, and then add a nice stinger on the end. Each sketch is about two or two-and-a-half minutes, and then I give them breakdowns. I'll take lead melodies out, and sometimes I'll give them the tags and the strings by themselves. I work on Pro Tools and they have Pro Tools, so they can load the session right in and cut and paste what they like.
“I use mostly Roland stuff when I'm working for the show,” Tarquin continues. “The JV-1080, and I just got the MC-909. Roland has some really great lush pads. They have more realistic violins and cellos. On the 1080, I use the orchestral expansion cards a lot. I also use the E-mu Proteus 2000, and I have the [Access] Virus C and sometimes I use that for nice, pulsating things in the background. I control everything through the [Akai] MPC2000; that way, I can cut, paste and track, and usually have the groove coming from there, too, because things I do for All My Children are very groove-oriented.
“If I do some guitars, I have the Akai slaved to Pro Tools, so once I have the body of the song ready and the MIDI section, I put the guitar parts on Pro Tools. That way, Pro Tools controls the sequencer, and I can cut, paste and mix from there.”
The drum parts of Tarquin's creations come mainly from his own drum library: He brought a drummer into his studio to record some loops, and now he has a great selection of live rhythms that he can manipulate and incorporate as he wishes. “I had him do one or two bars of things, different grooves and tempos. I also have some other live CDs. I did one from Big Fish Audio, Guitar Studio, and I like a couple other live drum CDs like theNew York City Drum Works is nice: live drummers doing one- and two-bar phrases, and it has the actual room ambience. I use those live drum recordings unless I'm programming a trip-hop thing.”
Tarquin delivers on Sound Designer II files, complete with four breakdowns per “song” to allow the music director maximum flexibility with the material. Each monthly session includes between 10 and 14 songs. “Then I get their input before I do the final mixes,” Tarquin says. “A lot of times, they don't even know a specific piece will work for a scene until they get the scene. They only work two weeks ahead, so it's pretty tight.”
But tight schedules aren't cause for worry for a composer who came up in New York City jingle houses and now successfully balances his work time between multiple TV shows, his own music and the occasional feature film. “You have to allocate your time correctly,” Tarquin says. “Musicians can waste hours on a kick drum, so you have to be careful of stuff like that. With TV, especially, you have to be good at making decisions as you hear them.”