L.A. Grapevine

Musikvergnuegen: That's German for enjoyment of music, according to composer Walter Werzowa, who, along with his company of that name (www.musikvergnuegen.com),

The composer and owner of L.A.'s Musikvergnuegen, Walter Werzowa (pictured in his studio)

Photo: Maureen Droney

Musikvergnuegen: That's German for “enjoyment of music,” according to composer Walter Werzowa, who, along with his company of that name (www.musikvergnuegen.com), has become a leading expert in communication through music. Werzowa, a star in the field of mnemonics, shot to the top of the game in 1994 when he created the five-note, three-second theme for “Intel Inside.” Since then, Werzowa's gone on to compose and do sound design for a bunch of other things: film trailers (The Last Samurai, A.I., Spiderman), commercials (Nike, Budweiser, Microsoft, Mastercard, Expedia), audio “logos” (IBM, Sony, Lifetime, Comedy Central) and much, much more, including feature film scores and/or partial scores.

And although Musikvergnuegen's spacious, loft-like Hollywood headquarters are prosperously furnished with European antiques and trendy modern icons, Werzowa's beginnings were humble enough that he took out a loan to purchase his first Roland Jupiter 8 synth.

Originally trained in classical guitar, he left-turned into techno pop, garnering a Number One Euro hit with the band Edelweiss and their novelty title, “Bring Me Edelweiss.” After that came film music and commercials, but, as he says, “Austria is very small.” The U.S. and studies in film scoring at USC beckoned and then a big break: scoring film trailers for Disney, which “I didn't take seriously at first. To apply for the job, I sent a tape where I talked about Austria with sound effects and cowbells and yodeling. But they called me up and I got the job.”

Making movie trailers, of course, is prime education to communicate lots of information in very little time. Werzowa took to the task like a natural: “It was the best school ever. There was a time when I'd go to a movie theater and see four trailers I'd done!”

Werzowa claims he didn't take the Intel assignment seriously at first either. “I'd become friends with Kyle Cooper and Garson Yu, amazing visual designers. One Friday, Kyle called and said, ‘We've got this little project, three seconds long. It's the Pentium thing.’ Back then, I only used Mac, so I had no clue what Pentium was or what a mnemonic was. He showed me the storyboards. Three seconds of music? That felt like a joke: ‘Who wants to have something like this?’”

At first, everything Werzowa tried sounded “a little stupid or at least inappropriate and cut off.” But he dug in for the weekend. “Friday,” he says, “nothing. Saturday — nothing. Sunday, I started to freak out. No melody felt right. I had to find a different angle. It had to be accessible and — in a good way — generic. ‘Intel Inside’ is four syllables, so four notes. And it's the fourth and the fifth that are the most common intervals in every culture. I put them together with a little divider note — a ‘clink’ — at the beginning and played it for Kyle. We presented it to Intel and they loved the idea.” (Actually, there are more than 20 sounds in the first tone alone, including tambourine, anvil and electric spark.)

The project changed Werzowa's life by vaulting him into commercial prominence and changed his thinking about music and its purposes. “It started to be very conceptual for me,” he explains. “It's not about a melody or about a sound. It's about why do you need that melody or sound?”

Tools Werzowa relies upon include Logic Audio, Pro Tools and a Mackie HUI console. Recently, he deleted most of his huge collection of hardware synths from his studio. “I'm trying to force myself to play more guitar,” he says. “Right now, all the soft synths are so challenging. Logic and the plug-ins are immense like Reacktor and Vokator and the Native Instruments and Waves packages. The challenge is to use it all wisely. When Bach played piano, it was a new instrument. What he played on it, it still sounded like organ music. It took a couple hundred years to really learn to write for it. In the same way, I don't think anybody's really hit the aesthetics of synthesizers yet. We have the tools, but we don't play them like they're unique. I think it will help us make new music out of these new surfaces.”

The bustling Musikvergnuegen now boasts a staff of nine, including two additional full-time composers: John Luker and Justin Burnett. Each composer's studio is tied to a central studio bau:ton — designed recording space, with antique and modern instruments to record music and sound effects.

Werzowa also keeps his hand in the classical world, teaching music to design students at the Pasadena Arts Center and composing for ballet and opera. “A lot of people are afraid of being commercial,” he reflects. “Not being taken seriously because you're on the charts doesn't make any sense to me. After all, Mozart or The Beatles were commercial! I think it's great.”

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Dino Maddalone in his evolving studio: Dino M4

Photo: Maureen Droney

The accolades were frequent and intriguing from artists in all sorts of genres, mastering people, label owners, equipment manufacturers and educators. It was time to take a trip to Torrance for a visit to DinoM4 (www.DinoM3.com), the studio owned by record producer/drummer/engineer/composer/arranger Dino Maddalone.

In business for 17 years, Maddalone recently upgraded his 2,000-square-foot facility by adding a Pro Tools|HD 3 Accel system to complement its analog recording setup and custom Malcolm Toft — designed console. “It's the fourth incarnation of the studio,” he notes. “I decided to change the name from DinoM3 to DinoM4 to let people know things were different.”

Most of us wear a lot of hats these days, but Maddalone has made a real art of the process. There's something unusual about a guy who's accumulated Dove Awards for his work with Christian rock acts, a BET Award for a jazz album and nods from HM magazine for Favorite Producer and Favorite Album for a hip hop/hard rock project. Then there's that win for just plain old Best Producer from the Los Angeles Music Awards.

“I've been playing music since I was 10,” Maddalone explains, “and I started working professionally at 16, playing drums and percussion. Really, I've been gigging for 20 years. Back then, you had to play your ass off to make a living. If you weren't touring with someone, you were in clubs six nights a week, five sets a night.”

A lot of great producers have also been drummers. “Drummers are in the perfect position to see how things work. After a certain amount of years, you don't have to think about it. But you're sitting there in the middle of the band and you're always watching. For me, that's carried over into producing. A record is like a four-minute movie: You've got to communicate emotion or you've lost the audience.”

Maddalone remains in demand as a drummer. Those who book his studio often also book him to play on their tracks or arrange/produce. “When Pro Tools first came out, everybody got one and went to the garage or bedroom to make music. Some of it was good, but there was a large amount of crap. Many people are realizing that they really can't do it all on their own. They need to work with someone who, musically and production-wise, understands arrangements, parts, emotion and performance.

“People are eager to cut drums in a live room. We've got Reason in the computer with every drum set in the world. It's great, but we've also got a lot of people coming in to record live drums with a live feel.”

He also teaches engineering and mentors for the AMA (Apprentice Mentor Association), in addition to doing session work as a drummer and composing for film and television, including cues for The Price Is Right. “I have a lot of material, I write quickly and I work with some of the best musicians in the area,” he comments. “I enjoy working on different styles of music; there's nothing I don't like. It's the music that keeps me in the business.”

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