King Loaf Interview: Composer, arranger & producer Joseph Trapanese

Meet Joseph Trapanese. He is a Los Angeles-based composer, arranger, orchestrator, and producer of music for film, television, multimedia, theater, and concerts (quite a mouthful right).

Joseph’s collaborations with outstanding electronic artists have put him on the map and in the hot seat that has studios eager to book him.  His career kick-started by collaborating with Daft Punk on the ‘TRON: LEGACY score for Disney Pictures.  On top of this, he worked alongside Mike Shinoda of Linkin Park for their new action film ‘The Raid: Redemption’.  Very recently he collaborated on 6 brand new tracks on M83’s recent album release ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’.  Joseph’s classical score background next to his passion for electronic music make him the ideal candidate with whom to collaborate.

Joseph Trapanese living the dream in the studio


King Loaf: From Dexter to Percy Jackson, did you ever anticipate such commercial success? What has been your commercial highlight thus far?


Joseph Trapanese: For me, the commercial success is only a pleasant side effect. I love what I do, the work alone is satisfying and thrilling. It’s an honor to know so many people have come to be familiar with my work- one of my goals from the beginning was to make relevant music that anybody might want to listen to while also pushing artistic boundaries. It’s humbling to know that I’ve been able to begin achieving that. My biggest commercial highlight is also my biggest personal highlight- working with 90 fantastic orchestral musicians for a week in London on the score for “Tron: Legacy.” Only a large budget commercial film could make that happen, yet one thing I’ve learned about Disney is that they have a great respect for creativity and allow room for artists to develop, even when there is a lot at stake. Luckily this was a moment I have spent my whole life training for! There is nothing like some of the world’s best musicians pouring their heart and soul into something you’ve been dedicated to working on for over a year and a half. And to interact with that magic and help guide it along is an experience I’ll never forget.

King Loaf: How was it working with Mike Shinoda? How did you come to collaborate? How did your styles compliment each other?


Joseph Trapanese: Mike is a tremendous talent. Combine that with his vast range of experience in music and you have a true musical powerhouse. Both he and Sony were familiar with my previous work and felt that we might make good partners. Being a Linkin Park fan and an admirer of Mike’s solo work, I didn’t hesitate! Our style complimented really well. Much of the score was done either in the same room or by passing sessions back and forth, which I had never done before. It was great to be able to get some music to a certain unfinished place, and then turn to your partner and say, “What do you hear?” Mike took things where I could never imagine, and I think he feels the same about my work- this was my favorite part about our collaboration.

Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda, Gareth Evans & Joseph Trapanese

King Loaf: How were you able to translate your passion for electronic music into your classical score background? Are the genres worlds apart?


Joseph Trapanese: I’m a subscriber to the Duke Ellington way of thinking- “There are two kinds of music. Good music, and the other kind.” I grew up listening to rock and hip-hop. After discovering “Star Wars” I started listening to film scores and orchestral classical music. After watching “Top Gun” and “X-Files” I became interested in synthesizers. Even though I went to a classical music conservatory I’ve been playing with synths since high school. So bringing the two together in interesting ways is quite natural to me.

King Loaf: Would you regard advancements in home production and electronic software a blessing for classical scorings?


Joseph Trapanese: Definitely! I would not know even half of what I know now without the experimenting I did in high school with my trusty Packard Bell! In all seriousness though, I distinctly remember the day a friend gifted me some music software when I was 13. It changed my life. Without it, it was likely that I would have stopped participating in music around the same time. Instead, electronic music production lit my fire. Thinking of all the musical talent one can now discover through your laptop is exciting!

King Loaf: Daft Punk have been at the forefront of electronic music for the past two decades. Did you find it an intimidating challenge when asked to band together for the Tron: Legacy score?


Joseph Trapanese: Yes and no. Of course you can’t ignore their history and fan base, and since their inception, their music has continuously achieved something that has always seemed to elude me- elegant simplicity. That being said, I was certainly a little intimidated! But after beginning to work with them all my fears were put at ease by their confidence and directness- they are very articulate about what they want, and we spent a lot of time doing research and development on how to achieve the sound they desired. Their success and history has no bearing on their actions- we were simply creating and working the best we could.

King Loaf: What working process do you undergo when scoring? Is it initially traditional and transpires to a more electronic product?


Joseph Trapanese: Oftentimes it starts at the acoustic piano. I used to say that the piano “speaks back,” but analog synths and really good digital ones do also. More recently working with the piano has been about having a medium that is familiar and as transparent and lo-tech as possible to boil down ideas to their simplest elements. After that I bring the ideas into the computer and begin working with electronics.

King Loaf: How different was working with M83 in comparison to constructing feature film scores?


Joseph Trapanese: The foremost difference is in structure- working on an album requires you to think of song structure, whereas a film has its own structure that must be adhered to. When working with Anthony (M83) and Justin (producer) we were able to be much more flexible up to the end- there were a lot of open ended arrangements so that they could continue to construct their music all the way until the mix, even though we had already recorded live elements. We even recorded instrument layers separately for flexibility.

King Loaf: ‘Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming’ has received glowing reviews. How involved were you with the composition of each track?


Joseph Trapanese: I worked on five tracks- “Intro,” “Wait,” “Soon, My Friend,” “My Tears Are Becoming A Sea,” and “Outro.” When I heard the tracks they were only rough demos but I immediately grasped the colors and textures that Anthony and Justin were were looking for- in no small part because of how distinctly they use analog polysynths. For me, arranging has never been simply about layering live acoustic elements on top of electronic elements- it’s combining them in a way that is complimentary. The goal wasn’t to add strings on top of a song- It was to bring together the orchestra and synths and create a rich and distinct texture.

King Loaf: Your scores have been decreed by the New York Times as ‘Precise and evocative.’ Would you deem this an accurate critique?


Joseph Trapanese: I nearly fell out of my chair when I read that NYT review! It is from a review of my music for an off-Broadway play called “The Runner Stumbles.” Milan Stitt’s play involves the relationship between a priest and a nun, and the confusion of emotions and commitment. There’s also a children’s song. I used bell textures, harp, and strings to create tension, and wrote a sweet, innocent melody for the children’s song- combining these proved to be very unique and brought the complex emotions face-to-face with the simplicity of the characters. At the same time I was extremely judicious about what colors I used at what time, and in specific combinations. But this also sums up my entire work day! I’m very focused on what sounds I’m using and where according to the story I’m helping to tell, and I try to draw out the most basic, human emotions involved.

Joseph Trapanese

King Loaf: Sonically, what technical advancements have made your life easier? Do you, to some extent, owe your career and your signature sound to these developments?


Joseph Trapanese: All of them…! I explore as many possibilities as I can in the pursuit of the best music possible. It’s an amazing time for music- we can have the speed and reliability of a digital studio combined with the depth and musicality of analog sound. We are all a product of our environment, and I am continually fascinated by the musical tools at our disposal.

King Loaf: Who have been your musical idols?


Joseph Trapanese: There are many, but my core musical idols are Igor Stravinsky, Jerry Goldsmith, Ennio Morricone, John Carpenter, John Williams, and Bernard Herrmann. I also feel very strongly about several filmmakers Francis Ford Coppola, Stanley Kubrick, Danny Boyle, and Steven Soderbergh.

King Loaf: You have recently expressed your desire to not be pigeonholed. How do you tend to achieve that with your orchestration? Do you find it difficult to shed the typecasting after working in the realm of mainstream action and drama?


Joseph Trapanese: I feel that I’m ultimately the one in control. Of course day-to-day, movie-to-movie it can be hard to control your path, but I love doing independent film and passion projects. I try to be creative with my choices and taste so even if I do get pigeonholed in some aspect of my career I can always turn around and work on something completely different. That’s why I don’t ever call myself just a composer- or just an orchestrator, or just a producer- my goal is to encompass of all of those in different was to the advantage of whatever I’m working on.

See the new trailer for “The Raid: Redemption” below:

[youtube id=”uWlmhMSnVdM” width=”610″ height=”350″]

King Loaf: You are a lecturer in Electronic Music and Composition at UCLA. Is it a popular course you teach? Did you construct the module choices? What is the fundamental rule you teach your students?


Joseph Trapanese: [I am no longer teaching at UCLA but I used to!] It was very popular among the young composers at the school. My goal when teaching was to give students the skills needed to produce their own music, regardless of medium or style. I take them through computing basics, introduction to analog synthesis, mockup techniques, and basic engineering and audio editing. My most fundamental rules are to interact with live musicians as much as possible and to practice more, quantize less.

To find out more information on Joseph, you can jump over to his website here, and read Joseph’s full biography on the next page.