Boston Globe

Boston Globe Magazine
June 8, 2002
by Edwin M. Steckevicz

John Kusiak is a composer who lives near Boston. His clients include PBS, the filmmaker Errol Morris, and United Airlines.

You're a musician and a technician. Is this your perfect job?
Yes, because it brings together two things that I've always loved-music and recorded sound. From the time I was a teenager, I was buying little tape recorders and playing around with them. Most of the people in my business, composing for visual media, are one-person organizations, people like me who do their own projects. They write the music, engineer the music, and produce the actual recordings that can be used in broadcast television or in films. You couldn't do that 30 years ago.

Does Errol Morris hand you a film and say, "Write me some music"?
Errol has an unorthodox approach to scoring his pictures. He likes to edit with the music. He will come to me and give me suggestions. One time he said, "Write three or four pieces based on the idea of the unknown zones of the inky black sea." Now that's a composer's dream, a nice, dark and interesting idea that is also pretty vague.

You wrote a score for the Prometheus Dance Company. How did that work?
That was very collaborative. I spent a couple of months watching them dance. I brought music over and they played it on their boom box while they made up a dance. It concerned the plight of refugees in the Balkans, so I did a lot of research and studied Balkan music. They're scheduled to stage it again in New York next year.

Do you miss performing?
Sometimes I do. There's a real thrill to performing live with a band. In a performance, the music is in the foreground, while in films it has a more supportive role. A lot of the skills that I call upon in composing were developed as a performer. For me, it's all about improvising and making up something on the spot, like automatic writing. I might look at the visuals, put my hands on the keyboard and start playing without thinking. The inspiration may be external, but the music still has to come from somewhere inside. It's a mysterious process, even to me.

How much time goes into scoring a 30-second United Airlines commercial?
A week. They have edited the video and it doesn't change at all. My job is to write the music and make it fit exactly, and yet the music needs to have its own integrity so that if you listen to it by itself, it sounds natural.

Any thoughts about George Harrison's "Taxman" being used in a commercial?
It's one thing to write music specifically for commercials as opposed to using a song that has special meaning to lots of people. I find it a little disturbing.

This studio is a cave-like place.
As a teenager I spent many days exploring caves. I feel very comfortable in here. It's also a little of the 'boys with toys' syndrome. I have a dream sound system.