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Stay up-to-date on Kusiak Music projects, screenings, creative collaborations, and other news.

Throwback Thursday: Blue Tobin, Part One


In February of 1971, I had just rented an apartment near Central Square, Cambridge, Massachusetts. With little money and limited prospects, I began searching for work. I was performing in a duo with my good friend, Elliot Gibbons and though we had a agent in New York, the gigs were few and far between.

Likely perusing the classified ads in the Boston Phoenix, we found a posting that said a music publisher was looking for composers to write songs -- for money! Perfect. We were both composers who wrote songs and needed money, so off we went to Tremont Street in Boston to Five Star Music Masters. FSMM was a so-called "song-poem" shop, one of those places that advertised in the back of magazines "looking for lyrics for song and recording consideration."

The owner of the company, Lew Tobin, sat behind a big oak desk and offered Elliot and me a folder each, which contained about 20 sheets of paper, some typed, some handwritten -- with poems that were to be set to music. "Two dollars and fifty cents for each song you set to music and notate on music paper." He said he had a guy from Berklee School of Music who did 80-100 per week. "Come back next week and let me see what you've done."

Elliot and I dutifully set to work on composing. After a week, combined, we had fewer than 8 songs. Hardly an auspicious start; it was obvious that we weren't going to be competing with the Berklee guy. We actually tried to write good songs, not realizing until later that our competition was dashing them off as fast as he could write the notes down. For the most part, the poems were pretty atrocious; unpredictable meter from line to line, little rhyming, and no consistency in verse structure.

In the end, this turned out to be very good practice for songwriting. It was quite challenging, and helped to hone our composition chops. Also, two other necessary skills had to be developed: writing on demand and writing fast, both of which would come in handy when I was later to try composing for film. But that’s another story…

To be continued next Thursday!

Have you checked out Crimetown Podcast yet?

If you haven't been listening to the Crimetown podcast, you've got a treat in store. Thirteen episodes have wrapped with five more to come...


"Welcome to Crimetown, a new series from Gimlet Media and the creators of HBO’s The Jinx. Every season, we’ll investigate the culture of crime in a different American city. First up: Providence, Rhode Island, where organized crime and corruption infected every aspect of public life. This is a story of alliances and betrayals, of heists and stings, of crooked cops and honest mobsters—a story where it’s hard to tell the good guys from the bad guys. Hosted by Marc Smerling and Zac Stuart-Pontier. New episodes out most Sundays at 2 pm." -- from the Crimetown website

Enjoy the podcast and listen for our music -- tracks from the Kusiak Music Library and some new compositions by John, Andy and Kenny are used in each of the episodes.

Wait, what is the Kusiak Music Library, you may ask?

We've been working to get several decades' worth of Kusiak Music compositions online for easy browsing. There's over 1,250 tracks up so far with more to come; as time goes by and the rights to pieces revert to us, and as we have time to add the bajillions of alternate and otherwise never-used pieces of years gone by we will add more. (Did we mention it's several decades' worth?)

The Kusiak Music Library is invitation-only for now, but feel free to get in touch if you have a project that needs music (many lengths, tempos, moods, and genres available).

Birth of a Movement: The Battle Against America's First Blockbuster

Very timely, given all that's going on in our country at the moment. Kusiak Music was honored to contribute music to this incredible film by Susan Gray and Bestor Cram. 

John Kusiak and director Susan Gray at the premiere.

John Kusiak and director Susan Gray at the premiere.

"Boston, 1915. African-American newspaper editor and activist William Monroe Trotter wages a battle against D.W. Griffith's groundbreaking blockbuster, The Birth of a Nation. An infamous re-inventing of history, friendly to the Ku Klux Klan, Griffith's motion picture unleashes a conflict that still rages today about race relations, censorship, and the power of Hollywood.”

TUNE IN for the broadcast premiere of  Birth of a Movement on PBS Independent Lens on Monday, February 6, 2017 at 10PM nationwide.

Rosamond Purcell: An Art That Nature Makes (score by John Kusiak)

"Finding unexpected beauty in the discarded and decayed, photographer Rosamond Purcell has developed an oeuvre of work that has garnered international acclaim, graced the pages of National Geographic and over 20 published books, and has enlisted admirers such as Jonathan Safran Foer, Errol Morris and Stephen Jay Gould. AN ART THAT NATURE MAKES details Purcell’s fascination with the natural world – from a mastodon tooth to a hydrocephalic skull – offering insight into her unique way of recontextualizing objects both ordinary and strange into sometimes disturbing but always breathtaking imagery."


Composers Attend Team Foxcatcher debut at TriBeCa Film Festival

Last week, John and Kenny Kusiak caught up with filmmaker Jon Greenhalgh at the Team Foxcatcher TriBeCa Film Festival premiere. If you've seen Foxcatcher (2014) with Steve Carell and Channing Tatum, this is the true story and even more poignant as it makes frequent use of home video footage from the Shultz family. John composed the score for this moving, well-attended documentary and says he tapped Kenny to compose additional music for "some of the more ambient sections." (Andrew Willis also assisted with with additional music and Rob Jaret helped with orchestration and score preparation.)

During and after the Monday and Tuesday screenings, the Kusiak Music group got to meet Nancy Schultz (wife of slain wrestler and the documentary's focus, Dave Shultz) and other people interviewed for this absorbing film. At one of the after parties we met Bill Ordine, a reporter on the scene who wrote "Fatal Match," a true crime novel about the events. We also had an interesting conversation with Joe McGettigan, the prosecutor in the DuPont trial. Aside from the fun of the film festival scene, the further details and context we got from these conversations was a special treat. All the questions raised from the film about professional sports, propaganda, and wealthy privilege were passionately discussed.

Working with Jon Greenhalgh was a great pleasure and Ben Cotner of Netflix did an amazing job in producing the film. It was great to see so much interest in the film: all four screenings were sold out!

Team Foxcatcher makes its Netflix debut on April 29th. Highly recommended by all of us at Kusiak Music!

Art & Sound Installation Opening Photos

Here's some photos of the opening last Monday. Kenny wasn't able to make the trip from Brooklyn after all, but it was great to see Shelley and to experience the exhibit with the public. Remember this installation will be live until December 14, so check it out in the meantime and let us know what you think!

All photos © Laura Barrett.

Some horror movie news for Halloween...

The Rasmussen brothers got interviewed by Filmmaker Magazine recently and talked a bit about working with Kusiak Music. Read the entire interview here.

Filmmaker: What did you do for music?

Shawn: We worked with the same team that we did on Dark Feed, John Kusiak and Andrew Willis. They are fabulous to work with. This was a little bit different in that on Dark Feed we hadn’t put a lot of thought into what kind of music we wanted on the film. We let John and Andrew come at it completely fresh, and we were ecstatic with what they came up with. This time around it was a little bit different in that we had something that we were really looking for in terms of tone.

Michael: We were definitely trying to emulate some of the older ghost stories that we had seen growing up in the ’70s; The Changeling and Burnt Offerings. They all had very distinctive scores – at least as I remembered them – and we really wanted to get that, so we kept going back to them and trying to get it just how we wanted it.

Shawn: We’ve been checking out a bunch of the reviews and there’s been a lot of discussion about how great the sound design and the score are. What was nice was that John Kusiak’s son Kenny Kusiak did the sound design with Andrew, so it was a joint effort to create a sound design. There’s a lot of mixing of sounds and music on both sides.

Michael: There was good synergy there, where there are normally two distinct people, so sometimes the score would go into the room tone and then come out and it was really much more organic.
— Filmmaker Magazine, 10/22/15

Prelude & Altered Landscapes: A Sound Installation with Family Ties

There is a special opportunity for our Boston-area blog readers coming up. John and his son Kenny collaborated on a sound installation for artist Shelley Reed's beautiful exhibit at Wheaton College entitled Tiger in the Living Room.

Reed's artwork has "a contemporary edge, despite its reliance on centuries-old artworks. Her black-and-white palette imbues the work with a cinematic quality, and the large scale of the work (some life-size) invite the viewer to step right into her sumptuously charged environments, filled with figures and wild animals of all kinds in various states of tension with their surroundings and each other..." Read more at the Beard Gallery site.

Artwork by Shelley Reed

John described how this unique father-and-son project came about...

I had composed music for a film called "John Portman: A Life of Building" in 2011. The score came out very well and we had the opportunity to record some live instruments for it. Then in January of this year, John Portman asked me to create a surround sound mix of some of the cues from the score to be background music in one of his new hotels in Atlanta. For various reasons, the plug got pulled on that project –– especially unfortunate since the environment of sound came out really well! 
When I played it for my son, Kenny Kusiak, he said, “Well, you’ll just have to find another venue for it. How about a gallery or an artist?” I immediately thought of Shelley Reed, an amazing painter (and also the wife of Peter Rhodes, a film editor and friend I’ve known for years).
This past July I played the surround music for Shelley and she immediately responded to it. In a fortuitous coincidence, she was planning a gallery show of her artwork in the fall at the Beard Gallery at Wheaton College. After some discussion, we decided on one section of the music that was about 12 minutes long called “Prelude.” She mentioned that it would be ideal to extend it and create a total of 24 minutes of audio, which she said is approximately the average amount of time someone might spend in the gallery looking at her work. She requested something that had environmental sounds related to the imagery in her work.
That’s when I brought in Kenny, who is a sound designer and musician in Brooklyn, NY. He came up with a very cool ambient section created almost entirely with environmental sounds, sound effects and a few other audio odds and end. We called his section "Altered Landscapes.” When we put the two sections together, it became “Prelude & Altered Landscapes.”

You can view this exhibit and sound installation during gallery hours from October 23 through December 16, 2015.

Kenny and John will both be attending the Gallery Opening & Reception on Monday, October 26, from 5:30 to 8:00 PM and they would love to see you there. Stop by and say hello!

RSVP to the Facebook event here.