Spotlight: Kaveh Cohen & Michael Nielsen

 

We highlight composers Kaveh Cohen & Michael Nielsen, whose current projects include the music of popular video game Forza Motorsport 6 from Microsoft Studios and Turn 10 Studios.

How did you first get involved writing music? What challenged you most, and what rewarded you most, as your résumé evolved over the years?

​KC: ​I started my writing career in my mid 20’s. My first paid project was actually as a producer on an artist’s album but soon after I began ghost writing for a friend on several animated television series he was scoring. It was a fantastic experience as it required me to write quickly and also write in many different styles. Back then we would get a printed storyboard book of an episode and we’d decide how long a cue should be based on how many pages it was in the book. I went on to score documentaries, television shows and mini series for various networks. I think each new project presented a new set of challenges as either the musical style changed dramatically for each project, or the time demands and constraints were high. In particular, learning how to work with so many different types of filmmakers, producers, editors etc. has been invaluable.

Having the opportunity to score so many different types of projects in all areas – film, television, games and advertising – over the years has been incredibly rewarding. It’s allowed for a very dynamic landscape that allows me to strive and grow as a composer.

 

​MN:

I really started writing my own music when I was part of music production team in my 20’s.  I wanted to be a producer, but often part of that job was writing songs to produce for artists.  More and more, I was feeling the pull into more cinematic ideas, and more dramatic ideas that didn’t really fit into a pop song in that time.  So, I started venturing out into commercials, and TV themes, and ultimately scoring for picture.  As a kid, I was sort of a ‘dumb rock kid’, so as the music I wanted to write became more complex, I needed to expand my musical education.  So, I put in a lot of work to expand my musical vocabulary, and studied and improved my piano playing.  I had the benefit of learning and growing while working on great jobs.

One moment that I can think of that was particularly rewarding for me was writing on the Wolverine & the X-Men animated series, and it was a huge learning experience for me.  That show was wall to wall music and had lots of film noir moments, as well as grand action sequences.  Also, I was working with other great composers on the show, so I felt there was a lot to live up to on that show.  I worked out great and the show was a big success.

Recently, completing the score for Forza 6 was really great.  It was a very large score, and I think we made a cohesive score with lots of our personality infused into it.

Who is your favorite fictional character and how did they influence your music?

​MN:

I’m gonna go with Commander Riker (or maybe Picard).  I love his sense of adventure and exploration.  Musically, I think we’re all trying to make those journeys.  As far as influencing my music, Goldsmith’s exquisite Star Trek themes are untouchable!   They are just perfect.

​KC:

​I don’t have a particular favorite fictional character but I have always been very drawn to science fiction, specifically for the technology. Movies and series like Star Trek and Star Wars have been favorites since I was child and I think my fascination with the technology both on screen and in the studio goes hand in hand.



What’s your composing method? (a) sitting at a piano (b) computer (c) pencil on manuscript paper (d) improvisation with musicians (e) other. Please, explain.

​KC:

​ I compose with a piano at the computer. I think the computer provides an immeasurably vast palette to a composer which is very inspiring. You can literally have any sound immediately available at your fingertips. We also work in an environment where our clients require immediate satisfaction so the ability to create thorough and convincing mockups is vital. I think very few working composers today have the luxury of working with a director who will wait until the scoring stage to hear the score. Clients want to hear the work as it progresses and be able to give immediate feedback. With schedule demands being as intense as they are sometimes, composing with a computer allows you to work very quickly and go back and make immediate changes. When we’re working with a live group of musicians, the music does leave the computer and is translated onto a paper score.

​MN:

I have a lovely studio that is my perfect little haven for composing.  The piano is built into the desk, I have a 34” curved LED monitor, my computers are in separate machine room.  it’s all very quiet and efficient.  It’s a very inspiring place to work.  I’m very visual, so if I don’t have an musical that’s I’m ready to execute, and if I don’t have picture to write to, I’ll often put up some random video.  That often will be enough to ignite an idea.  From there, it all goes fingers to keyboard to Logic Pro, and if we are working with an orchestra, we’ll prep and export it from there.

What makes your sound unique?

​MN:

I think some of my early limitation helped to shape my style of composing, production and writing.  I’m always looking for little, “hooks” which comes from my pop background.  So for me, I like to merge those world of the large scale orchestra, with modern ‘song production’ elements.   Nothing can touch the orchestra for creating emotion and intensity. So it usually starts there first, then gets peppered with the more modern goodies.

​KC:

​I think part of the artists’ journey is to find his or her own musical aesthetic or voice. As a composer, you spend years laboring on various projects and each, in it’s own way, helps to shape and mold what over time becomes a very identifiable signature for the composer. I think for me personally, the combination of the writing style that has evolved over the last 20 years, my production aesthetic and my approach to scoring make my sound unique.