Carl Sondrol

Composer and music producer

7 years in! / John Cleese on Creativity

It’s May once again.. which brings me up to 7 years as a composer!  Many thank yous to my friends, family, and collaborators who have been so supportive all the while.

As time goes by, I find myself increasingly interested in the “craft” of creative work… How do I push myself to continously improve?  How do I maintain balance and “long-term hustle”?  How do I become more brave, honest, and original in my work?  What mindset & conditions best allow me to do so?

That last question is an interesting one, since we’re all humans who get excited/bored/happy/depressed/hungry/inspired/lazy/distracted/etc for a multitude of reasons.  That’s why I love this talk by John Cleese.  It isn’t about *how* to be original but rather *how to make circumstances ideal* for generating the most original ideas.  If you do any sort of creative work, I think you’ll find it pretty excellent.

(I’m late to the party on this one- thanks to my friend Spencer Griffin for putting this on my radar)

Very Mary Kate Season Finale

I had the pleasure of arranging and producing this song for the season finale of Very Mary-Kate- a webseries just named the 5th funniest web series of all-time by TimeOut New York.  Congrats to creative masterminds Sam and Elaine! and all the other sweeties at CollegeHumor who make this happen.

This project was a fun challenge as the Marilyn Monroe song it parodies features a kickass big band.  One thing I CANNOT STAND is the of use virtual instruments for jazz horn parts (if I am allergic to a sound.. this would be it), so I knew right away live horns were a must.

We obviously couldn’t afford to bring in a 20-piece jazz band (someday!) so I opted for the happy medium of a small but efficient live horn section (trumpet, trombone, and sax) accompanying a sequenced rhythm section.  We also recorded a few overdubs (2nd horn parts, solos, etc) to fill things out a bit.

It’s a real treat working with musicians as skilled as Walt (trumpet), Dan (sax), and Ryan (trombone)- many thank yous, guys.

A few photos from the session, courtesy of my friend Vivi Hoang:

Fact Checkers Unit Webby nomination!

An episode of Fact Checkers Unit starring James Franco has been nominated for a Webby.  Please vote if you have time!  Voting is open until Thursday.

From my original blog post on the episode:

Here’s an episode of Fact Checkers Unit featuring the amazing James Franco as a shapeshifter. The LA Times even gave it a nice write-up here.

I had fun creating lots of chase cues as well as some evil lab music for unstoppable director Dan Beers. Scoring scenes with actors as skilled as Franco, Pete and Brian is a real treat. Their timing & performances open a lot of doors for the score as my job becomes much more about complementing the energy onscreen than driving it. So fun.

Props as always to the rest of the team: editors Kyle Gilman and Steve Makowski, exec producer Thomas Bannister, producer Larry Laboe, and many more.

Last but not least, thank you to spy guitar-ist Max Crowe for his work starting when Franco flees his lab at 3:16.

[…]

Seeking tragic audio

image

Hey socially conscious friends, do you know of a tragedy / travesty / suppression / coverup that hasn’t seen enough publicity?

reason is: I’m working on a song which is at times very delicate/pretty and other times horrifying. I would like to find audio from a real-life tragedy to add in somehow.. audio clips such as civil unrest, chilling testimony, eerily calm news broadcasts, etc..

A few more well-known possibilities i’m considering are: north korean suppression vs. the beauty of their “mass games", final moments at jonestown, lost boys of sudan… but am open to ideas- it could even be something affecting a single person.

Appreciate any thoughts.

New website & SXSW wrap-up

1. I have a new website!  sondrol.com

image

2. SXSW wrap-up!

It’s been a very fun but busy month. I spent the first two weeks on the road- first on a relaxing family vacation for my Dad’s 65th birthday and then straight to Austin for SXSW (after a 4 hour nap on the floor of LAX).

image

As mentioned last time, I was there with Celia Rowlson-Hall’s film “Si Nos Dejan”. (I’ll be posting session photos from the score at some point). Our screenings went well and people gave some very nice feedback about the film. Since Celia lives in NYC it was fun getting some time to hang out with her and her co-star (and husband) Andrew :) Here’s Celia with the most interesting lady we found in the Mexican restaurant where we were eating:

image

Narrating my entire trip would probably take about 5 hours to write (at my blogging pace), but here are a few of the highlights for me:

A panel with indie animator Don Hertzfeldt, Dimitri Simakis of Everything is Terrible, and Hadrian & Bret of Cinefamily.  In my opinion, Don is one of the most uncompromising artists in any medium today.  His latest feature (which I highly recommend) is available to stream on vimeo for just $2- trailer above.

The stop-motion short “Oh, Willy”- visually stunning and the story goes in directions you would never predict.  I can see why it won Best Animation.

image

Pixar’s new short, and the fact that director Saschka Unseld was gracious enough to stick around and sign a poster for EVERY person in the theater, what a class act!

Julia Pott’s terrifying and moving animation set to a Tom Chivers poem.  I love how it blends animation and live action (shot by the talented Adam Wissing).

The other shorts from Borscht Corp (Si Nos Dejan was one of four they had in the festival).  Above is Jillian Mayer & Lucas Leyva’s “comedic satirical sci-fi pop-musical” and an animation by Bernardo Britto. Wildly creative and diverse work.

Stephen Finnigan’s HAWKING.  The film tells Professor Hawking’s life story in his own words (and voice!) I found it to be very personal and moving.  Also, here’s a video I took of the audience filming a hello to Professor Hawking.

Black Metal by Kat Candler (produced by Kelly Williams, who also produced the SXSW feature Pit Stop) explores some very interesting territory re: the terrible actions of a fan “inspired” by a band, and how it affects a metal singer and his family.

SXSW’s “Best Narrative Short”: New Zealand native Michelle Savill’s Ellen is Leaving.  A well-deserved award, IMHO.  When I sheepishly told Michelle that my primary NZ reference is Flight of the Conchords, she laughed and assured me “that’s a good reference” :)

Sarah Gertrude Shapiro‘s Sequin Raze is a narrative short set in the reality TV industry, from a perspective I was SO happy to see- as were the judges, because it garnered an honorable mention for Best Narrative Short.

Lauren Wolkstein’s Social Butterfly, a very human story inspired by a personal experience she had in France.  Great performances & story.

Jason B. Kohl’s The Slaughter.  This one is QUITE intense/graphic, but in a way that serves the story.  As with many of the shorts I’m linking to, great acting & production quality.

Caleb Johnson’s Root, a film he explained he had to make because he “couldn’t get the idea out of his head”, ha!  One of the best “Midnight Shorts”.

Hugo Vargas-Zesati’s Boy Friends was another of my favorite “Midnight Shorts”- unpredictable, ridiculous, and hilarious.

Frances Bodomo’s Boneshaker starring Quvenzhané Wallis (check out Frances’ Kickstarter for her new project AFRONAUTS - it looks so good).

Matt Adams’ We Cause Scenes is the documentary Improv Everywhere has always deserved.  Hats off to editor Nathan H. Russell for sifting through what must have been mountains of footage from the prank collective’s many “missions”.

I couldn’t find links for everything, but also really enjoyed Dustin Bowser’s Weighting, Jeremy Hersh’s Natives, and many others.

image

Whew!  So there’s my attempt at a “brief” re-cap.  It was a treat meeting so many inspiring and creative new friends.  Until we meet again, Austin.

SxSW and Si Nos Dejan

Si Nos Dejan still

I’m excited and humbled to announce that I’ll be attending SxSW this year with a director I immensely admire, Celia Rowlson-Hall!

We’ll be there with her film Si Nos Dejan (pictured above)- “a love story flooded with good intentions and missed connections.” I composed the music and look forward to writing about the scoring process here.

She also has a 2nd film in the festival, which sums up the audition process in a bold and painfully accurate way:



The truth, it burns!!

Help Axe Cop get married! / Last Call with Carson Daly



Congratulations to my friend and collaborator Ethan Nicolle, who recently announced that he will be marrying a wonderful woman named Jessica!

Ethan is a freelance comic artist (as I’ve mentioned many a time on this blog, he created Axe Cop with his little brother, Malachai). As you might imagine, it’s tricky to pay the bills making webcomics.. especially really BIG bills. But, Ethan’s come up with a great & creative idea to help finance his wedding: a Kickstarter-like fundraiser where you can get all kinds of rewards (such as personalized art) in exchange for helping him out with the bill.

If you love Axe Cop (or his other webcomic Bearmaggedon) as much as I do, consider kicking in a few bucks and getting some great art by visiting this site: http://axecopwedding.com

Also, I’ve been meaning to post this for a while:

Last Call with Carson Daly did an excellent piece on Axe Cop- one I feel does a great job capturing both the awesomeness and sincerity with which it’s made. And several of the motion comics I scored & sound designed are featured!

As Carson will tell you, Axe Cop is currently being turned into an animated series on FOX. Huge congrats to co-creators Ethan & Malachai! This ridiculously creative series continues to expand into many forms of media :)

Violin and Paulilu

I’ve been recording like a fiend over the past few months and figure it’s high time to share a few pictures.

First up: just this week, violinist Cheryl Kim. Versatile, equally adept at vibrato-laden super-sweet high swelly parts and creepy scratchy textures. Cheryl made the excellent suggestion of using her mute for the higher/intense parts which helped cut back on resonance building up in the booth. If we were recording in a concert hall this wouldn’t be necessary, but for the dry/intimate sound I was going for this worked great.

Cheryl Kim - violin session

Cheryl Kim - violin session 2

On Wednesday, my buddies Paul and Lucia (Paulilu) stopped in with the very funny Jessica Chaffin (Ronna & Beverly, The Real Housewives of South Boston) to record some voices for an auto spot. Jessica spotted my recently acquired first cookbook (I’m 30… it’s about time, right??) and even gave me some suggestions of what to try next. No picture due to my smartphone’s tragic demise, but here’s Ronna & Beverly with a spastic dog:

My last conversation with Grandma Mary



Happy new year! I look forward to updating you on what I’ve been up to music-wise, but I’m going to start this year off with something personal:

Last month I interviewed my Grandma about her life- it turned out to be our very last conversation as she passed on a few days ago. I wanted to share the final 5 minutes of our talk because I found it very moving then and now.

She was a singer, dancer, choir director, artist, nun for 16 years, and step-mom to my Mom and her siblings. She taught free art classes, collected dolls and small dogs. She always encouraged my pursuit of music, and even gave me my first digital piano when I was a kid.

RIP PGM

Baby Please



Congrats to director Eric McCoy and the band Fellow Rebel on the release of their first music video today! The recording booth scenes were shot here in my studio ;)

Kudos also to producer Justus Meyer, DPs Wojciech Kielar & George Nienhuis, Costumer Nicole Briggs, the rest of the crew, and of course the band: Matt Sax and Angela Polk. Those two have some pretty serious vocal abilities.

Happy early Thanksgiving!

What is a Mullet?



Well, hello again. I had the pleasure of creating music and sound design for this charmingly funny video by my friend Giga Shane.. in which he interviews his parents to gather their theories on the age-old question: “What is a Mullet?”

I brought in some lovely live musicians for this one including:

Bass Clarinet: Eleanor WeigertBassoon: Brittany SeitsCello: Heather McIntoshVocals: Angeline Gragasin

I added some humming, then dusted off the accordion, broken guitar, and even some whole wheat spaghetti to season the music with the right mood for this bizarre conversation.

Special thanks to Richard Howarth for some very detailed work in helping get the dialog levels under control!

Speaking of… this conversation was recorded casually on an iphone, which presented some interesting challenges from a post audio perspective. Who wants to geek out!? Bear with me and I’ll reward you with a few pictures in a moment.

Usually when I’m processing vocals (from a singer tracked in studio for example), they’ve been recorded at a pretty constant distance from the microphone. Microphones will respond differently depending on how far away a sound source is, so this contact distance is helpful because it will yield a relatively consistent balance as far as low, mid, and hi frequencies in the voice. However, in this case Giga and his parents are at different distances from the iPhone which resulted in this scenario:

  • Giga (close to mic): More “harsh” or “bright” frequencies, louder volume
  • Parents (further from mic): More hiss and “muddy” frequencies (more of the “room noise”), softer volume


Since there is music underneath the dialog, it’s important for the speaking to be consistent as possible… from an EQ perspective AND a volume perspective. This will help it be more intelligible, and not as easily covered by the music.

Fortunately there are really cool “dynamic EQ” plugins built for just this type of scenario. I was able to apply a specific EQ setting for Giga (to tame the harshness) and a very different EQ setting to his parents (to reduce the hiss and muddiness).. and automatically transition between these in cases where the phone or the person speaking is moving. That is really really cool, right?

After improving the EQ balance of all the dialog, the overall volume levels could be dealt with using envelopes and compression.

Hmmm, as I seem to have gone on and on about the sound design / mix side, I will summarize the music side quickly: super fun! As promised, a few session photos:

Brittany Seits, Bassoonist Extraordinaire:

O, the delicate timbre of whole wheat thin spaghetti:

Chicago: Hawk



This week I returned from a trip to the midwest which included my old friend Nate’s (and new friend Abby’s!) wedding in St. Louis, visits to college buddies and former bandmates scattered across Iowa, and even a few days in my former home city of 6 years: Chicago.

Which is where I had the pleasure of recording one of my favorite singers on the planet (Hawk Colman) at Dan Smart’s studio Echo/Normal for a new project I’m excited to reveal more about in the future. I’m pouring as much time as possible into it, hence the scaling back of blog posts :)

Stay tuned.

IBM, GOOD, and a whole lotta drums



I had the pleasure of composing a drum-heavy score for this video which kicked off an IBM & GOOD collaboration called Figures of Progress. The very capable Brett Fallentine directed, and my buddy Pete Karinen (of Pete and Brian) produced.

This is the first project I’ve worked on with Matrix-style “bullet time”. Nice work, Brett and team!

New mics

Testing out my new mics.

My strategy over the years has been to buy nice mics, preamps, etc. one piece at a time.. gear that I can grow into as I become a better engineer & producer. I’ve been wanting to get a nice matched pair of small diaphragm condenser mics for quite a while and finally acted on the impulse. My good buddy / guitarist / consultant for all things pro audio Max Crowe directed me to a glowing review of the above Mojave mics in Tape Op, and after a little more research it was a done deal.

In addition to the horses above, I’ve used them to record acoustic guitar, congas, shakers & other percussion, and even as a second mic on upright bass… all of which you’ll hear soon in the form of a Dean Martin cover :)

The Dark Knight & 60's Robin



I recently had the pleasure sound designing this sketch by Paulilu (the very funny Lucia Aniello and Paul Downs.) Have you seen a better Robin than Paul plays here?? I haven’t. Bane (Luke Sholl) and Batman kill it as well.

I watched a lot of Dark Knight scenes to get a flavor of their bass-heavy punches, and spent a good amount of time picking the perfect bone crunches/squishes for Robin’s one-on-one scene with Bane. Lucia and Paul were all about keeping the sound effects as “real/brutal” as possible (albeit within the styled reality of Christopher Nolan’s batman)– No vintage kung fu punches allowed! I liked having “make the audience wince” as a goal. Other than that I bass’d up Batman’s voice and did some general audio cleanup.

Thank you Richard Howarth for helping out with this, and Giga Shane for allowing me to set up a temporary audio room in his NYC basement :)

Paulilu are quite funny and attentive to detail. A+ collaborators!

Back from NYC

I’m back home after an 8-day adventure in NYC! I attended the Vimeo Festival, made some new talented friends, and planned out a future music video. A few pictures below, Add me on facebook for more!


An amazing performance by Miwa Matreyek involving double-projection, her own shadow, and some beautiful animation.

Camera parade

Early Cogitat Ergo Sum sketch

Two of my most favorite collaborators/friends Angeline Gragasin and David Fishel finally meet!

The illustrious Dr. Reggie Watts kicks off Vimeofest with a talk about… something.

Longtime collaborators / CollegeHumor buddies Vince Peone and Josh Ruben gave a talk!

Memorial Day



To mark Memorial Day, I posted the above snippet from an early film score on soundcloud. It’s from the 2007 documentary “Outspoken: Los Angeles” directed by David Bianchi.

The film features several extremely emotional interviews with families that lost their sons in the Iraq war. I watched these hundreds of times while writing the music. As the score neared completion almost a month later, their stories could still bring me to tears. I’ve never felt a greater responsibility for ensuring the music supports, honors, but in no way distracts from the highly personal stories onscreen.

I am grateful for our soldiers, and know that I may never fully comprehend the magnitude of their sacrifices.

acoustic bass - Matthew Golombiskycello - Will Roseliepviolin - Danielle Economy

FCU with James Franco LA Times premiere



Well hey it’s a bonus episode of FCU! This time featuring the amazing James Franco as a shapeshifter. The LA Times even gave it a nice write-up here.

I had fun creating lots of chase cues as well as some evil lab music for unstoppable director Dan Beers. Scoring scenes with actors as skilled as Franco, Pete and Brian is a real treat. Their timing & performances open a lot of doors for the score as my job becomes much more about complementing the energy onscreen than driving it. So fun.

Props as always to the rest of the team: editors Kyle Gilman and Steve Makowski, exec producer Thomas Bannister, producer Larry Laboe, and many more.

Last but not least, thank you to spy guitar-ist Max Crowe for his work starting when Franco flees his lab at 3:16.