Milwaukee is home to a number of musicians and composers working in film and other visual media. The problem is, you rarely hear about them.
So, when someone like composer Luke Wieting releases a new CD -- as he has done with "Currents," a collection of material written for a variety of films and other media -- it's the perfect opportunity to ask not only about his own career and CD (on Cold Hand Records), but also about the Milwaukee's media composers scene.
Wieting, a Milwaukee native and UW-Milwaukee graduate, is prepping for the release party for "Currents," to be held Sunday, April 11, from 7 to 9:30 p.m., in the Wisconsin Room of the UWM Union.
There were will live performances at 7 and 8:15. All proceeds from the CD -- after production costs are recouped -- will be donated to the Luther Memorial Chapel Organ Fund.
As he geared up for that event, we talked to him about "Currents" and more.
OnMilwaukee.com: Is this your first release?
Luke Wieting: No, my first release was the soundtrack for an independent film titled "Solitaire" (in 2007). It was a much more limited release, but it was a great learning experience for me. It's still available on iTunes.
OMC: The new disc is something of a retrospective, is that correct? Can you tell us a bit about what's on it?
LW: That's correct. About half of the tracks are from films I've scored in the last two and half years. My three favorite tracks from "Solitaire" (2007) are included. The piece "Trace" was originally written for "Credits" (2009), a short film by Hugh Schulze starring Helen Sadler, and David Dastmalchian, who appeared in "The Dark Knight" (2008).
I wrote "Currents" for a dance piece choreographed by Simon Eichinger, which was performed at Danceworks in its Art-to-Art program last July and August. "Chapel" is a solo piano piece that I wrote for the Turner Award competition at Columbia College (Chicago) in 2008; it was one of three pieces to receive the award. I wrote some of the other tracks, such as "Iustitia Mea," for my own enjoyment.
OMC: Were you going for representative variety or simply the best you had to offer or material that all kinda worked together?
LW: It's a mix of representative variety, and what I feel is the best I have to offer. I tried something new in just about all of these pieces, so I'm proud of each of them for a different reason.
OMC: Are there a lot of musicians and composers in Milwaukee creating soundtrack music?
LW: Not a lot of them are able to do it professionally. When you're working on a film, or especially for an ad agency, you often have to drop everything to make the deadline when a project comes in. That's not a part-time job that gets along nicely with other part-time jobs, and you have to build a large enough client base before it can become a full time job.
The Milwaukee area media composers that I'm aware of are Peter Batchelder, Ralph Bruner and John Tanner. Of these, Peter Batchelder has probably focused the most on soundtracks. I don't intend to slight others by leaving them out. The trouble is that in most cases, being a media composer is a behind-the-scenes profession; they don't have time to run credits during a commercial spot.
OMC: Is it hard to make inroads into that world of film music?
LW: Yes, almost all work in the film industry is based on personal connections. Directors who've established themselves in the industry work with many of the same people from project to project, and build a team of people they trust and get along with. As long as a director's key composer is available, a new face is not likely to replace someone he or she has worked with from the beginning. Building connections with others at the beginning of their careers is just as important as looking for work among those established in the field.
OMC: What are you currently working on, besides launching "Currents"?
LW: I'm spending the most time on my graduate thesis at Columbia College. I'm in my second year of the Music Composition for the Screen program, and I will be completing it this summer. Outside of that, I'm working on a 15-minute student film titled "Burden of Proof," by Nolan Wilson Goff. Other projects are in the works.
OMC: Can you tell us a bit about the Luther Memorial Chapel Organ Fund and why you're using the disc to raise funds for it?
LW: Many of the materials in the organ at Luther Memorial, such as the leather pieces used to close off airflow to the pipes, are decaying. Some entire groups of pipes are now unusable. The pipes are spread to three different locations throughout the church, which creates uneven volume levels depending on where you're sitting. The pipe configuration also makes the increasingly needed maintenance much more difficult.
Official fund raising for a new instrument started one year ago in March. A fund for the eventual replacement, and the increased maintenance the organ has required in recent years has existed for much longer than that. Most of the funds have come from the pledges of individual members. Other members have organized fund raising events that include an auction, a garage sale, and a congregational cookbook consisting of recipes submitted by our members.
There has been a tremendous amount of support from the members at Luther Memorial, but we still have a long way to go before we reach the amount necessary. That's just the reality of a small congregation facing the substantial cost of replacing an expensive but necessary instrument, and trying to do it in bleak financial times.
I'm using this event to raise funds because it will give people outside the congregation a chance to contribute. We have a wonderfully talented organist who's been coaxing the instrument we have for so long, we would love to hear her play an instrument that she doesn't have to work around. The music I grew up with in the church has been a great influence to me as a composer, and the quality of the music in my home congregation means a lot to me.
Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.
He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.
With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.
He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.
In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.
He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.