6 Questions With RECTIFY Composer Gabriel Mann

RECTIFY composer Gabriel Mann discusses supporting a subtle story and working in different genres through other shows like Modern Family and Arrested Development.

Q: What does RECTIFY‘s score say about the show?

A: I hope that it’s actually not saying a whole lot. The characters in RECTIFY are so carefully drawn that my job really is to support what they’re saying, doing, viewing. I guess you could say that the music in general is about the overall feeling of Daniel’s situation, his emergence from prison and the starkness and the loneliness of that experience. I mean, the music’s not all stark and lonely. There are moments of levity and beauty. I hope the music is not telling us too much, rather than just supporting and reacting to the characters and the town and the family relationships.

Q: Say you’re composing for a specific scene. Do you work from the script, from a rough cut or something else?

A: I usually am working from a rough cut. I’ve never even seen a script. In fact, when I was hired initially, I worked from a rough cut also. I did a demo based on a few scenes from the pilot. I get a rough cut, and as we get closer to mixing the episode, that becomes a locked cut&mash; meaning the scenes aren’t going to change, timing-wise. So once I’ve got the music written, it’s just a matter of conforming it to the locked version. There are times when a scene will change drastically from a rough cut to the locked cut. For example, a scene could get chopped in half, and then I have to figure out a way to sort of chop the music in half.

Q: What kind of input do you get from show runner Ray McKinnon?

A: Sometimes Ray will have a very specific idea for what he wants musically in the scene. Sometimes he knows what he wants to get out of the scene in general and he’s not sure what it should be musically. So we’ll go through the show scene by scene and decide whether there’s going to be music, and if there is we’ll decide what kind of music. Then I’ll write something and send it to him, and he’ll watch it and then I’ll get notes from him. We’ll just gradually tweak it until we get to a final version of each cue. There are times when he’s very specific. We’ll literally, like, move a piano note five frames to the right. It can go from that to very general. He’ll say, “Can you make this darker?” Stuff like that.

Q: Do any characters, places, or themes have their own leitmotifs?

A: Sort of. They started out that way. The pilot is always very challenging for any show. You have to come up with an arsenal of sounds that you’re going to make. And that arsenal, that sort of template of sounds, has changed for RECTIFY over time, but a lot of the ones I started out with I’m still using. Like I have a very particular sound I like to use for Daniel, an instrument called a bowed glockenspiel. It’s bigger than a glockenspiel, and it rotates ninety degrees and you literally bow it, with a bow. So I use that a lot for Daniel, I use a lot of piano, and he has a particular theme that I started using in the pilot, and other characters have other sounds. But at some point, once we have a bunch of music, they’ll drop in cues that exist already for other [episodes] and so what winds up happening is the themes get spread around the show amongst different characters. So there’s themes and sounds that now, as a result of that, sort of apply to the show in general more than particular characters.

Q: You’ve worked on very different types of scores for shows like Modern Family and Arrested Development. What’s easier? Comedy or drama?

A: They’re both hard. They’re hard for different reasons. Comedies have very specific challenges, which usually come down to how do you write music that’s fun and energetic, but not silly. In decades past music would deliberately be funny, but now that has sort of fallen out of favor and it’s sort of anachronistic at this point. You have to write music that’s just fun as opposed to funny.

Q: You’ve composed for TV, movies, and video games. How do the different mediums compare?

A: Dealing with a television show involves speed. You have to condense your work down to somewhere between a few days and a couple of weeks for one episode. In a movie you have a lot more time to fiddle with the details of every cue. Video games are a whole other thing. You’re really writing a very general piece of music that’s not scored to picture. And they often have to be loop-able, so there’s no real beginning or ending. Videogames are like a puzzle.

Listen to music inspired by SundanceTV’s RECTIFY.

Need to catch up on RECTIFY? Find out where to stream, download or purchase Seasons 1-4.