The Sound Layers of Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs

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Our final chapter to this month's Sound Lesson Series is coming to a wrap. But in our last moments together on this musical journey, we look to talented rising songwriter and composer, Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs.

Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs in GORGON. Presented as part of REDCAT’s Studio: Fall 2017. Photo by Steve Gunther © CalArts

Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs in GORGON. Presented as part of REDCAT’s Studio: Fall 2017. Photo by Steve Gunther © CalArts

Riggs is the type of musician whose mind is continually bursting with imaginative and innovative ideas — her visual artist background blending into her audio work, whether it be when creating original scores for films or performing music (Riggs hails from the Los Angeles band, Bouquet).

With her diverse background, Riggs exemplifies the type of composer we turn to within this ever-changing landscape of media. Her approach is refreshingly fearless, transcending the expected. We especially chose to spotlight the up-and-coming artist not only for her expertise as a musician, but how she applies her understanding of varying mediums when scoring for both short and feature films.

Marmoset: At what point does a composer for a score come into the filmmaking process? Do you sit down and chat with the director once the project is complete or do you step in even before then? Just curious if your music ever influences a director's vision, 'art imitating art' sort of thing.

Riggs: I’ve worked with creators at all stages of the filmmaking process — I met with the director and producer of the film I’m currently scoring when the film was in script form. I’ve come in after a piece has been edited with SFX and I’ve also joined a project after a previous composer’s score was rejected. I’ve scored to action, and action has been cut to my score. My favorite example of the latter is in the theme song to a Cartoon Network Pilot by Minty Lewis called "Bottom’s Butte" — the animator essentially made a music video to the song, with all the action landing on the beat.

What does the scoring process look like for you? What do you find to be the most challenging and rewarding part of creating original scores?

I compose alone, but I love to hire additional musicians, especially vocalists. Sometimes I write a melody for a score that I kind of covet for my own performance project, but that preciousness is rare. Afterall, there are enough melodies to go around. I genuinely love a creative prompt and it’s fun to be reminded of what I’m capable of.

Do you ever hit a wall when scoring for a scene? If so, do you have any methods or techniques you fall back on to get you through it?

I like to “walk through walls” (take a walk if I’m feeling stuck).

Are there any films you look to for inspiration or use as a benchmark for your own scoring? Is there a director you'd love to work with in the future?

I am very inspired by Mica Levi, Ennio Morricone, and Angelo Badalamenti.

Agnes Varda is the dream.  

Posted on March 2, 2018 and filed under Marmoset, Music.