Interview with Jeremy Zuckerman – Composer of the Avatar The Last Airbender Soundtrack
We just had the awesome experience to send Jeremy Zuckerman (Co-Composer with Benjamin Wynn, of The Avatar The Last Airbender Soundtrack) some questions about the Avatar The Last Airbender Soundtrack. We’re very excited to announce that Jeremy has taken some time from his probably very busy schedule to answer those questions about the amazing avatar the last airbender music.
Without further ado enjoy.
Interview with Jeremy Zuckerman – Co-Composer of Avatar The Last Airbender Soundtrack
Q. How was creating music for Avatar The Last Airbender different from work you’ve done previously (and what work had you done previously). Was it hard to find inspiration for the show?
A. Well Avatar was my first TV series. Before that I’d been mainly working on commercials. Fortunately that prepared me for the musical diversity a TV show requires but i hadn’t done much long form writing. Additionally, the Avatar score had an extremely diverse instrumentation and wide emotional range. I hadn’t really done much in the way of full orchestration or ethnic instrumentation. I had to really learn by being thrown in the fire. Although i had a lot of musical training, I had never studied orchestration before so it was quite a challenge in the beginning.Q. What are your current projects these days?
A. We’ve been doing a bunch of different things lately. Ben and i have both worked on separate dance pieces (Ben with the Paris Opera Ballet and I with Levy Dance). We also did some shorts for warner brothers. we’re about to start work on the music for the ‘kung fu panda’ tv series. We also keep busy working on our own musical projects outside of The Track Team…Q. I heard that the music for ATLA was Taiko or something like that, could you go into more detail as to why that form was chosen, and what exactly it is?
A. Although Taiko was prevalent, there really wasn’t one singular musical form in Avatar. We used a bunch of different musical styles from different cultures and while it was very important to us to respect all the musical forms, we didn’t always use them traditionally. The original idea, which came from Bryan and Mike, was to experiment with a bunch of different ethnic musical instruments to create a style which sounded like it was an ancient traditional style but was actually original to avatar.Q. How many different cultures are represented in ATLA’s Music?
A. In addition to Taiko (Japanese Percussion) we used the Guzheng (Chinese Zither), Pipa (Chinese Lute), Duduk (Armenian Double Reed Instrument), Dizi (Chinese Flutes), Mbira (African Thumb Piano), Gamelan (Indonesian Gong Orchestra), Dumbek (Middle Eastern Drum) and Xun (Chinese Clay Flute). We combined these ethnic instruments and styles with the Western Orchestra.Q. In ATLA you wrote music for each major character, correct? Which character was easiest for you to come up with music for? Which character was the most difficult? and why?
A. Yeah, I think that’s true… it was probably easiest to find a theme for Iroh. he was just such a vibrant character and my personal favorite. also, there are several scenes where he was on camera playing a musical instrument. I think the first time was in season one when he played his Tsungi Horn (a fictional instrument). He had a subtle melancholy under his humor and strength which I really grabbed on to.
For some reason, it was really difficult to come up with Katara’s theme. We had something in the pilot that worked pretty well but it didn’t seem to be a very flexible theme. ie it didn’t work in a variety of different situations. A good theme has to be emotionally malleable. It needs to be able to work in action scenes, sad scenes, as subtle underscore, etc. it took a while to find something for Katara that worked in that way.Q. It seems like alot of unusual or uncommon instruments were used in ATLA, did you have prior experience with these instruments or did you learn them from scratch? If you learned from scratch, which was the hardest to learn?
A. I hadn’t done much work with ethnic instruments before Avatar. Again I was thrown in the fire! so we took Avatar as an opportunity to learn about a vast array of instruments. I studied the Pipa and Guzheng during Season’s 2 and 3 and Ben and I took some lessons on Gamelan. We also met with a Los Angeles Taiko ensemble and had them teach us about the various drums and the traditional Taiko rhythms and techniques. The whole process was really stimulating!
I have to say the pipa is an extremely difficult instrument. the right hand technique alone is insane…Q. Are you involved in anyway with the music in the upcoming Live Action adaptation of ATLA? What can you tell us about the Music in the Live Action Movie?
A. James Newton Howard will be doing the music for that. He’s a long time collaborator with M. Night Shyamalan (the movie’s director).Q. When are they finally going to release an official soundtrack ?
A. We’re hoping soon. Nickelodean is interested in it. There is a strong cry for it coming from the fans. I believe that if it becomes loud enough, a soundtrack will be released. In the meantime, we’ll be appearing on the composer panel at this year’s wonderCon. There will be copies of a super exclusive avatar promo soundtrack cd given out there. Of course it’ll only be available at wonderCon. (find more about WonderCon here: http://www.thetrackteam.com/news/2010/3/13/wondercon-2010-panel-participation.html)Q. I noticed this post here: http://www.thetrackteam.com/news/2010/2/4/avatar-the-last-airbender-documentary.html – Do you have anymore information on the “Avatar Documentary”
A. We know the director Kurt Matilla. He’s a very talented guy and is making something really great. Ben and I saw the first cut and it was really informative and entertaining. We don’t know when it’ll be released but we’re hoping very soon.Q. Anything else you think we should know about the ATLA Soundtrack?A. If you want it to happen, make your voices heard – like anything in a democracy…!
Jeremy talked alot about being “thrown into the fire” I think this is one of the reasons Avatar The Last Airbender was such a great show, most of the team were trying out new things, or were relatively new to show business in general. I think this meant that they were trying to prove themselves, so they poured their heart and soul into the project, making something very worthwhile.
Also The Avatar The Last Airbender team certainly did their homework and sought out authentic instruction and guidance from several cultures, The Soundtrack is a perfect example of this, perfectly blending several cultures into one awesome whole. Giving Avtar The Last Airbender the depth and interesting plot that it has.
Oh and by the way, Avatar fans should definitely do what they can to contact Nickelodean and let them know we want a soundtrack, you can find Nickelodeans Mailing address here so that you can mail them a letter asking for a soundtrack:
Click Here to Learn How to Contact Nickelodean
You may want to point them to the online petition here: http://www.petitiononline.com/mod_perl/signed.cgi?avatarST Which currently has over 10,000 signatures!
An official Avatar The Last Airbender Soundtrack would be way sweet!
Photo Gallery: Avatar The Last Airbender Soundtrack
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