Erman Baradi (@Erman_LA) Talks With Roc Chen, The Creative Behind Disney Shangai & More
Hi Roc! Thank you for taking your time for this interview. As an Asian American I love connecting with Asians in the entertainment industry. I would love to know first and foremost how you got started in music. Then, how did you find yourself in the industry?
I almost grew up with a piano keyboard in my right hand and computer keyboard in my left hand. Nowadays I’m playing both. Computer & technics are such an important element in music production. When I started learning to play classical piano, I liked to keep the sustain pedal down to make a bigger reverb for a more background/underscore music so I can also hear other people talk and I guess that is how I started film music. While I was in college, I almost spent half of time in an orchestra band and the other half in creating music for video games. Musically it’s like half of my world is orchestra and the other half is technics and electronic music. Later on some of the music I composed for video games caught the attention of some film directors who eventually got me into the film industry.
How were you approached for the job to join the music team for the Alice in Wonderland ride at Shanghai?
What I did as a Chinese music consultant for Kung Fu Panda 3 caught the attention of Disney people who needed some advisement with Chinese elements, and then my friends at Dreamworks Animation introduced me to them.
Is your approach to making music different for every project, whether it’s for film, a ride, or a video game?
No matter if it’s a film or a ride or a video game, every project is both the same and different. It is the same because I always tend to use music to help the project in some way: like using music to enhance the picture, using music to give a more extravagant ride to tourists or using music to give video game players a better experience. But at the same time every project is different in the different ways we can enhance it. Some projects would require a lot of happy notes, some would require just a few sad notes to make it actually fun. In the end I always find a unique way with the director to make a better film/video game.
You have a brilliant career in film composition with movies I consider personal favorites. What did you take from composing movies – like techniques and methods – to help create music for something unique like an amusement park ride?
There’re a lot of techniques I use for creating a film soundtrack. I’ve built a system of my own to automatically get all the stems/multitracks of different musical instruments into different tracks in my mix rig, which saves tons of time during the post-production stage – especially nowadays when the schedule of post-production stage is usually tight. There’s also one technique we used when doing the Alice Maze called Source-Connect, which allows us to remotely monitoring/record musicians world-wide in high quality. Chinese recording studios/engineers are not quite familiar with this technology and I told one of my assistants/colleagues in China to install it on the machine in one of the big scoring stages in Beijing. We did a few tests between LA and Beijing and we managed to get the internet/protocol working smoothly.
Tell us about working with Danny Elfman! What’s the process like in collaborating with a legend?
The original music theme from the Alice in Wonderland film is written by Danny Elfman. We wanted the tourists at Shanghai to hear choirs singing Chinese in the Alice Maze! We had a meeting along with a beautiful lady from Disney Imagineer who wrote the lyrics, then we tried lots of different choices to put Chinese lyrics to the original & adapted melody to make sure not only the translation fits the taste of Chinese audience, but also musically it sounds great! Later on we also recorded the music with my female choirs in Beijing. Danny and I sit here in Los Angeles and remote-recorded the beautiful voices from Beijing and we loved the result, it sounds truly a combination of east and west. This recording is also the first time for an LA music team to remotely record the voices in China, so I truly feel like I was pioneering the bringing of East and West together musically.
How do you blend eastern and western sensibilities when CREATING/PRODUCING music for the Shanghai ride, set in Asia but based on a classic American fairy tale?
I think I’ll have to answer the same thing as I answered on how the experience was with Danny Elfman
Do you have any video games coming up in the near future? How about films?
I am working on some exciting projects – some of them are from Beijing and some of them are from Los Angeles. I’m traveling frequently from my Los Angeles music studio to my Beijing music studio, trying to be one of the most international film composer! I also just record orchestra in Nashville for an animation film which will release around the end of July. Due to NDA reasons I can’t say the name or details of the projects I’m doing yet, but certainly you’ll enjoy them later this year and next year!
What would you like to accomplish next in your career? You have done a ride, so what else could you possibly do next that is different from other composers’ careers?
Keep writing good music for good projects! As I know the taste of both the Western audience and Eastern audience, I’m trying to create film music which is borderless and international, which will be enjoyed by not only the western audience, but also the eastern audience. I guess this is what’s unique about my music.
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