Robert J. Kral music composer on Angel, had the kindness to answer our questions
Find below his interview.
Another big thank you to him.
Is it true that you worked on season 2 of Buffy as Ghost-wirter with Christophe Beck? Is it through this work that you have become the composer on Angel show ?
Yes I did work on some of Buffy the Vampire Slayer for Christophe Beck however it was only a very small number of cues. These were just times when Chris was extremely busy and needed a little help with the workload. A joy to work on! It is through my years of working for Chris prior to this that I came to work on Angel. I had worked for Chris on may productions for several years before contributing to Buffy and musically our styles naturally work well together. Chris and I were both students at USC’s film scoring program. We were bred to help out on a TV show called « White Fang ». The composer for that show was one of our teachers from USC where we had studied but we were in separate years so this is how we came to first work together. During our work on this show I noticed that my style was very similar to Chris’s and I’m sure this is something Chris strongly noticed. Soon after White Fang, Chris’s career took off very quickly and he became very busy. He hired me to contribute composing on many projects over about 4 years before the Angel opportunity arose, so by then we knew each other very well and had worked very closely together. I learned an immense amount of technique from him and am so truly thankful!
Follow you Buffy and Angel when broadcast ? If so, do you have a favorite episode ?
I had not watched a lot of Buffy though I do love the show. And once work began on Angel I was busy basically around the clock 7 days a week and didn’t have time to watch Buffy. I watched Angel of course as I worked on it since episode one, and wanted to check how it all turned out as each episode went to air. My favorite episodes of Angel are Hero, Darla, ARe You Now Or Have You Ever Been, Hole in the World, Faith, the Pylea trio of episodes and many many others. All of the folks working and writing the scripts for the show were immensely talented, but my favorite episodes are usually ones written by Tim Minear. The studio would send me each episode when ready before we would meet to discuss music. Often I would watch one thinking « Wow, this is amazing, I wonder if this is Tim Minear’s » and it would always work out that it was! He is such a good writer. The Joss Whedon written episodes were also spectacular. The overall story arcs in Angel were just superb and it’s amazing how they developed the characters over the 5 years.
1×09 Hero – Hero (@Liam in Galway)
2×20 – Welcome to Pylea (@Liam in Galway)
2×03 /2×05 /2×07 – Dreaming of Darla (@ Always the Slayer)
Darla’s Sacrifice (@ Liam in Galway)
How do you organize your work for the show (to the first idea at the composition) ? Did you have a time limit? if so, was it difficult to hold ?
The studio sends me an episode to watch and prepare for a meeting called the Spotting Session where we discuss music, and the sound effects guys are also there. These were held with David Greenwalt and occasionally Joss Whedon. We determine exactly where there is music and what it needs to do. After this meeting I would add up the number of minutes of music that we had discussed would be required and divide that number by 5 or sometimes 6 as this was the number of days I had to write each episodes score. Specifically we would meet on Friday and I would have until the next Thursday or sometimes earlier to provide the finished music, recorded and mixed and approved. This meant that by around Wednesday I had to present the music as they would need to check for any changes required, and allow room to re-write or adapt music to those changes. Around sac Thursday they would mix that music in with the dialog and sound effects and then Friday would be the next episode. This happened each week for every season so the work was absolutely non stop. With usual about 34 minutes of music it was definitely a challenge to keep that amount of output going each week! The biggest challenge was for DARLA which required 38 minutes of music in literally just four days. That’s nearly ten minutes of music a day, and all of it was original and new, nothing was re-used or tracked in. Without any other composer help to get me out that was a very intense four days, but what a fantastic story in the episode and it was very inspiring, so thankfully the music came easily but was still a mountain of work to get through. In the end it’s my favorite score for the series so it worked out well, and I know Tim Minear who wrote the episode was thrilled with the music too.
Joss Whedon and David Greenwalt do they impose you a style or do they leave you full creative freedom ?
The style had basically been established with Buffy already, in that it was usually orchestral and scored like a film. Whilst there are some comedic lighter moments, the style was to remain orchestral and serious, dark, moody, mysterious etc. The action scenes such as the fights were composed in a style that actually tends to suggest a mythical battle in terms of the intensity. It might be a first fight between Angel and Spike but it might as well be two mythical warriors who hold the universe in the fate of the outcome. Well, in many ways that is true as it turns out! That is the thing about Buffy and Angel, we have some ordinary looking characters but they are dealing with the Apocalypse and the gates of Hell on any given day! So within this broader established style there was still a lot of freedom within that. Often the editors would track in some music of mine as temp to see how it was working and give the flavor of what they wanted, so I could use that as a guide. But very very rarely was anything re-used in the final show. What I mean is recordings weren’t re-used, but themes were certainly presented for different characters, such as Darla for example who had her own theme presented in many different ways throughout her story arc.
Start The Apocalypse – (@Liam InGalway)
2×07 – Darla – Rebellion – (@Liam InGalway)
Do you have a story to share about your « Angel » years ?
What first comes to mind is mentioned above, which is the workload and time constraint for the DARLA episode. One of the producers alerted me ahead of time: « Rob, next week we have an episode coming up and we only can give you 4 days to complete it » « Oh boy » I thought. « I hope it’s one with less music! » The producer went further, « It’s a big one, I think it’s maybe even wall-to wall » (meaning non stop music). I took a deep breath and mentally psyched myself up for it. I didn’t have any other composers helping for this and just kept thinking « broad strokes, broad strokes, oh my God this is gonna be ten minutes of music per day how the heck? Ok, ok, broad strokes », meaning like a painter I might need to use a wide brush and broad strokes across the canvas to fill it up quickly! The episode came in and I was in awe of what I watched, a brilliantly written episode that just stunned me. Fantastic sense and characters going deeper into the past revealing who they are, where they came from and what they’ve now become. Just a BRILLIANT episode penned by Tim Minear, I was speechless after watching it. So inspiration came easily. At the spotting session there’s a scene with Spike, Angel, Drusilla and Darla in the past, the glory years. THis was a crossover scene from the Buffy episode that would air right before it…where the gang is experiencing their glory days but in the Angel episode the very same scene is shown through Angel’s eyes and we learn he is very much not into it, that he is backing out of his evil ways and questioning his company. Still, when the gang marches along through a fire ravaged village Tim said « WAGNER!!!! ROB I WANT WAGNER!! Big huge horns this is RIDE OF THE VALKYRIES!!! »
« Oh Boy », I thought « we’re not holding back and this is going to be wonderful for the workload of 4 days! God help me!! »
AS it turned out, once I got into it, the writing came swiftly and dare I say it easily. The episode was just so fantastic it’s as if I couldn’t stop writing. The Wagner style scene wasn’t so much a challenge as it was a joy and easily expressed through the big music. It’s like I couldn’t wait to tell the story musically in supporting the episode and before I knew it the heavy four days was over and Tim loved the results. I didn’t need to resort to broad strokes, I truly loved writing it in what ever detail was needed. I feel it’s the best music I wrote for the show. What was something I feared turned out to be my favorite episode ever.
Do you prefer to compose for action scenes or romantic scenes? You did it happen to miss inspiration ?
I prefer sweeping romance, and epic styles! I enjoy action, and just about everything I’ve worked on is full of action scenes so I’ve had a LOT of experience with it. But as a midi composer usually requiring me to perform all of the tracks, writing and performing the action music can be quite exhausting! Action scenes often involve about a hundred tracks of instruments and I perform them all by multi tracking basically speaking. That takes a lot of energy! What comes naturally to me though is romantic music, gentler scenes, and also big sweeping epic material for some reason. I loved scoring the HERO and DARLA episodes so much for example, and things like the end of the episode where Angel gives Conor a new home and family (the « Home » track on the soundtrack album). I have a new animated movie coming out early 2017 called « Justice League: Dark » and there are some huge scenes in it I just loved scoring, But there are some tender scenes too. One of those at the end builds to sweeping epic and it’s one of the favorite moments I’ve ever scored. There will be a soundtrack album for it, so if fans want to check it out the track I’m referring to is called « Returning Home ».
What are the Show / movies on which you preferred to work? What are your future projects ?
I really enjoy mysterious, spooky shows but also heartfelt movies and material. So Angel was perfect for me and a pure thrill. The same can be said for MIRACLES which was just 13 episodes as it turned out, with David Greenwalt and Richard Hatem as directors. It was an amazing show where spiritual things were happening that appeared to be wonderful and good and from God, but as you looked closer it became apparent that perhaps these were actually evil things with a sinister agenda, a fantastic and spine tingling show full of awesome moments that were a joy to score musically. The horror film I worked on « The Haunting in Connecticut » had intense horror music writing, but also a lot of tender moments as the family tried to work together, and care for the son. The mom in the story prays for her son in the big finale as the haunted house is burning and they are inside and I wrote an evocative song based on Psalm 23, it’s a powerful moment and you have people in the audience literally crying during a horror movie! For me, I love to write emotional music like this. Providing and guiding and creating deep emotions is what drew me to this profession.
Recently I just completed « Justice League: Dark » for Warner Bros Animation. It will be released on DVD in February 2017, and will also have a soundtrack album. I feel it contains some of the best music I’ve ever written, and it’s a fantastic story and production. It involves characters that are famous in the comic book world but never been on screen before, lots of action and adventure, and darkness as it crosses into the spiritual realm leaving the Justice League somewhat clueless and characters such as Constantine and Zatanna as the experts. I am about to start a new Scooby Doo! animated movie also so I feel my stye range is fairly well rounded!
Do you have other passion besides music ?