California native Mark Morgan has had a vast career as a composer and musician – from touring with arena rock legends Starship to scoring for best-selling video games and hit TV shows such as One Tree Hill, you have undoubtedly heard Mark’s music. We heard that Mark uses Spectrasonics and Synthogy virtual instruments so got in touch with him to find out more...
You grew up in a highly creative environment with the combination of your mother as a classically trained pianist and your father as an architect – how did that influence you musically as you grew up?
Growing up both my parents were huge influences but in different ways. I think from my mom it was about the playing as it relates to technique and how that translates to the feel of the piano. In my dad’s case him being a part of the modern architecture movement of the ‘60s, which a large part was based around the idea of minimalism, I think influenced my writing not only from a visual perspective but musical as well.
Do you play any instruments other than the piano?
I play a little guitar just enough to get by in case one of my friends is unavailable to help me out. I also dabble in different types of hand drums. Thank god for Flex Time in Logic.
You went to the Berklee School of Music to continue your piano training and to learn composition but left after a few months. What did you do next?
After being in school for a minute I had this intense desire to play out more. I spent a couple of years playing in clubs and doing sessions, which then led to me spending most of the ‘80s on the road playing with different bands. In 1986 after touring with them I was asked to become a member of the Starship which I did till they disbanded in 1990...
Your music has very much an experimental and minimal approach – what instigated this style?
I’ve always been drawn to art with a minimalist aesthetic. Even as a kid I found myself on an emotional level being inspired by incomplex styles and experimental ideas. Besides the music I studied and listened to growing up I do think that architecture played a big part in forming that minimal approach.
The music for the video game Wasteland 2 was one of the most recent projects you worked on, how would you describe the finished soundtrack?
It’s very ambient and in some cases almost noise-based but also has a sort of a trance element. To capture the dark bleak atmosphere of the game the emotion was derived using sound and texture as opposed to traditional methods. Even the action music has that cold vibe but they do slam as well.
What other projects have you been working on recently?
I’m working on two games, another InXile project “Torment: Tides of Numenera” and “Stasis‘ from South African-based indie company The Brotherhood. I have also been doing some programming on a TV mini series ‘Under The Dome” with composer Snuffy Walden.
You´re a fan of hardware synthesizers - what can be found in your collection and which do you use most frequently?
The modular [eurorack] obsession has hit me hard so that’s creeping into the daily work flow. Braids from Mutable Instruments seem to be as of late, the go-to modules along with the Metropolis Sequencer from Intellijel and numerous modules from Make Noise and 4ms.
I have also been getting a few of my older synths repaired and or updated. Two of my favorites which I haven’t used for a while but have found their way back are the PPG Wave 2.3 and Jupiter 6, both of which I totally love.
I used both of them extensively on the last Starship record in 1988 and I forgot how cool they were.
Also, the Access Virus C and Nord Rack 2 and the Korg MS-20 are used almost every day. I’m really a fan of all these instruments, which makes it a joy to go into the studio every day.
Is there a particular synth you don´t have in your collection that you would love to own?
Keeping with the modular thing it would be a Buchla 200e system in some configuration. I like the layout, size of the modules and sonically it seems to have this very cool thing unto itself.
Let's talk about your studio, are you MAC or PC-based and which DAW are you running?
I’m MAC-based and a Logic user.
What are the other key pieces of hardware within your set-up?
For outboard gear I have a Joemeek twinQ2 channel strip or a Grace m201for the front-end depending on the vibe. I also have a Summit Audio stereo EQ which I’ve had for a while, along with a Joemeek stereo compressor. For monitoring I use a Grace 904 with the controller.
I have used MOTU interfaces [2408, 24io] modded by Black Lion Audio for a while partly because of the numerous ins and outs, but I’m switching over to the Apollo16 interface because of the thunderbolt connectivity and the plugins, not only because they sound amazing but due to the latency issue as well.
For clocking the DAW to the modular as well as anything midi clock-related I would be lost without the Sync-gen11LS for the eurorack and sync-gen pro for the midi gear by Innerclock Systems.
What´s the most unusual piece of gear in your studio?
For sure that would be the Swarmatron by Dewanatron Musical Instruments.
It’s quirky but the oscillator and filter sound amazing and I don’t think there is anything else that sounds like it.
Moving on to software, we hear you use Spectrasonics Omnisphere – what is it about this instrument that you love?
I think for an in-the-box synth sonically it sounds great and from a programming point-of-view, it is very deep as well. I think there is no denying that a lot of scores for film and television sound the way they do because of Omnisphere.
Which features of Omnisphere do you find yourself using the most?
Besides the regular things like automating the filter or tweaking the envelopes, the modulation possibilities are endless. I think you can almost look at it in the modular sense. Inside the edit page you can modulate just about anything with anything which is really powerful, to come up with something altogether different from where you started.
In terms of sounds, are there any particular genres/categories within Omnisphere that you find yourself diving into most frequently?
One thing I’ve been doing lately is grabbing samples from different categories, then start blending to see which ones can work together. You can come up with some amazing stuff that way. Once you get a cool blend then start modulating. I also really love the different panning possibilities.
Another Time+Space favourite – ´Ivory II pianos´ from Synthogy, also features in your set-up. Why do you choose to use this piano software over and above the many others on the market today?
I believe I tried most of them but the Ivory just speaks to me from both a feel and sound perspective.
Do you have a favourite Ivory piano?
Yes, I use the German Concert D Grand 11. It seems to be the warmest and most realistic for what I’m going for. I like playing very soft and even, especially when playing under dialogue so this piano works perfect for that. I use the Extra Resonance 2 and boost both the sympathetic resonance and the pedal noise to 3/4 and also a little boost to the key noise. I like hearing all the artifacts that a real piano has and the Ivory seems to be closest I have found. Even when it’s completely exposed in a minimal setting it sounds amazing.
What was the last project you used Ivory pianos on?
I used it on everything last week: “Under The Dome,” “Torment: Tides of Numenera” and “Stasis.” It works in all settings.
According to Wikipedia, you´re also a surfer, do you have much time to get out on the waves these days?
Funny you should ask as I’m leaving for El Salvador in a week with another composer friend for a surf trip. I’m stoked, predictions look good for a good swell that week.
Finally, what else (that you know of!) does 2014 have in store for you?
One added game in the works and programming another TV series for a friend in the fall.
To find out more about Mark and his upcoming projects your can visit his website here