Film Composer: Mark Orton

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Mark Orton • Musician/Composer • Most Recent Work: Nebraska

Among composer Mark Orton’s most recent works is the film score for the Oscar-nominated Nebraska. Orton found his way into film composing through his work with Bay-area folk bluegrass collective Tin Hat Trio.

“The music with Tin Hat Trio was licensed in movies a lot, and over time I started to write other music and take on film scores,” Orton says.

Besides Tin Hat and collaborations with the likes of Tom Waits and Willie Nelson, Orton has scored several films including Big Significant Things and neo-western Redemption Trail.

“I look for the inner personality of the film that I can reflect in the music as well as look at individual characters and how they might be reflected musically,” says Orton.

“I like things where music is a character in the film and not just used as a textural backdrop or to nudge scenes in emotional directions. Twenty or more of the 28 pieces of music in Nebraska are not under dialogue; it’s just image and music. I’m drawn to that, because there’s a lot of artistic freedom.”

Orton’s penchant for acoustic instruments, many of which he collects, lends itself to both the scenery and plot of Nebraska, which is about an estranged father and son’s road trip.

“I use an organic palette of acoustic instruments and textures. I think that is associated with open spaces and road trips. A film like Nebraska, you’re in the plains. It’s not like you couldn’t do something sweeping and orchestral, but I think it’s not the first thing that comes to mind,” Orton says.

“And I like motion, too. I think the group Tin Hat was a lot of people’s first entrance into my world and what I create. There’s a certain groove sense in that group and strong rhythmic component. The rhythmic side of things goes a lot with travel and road trips.”

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