Out Take: Composer Mark Isham


When Oscar-winning screenwriter John Ridley (12 Years a Slave) asked composer Mark Isham to score Ridley’s latest television series, ABC’s American Crime, Isham delivered work described as combining “modern baroque” and “contemporary electronic,” which perfectly illustrated the story of how several families were impacted by a singular event.

“It’s a sort of meeting of my two favorite worlds in a single project,” says Isham, whose work, in general, is typically split between an old world and a modern one.

“I don’t know if there is a label for it. It comes out of classical minimalism. John Adams is probably the biggest composer working in that genre writing for orchestra and string writing. It uses concepts of minimalism and attempts to make it tonal and beautiful at the same time. It’s a new idea in modern classical music.”

The composer started off as a piano player as a kid, then picked up the trumpet. Soon after, he discovered jazz and was always torn between that and his classical training.

Isham says if you let the world know what you’re doing, eventually your work will fall into the right hands.

His first film score was for Never Cry Wolf, a gig that Isham says everyone was “shocked” to find out he had landed. “But the director felt it was correct for the film,” he says. “He took a big gamble on me. I had never worked harder in my life. I applied myself extremely hard. I wanted to stay in that.” Then, to Isham’s surprise, Robert Redford asked him to score A River Runs Through It.

The key, Isham says, is putting in a solid day’s work. “I go in by 9:30. I sit at the piano with a piece of paper and pencil and do it old-school. Other times I come up with unique electronic systems to generate more modern electronic ideas.

“One thing about this business I really love,” he concludes, “is every project is an opportunity to learn. It’s a unique problem to solve.”

Web: Isham.com
Most Recent: American Crime

By Jessica Pace