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Daniel Licht Headshot

The Art of Writing a TV Score

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I have had the good fortune to work on a composer's dream show Dexter, and now I am happy to be a part of the Deception team which, like Dexter, calls for a bold score that stands out. When a show excels in writing, acting, and directing, the composer is free to experiment and explore. The music becomes its own character, bringing an added dimension to the project.

I approach each scoring project as if it is a puzzle I am trying to piece together -- except that I also have to invent the puzzle pieces!

Generally, I will start by focusing first on the instrumentation of the score, which can be influenced by many things. As I watch the project, I ask myself a series of questions. Is this a story on a grand scale, such as an historical epic? If so, I might want to use a large orchestra and choir. Is it a very intimate drama with only one or two main characters? If so, I might choose solo guitar or piano as my main instruments. What role does location play? The local musical style can also influence these choices. Dexter took place in Miami and even though Dexter is not Latin himself, I integrated Spanish guitar into the score. Spanish guitar is also featured in Ennio Morricone's spaghetti western scores, and by using it in Dexter, I am making a subtle connection between the vigilantes featured in these past and our current anti-hero, Dexter.

In Deception, Detective Joanna Locasto goes undercover to investigate the death of her best friend Vivian, a notorious socialite from one of America's wealthiest families. The series is very cinematic and has many twists and turns that unfold throughout the season. Deception is centered on the Bowers family and many scenes take place on their lush estate. I chose to use a rich string section with piano to accentuate the family's wealth and status.

I felt the score should be classy and elegant but I also needed it to push the mystery. The feeling I tried to engender with the score is one of unease -- a hint that something is not quite right here. As a recurring mystery theme, I chose an insistent piano figure set against a bed of churning strings, which creates a sense of turbulence and danger.

The characters in Deception are complex and you can never be sure who is lying and who is not. To intensify the ambiguity of the characters' motives, I chose an approach that erred on the side of transparency while being careful not to become melodramatic or tip the drama one way or the other.

An interesting device used by the filmmakers is flashbacks, and not just flashbacks of our heroine Joanna, but for all the characters. In response to this, I have developed a sound for each character's flashbacks. I hope to make the audience feel as if they are being transported into the psyche of each character.

Joanna's flashbacks are centered on her loss and her inability to help her friend. I decided to feature strings and a slow sad piano theme throughout the show that gradually gets lower and slows down. This creates the experience of a downward descent for the viewer. Vivian, who is Joanna's deceased friend, appears in everyone's flashbacks. She also has her own theme: a pulsing plaintive synthesizer music bed, featuring a distant sad solo violin. My idea for this violin theme, her leitmotif, was to evoke the sound of a haunting cry from beyond. Vivian's stepmother is Sophia who is a force of gravity in the family. For her scenes I like to use a music box. The sounds serve to emphasize her inner fragility and iciness.

As you watch 'Deception' this Monday, I invite you to listen carefully to the score and see if you can discern the various themes I have developed. Enjoy the show and write me at: info@danlicht.com