Behind the Sound of The Futures Channel
|Stephen Jay is the composer of the music enhancing The Futures Channel’s popular documentaries. Photo by Jenna Bowles|
Lounging in the stunning studio he self-converted from its previous life housing bulls at MUSE Ranch, Jay emphasizes, “Fractions and ratios are at the heart of how music actually works… it starts with developing a solid understanding of the fundamentals in the purely mathematical abstract sense, and being able to picture the fractions, ratios and geometric objects in some way… from there it can grow to become part of your intuitive process.”
Though a mathematical foundation plays a vital role in Jay’s work, there is no universal equation for the products he ultimately produces. He stresses that, “almost every show calls for a completely different approach. And if it doesn’t, then a new approach should probably be used for that very reason.”
For The Futures Channel movie, “Testing Bats,” it wasn’t a character that inspired the music, but an image. “The images of baseball bats being put through the paces had a lot of impact scenes, so that was the viscerally exciting element that I had to work with.”
In that video, smooth and calm were the adjectives furthest from Jay’s mind. The visual explosion of ball to bat called for short, hard percussive hits and bold, dynamic chords, to raise the adrenaline in the viewer as much as actually stepping to the plate.
From his early musical inspirations, such as Woodstock alum Sly and the Family Stone, Jay learned to always do things differently; to play differently, to think differently and to never re-trace old footsteps.
He tells the story about creating the score for The Futures Channel video on rescuing the black-footed ferret population and how the setting of the video was as much an inspiration as the ferret itself. For Jay and the video’s producers, the wide-open plains and endless sky of Colorado seemed to beckon something along the lines of the Americana compositions of Aaron Copeland. The difficulty in this, however, was to capture Copeland’s essence without creating the mortal sin of ripping him off.
He spent weeks studying Copeland and his influences, trying to “find” a sound that felt right. Just as he was ready to ditch the idea to look for something else that would work, an audio shard came to him—a spark. As he played and built upon the little progression that entered his head, Jay knew that his studying and resulting familiarity with Copeland’s work had lead to the creation of a sound reminiscent of the legendary composer—a musical structure and melodic pattern similar to that used by Copeland to capture the musical language of the American landscape, but still unique. [See clip below.]
Sometimes, finding what one is looking for just happens; in this case not by mathematical diligence or scientific logic, but by the intensive study of a genius and allowing that knowledge to influence his musical approach.