Haunting Columbia College Chicago

Haunting Columbia College Chicago

For the past seven weeks, the composers in the Music Composition for the Screen program have been working closely with composer Ceiri Torjussen on an absolutely gripping and terrifying horror film called The Canal. This blog post will focus on the process of working with composers-in-residence, as well as the individual experiences the class of 2021 has had so far with Ceiri (pictured below).

Ceiri in his studio

A program that is unique to Columbia College Chicago is our Composers-in-Residence program. The composers-in-residence that are brought in to CCC are composers at the height of their careers who workshop with us on their original projects from start to finish. This is an amazing experience for many reasons, but one of the most compelling is that we are put into real life situations and face the same challenges that the composer-in-residence faced when scoring the project originally. Our first assignment on The Canal was tricky because we were told to watch the film and then score two scenes with only the temp music as a reference as to the tone and pacing of the score. This challenged us to think outside the box and to “spot” a scene ourselves without communication from the director. It is safe to say that all of our first cues for the first week with Ceiri were lacking in the scary department, even though we all put our scariest, most terrifying music forward. Since it was most of our first times doing any horror music, it was quite easy to underestimate how scary a scene could really be.

This was most certainly by design because our next assignment followed Ceiri’s exact trajectory! We were then given the task to go out and record at least two instruments (as Ceiri did after his first round of cues) of our choosing and have them do crazy things and make frightening sounds with whatever instruments/objects we decided to sample. Following the recording session we were to make Kontakt instruments out of our samples to be used in the score. This was an amazing opportunity to experiment and throw ideas at the wall. I recorded the previous Graduate Ambassador, Brian Herald, on alto, tenor, and bari saxophone, which was great because I got the chance to not only work with an amazing sax player but an exceptional composer as well. We had lots of fun putting together some wild sounds including multi-phonics, slap-tongue, quarter-tones, and more. Another group of composers from my year went over to the Sherwood building (pictured below) of Columbia’s campus and rented out the recital hall. They recorded a bunch of percussion instruments and used other objects found in the hall as well, including bowing a music stand! Another crucial part of the assignment for that second week was to revise our first two cues using our newly created sounds, as well as to write an original piece of music using solely our personal sounds. If you would like to hear some of the suites we created, please check out the music shared above which features suites and cues from members of the class of 2021, as well as from our instructor!

Markus, Jiawei, Will, Dylan, Hun Ouk, and Zhaohong recording!

Discovering the bowed music stand

After that recording assignment, each cue has been much easier to write, since we all created a solid musical foundation for the whole score to sit on! Since then, we have scored a dozen cues in The Canal with Ceiri as our “director” and compositional mentor, and it has been a complete blast. As an MFA student at Columbia College Chicago, you get to work with 3 different composers-in-residence throughout your two year degree, and it is simply the best time of your life! We are currently finishing up our first 7 weeks of our second year and are expecting our 3rd and final composer-in-residence next week, Jonathan Thomas Miller.

Working with Ceiri has been a real honor. It’s been a pleasure to learn from his years of experience working in the industry. Not only is he a fantastic composer, but also a great teacher and mentor who strives to push us to our limits and expand our minds. It has been a real treat being back in the classroom and learning in person once again after a whole first year being remote!