Aural Reports

High art, low art-to composer Hans Karl, it's all fodder for inspiration.

How did you become a composer?

I was about 7 when I started taking piano lessons. I sang in choirs. I danced and sang in musicals at La Habra High. In college at Cal State Fullerton, I studied music and theory. My B.A. was in sociology with an emphasis in child development. I graduated, then did some social work and didn't care for it too much. Then I studied music for a few more years. I did the life-of-the-artist thing a bit, odd jobs. And in high school and college, I played in rock bands, too.

Your music seems to blend your classical background with your rock background.

I really got into rock in my teen years, like a lot of people did. I have a love of a lot of kinds of music. As a kid, I heard the scores to Jaws and Star Wars, and I flipped. I loved film music. After college, I wanted to score stuff.

And scoring for visual arts is a lot of what you do now?

Yeah. In the past six years, that's been a lot of what I do. I'm not only a big film buff, but I'm also a huge comic-book fan. When I read a comic book, oftentimes, I'll get music. Sequential art is super-inspiring for music. Comics, sequential art, films, video games—those really inspire me for music. I've done several animated pieces. I love anything with a fantastical or otherworldly quality to it. I'd love to work on animated features and video games. I did music for the artist Shag. Initially, I released my own indie instrumental CDs, and I scored an indie film. I sent those out and got PBS interviews to score, and one of them was with Shag. Shag e-mailed me and said he dug the music, so I proposed to him to do an album called Shagxotica, which was music inspired by his paintings. The year after I did Shagxotica, I met an artist named Ragnar at Comic-Con and did an album inspired by his art. From his paintings, I vibed off more of a serious tone.

People might be inclined to think that musicians would be inspired by music, painters would be inspired by other painters. But it seems you take a lot of inspiration from the visual arts.

Yeah, big time. I never sat down and decided that. I also think it's because I'm a visualist, too, but maybe deep down inside a frustrated one. I went to design school. I studied fashion design. I absolutely loved designing the clothes on paper, but I couldn't stand pattern drafting and creating clothes. While I was at that school, I realized I loved graphics and design. I was really into photography in high school. I've always been into visual expression, but I always felt that music got out the most depth from inside. When I look at a still painting, several moods will strike me. Then what I do is fill in the blanks for a fuller musical story. It doesn't always have to be a story that was there as the artist intended because it's my own musical interpretation. What I'm doing is an interactive work inspired by what they did. In that way, it's sequential, too, like a chain. I'd like to find an artist to take an album I haven't released yet and have them make a painting or illustration from my music. It would be fun to get someone else's take on my music.

That makes sense, since words like “color” are often used to describe music.

I would say it's not just color; it becomes a world of moods that can shift or go anywhere. There's a lot of structure in film music, but you're dealing with feelings and moods and emotions. It moves through time and can be matched to images.

Sometimes people might be dismissive about composing music for video games, but that's a medium that has progressed.

People are starting to recognize them as more of an art form, especially in the art design and music. A lot of film composers are scoring video games now. Danny Elfman did the main titles for Fable. Video games are starting to be seen as a viable place to be artistic.

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