We Talk Scoring The New Tom And Jerry With Composer Vivek Maddala

Recently I spoke with composer Vivek Maddala about his work on the new Tom and Jerry as well as his career. I want to thank him for taking the time to speak with us.


How did you get into composing?


I’ve been writing music since I was around 7 years old, and I first became excited about film music after hearing Bernard Herrmann’s score for Hitchcock’s North by Northwest (seeing it on television as a child). For various reasons, I didn’t study composition at university and chose instead to pursue other things… but I was always writing and recording music regardless of what else I was ostensibly focused on. I suppose you could say writing music is a compulsion for me. I’ve always had melodies and rhythms pouring out of me.


What was your experience with Tom and Jerry prior to the project and where did you look for inspiration?


I had no direct experience with Tom and Jerry, other than having viewed classic Tom and Jerry cartoons as a child, like most everyone else. But I did have a lot of experience writing for similar kinds of programs. I also have a [probably unreasonable and unhealthy] preoccupation with detail and all manner of minutiae — which I think serves me well on the “Tom and Jerry Show.” The composition and orchestration on a show like this must be, out of creative and stylistic necessity, extremely intricate and detailed. So it’s a fairly natural fit for me.


I draw inspiration from countless sources, some of which I may even be unaware. Certainly, the original Scott Bradley scores for Tom and Jerry formed an initial template. Fundamentally, the music serves the picture, story, characters, and setting — so they serve as the initial impetus. As far as musical architecture goes, what I’m writing can probably trace its roots back to 18th-Century European traditions, but is undoubtedly also drawn from present-day influences (from all over the world) and much in between. I like to think there are no boundaries, neither temporal nor geographical, to what can inspire me.


What can you tell us about the challenges presented with the project?


The main challenges are logistical. The music is very difficult to write and the volume of work is immense. Each episode contains wall-to-wall score, and always with melody and counterpoint. Every physical action on screen is tied to a musical event, but this doesn’t result in discrete musical gestures that exist in isolation. The musical phrases conspire to create cohesive themes and musical passages with lucid melodic and harmonic structure. Additionally, the music fills in emotional components of the characters, in effect helping to humanize them. The music sometimes plays against picture, punctuating irony, and sometimes foreshadows things to come. On occasion, the music serves to suggest references to popular culture, or world affairs, or historic events, or even literary characters. All of this requires an enormous amount of planning and careful preparation.


How long does it take to score each episode?


I usually spend about 5 days on an episode, although I’ve done episodes in 3 days (which is difficult but doable). This includes initial spotting, writing themes, detailed scoring and orchestration, MIDI programming and recording (performing a lot of parts myself), transcribing MIDI into playable music notation, recording live orchestral sections, mixing, mastering, and delivery. All of this comprises usually 60 or so hours. I’ve done episodes in as little as 30 hours, and some have taken as many as 80 hours. I do work very quickly.


How many episodes have you scored to date?


To date, I’ve complete 33 episodes, and I’m working on two new episodes now, and I’ve pre-scored another three (which I’ll be scoring later this season). By the time this season is complete, I will have scored around 80 episodes.


What do you have upcoming?


In addition to scoring films and television series, I produce albums for various artists and play live shows with different bands. I’m currently producing roughly half the tracks on Gingger Shankar’s new album for Concord Records, and also performing with her. I also perform with the band String Theory, and on occasion play shows with The Oopsadaisies, a new group whose debut album I just produced. It’s fun to mix it up! Also, on April 28th, the Daytime Emmy Awards will be held here in Los Angeles, and I’ve been informed that I’ve been nominated for an Emmy for my work on the “Tom and Jerry Show” — so I’m excited about that too.