Snippet. Sketch. Draft. Before I started analyzing some of my favorite film soundtracks from recent years, I would have immediately categorized Cask as one of those things. Now, I hear this as a cue for a film score.

Friends have often characterized my music as being visual and encouraged me to try to get into scoring work. Growing up, I listened to movie scores from John Williams, Jerry Goldsmith, Elmer Bernstein… almost all orchestral, multiple themes, big arrangements. Iconic works in most respects. And they were always what I thought of as modern “classical” music. But there was an entire world I didn’t know about.

  1. Cask Ray Toler 2:19

I first heard Phillip Glass’s name in 1986 while taking a course on large-scale commercial theater and opera production. My professor covered modern works like The Civil Wars and Einstein on the Beach. I didn’t actually hear anything by Phillip Glass until a few years later when I checked out Songs From Liquid Days from the library. It was challenging, completely different from anything I was expecting. And I kind of didn’t like it all that much. But I couldn’t stop listening to it or thinking about it for a long time.

A few years later, I got to do the score for a corporate video. For one of the sections, the director wanted “something like Steve Reich.” I’d never heard of Steve Reich, but headed out and bought the first album I found with the interesting title of Music for 18 Musicians. It was a single track. It was an hour long. It was the weirdest thing I’d ever heard. And I kind of didn’t like it all that much. But I couldn’t stop listening to it either.

Neither of my introductions to modern (post-modern? I can never keep up) minimalist composers was something that I enjoyed, but they affected me. They influenced a lot of my compositional tendencies and listening preferences. I don’t think it’s an accident that I ended up liking repetitive ambient techno so much – there’s a meditative quality to it all. Each track becomes its own mantra.

And they’ve clearly influenced a lot of other composers and music directors as well. I thought it was an inspired choice to use Music for 18 Musicians in the competition countdown sequence of The Hunger Games. It has this teeth-on-edge tension to it that perfectly captured everything in a series of pulsing chords.

This minimalistic influence has made its way into more and more films. Not necessarily the giant summer blockbusters, although it’s telling that Phillip Glass did the score for the recent Fantastic Four movie, but for more of the movies that I find myself watching and enjoying like Interstellar (Hans Zimmer) and Arrival (Johann Johannsson).

So while Cask is simple, minimal, there’s more going on than may initially be obvious. It’s as much about the textures, the quiet organ-like sound under the piano, the second, brighter piano moving in and then leaving again, the darkness of the bass, that also becomes brighter before diminishing. The full work I wrote for this entry is about five minutes long, but it was mostly experimenting with different things moving in and out, slowly and subtly. For Song-A-Day purposes, two minutes is plenty.

This could be the main theme for a drama, dark mystery or thriller, or even tense sci-fi. It’s easily the foundation for many variations, some bigger and heavier, some lighter, but always there and always moving. I’m going to be working on two independent film scores later this year, and this might be one of the contenders for main theme.


  • Piano I, reversed textures, bass: Omnisphere
  • Piano II, organ pad: Kurzweil K2600

Next up: The Old Zerp and Flerp

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