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Tuned In Tuesday: Composer Dustin O’Halloran Talks Transparent [Exclusive] 

dustin o'halloran

One of the best small screen surprises in recent memory has to be the arrival of Amazon Studios’ Transparent. The ten episode first season focuses on the Pfefferman family just as they all find out that the patriarch of this quirky clan is transgender.

As Mort transitions into life as Maura, most of her family members end up facing their own identity issues. Transparent has won two Golden Globes — one for Best Comedy and one for Best Performance by an Actor in a Comedy (Jeffrey Tambor). Earlier this year, the groundbreaking series picked up an AFI Award and a GLAAD Media Award.

Music, of course, is a key component to the series that succeeds in making viewers feel almost as much as the characters do. Dustin O’Halloran‘s compositions are a big part of that. His opening theme song is especially effective in setting an emotional tone for the series. When he’s not creating music for the scripted universe, he’s working on his own projects that include solo collections as well as a collaboration with Adam Wiltzie under the name, A Winged Victory for the Sullen. In this Tuned In, we exclusively talk to the composer and self-taught pianist about his career and composing music for Transparent.

TV GOODNESS: What was the path that led you to composing music for TV and films? Was this something you always wanted to do?
Dustin O’Halloran: “I think it was always in the back of my mind. Films and film music had always been a big influence. I guess its been a natural evolution, but I always continue to write music for myself. You can’t forget the muse.”

TV GOODNESS: What do you consider your big break? And what do you remember most about that experience?
Dustin: “My first time writing for film was for Sofia Coppola’s Marie Antoinette. Brian Reitzell (Hannibal, Boss, Lost in Translation), her music supervisor, contacted me and asked if I would be up for writing a piece of music. It was before they started filming and I only had a bunch of pictures and ideas to work with. They ended up editing to the piece of music I did so I didn’t see the picture until it was finished.  It was a really natural way to work.”

TV GOODNESS: You’ve lived in places all around the world. Have the places you’ve lived informed your music?
Dustin: “I think everything informs your music, especially the places I have lived. Living in Europe has definitely had a big impact on my music. There is an amazing scene of music out here that really lives in a space between the old and modern world. I don’t think I would be doing what I do today if I had not lived here. It has given me the chance to find my voice and perform all over Europe.”

TV GOODNESS: You compose music for film and now the small screen. What are the similarities and the differences as far as the process? Does one provide more freedom to create than the others? Why?
Dustin: “Its hard to compare projects as there are so many variables [like] the time you have to do it, if a director that really knows what they want, and how to communicate it to an audience. I have only worked on film until Transparent, which they really treated like a film so it was not that different for me.”

TV GOODNESS: Talk about Transparent. Why is this a project you’re proud to be a part of?
Dustin: “I think its one of those unique shows that makes you laugh and cry, which is so hard to do. I love its honesty without judgment…I connect with that. And Jeffrey Tambor (Maura Pfefferman) just does such an amazing job and it gives you so much to work with.”

TV GOODNESS: How closely do you work with Transparent creator, Jill Soloway? What was her initial direction when figuring out the sound of the show?
Dustin: “Jill has been a friend for a long time and we first spoke about it when she was visiting Berlin and showed me the pilot. I really loved it and she had some of my music temped in and I thought it worked great. So when she asked me if I would be up for doing the score it felt like I was already a part of it in some way.”

TV GOODNESS: What were some of the challenges you faced in creating the sound for Transparent?
Dustin: “Mostly it was just time. It was a pretty crazy schedule. I did the whole season in less than two months!”

TV GOODNESS: What were some of the highlights you experienced while creating music for season one?
Dustin: “I can’t think of anything in particular as it all went by so fast, but over all it was a really nice way to work. I did everything live and completely organic. No samples or click tracks. That my favorite way to work.”

TV GOODNESS: What’s a standout scene or moment or episode from season one where you feel the music perfectly captured what was going on on screen?
Dustin: “My favorite piece of music is actually during the funeral scene in the last episode and the same piece of music comes back later. I think it’s one of the more serious pieces of music.”

TV GOODNESS: What kind of feedback have you received on your season one music cues?
Dustin: “I have had a ton of people email me about finding the music to the theme titles. I didn’t realize so many people would respond to that! I think we will release a solo piano version soon.”

TV GOODNESS: Other than watching the series, how can fans listen to your music from Transparent?
Dustin: “At the moment the music is not available. Maybe after the second season we might release something…but they can always find my original work and solo CDs.”

TV GOODNESS: What can you reveal — from a music standpoint — about season two? Have you started working on it yet? If so, what approach are you taking? Where’s your inspiration coming from?
Dustin: “I have not started yet, but they begin filming this summer and I’ll work on the music in the fall.”

TV GOODNESS: What advice do you have for musicians who hope to compose music for film/tv/streaming series someday?
Dustin: “For me, its always about music. You have to find a voice and create for yourself above all things.”

TV GOODNESS: What other projects are you working on?
Dustin: “I have a project called ‘A Winged Victory For The Sullen’  that is a collaboration with Adam Wiltzie from Stars Of The Lid. We put out two records and have been touring our last one ATOMOS all over. It’s got a lot of elements happening in it – guitar drones, strings, piano and electronics. We have been invited to play the BBC PROMS this year which is the first time in 150 years that they have had a non-traditional classical act perform.”

Edited for space and content.

All ten episodes of Transparent are available now on Amazon Prime.

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