Chatting Travelers with Composer Adam Lastiwka at Comic-ConJuly 24, 2018
Adam Lastiwka, composer of the hit sci-fi series Travelers (airing on Showcase in Canada and Netflix everywhere else) can be forgiven for not knowing quite what to expect from San Diego Comic-Con, given 2018 is his first visit to the storied convention. “Wow, there are a ton of people here.”
He made the trip to participate in a panel, alongside other composers and sound artists, called Building a Science Fiction World: Music, Composing and More, where scions of sound discussed their craft, their inspiration, and…well, more.
In Travelers, Lastiwka has crafted a score that is as haunting as it is unique. But scoring the show presented a challenge: ultimately, Travelers is one about a dystopian future, set in present day. It is about acceptance, about tolerance, and about assimilation; subject matter that may be inadvertently topical.
How does a composer even start crafting a sound that is futuristically current? It turns out, Lastiwka had an edge.
“I was able to start working in the conception stages to help shape the world in advance,” he said, noting that such an opportunity is rare for composers in the television space. He also had the opportunity to work directly with showrunner Brad Wright early on, also a rarity, whom he describes as a passionate and hands-on collaborator.
As he began his work one thing was clear: it was important for the show to have a unique voice that was reflective of its ambitious subject matter.
Origins of the Sound
What struck Lastiwka when he began concepting the music of the show, was how, despite its obvious sci-fi overtones, Travelers is actually a character drama. “I wanted to reflect the sci-fi lushness of the concept but contrast it with the intimacy of the characters.”
One of the techniques he uses to achieve this effect is close-miking, where the recording microphone is set very close to the source of the sound. “It’s a juxtaposition of tight sound in a close world,” set against the grandness of the story.
[Img source: inverse.com]
Lastiwka uses a balance of electronic and organic sounds to create a refreshing contrast. It’s a balance he uses to great effect in the development of the independent character themes, something on which he has focused greatly. Reinforcing these themes allows him to further define the intimacy of the characters and subtly contrast it with the aural fabric of the show.
An element that was noticeably absent from season one was an orchestra. It was not absent by mistake. “Orchestral can sometimes be used as a crutch,” he said.
It is one of the biggest tools in a composer’s toolbox, and if one goes straight to it, it doesn’t give much room to evolve; a consideration that was foremost in his mind given the subject matter of the show. “You need to give yourself a place to go.”
The score did change subtly from season one to season two with the limited introduction of some orchestral, but it was used sparingly, just enough to enhance the work, not to overwhelm the sound fabric he’s already woven. He expects to gradually introduce more orchestral into the score in season three, fusing it with the voice and sound he’s already created.
[img source: imdb.com]
“I want the voice of the show to come through in the performance,” he said matter-of-factly. The voice of the show was an important consideration to Lastiwka as he was composing the score, and it’s something he referenced a number of times.
One of the ways he does that is by continually reinforcing the character themes throughout.
He doesn’t want his music to remain static, or fixed, however, saying “[I’m interested] in pushing technical limits. I’m still young and constantly learning new instruments,” which can be introduced into the score. Recently, Lastiwka was introduced to the charango, a Peruvian instrument made from an actual armadillo shell, sort of like a ukulele, but with ten strings.
He’s also been using a 10 foot piece of sheet metal that he found in his attic as percussion. Obviously, Lastiwka’s fearless creativity will push Travelers’ score in an exciting direction, matching the excellence of the show it accompanies.
Lastiwka is open and honest about his influences and his motivations. “I just want it to sound better.”