Los Angeles-based keyboardist and composer Charlie Clouser came to fame playing keyboards in Nine Inch Nails. He also scored all of the films in the “Saw” horror movie franchise, including the recently-released installment “Jigsaw.” For these reasons and more, he’s our TALENT SCOUT Artist of the Week.
NAME: Charlie Clouser
HOMETOWN: I grew up on a dirt road in rural Vermont and I started out in New York City, but I’ve been in Los Angeles for over twenty years.
MUSICAL TRAINING: I’ve played drums since I was eight years old, and I started on piano around the age of ten. But I’ll admit it - I was a poor student. A little later, I earned a B.A. in Electronic Music from Hampshire College in the early 1980s, with a year-long audio engineering course at The Institute of Audio Research in NYC tucked into that time span as well.
FIRST GIGS: My first gig was working as the programmer for an Australian composer on the score for the final season of “The Equalizer” TV series on CBS in the late 1980s. I did all of the synth programming, musical sound design, drum programming, and much of the mixing for the score of that hour-long weekly crime drama. There were great people, tight deadlines, and good fun. It was a crash course in scoring for picture and the experience was invaluable.
MUSICAL INFLUENCES: Side A = Penderecki, Ligeti, Bartok. Side B = Brian Eno, Talking Heads, Kraftwerk.
WHAT I’M LISTENING TO RIGHT NOW: Eno ambient stuff, Roger Waters solo albums, old Public Image Ltd. and Killing Joke, and a little Die Antwoord just to get my blood pumping.
MY BIG BREAK: An old college friend recommended me to Trent Reznor as someone who could help design some sound effects to augment a Nine Inch Nails music video. That led to me doing a bunch of programming for Trent and eventually becoming the keyboard player in Nine Inch Nails for around eight years.
LATEST PROJECTS: I composed the score for all of the films in the “Saw” horror movie franchise, and the latest installment “Jigsaw” was just released. I recently finished compiling, editing, and remixing the best bits of my scores from all eight of these movies into a huge “Saw Anthology” compilation that will be released shortly by Lakeshore Records as a 2-CD / 4-LP set.
FAVORITE KEYBOARDS AND WHY? I love the Roland V-Synths because they are strange and wonderful sample manipulation tools, capable of beautiful weirdness. The Dave Smith Instruments Pro-2 is another favorite of mine because it’s insanely full-featured and perfect for controlling my large EuroRack modular, and even by itself is a very aggressive-sounding little beast. But I still have a soft spot for my Prophet-VS and Oberheim Xpander because they can do ominous drones like no other synths can.
WHAT’S NEXT FOR YOU? Now that the “Saw” movie franchise is back up and running, I’m sharpening my knives in case there are more sequels, if that’s to be in the cards, but we shall see.
ADVICE TO THE NEXT GENERATION: Music technology is so good and so inexpensive these days that it’s not worth stressing about your gear too much. Keep your setup simple and focused, and concentrate on finding your own unique sonic path and musical style. I think it’s a good idea to steer a little to one side of the things that tons of other people are doing really well, and focus instead on finding new and fresh combinations of sounds that inspire you to compose music that we haven’t heard before.
Follow Charlie on Twitter (@CharlieClouser) and on Facebook (@CharlieClouserMusic).