Guest post: René G. Boscio
This week we have the pleasure of talking with René G. Boscio, an LA-based Puerto Rican composer who has been making music for films and TV shows in Hollywood for nearly a decade. He has contributed music to shows like Riverdale, The Flash, Blindspot, and Arrow to name a few, as well as many feature films, documentaries, movie trailers, and more. We met Rene a while ago because he just seemed to be popping up a lot of places we were and eventually we got to talking. He’s a modular fan and started noodling a few years ago. He quickly began incorporating them into his film scoring work. When he told me he was about to release his new EP, If We Seek With Intent (out now) that combines his modular synth and film music passions, I was pretty excited. I was even more excited after I heard the EP. We quickly hatched a plan for a blog post to talk about his process and break down one of the songs on the EP.
Basimilus Iteritas Alter
Loquelic Iteritas percido
Kris: Hello René! We’ve chatted regularly, but it’s nice to have a more formal time to talk about your background. You’ve accomplished a lot in the world of film/tv scoring. Did you always want to be in composition or how did you get into this line of work?
René G. Boscio: I actually got started in music playing drums when I was a pre-teen. I used to be a skateboarder and was also very into Tony Hawk's Pro Skater video games, so those soundtracks got me into Blink-182, which got me into wanting to be like Travis Barker, haha! Anyway, about a year into drumming, my dad bought me a guitar and I figured out I could write my own songs, so I guess you could say that's when I began "composing".
I spent my teens playing in all sorts of rock bands, from punk to screamo, to electronica and Latin rock. Once it came time for college, I somehow ended up at the Music Conservatory in Puerto Rico pursuing a bachelor's in classical composition. At the time, I was very unfamiliar with the world of orchestras and classical music, but it was the closest thing to a degree in "songwriting" I could find on the island.
Once I got into the Conservatory, my whole music world changed. The sound of the orchestra and the power it could convey, really opened up the realm of possibilities and [my] interest. But it was beginning to notice the "background music" in movies that got me hooked. I felt like I had finally found where my voice as a composer belonged because it allowed, and even required, me to write music in all sorts of genres. And 11 or 12 years later, here we are!
KK: When did modular synths start worming their way into your sound?
RGB: Discovering modular synths was another big "a-ha" moment for my musical voice. I had always been into software synthesizer, but working in the fast-paced TV environment wouldn't really allow me to slow down and properly learn synthesis. But when I started freelancing, I was able to get my hands on modular gear and start exploring what every knob and patch point did. Not to mention how useful all of the manuals are for learning what everything does! Needless to say, that it quickly became a go-to tool in my film scoring work.
There are two paths that led me to modular. One was idealistic and the other practical. I've been a long time fan of the work of Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross
KK: Who isn’t? Incredible stuff. Some of their scores are on pretty permanent rotation here in the NE house.
RGB: Definitely! I knew they were using all sorts of strange and unique synths for their music. But a couple of years ago, I was hired to score a 2-D animated action horror movie called, "To Your Last Death", and given the uniqueness of the concept, I wanted to have an equally unique score.
Unfortunately (or fortunately in this case), my scoring schedule got cut in half, and for a 70+ minute score, I wasn't going to have the time to craft and design the unique sounds I wanted. So I ended up hiring some Youtube guy from Australia (who's crazy synth videos had led me to buy the mysterious Folktek Mescaline) to make me some custom samples and loops for the movie. That Youtube guy ended up becoming a good friend and is really the reason I decided to take the full plunge into modular. His name is Adam Ritchie, but you might know him as r.domain.
Since then, it's been an intense two+ year journey of buying and selling modules to arrange what I consider to be an ideal rack for my workflow. My favorite thing about modular is that you can literally do anything and everything with it, if you have the right set of tools. That has been the way I've approached putting together my setup, focused on versatility so I can essentially cover everything from hard-hitting industrial, to lush atmospheric ambient, to blip-bloopy sound design, and anything in between.
KK: What sorts of music are you most likely to stick modular into on a score?
You need to be intentional about what you aim to get out of it, because there’s no factory preset to come save you.
— Rene G. Boscio
RGB: I honestly think there's a place for modular in every type of music, well, with the exception of music that is aiming to be strictly acoustic. And even then, you can almost always hear some kind of pad/texture in the background which could've very easily been designed with modular synths. It's really all about purpose and restraint.
Ever since getting into it, I've used modular in literally all of my scores, from very sound design-y horror and thriller scores, to never-would've-thought-that-was-modular plucky rom-coms. I think it's all about your creativity and intent. And that's one of my favorite lessons that working with modular has taught me. You need to be intentional about what you aim to get out of it, because there's no factory preset to come save you.
KK: Tell us more about that: Film scoring is a unique workflow because of what are often draconian time constraints and then requirements for on-demand edits. Modular is great but it’s not known for repeatability. How do you fit it into a world of this sort of composition?
RGB: Because of the fast-paced nature of scoring, it can sometimes be impossible to use modular on-the-go while working, so what I often find myself doing is taking a week or two at the start of a project, and creating my own custom library of samples and loops with the modular, based on the style of music we'll be doing for the film. Then I'll throw those samples into software samplers like Kontakt or Falcon, and have them easily accessible (and recallable) as the score progresses.
Other times, I will actually turn to the modular to create specific textures, arpeggios, or bass lines to picture. Essentially I treat it like a mono or duophonic synth, where I just patch very straight forward, MIDI>Clock>Sequencer>Osc>Filter>VCA>FX>DAW. In those cases I always make sure to record variations of the melodic/harmonic content, and several takes with nuanced differences, in the event I need to have extra material for revisions, whether it's "can we make it longer?" or "can we make it slower/faster?", etc.
Something that I consider to be both a pro and a con of modular, is the fleeting nature of patches. I love it because it forces you to commit to an idea, to trust your initial instincts, and not get too precious/meticulous with it. At the same time, I hate that once it's gone, it's gone. And the only way to recall it exactly as it was, is if you sampled it. But even then, if you had a lot of random cv controlling parameters (like I often do), the sample will never do the real patch justice.
KK: The new EP is really fantastic. I hear a gorgeous balance of cinematic lushness, versatility... it’s hard to nail it down to a single style. How would you describe If We Seek With Intent?
RGB: You know, that’s something I’ve been struggling with pinning down myself, and why I love the film scoring world so much in that I never have to fit what I do into a “genre” or “style”. So what I came up with for this EP is what I’m calling, “Cinematic Modular”. I think it’s what feels the truest to the sound and myself.
KK: You wrote this whole album during the great quarantine of 2020. How do you see this project as different from other work you’ve done in the past?
RGB: This project was so personal and significant to my creative soul. The reason being that I never really get to make music for myself. Having the blessing of writing film/TV music for a living is an absolute dream, but it leaves very little energy and mental space to work on any passion projects, like making an album with my modular gear was. The last time I had released a body of work unrelated to scoring was in 2015, so it took 5 years and a pandemic to find the space and create some music for myself.
KK: And with that, let’s take a listen to René’s deep dive into A Splatter of Red, a track off the brand new EP If We Seek with Intent:
Thanks for talking to us, René, and thanks readers for reading! Seriously, go check out If We Seek with Intent. I could wax poetic about every track, but I’ll just end with To Leave You is one of the most haunting songs I’ve heard in a long time.
Social Media Links:
Bandcamp - http://boscio.bandcamp.com
Instagram - http://instagram.com/boscio
Website - http://bosciomusic.com
Facebook - http://facebook.com/renegboscio
Youtube - http://youtube.com/c/renegboscio
IMDb - http://imdb.me/boscio