Top Score: Laura Karpman

by Emily Reese, Minnesota Public Radio
August 3, 2011
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What does 20th-century American composer Milton Babbitt (1916-2011) have to do with video game music? A lot, as it turns out.

Composer Laura Karpman studied extensively with Milton Babbit. She also wrote music for Sony games Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom and Everquest II as well as THQ's Kung Fu Panda 2.

In the newest episode of Top Score from Classical MPR, Karpman talks extensively about her friendship with Babbitt, and his influence on her entering the world of writing music for media.

For those unfamiliar with Babbitt and his work, here is a brief introduction: Babbitt expanded upon the work of Arnold Schoenberg, who pioneered what's called "serialism" in music. When writing serial music, a composer takes the twelve notes in the Western scale and arranges them into a row. The order of the row stays constant, manipulated in that same arrangement again and again.

And there are many rules dictating a composer's path in serial compositions. For instance, if the first three notes of your row are C, D and E, you can't use C, D or E again until you've used the remaining nine notes in your row.

So Babbitt decided to apply this stringent order to all aspects of music. Total serialism. He serialized dynamics, articulations, note lengths and more.

It's a very mathematical approach to writing music, so it's no wonder that Babbitt, who taught composition at Julliard, also taught math at Princeton.

If music along these lines isn't exactly your cup of tea, take a moment to read Babbitt's groundbreaking article, Who Cares if You Listen?, published in 1958 by High Fidelity.

"I think Milton was fundamentally, completely and utterly misunderstood. If you just take a little bit of time with Milton, and with his music, and listen with an open ear and an open heart, and listen to it I think from the perspective of jazz and American music, you hear it in a very different way," Karpman says.

Babbitt also was a consultant for RCA, working with the state-of-the-art Mark II synthesizer in the 1950s.

His influence on contemporary music is undeniable, as is evidenced in his students, like Laura Karpman.

Trailer for Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom

Playlist

  • INTRO: Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom - Main Title
  • Milton Babbitt - Minute Waltz
  • Milton Babbitt - All Set
  • Milton Babbitt - Groupwise
  • Everquest II - Dragon Raid
  • Everquest II - Sea Travel
  • Dmitri Shostakovich - Symphony No. 5, 4th movement
  • Kung Fu Panda 2 - Main Title
  • Everquest II - Dream Sequence
  • Untold Legends: Dark Kingdom - Our Man Was Slayne
  • (erhu music)
  • CREDITS: Everquest II - Antonica


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