Adam Lastiwka, pronounced la-STOO-kah, is a man of two worlds—he creates one form of art, music, specifically to complement another form of art, film and television. Being a successful film and television composer requires an entirely different approach than writing a song or recording an album that must stand on its own. If he is successful, his work is not readily acknowledged. His efforts support the scenes and characters in an almost subconscious way—to direct the audience without them knowing they’re being moved. Of course, great film scores cannot be ignored, they linger while we are awake and we want to hear them play during scenes from our own lives. But Adam Lastiwka knows he has an essential role in filmmaking, one that can make all the difference between a scene or actor connecting with an audience or not.
From an early age Adam was fascinated with manipulating sound, specifically through electronic music production. He emphasizes, “I had zero capability or understanding of music and how it worked. Just an unexplainable fascination to explore, which still drives me to this day!”
That fascination has led the 32-year old Canadian-born film and television composer, who hails from the mountains of the Pacific Northwest, to create musical scores for around five hundreds episodes of television and documentaries to feature films, advertisements, trailers, and dozens of full length albums. Today he is best known for his work on the globally- renowned Net ix series “Travelers”, popular series like ‘Eat St.’, the trailer for the 2017 Christian Bale and Rosamund pike feature ‘Hostiles’ and the movie “Body of Lies.”
Sound is akin to wizardry. It’s pressure fluctuations in the air hit our ears and our physiology has evolved to turn these phenomena into hormones which can make us cry. -Adam Lastiwka
His commitment to his craft runs deep and is reflected by the nearly seventy-five instruments that he can play and regularly records with. He engages a multitude of live instruments on all of his scores, and he has developed his own distinct voice in all the technical aspects of music creation including mixing, production, sound design, arranging and orchestration.
As a youth, Adam was heavily influenced by ethnic music from areas of the Middle and Far East, Africa, and Eastern Europe. With an open minded approach to composing, Adam has created a unique sound that is both diverse and instantly recognizable. “It was actually when I first heard the Silk Road Ensemble, a group of musicians put together by Yo-Yo Ma from all around the world to play each other’s traditional folk music. It united a universe of sound in my head that I never knew was even possible,” reflects Adam.
At seventeen, Adam was rewarded for his home studio-based recording with a three-album record contract. It was at this time he heard Peter Gabriel’s score to “The Last Temptation of Christ,” which stirred an interest in scoring motion pictures. Luck would have it that while working at a music store, he met award-winning composer Shawn Pierce, and began a seven-year apprenticeship. This association would lead to working on such shows as the FX series “The Bridge,” four seasons of the ABC/CTV series “Motive,” the horror series “Slasher” and the Stephen King’s Syfy hit “Haven.”
“Since then, I’ve been lucky. A lot of projects come to me because of work I’ve done in the past,” Adam explains. “I love all kinds of storytelling and the challenge in finding ways I can help tell the story and elevate it with my music.”
MAKING THE “TRAVELERS” WORK
Adam most recently completed work on season two of “Travelers.” “For this release I wanted to focus more on bringing the character themes to light. My season 1 original soundtrack was actually an ‘extrapolation concept’ of the music in the show.”
Adam spent nearly a year developing the contextual cues into more thorough pieces of music based around what he thought the future world of “Travelers” would be like. The season 2 original soundtrack is more rooted in the show with less development and left the cues truer to what you hear when you watch the show. Adam elaborates, “I think it should provide more of a sense of familiarity to the listener. We are actually doing something unique, what I call a continuous mix.” Due to the nature of the medium, TV cues can feel short and undeveloped, so Adam’s response is to edit the entirety of episodes to feel like one flowing piece of music. “I think this foreshadows the narrative of an episode and highlights the musical structure with a more symphonic character. You hear the story in a way that a one-minute cue doesn’t really allow.” To test his concept, Adam is releasing an episode done this way as a bonus with the season 2 original soundtrack when you buy it on Bandcamp. “We’ll see how it goes,” he explains. “I’d love to release every episode this way eventually. I really think this is how a TV score out of context should be experienced, so hopefully there is some interest there!”
EVOLVING FILM AND TELEVISION SCORES
While Adam works to influence the future direction of television soundtracks, he acknowledges that these are exciting times for the industry as a whole. “I think we are getting to a level of elegance and refinement, as well as building huge breadth of variation from a massively diverse pool of talented filmmakers. I feel score music production is growing to a new place as well as adapting to the way media is being created,” he says. Adam strongly believes that production skills can supersede writing skills when it comes to creating an emotionally impactful score. “To create a viscerally moving piece of music that goes deep into the human psyche, the actual sound of the music is the first place you want to explore to do that. All I’m really saying is that sound design and synthesis seem to be the next step we have taken in scores to take the place of a financially, non-viable, and less practical orchestral sound.”
Because so many distinct art forms come together in film and television, including writing, acting, cinematography, set design—the music—Adam believes it may be one of the most complete art forms. When those elements work together it can be something really immersive, complex, and powerful.
SCORING FOR FILM VS. TELEVISION
Because he works in both industries, Adam ponders the differences between scoring for film and television. Generally, he says, a TV soundtrack moves and shifts more. “It can be more technical and dynamic while playing the cuts harder, and I think television requires a sort of air-tight structural ow that considers what happened 5 minutes ago as importantly as what is happening over the next 10-15 minutes.”
Film on the other hand, gives you more time to develop and evolve. “If you play it as tightly as a TV show it’s going to feel really wrong.” Then there are the actual technical and time limitations associated with each medium. “I write about 10 hours of music over 4 months, which doesn’t seem like a ton, but within a 7-day period I have to write anywhere from 30-40 minutes—which is a LOT. It’s akin to a marathon, distance wise, but you have to be sprinting the whole time. That fundamentally changes what and how you approach TV.” Generally it seems, a composer will have more time to develop a film score. That fact hasn’t dissuaded Adam from working in television. “I’ve got my head really deep in TV right now and I’m loving it. I know that will probably change, but right now I just love the pursuit of seeing where we can take television,” he adds.
A COMPLETE ART FORM
Because so many distinct art forms come together in film and television, including writing, acting, cinematography, set design—the music—Adam believes it may be
one of the most complete art forms. When those elements work together it can be something really immersive, complex, and powerful. “My music contributes to this,” he declares. “I love the actual technical scoring component. The shifts, and moves, and dynamics. Working with, and around dialog, and most of all elevating the project by trying to draw a viewer in and keep them totally immersed. It takes a lot of non-musical knowledge to make that work, and a lot of hours and years.”
The process is much different than recording albums. As Adam describes it, “You are part of a larger creative process. Some people have a vision, others want you to explore. This requires a lot of creative flexibility, and a willingness to listen and collaborate.” Adam’s vision must remain focused on the big picture and work towards the collective goals of the film. “I really enjoy it when I’m asked to interpret a vision with my own concepts as I get to flex what I think is a pretty sexy group of creative muscles.”
Stanley Kubrick said, “A film should be more like music than fiction. It should be a progression of moods and feelings.” This truly describes Adam’s efforts. The scores he orchestrates do form a universal, even influential dialogue. In this way Adam becomes the storyteller he wants to be, in addition to the director. With this intent, and with his tools and vision, Adam is leading a new wave of composers determined to push the boundaries of the narrative.