First Night Boston Featured Music of Berklee Alumnus/ Faculty Ben Cantil

By 
Brian Gonzalez
January 28, 2014

This year's First Night Boston featured the work of Ben Cantil, a Berklee alumnus and current faculty member of Berklee’s campus in Valencia, Spain. His music played during the 10 minutes leading up to the New Year’s countdown into the first minute of 2014. Cantil describes the performance as a “combo of cinematic and electronic music, which provides a sonic backdrop for the $50,000 light show in Copley Square.”

The following is an interview with Cantil.

Tell me more about First Night Boston. How did you go about creating the music for the event?

Since graduating Berklee in 2007, I have worked extensively with a video artist named Zebbler. Our main collaborative project is Zebbler Encanti Experience, which is a wildly entertaining combination of his projection art and my electronic dance music. As a producer, Zebbler does a lot of other large-scale video projections under his business Zebbler Studios, and over the last few years he has made a name for himself exploring a special optical illusion called video mapping, which is essentially video content that takes into account the geometry of the projection surface. Zebbler was approached by the City of Boston to do a video mapping show on to the facade of the Boston Public Library for the New Year's countdown. To honor the city, he decided to tell the history of Boston through his visuals.

When I started writing the music for the project, all I had was a storyline! There would be about 12 different scenes, gradually increasing energy until the big countdown finale. I spent about a month writing and producing the main parts, which would set the mood. But without knowing what the final visual content would be like, I needed to make sure all the music was extremely flexible. It was only in the last few days before New Year's that all the visual content was ready, so half of the music I wrote was created only in the days and hours leading up to the show. I was literally rendering audio up to the last moment before the soundcheck started.

How did your Berklee experience help you with the process of creating music for First Night Boston?

On the writing end, Berklee equipped me with a musical sensibility that allowed me to take a central theme and intuitively write a whole bunch of variations on it. All those harmony classes really paid off when faced with the task of writing a bunch of musical segments which needed to have flexible timing and transitional moments that fit well with one another.

On the production end, I can thank my Berklee experience for showing me how to program synthesizers and achieve certain timbres. This project needed tons of sound design and I couldn't have done it without all the awesome lessons with Michael Bierylo, Michael Brigida, and Dr. (Richard) Boulanger.

Going forward, how will this experience inform your future music-making?

One of the greatest pleasures of this experience was working with my fellow Berklee faculty member Vanessa Garde, who produced all the orchestral mockups and really made the whole show sound authentically cinematic and epic! I think in the future I'd like to continue merging the sounds of cinema orchestra with electronic music. The show also included some selections of harp by Maeve Gilchrist and jazz piano by Ricardo Curto. You really can't digitally replicate the sounds these artists brought to the show, and I'd like to have more moments like that sprinkled throughout future music I work on. This project really allowed me to play with a bunch of different genres and sounds, and it all seemed to come together so naturally, so I'd like to do much more compositions like this in the future.

Is there anything you would like to add, any projects coming up?

Zebbler Encanti Experience just released a very sonically rich remix EP, which features insanely good tracks by two other Berklee alumni: Joel Friedman (LOEJ) and Wigbert Caro (Moduloktopus). It can be downloaded for free here: http://music.gravitasrecordings.com/album/altered-projections

Right now I live in Spain teaching electronic music at the Berklee campus in Valencia, but over the summer I will be back in the U.S. doing shows with Zebbler, and we've got some exciting stuff in store after a long hiatus. It's also likely I'll be doing some performances with Ganavya Doraiswamy, who is an Indian musician I've been collaborating with here in Spain. I can already tell that 2014 is going to be a year to remember!

I would also like to add that I couldn't have done with without other Berklee family members who helped with this soundtrack: Vanessa Garde (part of the Berklee Valencia Tech Team) produced all of the orchestral parts; Maeve Gilchrist (Berklee alumna and resident artist) allowed me to use a sample of her piece titled "3" off her solo album The Ostinato Project, produced by none other than Stephen Webber; and Ricardo Curto (Valencia student) contributed his piano playing, with improvisational jazz in the middle and the finale refrain of "Auld Lang Syne" at the very end.