By Published on .

Most Popular
Not even a year old, New York-based Human is a virtual newborn as far as music and sound design shops go, but even back in its fetal stage it was already an establishment in full swing. Last fall, as walls were still being erected in Human's Manhattan studio off Union Square, executive producer Marc Altshuler, a music industry vet, had taken shelter beneath a cardboard box to shield himself from construction dust as he was on a call to Berlin about some Pimm's work. Meanwhile composer Gareth Williams was back in his living room, already tearing it up on a track for the Steve Madden "Chick Walker" spot, a crazy quilt of synth beats and reconfigured Hindi vocals that plays like a caffeinated soundtrip through Bollywood; and guitarist Morgan Visconti was busy thrashing out the uplifting and anthemic take on the "I Love New York" theme that resounds throughout the N.Y. Tourism "New Day" spot (featuring Ben Stiller and Rudy Giuliani), which, for a while, was regularly blaring from the speakers at Yankee Stadium. Today, at Human's chic, airy digs, the walls are finally solid and, not surprisingly, so is its reel, which boasts noteworthy tunes and sound design for Mercedes, Thermasilk, AT&T Wireless "mLife," Samsung and Motorola. Moreover, Human clones have already sprouted in Paris and Sydney.

That four of Human's five New York partners were already well ensconced in the industry sheds some light on why the fledgling shop has taken off with such velocity. (Williams, Visconti and Andy Bloch were all former composers at JSM, and Drazen Bosnjak was previously writing for Tomandandy.) It also explains why, as much as Human has grown, the partners don't want to get huge, at least in that big music house sense. "To boil it down to an analogy, I think a lot of companies have a very Glengarry Glen Ross kind of environment," notes partner Bloch, who also toured with the band Atlantic Starr prior to joining JSM. "That works, but I think we were all at that point in our careers where we really had soaked up enough of that and wanted to create an environment where we could feel inspired and work collectively."

Maximizing fearless creative is the thinking behind Human's MO. For one, "we take out one whole level of playing the 'death phones,' or whatever you call the game," Bosnjak describes. Every partner attends the conference call and hears the brief directly. With all the info at each composer's disposal, "we have the ability to divide and conquer," adds Altshuler. "We could do five or eight pieces of music with so many different looks, because no one is afraid to go down a blind alley." And if anyone gets stuck down that alley, or needs company, collaboration is (and has often been) an option, thanks to an all-access server. "If any of us can produce on a job, play guitar on a job, throw sounds at the job, we do," New Zealander Williams explains. "That's basically the best part of doing this; because at the end of the day we're more like a band. We've all helped to create something that more often than not turns out to be much more vibrant, since we've had five minds on this piece of music rather than one guy sitting in his room going, 'God! I don't know what to do!' "

Bosnian native Bosnjak is the shop's resident weird-sound-o-phile, whose electronic craftwork is apparent in spots and art installations by director Marco Brambilla. He and Visconti recently collaborated on an old-school Latin dancehall track that appeared on a recent "Hello Moto" Motorola spot for Ogilvy/New York. Bosnjak modernized a loop from Visconti's live piano performance with Latin percussion samples and electronic drum programming. The recording itself was also key. The setup in Human's live room was ultra-basic - just a simple mic hanging off the piano. "You really get a lot of reverb from the room that way," Bosnjak explains. "I try to capture as much space around live instruments as possible, and almost focus more on that, like in old recordings that sound all distorted because they captured that space. These days engineers tend to mic directly and you get the character of every instrument, but you don't get that space, which is why in music production these days, everything sounds so clinical, so specific." Additionally, on the subject of bizarreness, there's also mixmaster Williams, who laughed himself out of his chair cutting and splicing Steve Madden's "Chick Walker" tune. "Sometimes you write a piece of music and you have all this garbage left over, like when you're cooking and you just have apple cores lying around," he recalls of the track's elements, which included an old Hindi recording. "It was purely psychedelic collage, really not caring what happens and letting all the pieces fall." When they had fallen, out came the trippy mix, including the bizarre vocal line repeated throughout that sounds a lot like "Piggies are sad."

Bloch, who also participated on the Steve Madden track, is the shop's orchestral pro. "If you boil it down, I'm really inspired by writing music that is linear in the sense that it has a voice, it has a structure." His bombastic Germanic score heightens the irony in a cheeky "Make your old cars feel young" Castrol spot, featuring old clunkers performing high-octane feats. The music was performed in an entirely "virtual" session with a 60-piece orchestra in South Africa, conducted by his former music director from Atlantic Starr.

In addition, Bloch composed the jazzy chill track on the Kuntz & Maguire-directed "Peter" for Molson, as well as a pair of "mLife" spots with Visconti, the guitar aficionado. Visconti, for his part, rocked hard on "I Love New York," as well as on the gritty cover of the Cotton theme that appears on Jeff Preiss' reel (music out of JSM). His softer, ethereal side and flair for original melody recently came into play in a floaty track for Mercedes "Reincarnation," which depicts an old Benz reliving its fond "memories" while on the verge of being turned into scrap metal. The ambient composition speaks through simplicity, with just a three-note melody and a two-note bassline, washed over by a dreamy mix of strings and choirs.

Furthermore, the Paris and Sydney branches boast their own share of talents, to work on projects based in their native turf: composer/sound designer Simon Cloquet heads up the French outfit, and Down Under the show is run by producer Pilar Tronzik and composers Anna Naylor, Josh Abrahams, Peter Fenton and Simon Lister, who also does sound design. But no matter where you find Human, the collective mantra rules. "The name says everything, really," insists Williams. "Just trying to create the most appealing and friendly and human side of what we do, rather than creating a music house that pushes stuff out the door. It's just basically about creating something we feel happy with and can stand by - and that feels like a little home. I think when you're proud of everything to do with the company, not just the music you're writing, that comes through in everything."

Still, given the broad range of talents throughout, it's hard not to imagine a "too many cooks" backfire. But oddly enough, at least at the New York HQ, "We never get into arguments about the music," Bloch reflects. "It's always about the color of the light bulbs or if we should refinish the kitchen counter. Those are the big fights."

In this article: