If you are not familiar with Brian H. Kimthe work of a composer, Panic is an epic intro.
Panic follows a group of Texas teens to a remote, sleepy town. Kim was commissioned to create the score Alongside Florence and the Machine’s Isabella Summers, whom Kim affectionately calls Isa, their collaboration is expertly matched, showcasing Summers’ indie-rock roots and Kim’s flair for experimentation. The resulting music is a mystical and mysterious compilation brimming with tension.
The following conversation with Kim highlights her love of music and her deep understanding of her craft. What is still impressive is his palpable passion for creating compositions that push the boundaries and his advocacy for his creative colleagues and others in his profession. Kim is on the verge of something big, and he has so much more to explore, so much more to give us. We can’t wait to take the tour.
Read more from Brian H. Kim below:
Awards Daily: Tell me about your musical sensibility. How would you describe your work as a composer? And how was your collaboration with Isabella Summers? More precisely, how did your musical sensibilities complement each other to create the score?
Brian H. Kim: I have a sort of nomadic background when it comes to my musical education. I studied to be a classical pianist for most of my childhood, then moved on to choral singing and acting, and played groups when I was in college. I interned at electronic music studios in New York City and didn’t start writing sheet music until later in my twenties. I think my work in film and television is an amalgamation of all of this. I have this obsession and this perfectionism that I believe comes from all the training at the conservatory that I had as a child. But I’m constantly experimenting and trying to find new ways to make sound because of all the time I’ve spent in the studios. But, I’ll always love a rising tune and still want my scores to work thematically as a whole, and I think that comes from all of my time in the theater.
Isa has an incredible ear for sound design, especially the truly abstract manipulation of synths. Of course, she’s had a wonderful sense of song since her time with Florence and the Machine. So I think when you combine his experience with mine, you get a really awesome cocktail of big beats and big hooks and surgical synth work, all wrapped up in a score that relies heavily on giving themes. . Panic its structure in ten episodes.
A great example of this is the end of the pilot episode when Heather (Olivia Scott Welch) climbs the mountain before her big jump. Isa made a first pass to this cue and put down all the basslines and synth arpeggios, then I made a second pass and added a few more instruments, like the live piano, from my studio, and I structured the line around emotional rhythms. It was a very organic back and forth of obsessive adjustments until the signal was perfect.
AD: What instruments did you use to create the sound and the overall feel of the score?
BHK: We wanted the score to sound super modern and current, to reflect how cool these teenage characters are today. Anything we did that sounded “traditional” immediately seemed dated. This is how we ended up with an essentially electronic sound.
We used so much different synths. One hardware synth that we relied on a lot was Access Virus, which is great for creating huge, really dirty sounds. For some of the more sophisticated arpeggiators, I used a synth called MicroFreak and some software. But we knew that, emotionally, we needed the score to encompass a huge range, so we incorporated tons of live piano, big war drums, a nasal guitar, a few strings and a lot of choral work.
AD: How would you describe the score? There is an ethereal quality that I really appreciated. the Panic the soundtrack is also very indie-rock. Was the soundtrack any inspiration?
BHK: I think this is a very good observation! Music Supervisor Amanda Krieg Thomas did an incredible job of finding the right vibe for these Texas teens, using songs that were both very current and incorporating that rock sound whenever it suited the scene. We worked in tandem with each other. Most of the time, I didn’t know what the final songs would be while working on the score. But we would all be included in these big musical gatherings where we were discussing the possibilities of sounds and songs, so the best that Isa and I can do is take that information and close our eyes and jump!
There are unique challenges in creating a primarily electronic score while giving it a wide range of emotions. I think the ethereal elements you mention were really crucial in giving audiences a chance to catch their breath and sit with the characters during the heavy moments. It wasn’t a score that was going to have a string orchestra in its palette. Instead, we created textures and pads that could match the swelling emotions we saw on screen. There’s a floating, almost flute synth that we use for Heather’s protagonist whenever she experiences pivotal, life-changing moments. Having sounds like this to use throughout the score gives it a lightness and color that I think elevates Heather’s journey.
I think the score, on the whole, is a punch – a reflection of the life and death stakes these kids got into – while being very emotionally evocative. It covers a wide range.
AD: What are your favorite songs from the series?
BHK: As mentioned, I love the piece of music that ends the pilot. I think it’s a great synthesis of what Isa and I bring to the project and a great thesis on what the score will give you over the next nine episodes.
There is a sequence in Episode 5 where Sarah (Maya Hendricks) sneaks into Bishop’s (Camron Jones) house, and it’s several minutes of constant tension and important plot points. I loved finding all the little pieces of the puzzle to make the scene work in the best possible way.
The scene where Ray (Ray Nicholson) and Heather first kiss in Episode 4 is also one of my favorites. Ray Nicholson has a monologue that is both poetic and sexy – weaving a cue that highlights the tongue while increasing sexual tension was a big challenge. But I like the way it turned out.
AD: In your mind, what makes a good score?
BHK: I think the high scores these days hit you like a freight train full of new ideas, new sounds, and new ways of thinking. But they have to balance these new ideas with timeless methods of storytelling – rhythm, structure, themes. I don’t think a good score can only have new ideas or only thrive on tradition. I think the best scores have that balance. A good example is what Natalie Holt did with the Loki score – mix retro electronic sounds with great Hollywood-style orchestral textures, with a smattering of pop sensibilities, while reflecting the mind-boggling intrigue through the sound design. I really like hearing a score like this and thinking, “Man, I’ve never heard anything like this before. “
AD: You have worked on many independent projects during your career. How has that shaped you as a composer?
BHK: The independent films I’ve worked on have all been incredibly different from my work on TV. It’s almost like working on an album, where I spend weeks, maybe months, working on 20-40 minutes of music and tweaking it, then recording everything at the very end of the process. It’s more intense, more intimate. The film Hello my name is Dorishad only about 20 minutes of score. But,[thedirector)MichaelShowalterandIhavespentafewmonthsdiggingthecluestorewritethemandreconsidertheirplacementandallofthecharacterandhumorservice[director)MichaelShowalterandIspentacoupleofmonthsdiggingintothecuesrewritingthemandershumorofreconsider—all[leréalisateur)MichaelShowalteretmoiavonspasséquelquesmoisàcreuserlesindicesàlesréécrireetàreconsidérerleurplacementletoutauservicedespersonnagesetdel’humour[director)MichaelShowalterandIspentacoupleofmonthsdiggingintothecuesrewritingthemandreconsideringtheirplacement—allintheserviceofcharactersandhumor
It is impossible not to learn and grow when you go through a process like this. You really learn to write and edit – how all of the manual work that precedes the scoring process helps create the humanity you see on screen. And how it’s the score’s job to be a last step in bringing it all together.
AD: Do you have any upcoming projects that you can share?
BHK: As soon as Panic finished, I started working on my first non-film soundtrack solo album, and I hope to have it finished by the end of the year. It’s solo piano music, something I haven’t written since I was a teenager. It has been such a great experience going back to my roots, especially after all of the chaos of 2020.
I also have other film and television projects that are still too early in their production to talk about.
AD: Finally, is there something that I didn’t ask you that you wanted to discuss?
BHK: It is both a tumultuous and inspiring time for the creators of BIPOC at this time, with more possibilities than ever. But there are also very big hurdles to overcome.
For the AAPI community, in particular, the past two years have seen monumental moments, Parasite, Crazy Rich Asians, Minari. An influx of new K-Pop and K-Dramas. But at the same time, there is a deep rejection from the citizens of AAPI. So it’s hard to get the impression that these wins in the entertainment industry make a lot of progress in real life. But I think the really important thing is that the creators of AAPI and BIPOC continue to create, and keep emphasizing the truth. The more the world sees us doing an amazing job, the more we exist in pop culture, the more we see names like “Yeun” or “Ramos” or “Kaluuya” in the credits, the more likely it is that the next generation of the creators of BIPOC will be inspired, and the more we will see the entertainment industry reflect the real world and inspire real change.