A behind-the-scene photo of the Bosch crew, with author Michael Connelly second-from-left in the foreground and producer-writer Tom Bernardo to the right of Connelly. Executive producer Pieter Jan Brugge (in hat) is directly behind Connolly in the background.
The first two articles in this series focused on the contributions of the directors and cinematographers that give Amazon Prime Video’s Bosch television series its distinctive dark, gritty look. (The series is based on the detective novels by Michael Connelly, who is also an executive producer on the show.) In this final installment, I’ll be talking to the artists who give the show its unique sound, starting with the series’ music composer Jesse Voccia.
The music for Bosch has to reflect the dark, emotionally-charged atmosphere of the stories the series tells. Fortunately, Voccia, who had previously worked on over 60 feature films, was up to that challenge. He told me about how he joined the series’ creative team. “When I joined on the pilot we were under a bit of a time crunch,” he explained. “We had about six days to design the style of the music and then score the whole episode. Show runner Eric Overmyer and producer Pieter Jan Brugge came over to my studio and we had those classic discussions about what the Bosch musical atmosphere should feel like. We talked in terms of other films, music, and books, we talked about different neighborhoods in LA and how they had been portrayed in movies and TV shows over time. From the first meeting, it was clear that they didn’t want a traditional melodic theme type of score. They wanted Bosch to have a more ambient or impressionistic type of musical fabric. The music would be tied to the internal struggles and mental processes rather than the visible physical activity on screen.
‘I went away for a few days and came up with most of the score of the first episode. Luckily for me, they loved it. The process was easy because they knew what they wanted and we took the time to really talk about it. I was then able to find the right approach for the show. After several seasons, we have developed great ability to communicate about the music. The show’s characters have grown and been through a lot. We now have so many experiences and adventures to draw from as a starting point to discuss music.”
When asked about what sets Bosch apart from other projects he’s worked on, Voccia responded, “The first thing that jumps out is the ‘judicious application of underscore.’ Each season of Bosch is very much like a book with chapters, rather than a series of episodes. In a lot of ways, it is like a 10-hour movie. This allows us to proceed with the storytelling in a relatively high ratio of ‘detail’ to ‘pace of progress.’
“Within our episodic framework, this frees up time to focus on different aspects of the characters and relationships. It also allows us to sidestep many of the conventional and obligatory ‘homicide detective genre’ music moments and create something I call the ‘Bosch Burn.’ The burn is created when the story flows without interruption and tension builds and builds and suddenly there is a heightened realism and awareness of the character’s circumstance and the sense of location. Often when music is added to the equation, it has a tendency to release this built-up tension and move the storytelling mode from prose into poetry. One of my main challenges on the show is how to join musically with the drama, provide that additional emotional dimension or storytelling function, get out and still maintain the burn. Bosch as a show has an idiosyncratic way of grinding onward and doubling down on the stakes. By using music in thoughtful deliberate applications, rather than those established conventional ways, we are able to bring something new to the genre. A lot of thought goes into where the music starts and stops on Bosch.”
I mentioned to Voccia that, while listening to his music for Bosch, I’ve heard sections reminiscent of Bernard Herrmann and other passages that reminded me of John Barry, particularly in the use of strings. I asked if these two iconic film composers had an influence on his work. “Absolutely!” Voccia answered. “Bernard Herrmann’s scores for the Hitchcock films were immensely influential on me growing up. Taxi Driver, Fahrenheit 451, and Vertigo come up quite often in my musical memory. Hermann’s use of his agile repetitive blocks and his unorthodox ensembles and orchestrations are endlessly inspiring. There is also a vibe to his music that says ‘old Hollywood‘ in a way that no one else does for me and I sometimes try to incorporate some of that into Bosch as part of grounding us in the Los Angeles/Hollywood environment.
“John Barry scored my youth. I idolized James Bond as a kid and I’ve watched those films hundreds of times. As much as I love his string writing what really got me was his woodwind and vibes textures. One of my favorite moves was the way he could drop you into a totally different world instantly, whether you were suddenly going underwater, down a dark alley, or into zero gravity.
“I think among film composers there is a sort of Beatles vs. Stones thing going with John Williams and Jerry Goldsmith. I have always been firmly on Team Goldsmith. Chinatown was a big part of our initial discussion about Bosch and I have never really gotten over it. In my own way, I try to work in some of that influence in the instrumentation, atmospheres, and other little touches. Chinatown originally had a period correct score and everyone hated it. Goldsmith came in with a brutally quick rescore and did something so bold and unconventional. I try to carry that lesson with me whenever I sit down to write.
“Another composer that had a big influence on me that I think shows up in the Bosch music is Toru Takemitsu. His combination of ‘rough and smooth’ musical elements and the blending of the music with the environmental sounds are lessons that I use often on the show. Watching his movies, I am still hypnotized by the webs he weaves through the story arcs. His combination of the French Impressionist influence with the traditional Japanese music is completely irresistible to me. Also the placement of his music, the entries and exits are as stunning as the music itself.”
I also told Voccia that I was impressed by his use of other artists’ recordings on Bosch. One bit of musical accompaniment that I thought was particularly poignant was in the beginning of the episode “Blood Under the Bridge” (Season 3, Episode 5), when two police detectives visit a woman to inform that her son was found murdered. The scene was accompanied by Charlie Haden’s melancholy recording of “Going Home.” I asked Voccia how he decides when and where to use existing recordings in his scores. “That is 100% Michael Connelly,” he responded. “He has a deep love and knowledge of jazz music. He even made a documentary film about saxophonist Frank Morgan called Sound of Redemption. Michael Connelly knows who played on which jazz albums the way that bushy-haired kids know baseball stats in old movies. A lot of the music choices in the show actually come right out of his books. Harry Bosch is a big jazz lover and there are frequent references to specific parts of certain songs in the books.
“It is one of my favorite parts of the show. I am so grateful we get to use the real records. It creates an atmosphere that is so warm and majestic and complex. It expresses Harry Bosch so perfectly and creates so much depth to his character and the show overall. It also really helps keep me on course as a counterpoint to the music I create. Being in the same frame as the titans is exhilarating. Sometimes I will call my brother, who is also a musician, and say “What am I doing? Oh nothing… just writing a cue that is coming out of some Coltrane!”
Voccia went into detail on the mechanics of recording his music. “On Bosch and on most of my scores, I play all of the instruments myself except the trumpet parts,” he explained. “The actual mix of real recorded instruments to virtual is about 60/40. I also do all of the engineering and mixing. I love playing music and I love engineering.
“For monitors, I use PMC IB1s, Genelec 1030s and some tiny Auratone speakers. Virtually everything gets recorded through a pair of BAE 1084 preamps with the Bootsy Mod into two UA Apollo interfaces. One of the Apollos is for recording and the other is setup as a patchbay for my collection of outboard signal processors from the late 70s and mid 80s. I have a Korg SDD-3000, a Roland RE-201 Space Echo, a Lexicon PCM60, 70 & 80, and a Eventide H3000 set up as aux sends from Digital Performer. The secret weapon though is a Lexicon Prime Time 93 from 1979. I use it to create all sorts of beautiful textures and samples with its whopping 256ms of delay memory. To me, it is the most musical piece of outboard signal processing equipment ever designed. It is more of an instrument than a delay.
“I really enjoy engineering, so over the years I have collected all kinds of preamps, compressors, EQs and strange ribbon microphones. For me, the color of the sound is often more emotional than the actual notes. If I don’t have the right sound, none of the notes will feel right, but with the right tone the notes just jump out at you and the music starts writing itself. I also have a mildly ‘out of control’ modular synth situation that I use sometimes as a sound source with its own various VCOs but mostly as an external signal processing area. It is a lot of fun. Modular synths to me are pure idea generators and we are truly in a golden era with so many brilliant designers creating new modules. It is creatively recharging to turn away from the computer screen for a while and get lost in that primal intuitive chaos.
“Ideally I like to spend as much time as I can at the start of each project gathering sounds and textures that might be used in the score. I am always looking for that signature sound. Sometimes it is a signal chain that creates ‘the mood,’ sometimes it is a new virtual instrument I made in Reaktor or a bank of presets I created in a synth. Sometimes it is a 15-stringed Lute from Egypt I just got on eBay recorded with just the right mic.”
In the first article in this series, director Laura Belsey singled out the series’ “amazing” sound department for praise when speaking of location shooting. “I was surprised at how good the sound ended up being considering how incredible noisy some of our locations were,” she said.
A key member of that department is sound mixer Scott Harber, CSA, who elaborated on the difficulties Belsey was referring to. “Getting clean dialog on busy streets and in the world in general is a task we try to often resolve on Bosch,” he told me. “Like all productions shooting on location, we try to control what is reasonable and to give post-production clear solid dialog tracks that will help telegraph the words and story. We do this with external means like traffic control as well as liberal usage of wireless mics. In addition, having the cooperation of the camera department is massively important, so we can avert the impulse to shoot wide and tight lenses at the same time. This prevents the often-heard problem of seeing a wide shot while hearing a tight, closely-miced actor’s lavalier which sounds counter to what one sees. Without the help of the show’s Directors of Photography, this would not be possible on any level, and Patrick Cady and Michael McDonough understand the totality and goal of telling the story in concert.
“The core of the system these days consists of the unparalleled Aaton Cantar X3 recorder which has made the process and working extremely nimble, robust, and sonically uncompromised. The sound and gain structure have allowed me to mix more aggressively and hotter than in the past which post loves to see and hear. Also I love the integrated metadata chain as well as the extremely flexible way the whole system can be built. We use Lectrosonics wireless systems for booms as well as actors who we wire with DPA 4071 or 6061 mics. The DPAs mix well with our boom mics and rig well in all the various wardrobes we encounter. On the boom poles, we tend to use Sennheiser MKH 50s, Schoeps CMIT’s, or Sanken CS3e’s for more pull depending on the need.”
Fans of Bosch will be happy to know that the series has already been renewed for a sixth season. In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times this April, Connelly revealed that the next season will be based on his 2007 novel The Overlook, but, he added, “with some updates. It was based on terrorism; now it involves domestic terrorism.” There will also be some elements from Connelly’s most recent Bosch novel Dark Sacred Night, implying a direct continuation of the storyline established at the end of Season Five in which Harry started looking into the cold case murder of the teenage daughter of Elizabeth Clayton (Jamie Anne Allman), a drug addict he encountered while going undercover to bust an illegal opioid racket. I’m sure I speak for all Harry Bosch (and Michael Connelly) fans when I say that I anxiously look forward to that sixth (and hopefully not last) season.