Spotlight: Composer Craig Marks
Music man Craig Marks scores with his compositions for Food Network shows — and with his passion for rescuing horses. He talks about the cold call that launched his career and, among other things, how an old, squealing dishwasher became music to his ears.
"There’s music in everything, is how I look at the world.” So says television and film composer Craig Marks.
It’s a philosophy that seems particularly appropriate for the Television Academy Music peer group member's current niche, creating music for top reality shows.
Marks sometimes records and integrates sounds into his musical compositions from sources no typical person would consider instruments: a dog-run cage enclosure, for instance, and the noises emanating from his dishwasher and washing machine.
Using those kitchen appliances seems fitting, considering the number of shows Marks has for the Food Network: The Next Food Network Star and 18 seasons of various Iron Chef series, such as Iron Chef: America, Iron Chef: Redemption and The Next Iron Chef.
His other credits include ESPN cornerstone Sports Center and 13 seasons of A&E’s Intervention.
Born and raised in San Jose, California, Marks studied music at UCLA, during which time he launched his career with an apprenticeship to noted composer Hans Zimmer. He has since composed for many live-action and animated television shows, feature films, commercials and classical ensembles.
Marks, who also co-founded the nonprofit horse rescue and rehabilitation center Sweet Water Ranch in Chatsworth, California, with Candi C. Cooper, took a few moments to talk with TelevisionAcademy.com about the cold call that launched his career and more.
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How did you start your music career?
I cold-called Hans Zimmer’s studio, and inquired about a meeting. I was invited to come in for a low-level position, which escalated. I was still in school at UCLA, so I’d go to class and then go to [scoring] sessions Hans invited me to. I found myself working at Hans’ studio and working on homework. This was from 1996 to 1998.
I came to this as an outsider. To start at the bottom, learning the ropes and getting an education, is an opportunity I’m forever grateful for.
Tell us about your experience working with Food Network programs.
I’ve gotten more response from these shows than I ever could have imagined. It’s reached a wide swath – people interested in my concert works, people soliciting me to release a soundtrack. (The Iron Chef soundtrack was released in 2010.)
How does music figure into a reality show cooking competition?
It definitely plays an energetic role, a supportive role.
In traditional series, you have themes assigned to each character. Here, it’s more about creating an atmosphere bringing you into the action, creating a hyper-energy. It’s “Julia Child meets World Wrestling [WWE]” – you’ve got to have bombast and bravado. And at the same time that there’s all this intensity, you’re also paying attention to detail.
Do you cook?
I enjoy it. To me, cooking is very similar to composing. You’re taking ingredients with the right taste and timbre, and combining them.
So, tell us about playing your dishwasher.
My old dishwasher broke in the most glorious way; it made the most horrific, wonderful sound – grinding, squealing tones. Prior to replacing it, I realized it would make a great instrument.
The tines that separate the dishes from the glasses had these vibrations. When you cut them down, you can tune them to pitches. You create a more or less chromatic instrument.
I did something similar with a washing machine as well. They’ve been sampled [electronically recorded] and discarded.
I have 48 instruments here in my home studio. I don’t have room for appliance storage.
What role has the Television Academy played in your life?
I feel incredibly honored and privileged to be a member. I appreciate that membership. It has given me the opportunity to meet the composers of the shows of my childhood, that shaped my life.
It’s an honor to be part of the community, to get to know them. And the All-Academy mixers give me the opportunity to meet people from other disciplines, people I wouldn’t otherwise get to know.
It’s all interrelated. The mixers give a much more holistic view of the industry and projects.
I think this is an exciting time to be an Academy member. Television has never been better. It’s exciting to be part of the organization associated with that.
What are some of your non-television musical projects?
The Dallas Chamber Symphony commissioned a new orchestral score to accompany the Buster Keaton silent film Sherlock, Jr. They came to me. I’d become friendly with their artistic director, who is also a composer. That premiered in February. I’m in the process of booking other performances.
In August, I’m spending 2 weeks as composer-in-residence at the Albatross Reach concert series in Sea Ranch [in Northern California]. I’ll be creating a new body of work to be performed there.
And when you’re not busy with music, you’re involved in animal rescue?
I’m co-founder and CFO of the Sweet Water Ranch, which is 5-and-a-half years old. I oversee the program. We rescue, rehabilitate and adopt horses. We’ve rescued and found forever homes for more than 300 horses.
We’ve also developed numerous seasonal programs geared to the healing of humans and horses — veterans, at-risk kids, battered women.
The main focus is to provide healing. It’s quite a beautiful thing.
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