Robert Duncan Q&A: ‘The Whispers’ composer
“Writing themes for TV shows is one of the most enjoyable aspects of working in television music,” says composer Robert Duncan as we chat via webcam (see above) about his long career. As he reveals, “When I was a kid, the very first piece of sheet music I ever bought was the theme to ‘Hill Street Blues.’” He readily admits that to reap his first Emmy nomination for Main Title Theme Music this year for his work on “The Whispers” “was especially exiting.”
This ABC supernatural thriller followed the adventures of a group of kids with an imaginary friend, who turns out to be an ill-intentioned alien. “Often, when I’m asked to write music, I walk away from a meeting with a list of key words, and I try to translate these words into a musical idea,” explains Duncan. With “The Whispers,” “the two words were ‘innocence’ and ‘malevolence.’”
He started with the idea of composing, “a haunting melody for a music box, or something that would convey innocence.” Once satisfied, “I started to see what I could do to layer other things underneath. I basically pulled out all my distortion pedals and started throwing in electric cello, and anything I could to make it gritty and disturbing.”
And, he allows, “I was lucky enough to get a live orchestra to accompany those two elements,” a perk that came from working for executive producer Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Partners.
This is Duncan’s fourth Emmy nomination. He previously competed for Composition for a Series for “Castle” (2009) and “Last Resort” (2013) and for Movie/Miniseries for “Missing” (2012). Will “The Whispers” be his first Emmy win?