Robert Carli is arguably the most vital cast member of Murdoch Mysteries you’ve never heard of.
Hardcore Murdochians know Carli as one of Canada’s most prolific film and television composers. Before a single actor appears, his work is the first thing you hear when an episode of MM flashes across your screen. That’s why I’m so honored to have him here today. (And for another reason I’ll get to soon.)
Music doesn’t just soothe the savage beast, kids… it propels film and television works to the next level of your consciousness and allows you to fully enjoy the experience as you were meant to. Take, for example, Painted Ladies, one of Murdoch’s recent episodes: the first scene presented us with a Victorian chap out for a morning row. A lively, kinetic score set the scene perfectly – until he crossed paths with another chap whose corpse was spread across a floating swan, then the music took a much different turn.
Robert Carli’s work has touched my family’s lives in ways even we do not fully comprehend. My late father-in-law spent the last five years of his life battling emphysema and Murdoch Mysteries was one of the few things that got him through the day. No matter where he was in the house at the time, he’d hear that familiar Steampunk-inspired theme emanating from the television (old folks tend to keep the TV volume cranked all day) and before the episode would even begin, his face would regain some color. Never doubt the power of your gift, Mr. Carli.
But who the heck is this Robert Carli guy anyway? What deep, dark secrets is he hiding in his scores. What are his hopes, dreams, wants and needs? Is he a musician-for-hire by day and a masked vigilante by night?
How the heck should I know? I’m a blogging bellman not psychic interviewer! Robert deserves his privacy; you’re getting the broad strokes and that’s it! Or you can visit his corner of the web.
Over the course of Robert’s storied career, his music has received numerous industry awards/nominations: 16 Gemini and Canadian Screen Award nominations, 5 Gemini Awards and 2 Canadian Screen Awards. He is the recipient of 4 SOCAN Awards for domestic television. I’m pretty sure he’s next in line for super powers and immortality…
After graduating from the University of Toronto with a degree in composition (apparently they didn’t hold that bit of business with the dean’s daughter, twelve goats and a barrel of Cool Whip against him) he began performing as saxophonist with various ensembles, including The Toronto Symphony, The National Ballet of Canada and The Esprit Orchestra.
By the way, I was kidding about the dean’s daughter. Or was I?
He has performed and toured with artists across North America and throughout Europe, and he has worked with such performers as Barenaked Ladies and Julie Andrews. (Though as far as I can tell, he has never seen Ms. Andrews bare naked.) RC (he’s cool with me calling him that – I hope) has collaborated on numerous projects with The Art Of Time Ensemble, including two recordings, numerous crank calls and a composition based on prose by Michael Ondaatje, which premiered with the author as narrator.
And that’s all I’m allowed to tell you. Which is a shame, because I uncovered a ton of stuff about RC’s time as a spy/assassin for Statistics Canada. What’s that? You didn’t know Stats Canada used spies/assassins? What did you think happened when you refused to answer that census…
FUN 5×5 FACT: It takes Robert roughly six days (barring any unprecedented setbacks, like a computer breakdown) to complete the score for an episode of MM.
When you really think about it – as I have – creating a suitable musical accompaniment for a show as diverse and rich like Murdoch Mysteries is a tremendous undertaking. Robert and his team have to create pieces that are cerebral, action-packed, romantic, the list goes on. It would take me six years to pull a single note from my tone deaf brain, never mind a complete score! At any rate, let’s get to the 5×5 portion of today’s program, what do you say?
ONE) Do you view life as a series of musical scores? What I mean is, when you’re out on the highway do you hear chase music in your head? Bouncy, ravenous music at the grocery store? (Yes, my mind is a special place.)
Not particularly, no. I do often have music in my head, but it rarely reflects what I am doing or where I am. I think music is inspired by our environment or our experiences, certainly, but in my case I don’t think the music is a literal connection to my surroundings or tasks.
In other words, I could be biking a trail and think that’s pretty cool and I might be “inspired” to write something, but that something might not be biking music. It might be a polka. Who knows?
TWO) Do you need to assign specific scores/music to scenes featuring individual Murdoch Mysteries characters to be used periodically or is your work custom-made for each episode?
The music is generally tailored for each episode. I do use recurring themes for various characters, and I will often re-visit melodies or pieces. And there are many times when we do edit from our rather larger Murdoch library. But my goal with each episode is to try to come up with some motif or sound or idea that is specific to that particular script. Sometimes I’m unsuccessful, but mostly I come up with something.
(Mostly? Really, Robert? This humble thing you’ve got going on is getting old; you’re brilliant!)
THREE) You’re one of Canada’s most in-demand composers for film & TV; how do you decompress when you’re not producing award-winning, haunting themes, Robert?
Well, I do have two children who have pretty full schedules so I find myself shuttling them around the city and attending their concerts/games/rehearsals/presentations or whatever it is they are up to.
For myself, I have a number of interests outside music that I try to distract myself with…I love to travel, ski, play hockey and cook and eat food with friends. But I don’t always have time for those things when it gets busy. During those times when the schedules are tight, just reading a book and getting a good night’s sleep seem to be enough to satisfy me.
(I heard that! I mean, I would have if I weren’t so tired…)
FOUR) Can a composer sit and watch a film/TV show without paying particular attention to the score? Can you enjoy an episode of Murdoch as millions of Murdochians do?
I would say yes to the first part. As any film composer will tell you, it’s really about loving story-telling through pictures that we like. So, yes, sometimes you get hung up on technical details, either about a director’s choices or the music or the lighting or cinematography, or whatever. But often you want to surrender yourself to the story and immerse yourself in whatever world has been created.
In the case of series, after a few episodes, when you have become familiar with the music and sound of show, you no longer pre-occupy yourself with what the composer is doing…you start to accept it without question after a while. And that’s what the creators want you to do, as well.
For Murdoch or any show I work on, it’s very different. You have history there, so you are always listening and watching more critically. I find it difficult or impossible not to be “working” when I watch Murdoch. But I do still enjoy watching re-runs from time to time, even if I am subjecting the music to intense scrutiny. Ha!
FIVE) I’m sure you’re proud of all your work (whether it’s an individual piece or with a group) but is there one project that fills you with pride whenever you revisit it in your memory?
There are many, yes. I do like those projects that are different and push me to places that I’ve never been. There are a few Murdoch episodes that I am very fond of for that reason.
One project that I look back at fondly is a very unique project penned and directed by Ken Finkleman called At the Hotel. It was musically very diverse, and the characters and story-telling were sometimes obscure, sometimes hilarious but always engaging. It was fun and some very interesting and unexpected music came out of that show from me.
Well, I have to say, this has been another 5×5 I am particularly proud of. Robert Carli is as brilliant an interview subject as he is a composer. Give him a big virtual hand, everyone, won’t you?
I want to thank Robert for “being here” today and of course, thanks to all of you for being so awesome.
See you in the lobby and on the CBC, kids…