Carter Burwell


Remarks from SCL President, Dan Foliart’s induction of Carter Burwell as a SCL Ambassador, December 10, 2012 New York City.

Carter Burwell has made a significant mark on our industry in such a short period of time. He has been a true inspiration to our community, both for his creativity and his willingness to give back to this organization and his colleagues. The consummate composer, he is equally at home working in film, theatre or dance.

Besides being one of the most gifted composers working in the business today, Carter is a bit of a Renaissance man. While attending Harvard, where he graduated, he studied not only electronic music, but animation as well. Using what he learned in the latter his animated film Help, I’m Being Crushed to Death by a Black Rectangle, won first place at the Jacksonville Film Festival and second place at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. To give you an idea about the scope of his diversity Carter worked as Chief Computer Scientist at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in Long Island, where he wrote software for image processing, lab automation and protein analysis. And then went on to work at the New York Institute of Technology where he began as a computer modeler and animator, but ended up as Director of Digital Sound Research. During this time he worked on many computer-animated television spots and films, ultimately contributing models and animation to the Japanese anime Lensman.

Well back to the music, many of you probably begin hearing about Carter during the 1980’s when he was playing with a number of bands in New York City, particularly The Same, Thick Pigeon, and Radiante. He was also writing music for dance (RABL, which premiered at the Avignon Festival in 1984), theatre (The Myth Project at Naked Angels in 1989) and film (Blood Simple, Psycho III, Raising Arizona). I remember being at a meeting at Universal and the head of music raving about this new composer who had done this inspired score to Psycho III. Carter always brings a unique touch to every score he creates and just a partial list of his feature film ouevre include some of the true gems of the last twenty years: Miller’s Crossing, Barton Fink, This Boy’s Life, Rob Roy, Fargo, The Spanish Prisoner, Gods and Monsters, Velvet Goldmine, Three Kings, Being John Malkovich, Before Night Falls, Adaptation, No Country for Old Men, Before The Devil Knows You’re Dead, In Bruges, Burn After Reading, Twilight, A Serious Man, Where The Wild Things Are, The Kids Are All Right, True Grit, and Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Parts 1 and 2.

His theater work as composer includes the chamber opera The Celestial Alphabet Event and  Mother and Cara Lucia.  In 2005 he developed a concert work for text and music titled Theater of the New Ear, which was performed in New York, London and Los Angeles. The text, by two of his biggest supporters Joel and Ethan Coen and Charlie Kaufman, was performed by a dozen actors including Meryl Streep, and conducted by Carter.

He composed the music for the dance pieces The Return of Lot’s Wife choreographed by Sara Pearson and Patrik Widrig and RABL choreographed by Patrice Regnier. He has performed around the world with his own ensembles as well as others, such as The Harmonic Choir.

His essay “Music at Six: Scoring the News Then and Now” was published in the inaugural issue of the magazine Esopus in 2003, and was reprinted in Harper’s Magazine in 2004 as “Orchestrating War.”He has taught and lectured at The Sundance Institute, New York University, Columbia University, and Harvard University.