GARY CHANG (born 1953 in Minneapolis) is another one of the electronic-based film composers who rose to fame in the 1980s and who continues to be exciting and innovative. In this interview, the composer talks extensively about his 35-year career in the music business for the first time.
Many thanks to Mr. Chang for his quick and friendly reply.
Interview by JON AANENSEN (

Q: In 1984 you worked with Giorgio Moroder and Harold Faltermeyer on THE FADING IMAGE and THIEF OF HEARTS. Tell us about this.


CHANG: In the early 80’s, I was working in Los Angeles as a synthesizer programmer, arranger and keyboard player.  During that year, I worked for many artists, including America, The Motels, Supertramp, George Duke, and Jeffrey Osbourne; and composers, including Henry Mancini, Patrick Williams, Giorgio Moroder and Robert Folk.  I worked with Giorgio on several projects - The Neverending Story, Electric Dreams, and The Fading Image.  During that period, Harold Faltermeyer came in from Germany to work on Thief of Hearts, which was the next movie after Flashdance that was produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and Don Simpson.  I did a session, programming for Harold for the film score.


Q: Then, the same year, you wrote additional music to THE BREAKFAST CLUB. Did Keith Forsey bring you aboard this one? Were you surprised that the track "Dream Montage" even appeared on the soundtrack album?


CHANG: I wasn’t surprised - Giorgio recommended me to Keith to work on the Breakfast Club score, and I was there for most of the recording.  In November, Keith left the project to produce the Psychedelic Furs, leaving me to finish the score.  I contributed around 30 minutes of the BC score.  The songs for the movie are written by Keith and Steve Schiff.  Long time collaborators, Curt Taylor played guitar and Ed Alton played bass on most of the cues that I produced….  The score was mixed by Brian Reeves.


Q: You scored 52 PICK-UP and FIREWALKER in 1986. How did you meet John Frankenheimer? How did you two work together in those early years? Did you work with Varese Sarabande on the soundtrack albums for these two films?

CHANG: After The Breakfast Club, I moved to the Village Recorder, where I worked with Robbie Robertson for 9 months in 1986 - helping him prepare for his first solo record, Robbie Robertson.  I had met Robbie in 1982, when he produced music for the Martin Scorsese film, The King of Comedy.  I had played on soundtrack cuts by Bob James, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, and Robbie on TKOC.  While I was working on the Breakfast Club, Keith Forsey had met with Robbie about producing the record, and he recommended me.  It was a great experience - many months of working directly with Robbie, who, besides being a personal hero and legend in music during the 60’s and 70’s, was a very kind and open person, forthcoming with stories of his heroes and uncommon life - the time that I spent with Robbie was really important to me - it made me realize that having a different life wasn’t a bad thing….

Daniel Lanois produced the record, and a wonderful group of musicians were involved.  The executive producer of the record was Gary Gersh, and his brother was Brian Gersh - an agent at Triad (now WMA), who, at the time represented Tangerine Dream and Michael Hoenig, to name a few.  I met with Brian during this time, and it was Brian who hooked me up with John Frankenheimer. Too bad that I had to leave the album recording sessions with Lanois to do 52 Pickup!   

52 Pickup was a very different scoring project for me - it was the first time that I had contend with producers who were concerned about “electronic music”.  Where I am more inclined to quieter, more introverted moods, the filmmakers desired a more “80’s” sound.  I worked with JF on 8 movies over a 15 year period - our collaborations improved the more that we worked.

Firewalker was directed by J. Lee Thompson, who directed the seminal Guns Of Navarone. Michael Small was the music supervisor on the project, and we had a rather insane “helicopter skiing” event, scoring this film in just a few weeks.

Both scores were mixed by Ken Callait (of Fleetwood Mac and Colbie Callait fame).


Q: What kind of music did you write for the film 3:15?

CHANG: 3:15 was actually a lot of fun! Curt Taylor played guitar on this score, with mostly pop-based electronic arrangements….  So, the score was done with my electronic music rig that I had designed for pop music production - a Linndrum, 2 Super Jupiters, 2 Super JX’s, MKS-20 Piano, TX-816 rack, a pair of Lexicon PCM-70s, and a mixer….


Q: You wrote the exciting track "Cityscape" for the 1987 Windham Hill collection "Soul Of The Machine". Did you consider releasing a solo album at that time?


There were really a lot of things going on during that period - Cityscape was chosen by ABC as selected music  for the Winter Olympics. I was working on Martha Davis’ solo album that spring, which connected me to music people in the Bay Area.  Used the same rig as I mentioned on 3:15…. Also mixed by Ken Callait.  Windham Hill was mostly interested in artists who toured to promote their records, so that was out for me - I was too busy working in the studio, trying to establish my own film scoring career.

Q: Tell us about scoring STICKY FINGERS in 1988.

CHANG: Sticky Fingers is a film produced by Catlin Adams (The Jerk, The Jazz Singer), and Melanie Mayron (then of Thirtysomething fame).  Another 80’s electro-pop production with Curt Taylor playing guitar.  For this project, I used the Fairlight CMI, Akai sampler, Roland 909, and the same TX-816 rack, Jupiters and JXs that used before….  Produced in LA at my home studio and at my old friend Ned Liben's loft studio in NYC....  Dave Concourse mixed this score at Giorgio’s Oasis studios.


Q: The 1989 film THE HOUSE OF USHER features some music from 52 PICK-UP. How did this happen? Also, there is no composer credited in the opening credits, only an "additional music by George S. Clinton and Gary Chang" in the end credits…

CHANG: Often, current film music is tracked by editors while cutting.  In this case, the production company decided that the music worked exactly how they wanted, so they licensed the music from Cannon Films….  I ran into George at the BMI awards banquet this spring - like me, he is also coming back to LA after a few years of teaching....


Q: DEAD BANG was a jazzy score with contemporary leanings. What's the story behind the Michael Kamen involvement here? And what about you writing additional music for the Jack Nitzsche-scored NEXT OF KIN?

CHANG: Michael Kamen was the first composer on Dead Bang - they decided that they needed to make changes and I ended up rescoring the majority of the film, so I ended up with the front screen credit.  This was my second film with John Frankenheimer.  This is one of my first films where I used the Synclavier as the main sequencing source, not only providing sampling output, but also powering the midi rack….  Bob Sheppard, Jack Daro, Ed Mann, Sinclair Lott, and Barry Coates play on this score, and Brian Reeves mixed.

Jack Nitzsche is a hero of mine - although there are tons of stories about how crazy he was, I admired his candor as a musician and person.  He wrote from the heart.  On Next of Kin, I wrote several cues for him, and he liked them so much that he gave me full cue sheet credit for them, resulting in the additional music credit.  David Lindley plays guitar on the cues and Michael Hoenig mixed the score.

Q: How did you end up scoring a scene in TANGO & CASH? Had Faltermeyer exited the film at that stage?

CHANG: An emergency rescoring of the end of the movie after Harold had left for Germany led me to camping out in the studio for a week or so. Synclavier-based….  


Q: You did three features in 1990, MIAMI BLUES, DEATH WARRANT and A SHOCK TO THE SYSTEM. Would you say that these films showed three totally different ways of scoring movies?

CHANG: 1990 was a great year, full of interesting collaborations. Miami Blues was produced by Jonathan Demme, and is a black comedy, starring Alec Baldwin and some of NYC’s classic faces on screen.  I scored the film with Curt Taylor (guitar), Jack Daro (bass) and Billy Ward (drums), with me playing the keys and electronics. The score was mixed by Joel Moss at Paramount Stage M.

A Shock to the System was the first of many films that I scored with Jan Egleson, and it also was made in NYC.  For Shock, I had a great experience with the Turtle Island String Quartet and electronics.  One of my personal favorites.  (One might note that TISQ were Windham Hill Artists).

Death Warrant was my first project that involved Synclavier plus orchestration - for this, I collaborated with Todd Hayen, with whom I had worked with Jack Nitzsche on Next of Kin. For Death Warrant, I sampled many sounds, including John Bergamo's Boeing 707 engine cowling(!), using these sounds to create the haunting prison-like ambience to the score.  For the end credits, Bring Me a Dream was written by Martha Davis and me, and sung by Craig Thomas.


Q: How did you work on THE PERFECT WEAPON? You also did some songs for this film.

CHANG: This was the next film by Mark Disalle, so, after the success of Death Warrant, he offered it to me.


Q: One of your biggest projects was UNDER SIEGE by Andrew Davis. Tell us about this.

CHANG: Under Siege actually comes at the end of the year that I spent the majority of time on Sniper. A quick project - 3-4 weeks.  A pleasure working with Andrew Davis - recorded by myself, Bobby Fernandez, Dan Wallin, Armin Steiner and mixed by Brian Reeves.


Q: You worked with director Craig R. Baxley for the first time in 1993, a collaboration that should continue for 15 years. Baxley had previously worked with other synth-masterminds like Jan Hammer, Sylvester Levay and Christopher Franke. Is electronic music Baxley's preferred kind of score?

CHANG: Craig is a forward-minded guy who liked more edgy approaches to music.  I can’t say that one can pigeon-hole all of the films that we have done together into a specific genre.  I think that Craig’s style of storytelling has always been very attractive to me - I can write music that I care about for his films.  


Q: One of your most memorable themes is the one for FULL ECLIPSE. How did you work on this theme and score?

CHANG: I had just finished Against the Wall for HBO, and Anthony Hickox was finishing Full Eclipse.  This is another project where I focused writing around a rhythm section - hammond, guitar, bass and drums.  For the action cues, many of Billy Ward’s performances were on midi pads, so that I could take his recordings and associate the information with other sounds - such as pitched slate tiles and other found sounds.  All in all, we had a lot of fun on this one, and I heard that Jim Kerr, who was married to Patsy Kensit at the time, liked my end credit theme when he heard it at the cast screening!

Q: How was it working on Luis Llosa's SNIPER?

CHANG: Sniper is a classic example of how Hollywood sometimes slips and falls in the dirt, getting up in a clean new suit, as if it was meant to be.  Originally designed to be a little independent film, it was shot as a small, dark story.  I scored it as a small, introverted film.  Then, after 6 months of messing with the film’s ending, I left the film to score Under Siege.  


Q: Your score for John Badham's POINT OF NO RETURN never showed up in the finished film. What happened here? What's your opinion on Hans Zimmer's score?

CHANG: I have no comment on this project.


Q: Bobby Roth had worked with Tangerine Dream on six films when you hooked up with him on NOWHERE TO HIDE in 1994. Did he reference to those works or did he let you do your own thing?


CHANG: Bobby is a very gifted filmmaker, and I was excited to work with him on Nowhere to Hide, but we really didn’t spend any time together - most of the creative dialog was from Stan Rogow, the producer.  (This is actually typical in US Television).  I was disappointed that we couldn’t have worked closer on the film.  I think that one of the basic differences between TD and me is that I often did not use a click reference in my music - many times, a basic guide track defines the tempo of that particular piece of music.  A second difference was that I am really into quiet music - crystal, mallets inside the piano - that’s really where much of my music resides.  Although I have been into electronic music most of my life, most of my work that I am proud of really doesn’t have the “Synthesizer” stamp on it.

Q: The soundtrack album from THE SUBSTITUTE appeared on CD, but none of your music made it to the album. Is something like this a disappointment for a film composer?

CHANG: Of course, that is unfortunate, but I don’t really have any control over that - the producers thought that they could sell CDs and they enlisted so many artists to needledrop on the film that they could hardly fit all of them plus score cues on the CD….  It was great to work with Robert Mandel, though.


Q: But the same year. THE ISLAND OF DR. MOREAU received a release on the Milan Records label. Tell us about working with Frankenheimer on this score.

CHANG: I had just come off of three projects working for JF - Against the Wall, The Burning Season and Andersonville - all three won the Best Made-for-TV Drama, three years consecutively. John was nominated for the DGA award for The Burning Season.  When John left to shoot Island, we didn’t know what to expect.  We recorded the score at the now defunct Manta Sound in Toronto with Gary Gray, and mixed it at my home studio with Brian Reeves.

Q: You worked with noted director Roger Spottiswoode on the TV movie MURDER LIVE! in 1997, the same year he directed TOMORROW NEVER DIES. I am tempted to ask if his mind was somewhere else during shooting?

CHANG: MURDER LIVE! was shot by Spottiswoode, but it was finished by the Executive Producers, Peter Horton and Lisa Demberg, who oversaw the film past the director’s cut through all of post production and the dub.


Q: Big TV projects STORM OF THE CENTURY and ROSE RED followed in the new millennium. Tell us about this work. How did the two projects differ?

CHANG: These two Stephen King projects were monumental - both of them had tons of music - over 3.5 hours for each film!  

Storm was challenging since the entire film takes place during a giant storm, resulting in arguments on the dub stage of just how much of the sound effects should take up the bottom end of the audio spectrum of the mix.  I really appreciated this film’s heart - and I am proud of the musical themes that represent the common and profound feelings of loss and pathos in everybody’s lives.  Recorded in Toronto with Gary Gray and mixed at my home studio.

Rose Red was also a long path, but this one, halfway through shooting the film, David Dukes, who portrayed Professor Carl Miller - the antagonist in the story,  died on the set.  Stephen King, the principal writer and executive producer, rewrote the script and we finished the film without delays. Quite a save….  


Q: A peculiar credit in your filmography is the danish movie KAT from 2001. Did you visit the set in Denmark? How was working with Martin Schmidt different than working with Hollywood directors?

CHANG: I met Martin when he compiled interviews with film composers for a book that he was writing in the 80’s.  It was one of the earliest films where I used the internet - FEDEX delivered CDs and I transferred them to MPEGs - scored the film and delivered the media back to him via FEDEX.  It is more or less the way we currently receive and deliver media nowadays.


Q: You scored SNIPER 2 in 2002. Did you revisit themes from the first film? Was the budget lower for the sequel?

CHANG: Sniper 2 was a smaller film project than Sniper.  I used only one theme from the original film - the main title.  Where the first film was an ambient/organic sound palette that matched the jungle environment of the story, I chose to use a more modular electronic approach on Sniper 2.


Q: Tell us about your work on KINGDOM HOSPITAL.

CHANG: Kingdom Hospital was the 4th project for me with Stephen King - and my 13th project with Craig R. Baxley. There is quite a bit of my Wiard 300 Series modular synthesizer on this film - and although the schedule was rather intense, having a large enough modular instrument to simply leave patches up for the entire period of the series made making the score fun and more of a performance than simply editing existing recordings.


Q: LEFT BEHIND: WORLD AT WAR is notable for being the last film you scored that got a soundtrack release. Two of your tracks are featured on the album. Did you work on this release?

CHANG: LEFT BEHIND: WORLD AT WAR was interesting - a “science fiction” narrative born from biblical contexts.  I did not have any involvement with the soundtrack release, although putting two tracks on the disc was a good indicator that they liked the score!


Q: ENGLISH AS A SECOND LANGUAGE features a beautiful theme of yours.  Tell us about this score.

CHANG: ESL has some beautiful moments, and I had a wonderful time making music for the film.  Much of the score was a solo guitar, which was recorded and then processed electronically to create an emotional atmosphere.


Q: Your last score was FINDING GAUGUIN from 2010. What kind of score did you write?


CHANG: Gauguin was a provocative romantic homage to the painter, Paul Gauguin.  Intimate, languid themes guide you through the film's story. Atmospheric electronic elements combined with a small chamber music setting characterizes this score.  I had been mixing my film scores for over 10 years by this time, so, a lot of the experiences that I had with 5.1 in my ambient performance work could be integrated into my film scores.


Q: Tell us about your exciting ambient church concerts called "Sanctuaries" in Italy a few years ago.

CHANG: In what was certainly a convergence of many opportunities to bring this month-long event in Italy, composer Neil Leonard was instrumental in making Sanctuaries a reality.  Blue Sky provided the 5.1 monitor system and Tara Labs provided the long cabling necessary to create the installations in each of the medieval churches throughout Italy.

The idea of Sanctuaries stems from an experience that I had while visiting Sacre Coeur in Paris a few years ago. It dawned me that, while many have visited these incredible spaces in the world, few have commented about what they sounded like. Sanctuaries is designed for such an environment of spirituality and meditation.

Much of my fascination with electronic music has been how our mind plays tricks with what we hear – as an autonomic function, we seems to make sense out of chaos. Illusions is a set of portamenti, where within four different voices move from one set tetrachord to another – 9 in all. These harmonic sign posts do set up the piece’s harmonic structure, but the interesting moments occur amidst the textures in between. Although each voice is relatively simple in timbre, many different “illusions” surface – bells, vox humana, orchestral and organ – the musical voice of the church.

Another of my interests in the use of modular analog synthesizers is the imposition of its electrical structure on one’s musical thought, and the discovery of new musical ideas that result from the exercise. Faith is based on twenty-six episodes – each being comprised of a triad which, in the “patch,” is being indeterminately modulated between a quarter note and eighth note tremolo. The harmonic content of each triad was constructed from alternating descending intervals of major 3rds and minor 3rds, starting with A flat. (The first triad is an A flat minor, followed by an E major, D flat minor, etc.). Although Faith appears to be a linearly composed piece, it is really the result of how musical randomness can be.

Written in 1978, Forgotten Memories was first performed at The Sixth Annual Electronic Explorations in Los Angeles that early summer. Its performance received my first favorable reviews in the Los Angeles Times and the now defunct Synapse Magazine. This piece was written as something that I could perform live with my Serge Modular Music System, which I had built at Serge Tcherepnin’s Hollywood lab in 1976. A defining piece of an ambient style that would continue for years as backdrops in my film music, I revisited this work in 2006, bringing new incites to it from a view 28 years later. The Wiard Modular Music System is used for this new realization.

Some things are strangely clear. Elegy for Diana is written in memory of Diana Lee Chang, the muse of my life.

In the following year, Faith was well received at the REDCAT Theater in the Walt Disney Concert Hall where I performed it for SCREAM 2006, which included performances with others, including Richard Devine and Alessandro Cortini (NIN).


Q: You haven't written any film music the last five years. Why is that? Is this part of your career over or would you like to return to this field?

CHANG: Although I had never really “decided” to take a hiatus, I guess that I did!  But that isn’t really a big deal - a musician does what is in front of oneself….

When I met John Frankenheimer, it was after he had taken a 10 year hiatus from the business - living in Paris, studying at the Cordon Bleu….He then went on to do many more notable projects, winning Emmys, DGAs, etc.

Family matters, other music making opportunities outside of film, and a random offer to check something off on my bucket list, i.e., teaching  filled those few years.  In that period, I became a tenured Associate Professor, then resigned, recharged my health, rebuilt my studio with current state-of-the-art technology, continued my passion for electronic music, and surrounded myself with young musicians, who seem to have more of an ear for my previously obscure ambient electronic music than audiences before. I am happier, healthier, more knowledgeable, better equipped and have made a few new friends - sounds pretty good to me!  More film music?  Stay tuned..!


Q: Do you have plans of releasing more of your older film music?

CHANG: I am focusing more on getting my current electronic music out right now, but, with the help of people like Robin Esterhammer, perhaps a few more of my scores will emerge.  Many of my scores are Warner Brothers, who own the scores that I have done for WB, New Line, HBO, and Turner.


Q: How would you describe the 35 years or so that you have worked in Hollywood? How have things changed?

CHANG: I have managed to raise a family and live a quiet happy life while making a living as a professional composer and musician.  I consider myself fortunate - it has been a gift to have worked in this community of creative people.