The music of “Iron Chef America” comes from all around the world. Whenever he travels, Craig Marks, a UCLA alumnus and the show’s composer, carries a microphone to record the sounds he hears around him as possible inspiration for his upcoming assignments.
Marks has also composed for popular reality shows, including “Super Nanny” and “Intervention,” and he recently released his soundtrack for “Iron Chef America.”
While still an undergraduate, Marks interned for composer Hans Zimmer, who wrote the scores for “The Lion King” and “The Dark Knight,” all while undergoing daily student life in an intense musical department.
“Being in a department where everybody was doing what you’re doing as well was really a phenomenal experience. … It really prepared me for some of the rigors of actually being out (in the real world) and being creative on crazy deadlines,” Marks said.
Now Marks continues to compose for popular reality shows, where music remains an underlying key factor to the series’ success. Producer John Pattyson, who is currently working on an upcoming project with Marks, attested to the importance of music in the storyline of any drama, whether it be film or reality television.
“Music is absolutely critical to TV and film,” Pattyson said. “I look at music … (as being) as important as any character in the show or the film, and if you look at major feature films, music has to carry the whole mood of the film or TV show, … and if the music is off, the show is off, it just doesn’t work right.”
Paul Chihara, a professor of theory and composition and the chair of the visual media program, similarly noted that the music is crucial for a television show’s success, especially with regards to the theme song, which is often the most memorable aspect of the show.
“The primary responsibility for the composer is to come up with a theme … that announces and identifies the show. It’s very important that the show has an identifiable sound or song,” Chihara said. “Name a show and most people can immediately think a song that accompanies it or announces it. … That is one of the hardest assignments given to composers.”
Considering the high intensity of the culinary competition that is “Iron Chef America,” Marks described the show as Julia Child meets a world wrestling smackdown. Yet despite this incongruous comparison, the enduring popularity of “Iron Chef America” led to the release of the show’s soundtrack.
According to Marks, fraternities, sororities, youth groups and other organizations across the country that hold their own smaller-scale Iron Chef competitions lobbied for the soundtrack’s release as an accompaniment to their own edible battles.
“If you have a show like “˜Iron Chef,’ they have that down to a science now,” Pattyson said. “It’s the classic reality show, it’s got big thunderous kind of music, and as they go to commercials it’s the same, they leave you with these cliff-hangers on the commercials and the music has to reflect that.”
Chihara agreed that scores can influence a show’s long-lasting popularity.
“In music school … we give assignments to our students to compose something, but when you work for television, … the assignment is “˜write something that everybody will remember and … love.’ That’s a pretty tough assignment,” Chihara said.
Additionally, Marks’ creative process in approaching an assignment is a testament to his music’s continued usage.
“A lot of the times if I’m playing these instruments, I’m not playing them the “˜right’ way,” Marks said. “One project I can think of was all guitars, but it didn’t really sound like it because they were … scraped and beaten with mallets. They weren’t just strummed and chorded, and played like you’d normally play a guitar.”
According to Marks, his unusual method of concocting compositions makes his music hard to define.
“I think if you needed to put me in a genre, it would be “˜film composer,’” Marks said. “Different projects require different sounds, so I’m constantly being forced to either dig into my past and pull out knowledge or experience … or even more exciting, actually learn something and explore new territory.”