Music Interview with the Track Team (part 2 of 3)
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Here's the second installment of the ASN interview with Jeremy Zuckerman from The Track Team. As with our previous interview, a thread has been established in the forums for users to give feedback. If you have any thoughts or additional questions, please share them with us. Now, on to part II!

Acastus: When in the episode production process is the music created? Is it done after the animation is received from Korea, or before?

JZ: We get a quicktime movie with the actors' dialog after all the final editing is complete (this is called a "locked picture"). We're actually doing it pretty non-traditionally, but it's simpler and more self contained this way. Usually, production houses get a tape (be it a digibeta or 3/4") of the locked picture and synchronize all the music and sound equipment with the tape machine. We realized that for our approach it could be done more simply by just loading a quicktime movie onto the computer. Everything stays in the computer with no external hardware. But to explain more about the process and less about the technical aspects, we deliver our music and sound design, get comments and then do the revisions. After that it goes to Salami Studios where they bring together all the audio (dialog, sound design, foley, and music) in a technical process called mixing.

Acastus: According to the Track Team's blog, you use an incredible array of non-western instruments. Did you study these instruments before Avatar? How do you select these instruments during the creative process?

JZ: I've started studying the guzheng (chinese zither) and pipa (chinese guitar) with a master musician named Celia Liu, but we didn't study any of these ethnic instruments prior. The kalimba, which has become a big part of the more serene Avatar moments was used in some of Ben's music, specifically in a track called 'Soulik' on his first album, Pushing Air. The intimacy and gentle sound were perfect for the nighttime scenes and sparse and quiet cues. Like the kalimba, the other instruments are chosen based on the timbre of the instrument, not the culture. You have to be careful when using ethnic instruments in a dramatic way outside of their culture. We definitely don't want to create or foster negative associations.

Acastus: What are your favorites?

JZ: It's impossible to say which are our favorites. They all have so much to offer. People spend a lifetime learning any one of these. Those which get used the most are the kalimba, guzheng, the dizi and xun flutes, the duduk and various drums. The xun is an especially powerful instrument. It is one of the oldest Chinese instruments with about 8000 years of history and is believed by some to have been invented to imitate the crying of the villagers in a war torn village. It really does sound sad... one of the places we used it was after Zuko came and destroyed Katara's village in the second half of the premiere (episode 102).

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