Uncompromising Composer. master mood setter. Studio City Dweller.
Photographed byJulio Moreno
AMC’s taut psychological thriller Breaking Bad has short bursts of action, but it’s explosive action. The story of a chemistry teacher diagnosed with terminal cancer who descends into the netherworld of methamphetamine has a secret weapon. Driven by strong writing and acting, vivid characters and stark cinematography, the ever-present tension is drawn tighter by composer Dave Porter’s portentous music.
In Dave’s brief but pungent cues, electronic instruments commingle with traditional ethnic instruments: Japanese koto, steel pan drums, marimbas and Chilean flute. The undercurrents can be ominous or hopeful—or turn from one way to the other in a minute’s time.
The musical backdrops wisely say more with less. “I have to imply so much,” says Dave from his Studio City home, which he shares with his wife and son. “People see the show differently, so a lot of the time my music is neutral.”
A classically trained composer, Dave studied at Sarah Lawrence College and in Japan for a time. His apprenticeship in the New York studio of Philip Glass was invaluable. “That was eye-opening to me,” Dave declares. “I learned so much, even though I was a young grunt setting up tape and microphones.”
Since his move to LA 10 years ago, Dave has been offered “ghosting” jobs (writing anonymously for money) on film projects. “I never did it,” Dave steadfastly contends, “even though it meant some lean years. It never sat well with me. I’ve worked on other composers’ projects, but it’s not the same thing—I care about my brand. For that reason, I haven’t written music samples for music libraries. If a library can buy me for $50, why would I be hired for a movie?”
He’d written for commercials in New York, but that changed when Dave came west. “I wanted to work in film and TV,” he states, “and for a composer, this is the place you can have the biggest impact.” In addition to Breaking Bad, Dave has scored the action film Ultraviolet, starring Milla Jovovich, and the TNT series Saved.
As for the quality of the musicians at his disposal, Dave says it’s unparalleled. “Last year the show had a Chilean sequence, so I knew I wanted to use an indigenous flute. I called my percussionist friend from Mexico City, Julio Moreno. He said, ‘I’ve got just the guy!’ You can’t do that in Nashville!”