The Many Sounds of Silas Hite

Emmy nominated composer Silas Hite has always thought of sound beyond the auditory. With the eye of an illustrator but the ear of a musician, Hite got his start working at the sensory mecca that is Mutato, an art and music studio run by his multifaceted uncle Mark Mothersbaugh of DEVO (check out our interview from the BOLD issue, here!). Now working freelance from Los Angeles as a composer, making music of his own and illustrating on the side, Hite is bringing his talents together in a new way with original scores for art videos and installations. The most recent film, Discussion Questions, is a hilarious new film by John Herschend that takes the viewer on an auiditory and textual journey from classroom to dance party, and will be on display at The Whitney Biennale, May 14-25. We speak to the sound and sight artist about his experience composing for everything from Hollywood to the art world and his seamless work across the genres.

silas hite the wild magazine

How are you involved with the Whitney Biennial?

A director that I work with a lot, John Herschend, was selected for The Whitney Biennial. We have collaborated on a few projects and there a film for the SF MOMA this last fall that we did together. He also has the publication called The Thing Quarterly which is really great, so when we got this project at the Whitney he asked me to collaborate.

How does a collaboration with an artist usually work? Do you see the images before hand or do you fit the music in after?

Usually it starts with a collaboration and a rough cut to what he’s thinking about. Sometimes is a little bit more open, like the with the SF MoMA film, Stories For the Evacuation, it was a little but more open to my interpretation. For the Whitney piece, Discussion Questions, he knew what he wanted but we worked together to get the final piece together.

Not long ago I scored a documentary about Robert Williams. He’s a painter who’s kinda known as the father of lowbrow art, and he started Juxtapoz magazine. That was sort of the first time my art and composing started to connect, and I was thrilled to do it because I was a huge fan of his. It was screened around, at MoMA and LACMA and MOCA, and it was such an honor to have my music played in museums. I realized that maybe that was as fulfilling, or more, then it playing in Hollywood theaters. As it developed and I started getting more art related work, a lot opened up. I wasn’t looking for it but I’m glad it happened.

 Is there a difference working with artists rather then in Hollywood productions?

It’s more how you relate to each other. It’s a different process. Because I went to art school and sat through many art critiques I do have that background to talk about things as art pieces.

What are your main influences in your work?

I draw on a lot from different sources, that why I became a composer, really, so that I could touch on different genres and instruments as possessed to being in a band where you are a little more restricted. I think the art world is really inspiring, just driving around downtown LA, the high level of art and music being created fuels it. I want to be a part of it. It’s competitive sometimes but you want to be part of it, it’s about doing the best stuff you can. We are all driving and pushing each other.

How did you start composing?

I grew up in a tiny town in Arizona in the mountains, only 100 people. No pavement, no government, no police. I was an only child so I had a lot of time to be creative and I drew a ton. When I got older my dad plays a lot of instruments so I got involved, I started with drums and went from there. Studied music, art and business in college and then convinced my uncle Mark to let me intern at Mutato. After a while he offered me a job. Mutato is a crazy place, it’s part music factory…well no, I don’t mean that, it’s more of a music studio.

Well, factory in way Warhol had a factory.

Yea, exactly, I just didn’t want it sounding like it was a place where everyone is in cubicles getting whipped or something! But it is like Warhol’s factory; there’s music happening, there’s art happening, there’re toys everywhere. A ton of stimulus. And artists, actors and musicians are always coming through. It was great working with my two uncles, they are so experienced and I really learned a lot from them.When I first started I was helping Mark a lot with his art projects and then they would let me write music on the side. But as I got better I moved into full-time composing. I loved that there was constantly art and music happening at the same time, that really worked with who I am as a creator. It was a great place to start and have projects coming at you non-stop for 7 years. Thats how you get good, just doing stuff all the time, having deadlines everyday. By 9am commercial music was due, then a couple of cues for a tv show by 3pm, cues for a video game by 6pm.

Do you feel that your visual artwork and your composing are somehow linked?

I think making art and music are the same thing in my mind. In my music studio I have my drawings out that I’m working on and if I need a break form the music or need to rest my ears I can go and draw.

silas hite the wild magazine

Have you thought about putting together your drawings and music in an animation or something?

In college I thought about it a lot but now, the type of drawings that I do, they are really detailed and take a really long time. There is a lot of stippling and it will take forever. I would be done with the music so quickly and then it would be like 3 years for the drawing! Maybe some day.

What kind of music do you listen to ?

It’s all over the place. That’s why I got into writing music. I really enjoy getting into a style and figuring out why they sound good in that style. I even listen to Top 40, just to know what’s out there. If a client references it I need to know what it sounds like.

What are you working on now?

A short film. Some video games. A lot of commercials, as always. Music library stuff. Working with three different singers and songwriters making music with them, more for fun. I’m really fortunate to be doing all these things and it’s really fun and all over the place. Like the music library stuff that I’m doing right now is Dub Step and EDM, so it’s crazy to go from writing say, an acoustic guitar score for a film, to that.

silas hite the wild magazinePortraits by David Broach 

What is your WILD Wish?

It’s funny, my one dream and wish and desire was to write music for a living, and now i’m doing that. I’m a driven person, and once I had been composing for a while, once I had reached my goal, I started thinking, where do I do next? Thats when I decided trying to do it on my own, and now it’s been four years! It doesn’t answer your question…

OK, I know. To get a write up in Rolling Stone. I grew up reading it, between every line, and it was my first connection to the music world.

text by: Kate Messinger

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