SFP: Sean Callery

Apr 1, 2009 12:00 PM, By Matt Hurwitz



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Sean Callery

Sean Callery
Photo: Matt Hurwitz

If Sean Callery waits two more weeks, he won't have to reset the clock in his studio, having never adjusted it last fall at the end of Daylight Savings. “It always makes me think I've got more time,” he says.

A clock ticking, time running out. Clearly, we must be in the home studio of the composer who gives Fox's hit series 24 its incredible sense of urgency, something the Emmy-winning composer has done successfully for seven seasons on the show. With its almost nonstop pulsing rhythms and pounding action cues, Callery's music keeps viewers on the edge of their seats as they follow Counter-Terrorist Unit Agent Jack Bauer through hour after hour of a day's worth of suspense.

Callery moved to L.A. in the late 1980s, not long after earning a degree in music from the New England Conservatory. He spent his first five years in town working as a product support specialist for Synclavier. This afforded him interaction with such notable musicians as Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock, as well as scoring composers Alan Silvestri and Mark Snow. Snow (The X-Files, Ghost Whisperer) began making use of Callery's musical skills, as well, leading to a professional friendship that continues to this day. “He needed someone to arrange some percussion tracks,” Callery says. “He's really one of the true mentors and friends in my life.”

Callery briefly toured with Olivia Newton-John as her musical director, and created SFX for Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, enabling him to develop hybrid sound design for his repertoire, which would come in handy on 24. Callery scored Newton-John's 1990 Christmas movie (A Mom for Christmas) with composer John Farrar, and in 1996 Callery got his first true scoring opportunity for TV's La Femme Nikita. After a five-year stint there, producer Joel Surnow brought him along to score his new Fox series, 24.

To work on the show, Callery converted the back house at his home in suburban West L.A. into a studio. The two-story structure was gutted and soundproofed, the latter at some expense. “I wanted to make sure noise was never going to be an issue,” he says of his residential studio.

At the core of Callery's composing setup is Logic 7 (which he expects to upgrade to Logic 8 soon), along with a collection of favorite — mostly analog — samplers. While he uses Gigastudio and Logic plug-ins, such as LinPlug Albino and ProjectSAM Symphobia, it is in his rack full of analog gear that Callery finds many ingredients for the unusual sounds of 24.

“I like having a mixed bag of different gear from different times because it keeps the sound fresh,” he says. Included in the set are a Korg Trinity, Roland XV-5080, Yamaha CS6, Korg 01R/W (which provides a selection of bell sounds Callery uses often) and a Roland S-760, which, Callery notes, has a whopping 32 MB of RAM. “I load that up with old Roland samples because the analog modeling of the Roland machine is still really, really wonderful.”

The centerpiece of Callery's sound-creating universe is a Synclavier DAW — an older-looking keyboard connected to a tower located in the studio's machine room. Callery composes using an old Kurzweil PC2 keyboard; then the sounds and music are recorded to Pro Tools HD 7.3.1.

The composer creates rough mixes in the main studio through a Digidesign ProControl interface, simply to store his compositions in case of system failure or other catastrophe. But the heavy lifting is done by TV score-mixing veteran Larold Rebhun in a separate mixing room outfitted with a mirror-image Pro Tools setup. “The systems are networked, so if I finish scoring in the main room, I can save it and Larold can open it up in here and mix while I keep my compositional setup working,” Callery explains.

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