Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum: Don’t Look Deeper

A Grammy award winner and trained at the most prestigious school of Julliard, Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum has been carefully establishing herself within the world of film music, especially with her recent and very unique work on the Quibi series, Don’t Look Deeper. Starring Helena Howard and megastar Don Cheadle, we grabbed a chat with Kroll-Rosenbaum about her stunning work on the series, as well as the locked-down composer life and her work on the board of The Alliance for Women Film Composers.

Speaking at the height of the pandemic, Kroll-Rosenbaum tells me that a short film she had recently finished composing for is being shown at a slightly unlikely venue — Walmart parking lots.

“They're doing drive-in movies in Walmart parking lots, which I think is an awesome idea, right?”, she says.

“I mean, look, nobody can go to the movies right now. And people need entertainment. And they're able to play short films before the main feature. And to play a DreamWorks short before is a wonderful way to bring an audience in. I never thought my music would be played in Walmart parking lots, but hey, a new career-high!”

If one industry really did grind to a halt during 2020, it was the film industry. So of course, it’s been an interesting time for film composers. Kroll-Rosenbaum explains that “there's really a logjam in film right now because we have the very end of things that were produced before Covid hit that are going through post-production.

"And then there are just tonnes of projects in the pipeline. But I will say that, in fact, in the opposite of big-budget is people making things at home. And I have so many friends and so many collaborators, who have been in touch about films and projects that they've made in their houses, on zoom, and just remotely while they're social distancing. Some of my friends have really rethought what can be made and how it can be made. So I've been contacted about a lot of projects that are now ready for scoring that have been made during Covid.”

Quibi’s Don’t Look Deeper launched during lockdown, with its stellar cast coupled with the very unique streaming service that Quibi offers (it’s completely optimised for mobile phones). It stars Helena Howard as high-school senior Aisha, living in near-future California, where she learns a dark secret about herself.

She goes from dreams of graduation and college to suddenly doubting her own humanity. Don Cheadle, also starring as her father, brings some Hollywood heavyweight attributes to proceedings also.

“The whole story revolves around Aisha,” Kroll-Rosenbaum says. “Notice the first two letters of her name are AI. She's an artist, and she feels like an outsider. What teenager feels like an insider, none that I know of, right? I think that's a universal feeling that teenagers have. And I think it's a beautiful part of life, and that it's something we can all relate to.”

To find a unique angle for the series, Kroll-Rosenbaum “spent a lot of time thinking about things that are organic, like the body, like your heart, like breathing, like any of the things that feel really organic, your skin, your hands, the sounds that you can make with your body. And then I thought about things that were not organic at all.

"And things that are artificial, and how could I create a score that was really not just a hybrid score, when there are a lot of hybrid scores already. I wanted to make it hard to discern between the two. There's humming too, So it's weirdly familiar music. But then at the same time, it's always manipulated slightly.”

What teenager feels like an insider, none that I know of, right? I think that's a universal feeling that teenagers have. Nora Kroll-Rosenbaum

Besides her musical output, Kroll-Rosenbaum recognised that women are hugely under-represented in the film-scoring industry, so she did something about it.

“My wife, Laura Cartman, along with Lolita McManus and Miriam Cutler co-founded the Alliance For Women Film Composers. And everyone would say, ‘there aren't any women composers’. Well, that's just not true.

"There are hundreds and hundreds of female film composers. And when the Alliance started, it was about naming people. So our first mission was to create a directory on the website. We just needed to name them all. It sounds so basic, but it was literally like a phone book that shows how many women composers there are and all their credits.”

As talk turns to Kroll-Rosenbaum’s studio, it’s no surprise that a familiar name for composers arises, Spitfire Audio. “I like Spitfire a lot,” she says.

“Those are some beautiful samples and Spitfire. And this is coming from someone who is really picky. There’s so many orchestral libraries now, but I would say that Spitfire are probably king. It’s all beautifully recorded and robust. I still love their Albion collection, and I do really like their free LABS stuff too!

"There’s some wacky stuff in there, which I admire. But other key gear for me would be my new Arturia keyboards, and I also love working with Genelec speakers which I’ve had for a while now, and Focusrite for my interface — they’re a little new for me, but I’m getting there!”