Even if you've never seen his Instagram work, you've almost certainly heard his music. Rob Simonsen (@frozen_light) has been composing music for film and television for more than a decade, with his compositions appearing in iPhone commercials and hit films such as (500) Days of Summer and The Spectacular Now with his first solo album releasing next year. Rob is an immensely gifted composer, and he's also an extremely talented artist and photographer. This week's Mextures Highlight is the result of more than a year of conversations with Rob and we're ecstatic to finally share it with all of you. Enjoy!
I’m Rob Simonsen. I write music, mostly for film, which takes up the bulk of my time, and in my spare moments I tinker with photography and visual creation apps. I also am a co-founder of The Echo Society, a Los Angeles-based collective of like-minded friends that fosters the creation and sharing of new and original works of music and art. I live in the eastside of LA and love creating, exploring what’s possible in life, and finding places in nature to look at the stars.
WHAT PROMPTED YOU TO PURSUE PHOTOGRAPHY AND ART IN GENERAL?
My dad was a hobbyist photographer and had really nice nature pictures that he took hanging around. He got me a Nikon 35mm camera for my 13th birthday and I fell in love (although I was a pretty terrible analog photographer). Music has always been a part of my life and my first passion. But drawing and creating visual art has been there as well. It tickles a different part of my brain than music, yet they seem to have very interrelated principles- space, color, tone, focal points, “spices” (I also draw a lot of correlations to visual art, music and cooking). I learn a lot about music from imagery and vice versa. That’s probably why I’ve always been drawn to making music for films. I get a lot of imagery in my head with music, and music from images.
When photoshop came around I got into graphic design, making posters for bands I was in, album covers, logos. I was so hooked. And once mobile apps like Mextures came around (not just blowing smoke cause of this interview!) and the early days of manipulation and layering of images like ArtStudio Pro, Snapseed, etc, a lot of my free time went away cause I was playing with apps every moment I could. Putting elephants and whales in the sky, experimenting with shapes and layering, making the tone of the sky something just a little more bewildering than what the raw image was. The early days of Instagram were cool, they were so rife with people discovering what could be done. It’s been interesting to watch the trends develop over the years. There’s no road map for how people are implementing technology. It’s all unfolding and evolving as we’re going along. It’s fascinating to watch.
WHAT DOES MAKING MUSIC FOR FILMS LOOK LIKE?
Well that’s my day job, as it were. I’m a film composer. I’ve done a fair bit of work in the commercial world as well, but mostly it’s been feature films. Been doing that for the last 12 years.
WHO ARE SOME OF YOUR INFLUENCES IN THE WORLD OF COMPOSITION?
John Barry, Philip Glass, Vangelis, Brian Eno, Trevor Jones, Morricone, Rota…there are many wonderful film composers out there.
YOUR INSTAGRAM FEED IS FULL OF SOME REALLY INSANELY CONSTRUCTED, OTHERWORLDLY LANDSCAPES. HOW DID THOSE COME ABOUT?
Instagram hooked me from the early days of the app. It was a smaller community back then, with the likes of @swopes, @hallwood, @trashand, and @mattfrench at the forefront. Those accounts were particularly inspiring for me and helped me see the possibilities of using apps to layer, superimpose, and recolor in such a simple but powerful way (much faster and easier than in Photoshop). I mean, it was literally having a little, simplified Photoshop computer on me at all times. It became my favorite pastime.
It felt like the community was smaller and tight-knit back then, and everyone was experimenting with different apps that would come out, and trying different techniques. People were just getting their hands on this new technology and messing around. People that didn’t have Photoshop or graphic arts skills could easily manipulate their photos. Then there were apps that came about that were responses to how those other apps were being used, making it even faster and easier (Mextures is one of those giant apps that came about for this in terms of texturing/coloring/filters). Of course, people have been doing this kind of thing in Photoshop for years and sharing it on places like deviantart, so it’s not like it’s anything new, but there’s a particular aesthetic that was generated on Instagram it seems, from people seeing what others were doing, and using the same apps. It was (and still is) interesting to watch it all unfold.
In terms of the images themselves, I find the most satisfying ones to look at tell a story. It can be a very small or simple story, but if there’s something happening, some sort of action being played out, or a moment that is captured (even if it’s manufactured), then the image seems to carry deeper feeling or meaning (though there’s an endless amount of images where there’s no story and it’s still an impactful, gorgeous photo). Having some sort of action helps us relate to the image and feel something because we can put ourselves into that moment. That’s what I strive for oftentimes in these little creations. It’s not images of stuff that’s just there. It’s images of something happening. I may not always hit the mark, but that’s my philosophy.