Jeremy Zuckerman is an Emmy Award-winning composer and musician whose work has included mediums such as film, television, dance, concert music and more. Jeremy is perhaps best known for his work for the hit series ‘The Legend of Korra’, ‘Avatar: the Last Airbender’, and most recently, MTV’s ‘Scream’. Jeremy Zuckerman has earned many accolades for his diverse portfolio of work, with his most notable awards being the two Emmy Award wins. He has also had invitations to speak as a guest panelist to the bustling rooms of ComicCon, as well as being named as a featured composer at the Playfest music festival in Malaga, Spain. The work Jeremy Zuckerman did on ‘Legend of Korra’ paid off, as the soundtrack immediately hit #1 on Amazon, as well as hitting top 10 on both the iTunes and Billboard soundtrack charts. His Soundcloud page has an incredible combined play count of over 4 million. Jeremy received his BA at the Berklee College of Music where he studied Jazz and had the honour of being taught computer music by Richard Boulanger. Please enjoy my interview with the wonderful, Jeremy Zuckerman…
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
I say I’m a composer of film, TV and concert music.
I’m usually reading several books simultaneously. It’s so inefficient. There are books that I’ve been reading for years. I’m trying to change my habits to focus on just one book at a time. I’m currently working on Here I Am by Jonathan Safran Foer, Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman (which seems even more apropos now than when it was first published in 1985), and a couple of music composition books.
When you think about your childhood, what book comes to mind?
The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien is a big one for me. I remember the act of reading it was a clear moment of empowerment; it was the first novel I read without a parent. I was too impatient to wait for someone to read it to me, so I took the initiative. It was a good lesson!
What did you want to be when you were growing up?
I wanted to be a surgeon for a few years. I had heart surgery when I was three. After that I viewed surgeons as heroic figures. It was probably a way for me to parse that experience… Around thirteen I decided I was going to make music my life.
What do you think your school aged self would think of the present day you?
I was very much into guitar and playing in bands. Later I got into sonic art composition in college. After college I went back to a bit more traditional composition style. I think my school-aged self would be excited to see that progression and even more excited to see that I’m making a living with music. (Maybe a little disappointed that I‘m not a rock star though…)
If you could wrap up a single book and gift it to yourself as you left education – which book would it be?
Does your reading have routine? Is there a particular time or place that you like to read?
When I’m working on a project, it can be all-consuming. Unfortunately there are stretches of time where I don’t get much accomplished when it comes to reading. But there’s always a minute here or there…Let me put it this way, I don’t take my phone into the bathroom.
That’s a hard to pin down to one. I’ll cheat and name a few. Music-related books: On Sonic Art by Trevor Wishart, Microsound by Curtis Roads, Principles of Orchestration by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, and Twentieth-Century Harmony by Vincent Persichetti. Non-music: In my early twenties I randomly picked up my older sister’s copy of Something to be Desired by Thomas McGuane. That ignited my love for contemporary fiction and opened my eyes to newer stylistic approaches to prose. It really inspired me creatively and for a while I was getting my inspiration more from books than musical sources. I remember the opening line to my CalArts application essay: ‘I want to compose music like Thomas McGuane writes prose’. I have no idea what that means but it felt good at the time!
Do you have any books that you strongly associate with someone important in your life?
On Sonic Art by Trevor Wishart again. I bought additional copies for a couple of close friends and we all were blown away by it. And The Chosen by Chaim Potok, given to me by my father. He grew up Jewish in Brooklyn; I think the book was close to home for him.
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
Do you prefer fiction or non-fiction?
I don’t value one over the other. I think they serve different purposes. For me, fiction can be an escape and be creatively inspiring while non-fiction is informative, but there is massive overlap. For example the book Complexity and Postmodernism by Paul Cilliers is a dense, technical piece of non-fiction that deeply inspired me creatively.
Do you think reading is important?
Immensely. There are complex, highly developed ideas expressed in the medium of books, which aren’t possible to express in other forms of media. When I’m reading a lot, I feel like I’m on smart pills. My ability to articulate and conceptualize is dramatically improved. Reading also helps me to break bad Internet consumption habits. I think social media especially, has the opposite effect on my cognitive health.
What’s the best book you’ve read in the last 6 months?
Thanks to the insistence of a good friend, I finally read The Road by Cormac McCarthy. It emotionally slayed me. I’m not sure I’ve ever been that affected by a book before. I had to read it very quickly because it was so hard to bear the emotional strain.
Real books. I rarely read books digitally. It’s a weird experience – like being distanced from the book somehow. But due to the fact that digital books are probably better environmentally, I think I need to work on getting comfortable with them.
Name a book that you feel every human should have to read by law.
What is the book that you feel has had the single biggest impact on your life?
On Sonic Art by Trevor Wishart. (Obvious by its ubiquity in this interview, right?)
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
In no particular order:
Ninety-Two in the Shade by Thomas McGuane,
Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer,
The Spike by Damien Broderick,
Moby Dick by Herman Melville,
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoyevsky,
No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald,
The Soundscape by R. Murray Schafer,
The ‘Rama’ series by Arthur C. Clarke,
The Rosy Crucifixion trilogy by Henry Miller,
Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth,
The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion,
The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat by Oliver Sacks.
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
Ligeti’s Stylistic Crisis by Michael D. Searby is on the list. It examines an interesting time in the composer György Ligeti’s career. But I really want to better understand what happened with the election. The New York Times published an article ‘6 Books to Help Understand Trump’s Win’. I think that’s a decent place to start.
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
Worry in Spite of Everything.