Miami-based supercomposer Sam Hyken sometimes trips over his words as he speaks rapidly and excitedly about the myriad upcoming commissions, compositions, and concerts he's working on. It can seem as if his mouth is rushing to keep up with all the ideas bouncing around in his head.
The word "genius" gets thrown around a lot these days, but it's hard to deny the fact that it comfortably applies to Hyken, at the very least for his sheer prolificness. He is the primary composer and one of the cofounders of Miami's rising, genre-bending Nu Deco Ensemble, but next week he'll wear a different creative hat as the composer of a collaborative piece with Miami DJ duo Dude Skywalker. An 80-piece orchestra will accompany Dude Skywalker's productions with music composed by Hyken for New World Symphony's Pulse: Late Night at the Movies. In addition to rounding out the electronic and orchestral hybrid piece, the ensemble will play songs etched in pop-culture history, including themes from Star Wars, Fantasia, and 2001: A Space Odyssey.
The night marks seven Pulse events in a row for which Hyken, a former New World fellow, has composed music. New World Symphony began commissioning him for collaborative finale pieces with Miami's household DJ names such as DJ Le Spam about three years ago. Next week's event will be the second time he's worked with Dude Skywalker after their inaugural collaboration at another Pulse concert in November.
"These guys have a really wonderful sound, but they're not your typical classically trained musicians," Hyken says. "They actually don't even — this is not a slam at them at all, 'cause I love these guys — but they don't read music. It's about figuring out how you can work together and how you can combine the two art forms together."
It's nothing new for him to work with artists who may not come from the classical background in which he was trained. In the past, he's worked with artists as diverse as Bilal, Kishi Bashi, Pitbull, and Ben Folds. For his piece with Dude Skywalker, he wanted to make sure to write accompaniment that sounded like them. "I take elements of what the artist has already created, and then I create an original work around some of these moments," he says. He had them send over a handful of original pieces and then "I pulled from all these different productions of theirs, I sampled them, and then I took those samples and I orchestrated them, and I created an original work around those very basic samples."
Alex Borges of Dude Skywalker says part of the reason their music was so adaptable to an orchestral reimagining is that though they are an electronic-music duo, he and creative partner Fabio Galarce often record with live instruments. "We always have these special sets where we bring in live brass, and we have instrumentalists play along with us, so that wasn't new," Borges says. "But definitely, working with an 80-plus piece orchestra in a full auditorium with the whole production and composer — that was a completely new experience for us."
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Says Galarce: "Obviously, working with an orchestra is the pinnacle of live performance, so for us it’s the height of inspiration. When they gave us the call back to do the second show, we were more excited than [for] the first one. Now is our chance to really, really do it even better this time." He adds that because the night's program comprises recognizable movie themes, he believes the audience will be even more engaged.
For the finale piece, New World Symphony wanted Hyken, Borges, and Galarce to work on a movie theme that involved dance, because the DJ portion of the evening should properly get people moving. Hyken's mind went to his young fascination with disco, and the trio ended up working on a deconstructed electro-orchestral hybrid of the Bee Gees' "Stayin' Alive," from the Saturday Night Fever movie soundtrack.
Up next for Hyken is a concert with Cuban rapper Danay Suarez and reggae royalty Stephen Marley at the North Beach Bandshell with Nu Deco Ensemble, just six days after the New World Symphony concert. "You can't complain as a composer if you're busy," he says. "I'll take the sleepless nights."