Developer BiographyComposer Mark Morgan was born in Los Angeles, CA. to a young couple who were artistic, ambitious and a bit unconventional. Mark’s father, Mel Morgan, was a young architect from Iowa who came to California to pursue his career. Mel started his own architectural firm, specializing in modern, cutting edge design. He was also a jazz lover. Mark’s mother, Betty, was a classically trained pianist and sculptor. Consequently, Mark was surrounded by these diverse influences from birth.
With his mother’s encouragement, Mark began taking piano lessons at age seven. He immediately took to the instrument. The repertoire was standard classical piano, but Mark started to improvise even then.
His family moved south of Los Angeles when Mark was ten, to a beachside community in Orange County. Mark’s classical piano studies continued, but his interest in musical styles began to expand when he discovered a local music shop that catered to young artists. For the first time, Mark was exposed to the groups like The Beatles, Jimi Hendrix, Cream, The Zombies, Led Zeppelin, and Yes. Mark’s interest in rock ‘n roll was piqued by the way these groups sometimes took such simple music to new levels, integrating vocal harmonies and musical instrumentation in fresh and intriguing ways.
As a result of this new-found interest, Mark radically expanded his classical piano training to include rock ‘n roll guitar and drums. Fortunately, he maintained his training on the keyboard.
At a time when garage bands were forming, and some in the L.A. area were even making it big, Mark had the Pacific Ocean outside his door. Instead of music, he was drawn to the water and began swimming and surfing competitively. In his age group, Mark rose to become a top seeded surfer in the state of California. The fact is, back then, Mark received more free surfboards than he did keyboards.
But Mark’s focus began to mature when he started college. A professor in the music department became aware of Mark’s musicianship and after hearing him play, encouraged him to join the college jazz ensemble. In this fertile environment, Mark found he could indulge his eclectic tastes and a new direction began to emerge for him which encompassed modern classical, ethnic and even experimental electronic music.
Now inspired to pursue a career in music, Mark applied to and was accepted by the prestigious Berklee School of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. He entered their program to study performance and composition.
Mark moved to Boston, but he soon decided he was more interested in performing music than in studying music in an academic setting. He left Berklee after two semesters and moved back to Los Angeles.
Within a short time, Mark became a freelance player and found himself playing numerous club dates at night with a variety of bands. By day, he was working as a studio musician and found himself in innumerable recording sessions. Contributing to his appeal was his affinity for and understanding of the most modern sonic expressions. Though no longer a student, he was listening to and analyzing a huge variety of musical styles, everything from Miles Davis to Depeche Mode. He consciously began synthesizing their distinctive styles into his playing.
As Mark’s skill was noticed by an expanding network of accomplished musicians, so did the demand for his services. This led to traveling the concert circuit with major artists. Ricki Lee Jones was Mark’s first experience into this new world. He did two tours with her, playing primarily acoustic piano. Shortly thereafter, he was recruited by Chaka Khan, where he was able to expand and apply his sensibilities to synths and more advanced electronics. Mark’s versatility was his greatest asset.
During his stint with Chaka Khan, Mark was approached by members of the band Starship. Once again, he was being recruited because of his innovative sonic palette. Mark made the move, eager to explore yet another mode of musical expression.
Then, after completing his first concert tour as a side man, Mark was asked to become a permanent member of the band. Mark moved to San Francisco.
At the time, Starship was headed back into the Record Plant, the famed recording studio in nearby Sausalito, to do the follow-up to their hit albums, “Knee Deep In The Hoopla” and “No Protection.” Mark was encouraged by members of the band to evolve from being “just a player.” So he began the evolutionary process of becoming a composer and producer.
The result was Starship’s album “Love Among The Cannibals” which Mark co-produced with the band. He also co-wrote a nunber of the songs.
Following his successful experience composing for the first time, Mark discovered it was his true calling and decided to pursue this new direction in his musical evolution. And after the ensuing break-up of Starship, he returned to Los Angeles intent on writing original music for film and television.
Utilizing connections he had formed over the years, Mark started collaborating with established television and film composers. At first, he began as a programmer and sound designer. Because of his ability as a player, combined with his unique sonic style, Mark collaborators began asking him to write cues and ultimately, entire shows.
Then, after learning the techniques of composing to picture and establishing his credentials under their capable tutelage, Mark was encouraged to go out on his own.
Mark’s distinctive work was already attracting producers whose shows were somewhat more adventurous than the norm. Mark soon found himself composing for PREY, writer/producer Charlie Craig’s primetime cult hit for ABC. For that show, Mark forged a stylistic integration of influences from both Industrial and World music, pushing the boundaries of network TV to a darker place.
Following his pioneering work on PREY, Mark has continued his work in the areas of television and even independent feature films. He has worked on such notable indie pictures as THE PROPHETS GAME, starring Dennis Hopper, and director Marc Rocco’s teen cult film WHERE THE DAY TAKES YOU. In Rocco’s film, Mark composed a dark, edgy score punctuated by songs written by Melissa Etheridge.
Always looking to expand and evolve his musical boundaries, Mark then became interested in the burgeoning world of video games, where his “aggressive ambient” style seemed particularly well-suited. Though Mark has by now scored many games, he feels two that stand out as representative of his work are FALLOUT and TORMENT/PLANESCAPE, both from game developers Interplay Games.
Whether composing for film, television or video games, as in the past, Mark will derive his inspiration from the most diverse places – music, art, architecture, science – any source that impacts the emotion of the entire human experience.
Contributed by Trond Berntsen (1800) on May 13, 2008.