The Secret about ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D’ Cellist

Want to know a secret about Amy Acker‘s performance as the cellist Audrey in the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D episode “The Only Light in the Darkness”? Composer Bear McCreary revealed that he wrote the music specifically to match Acker’s hand and arm motions.

Amy Acker wasn’t actually playing the music in this episode, of course. She’s a fabulous actress, but not a cellist. Usually, when an actor has to fake playing an instrument, he or she listens to a recorded track and tries to line up the movements with what’s being heard. But in this case, the process started out with McCreary writing a set of three brief musical figures set to various tempos which Acker, with an assist from a cello coach, learned how to emulate.

Next, McCreary embarked on a painstaking process in which he watched Acker’s performance and composed music to match her motions. “I spent hours in a MIDI sequencer, going through the scene frame by frame, putting markers on every instance where her fingers moved, her bows changed, when she had vibrato and when she didn’t,” McCreary wrote on his blog. “Then, I had to ensure that the notes were in the corresponding range as her fingers.”

Then, McCreary brought in his longtime friend and collaborator Eric Byers, the cellist from the Calder Quartet. Together, they spent a lot of time in the studio matching the performance of Acker’s fingers and hands.  McCreary explains, “Even though I notated the cello performance to the finest detail, we still found that Eric needed to watch the video with the same laser-like focus as when he reads music. In this unique scenario, the video was as important as the notes. The slightest shift could result in a disconnect between audio and video that would distract the audience.”

And the result is pulse-pounding music which sets the scene as Audrey poses as bait so that the S.H.I.E.L.D team can catch the terrifying Marcus Daniels.

To get a glimpse of the creative process in action, check out this entry from McCreary’s video blog below.

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