Probably one of a very few soundtrack composers to idolize Iggy Pop, Carter Burwell is best known for his work with the Coen Brothers, having scored every one of their films through the year 2010. By turns haunting and dark or quirky and experimental, Burwell's eclectic music has graced films in a wide variety of genres, and he's used the occasional big-studio project to finance his work on a number of groundbreaking independent films. Born November 18, 1955 in New York, Burwell took piano lessons as a child and learned to play blues guitar as a teenager. He studied architecture and fine arts at Harvard, but wasn't considering music as a career; upon graduating, he first worked in a biology lab, then as an animator, while playing in punk bands by night for fun.
A mutual friend referred him to the Coen Brothers, who were seeking a composer for their 1984 debut feature, Blood Simple. They all hit it off, and Burwell was employed for the Coens' next project, the kidnapping caper Raising Arizona (1987); Burwell blended samples with a variety of thematic source materials. The Coens' 1990 gangster film, Miller's Crossing, was Burwell's first fully orchestrated work, and he attracted more attention for 1991's groundbreaking Barton Fink; he composed only 20 bars of music, which were then treated with various sound effects and reshaped throughout the film by sound designer Skip Lievsay.
Burwell's workload increased steadily as the '90s progressed, and he began taking on more mainstream film projects: Doc Hollywood (1991), Wayne's World 2 (1993), and Airheads (1994), among others. He won wide acclaim for his work on 1995's Rob Roy, which kicked off the most prolific period of his career -- over 35 films in the next five years. Among the highlights were the thriller Conspiracy Theory (1997), The Jackal (1997), Gods and Monsters (1998), the fictionalized glam rock chronicle Velvet Goldmine (1998), Spike Jonze's bizarre Being John Malkovich (1999), and the Gulf War epic Three Kings (1999). In addition to his film-scoring activities, Burwell has also played accordion and synthesizer with eclectic new age artists like Gabrielle Roth and David Hykes' Harmonic Choir. Burwell remained in demand through the 2000s and 2010s, reteaming with director Spike Jonze on the music for Adaptation, scoring several installments of the Twilight Saga movie series, and reuniting with the Coens for 2016's Hail, Caesar! among his many projects. ~ Steve Huey