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Young film composer already making his mark

Gavin Brivik

Composer Gavin Brivik has journeyed a long way from Overland Park in his 26 years. Currently studying for his master’s degree in music composition for film and multimedia at New York University, he already has a number of first-place awards under his belt.


He recently won the World Sound Track Award for Best Original Composition by a Young International Composer from the Belgian Association of Authors, Composers and Publishers. The Brussels Philharmonic performed his work.

Other awards include the Alan Menken Film Scoring Award; Jimmy Van Heusen Film Scoring Award; and the ASCAP/Columbia Film Scoring Workshop, a film score award for young composers who show promise of having a career in the future.

Brivik said it was a huge surprise to win these awards and very humbling.

Brivik composed the score for a short film called “My Nephew Emmett,” written, directed and produced by Kevin Wilson Jr. The film won the Student Academy Award Gold Medal and is about Emmett Till who, in 1955 Mississippi, was kidnapped, beaten and shot in the head after being accused of whistling at a white woman.

“It’s been really rewarding to work on films that are about the Civil Rights Movement, like the issues we’re having in the current world,” Brivik said.

He also wrote the score for UNICEF’s documentary series “Jamaican Stories,” which won NYU’s Promotional Music Contest recorded by the Prague Orchestra.

“I think we’re working on projects that help inform people,” he said. “They’re probably the most fulfilling and what I want to do the most artistically.”

Brivik said he took piano lessons as a child but then dropped them. He tried the trombone in sixth grade, playing in the school band. Not only did he not like the trombone, he didn’t like the music the school band played.

In seventh grade a guitar class was offered at his middle school and that’s when he really became interested in music because his father listened to lots of classic rock and his mother to Motown funk. So in the beginning that’s what he played on his guitar.

He’s moved away from that type of music now, composing scores and background music for films. Brivik said he is inspired by the story line, the characters and all the other elements of filmmaking, like cinematography, editing and the actors’ performances.

“I would say that a lot of my profession is in film composing,” he said. “When I write, I do classical music renditions and for inspiration for that a lot of my music is still heavily story-driven even if I’m the one coming up with the story. Some pieces it might be current events or maybe I’m making a statement about something political or cultural.”

Brivik has been described as a hybrid composer, which means a blend of orchestral music with electronic music — but not electronic dance music. That means, he said, using synthesizers and his computer to manipulate the sound.

“It’s not purely acoustic or organic instruments; it’s like blending electronic with acoustic sounds,” he said.

His preference when composing music is a mixture of orchestral and electronic. He said it helps him create a more unique sound and individual musical voice that is like nobody else.

“I’d like to be somebody who’s recognized by a sound and I think that’s what helps get jobs too because there’s plenty of room for people who can do the run-of-the-mill type of thing and get the job done and do it probably really well,” Brivik said. “But I just wouldn’t feel artistically fulfilled.”

He said, however, that he loves orchestral music, and studied classical orchestral composition at the Conservatory of Music at the University of Missouri – Kansas City, where he graduated magna cum laude.

Looking toward the future, Brivik said he will eventually relocate to Los Angeles in order to make a good living and get to the next level just by being in the city where the business is.

While still a student at NYU, he has already signed on to his first professional full-length film, but due to a non-disclosure agreement he can’t talk about it.

He has written additional music for the Showtime series “Active Shooter,” the Netflix series “Dirty Money” and the Netflix original documentary “One of Us,” which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.

Brivik also does an assistantship for Brooklyn-based established composer T. Griffin, assisting him on documentaries premiering in the Tribeca Film Festival, Sundance, New York Film Festival and Toronto International Film Festival.

“(Griffin) does almost purely documentaries; he’s one of the big ones,” Brivik said. “I do orchestration for him, writing some additional music for things because sometimes you get so busy you don’t have time to write every piece of music.”

In addition to scoring films, Brivik freelances for multiple advertising production houses. He has written music for Nike, Adidas, Lysol, Crown Royal, Bing Search Engine, Sprint, AT&T, Citibank and the Minnesota Vikings.

When Brivik was growing up in Overland Park he belonged to Congregation Beth Torah and sometimes played guitar during services. He said he has always wanted to work on musicals that help the Jewish community and the best way to do that would be to do films that represent the Jewish heritage.

“That’s what my goal and hope is,” he said. “I think Judaism has an amazing musical heritage.”

He said one of his all-time favorite film scores is “Schindler’s List” and John Williams is one of the best music scorers he’s ever heard.

“It’s a really intense movie and hard to watch, but as hard as it would be, working on something like that would be really passionate for me,” he said.

Brivik graduated from Blue Valley West. His parents are Cathy Swalley and Desmond Brivik.