The composer who scores TED on his latest movie, “Ping Pong Summer”

Posted by:

You know the intro video that plays before any TED Talk — that 7-second clip that shows a drop of water rippling out into either space or a neural network, depending on who you talk to? Well, Michael Montes is the person who created the music for it. This longtime composer also just scored the movie Ping Pong Summer, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. We took this opportunity to ask him a few questions — about his work for TED and this new movie.

First off, we’d love to hear: what were some of the ideas you wanted to communicate in the TED Talks intro?

The idea was to start with a drop of inspiration, which then expands into feelings of universality, global consciousness, intelligence and a positive outlook.

Those are big ideas! How did you go about bringing that to life, musically?

A lot had to be communicated in just a few seconds. I followed the visual and built a track that started small and then grew energetically to a punctuated climax using a diverse palette of instruments from around the world. I didn’t want it to be overtly heroic, so I left the harmony open and bright.

Your new movie is called Ping Pong Summer. How would you describe it to someone who hadn’t seen the preview?

It’s been described as “a love letter to the 80s” and I completely agree with that. It’s partly an homage to the films of that era, and also a collection of sweet and funny memories of growing up in that decade. It’s: boy meets girl. Enter the bully. Boy is humiliated but eventually beats all the odds with a triumphant ping pong showdown victory. It’s purposefully cheesy, but at the same time very endearing.


A scene from “Ping Pong Summer,” scored by Michael Montes.

What were the musical challenges of this movie and how did you go about solving them?

The director, Michael Tully, wanted the music to be of the era so I used instruments of the time — various drum machines and analog synthesizers — to make authentic hip hop beats and synth pop tunes. I was working in music back then, so the technology and sensibility were all very familiar to me!

At the premiere, in what ways did you notice the audience reacting to the score?

The crowd was very responsive. I was really pleased to see them react to many of the musical “jokes” built into the score. It really worked well. For instance, during the long tracking shot of an endless restaurant buffet, backed by a building fife and drum/hip-hop hybrid track, the sounds from the audience grew from laughter to applause. That was very satisfying.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how good are you at ping pong?

A three? On a good day.