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Glenn Morrissette's music moves with him — in mobile recording studio

Glenn Morrissette orchestrates scores for TV and film from his recording studio on wheels — a recreational vehicle he calls home as he meanders around the U.S.

March 22, 2011|By Bob Pool, Los Angeles Times
  • Glenn Morrissette, 41, plays saxophone while parked in his Chinook Concourse in Studio City. Using a laptop computer and a WiFi connection, he composes, performs and records music and beams it back to Hollywood sound stages and theaters. He intends to draw on his travels for future compositions.
Glenn Morrissette, 41, plays saxophone while parked in his Chinook Concourse… (Allen J. Schaben, Los Angeles…)

If the music to the Season 9, Episode 5 installment of Fox's animated sitcom "Family Guy" had a relaxed feel, maybe it was because of the 104-degree mineral water.

Glenn Morrissette helped orchestrate the score after a leisurely soak last October in the natural hot springs in the tiny northwestern Wyoming town of Thermopolis.

Morrissette did his work from his recording studio on wheels — a recreational vehicle he calls home as he meanders around the U.S.

Using a laptop computer and a WiFi connection, he composes, performs and records music and beams it back to Hollywood sound stages and theaters.

Working from home is not uncommon for professional musicians, who have replaced the room-size recorders and sound mixing systems of the 1980s with laptops and specialized software. Going a step further and working from the road eliminates many of the interruptions that come with working in the city. But Morrissette's journey is about more than escaping distractions.

Nearly two years ago, the 41-year-old composer, who works mainly in TV and film production, looked around his Burbank apartment and realized his belongings had taken over. "Careless consumerism" is how he describes it.

"I was looking at all the stuff I owned that I never used. It was costing me money to have an apartment big enough to hold it all," he said.

He made a list of the things he needed to be happy. "It was a pretty short list," he was surprised to discover: his woodwind instruments, his laptop, a week's worth of clothing, a good book and an electric razor.

The rest he sold or gave away. He donated his books to the Burbank Library. His recliner, stacks of music CDs, bedroom furnishings and seldom-used kitchen appliances were either sold or given to thrift stores.

*****

On his way to a rehearsal one day, Morrissette stopped at a traffic signal in his Miata sports car and glanced up at a modest-size motor home in the next lane. "I could probably live in that now," he thought.

He made another list, this one of every reason he could think of why he shouldn't ditch his apartment and move into an RV. "I went through figuring out how I would deal with each issue. And pretty soon there was no list left," he said.

He bought a used, 19-foot high-top camper van for $14,000 in June 2009. "I wanted to start small because I wasn't sure I was going to like it," he acknowledged.

A month later, he turned in the keys to the apartment he rented month to month, sold his Miata and moved into the 16-year-old camper with his cat Emily — who was about the same age as the van.

By then, Morrissette was writing a daily online diary of his scale-back. He called his blog "ToSimplify."

In it, he chronicled his new life. He wrote of learning how to empty the van's wastewater holding tank and of finding places to camp at night.

"Driving around the San Fernando Valley today, I found myself quite content to be plodding along in the right lane at or just under the speed limit," Morrissette wrote in one of his first entries. "This is new territory for me, as I've driven nothing but 2-seater roadsters for the past decade and a half. Where the roadster practically demands that I weave in and out of lanes as fast as traffic will allow ('That's right officer, the car made me do it'), the van compels me to take a more leisurely approach, and I'm a little surprised to find that I like it."

For a time, he continued to use Burbank as his base. He searched out quiet places to park for the night. During the day, he practiced playing his woodwinds at the back of parking lots and in noisy industrial and airport areas.

He quickly found that a mobile lifestyle was perfect for music jobs that took him all over Southern California. He could e-mail music arrangements and orchestrations from his laptop to studio music directors and travel to recording gigs in local studios.

Morrissette also discovered things about Southern California that he never knew existed. He hiked to landmarks, enjoyed the sounds of sea gulls and crashing surf on deserted beaches and sampled funky cafes that caught his eye. He found himself striking up conversations with people he was once too busy to notice.

It took about four months for him to break free of "the gravity that was pulling me into the comfort zone of Burbank" and its environs, he said. After a few shakedown jaunts to the Santa Monica Mountains and places like Lake Hughes, the Carrizo Plain and Ojai, he was ready to hit the road.

At first, some of his friends feared he had become homeless. "Oh, what happened?" they would ask politely.

"I thought he was absolutely crazy," said Patrick Kirst, a film composer and USC lecturer in music composition. "Everybody asked, 'Why are you doing this?' But he's a free spirit who wanted to do something with his life."

*****

Last May, Morrissette headed east, spending about two months winding his way across the country for a family reunion in Massachusetts. He traveled on back roads and sought out hamlets.

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