Composer and GRAMMY© nominated performer Thomas Peters is known for creating multimedia works featuring classic silent films. He performs a one-man-orchestra that uses cutting edge computer electronics and synchronized electronic soundscapes. To date, he has written and performed scores to 18 silent films. In April 2013, he premiered his original score to the 1927 silent classic The Passion of Joan of Arc at the Toronto Silent Film Festival with Joëlle Morton on tenor viol. The score was featured in a radio broadcast over the CBC. His score to John Ford’s classic western The Iron Horse (1924) premiered at The Autry National Center in Los Angeles in March 2015. The Phantom of the Opera, which premiered on Halloween Night 2015, is his 14th silent film score. Thomas premiered new music he wrote for The Man with the Movie Camera, Dziga Vertov’s landmark 1929 documentary, at the Portland Museum in Portland, Oregon in 2016.
Thomas’s latest work builds on Paul Hindemith’s concept of Gebrauchsmusik, or “needed music.” His 2020 release Sleep Music: Rain is an album of ambient music that is designed to help people who have trouble sleeping. His latest work, Lamentations, is an album that gives people the space to grieve—something that is particularly relevant during the current COVID-19 pandemic. Lamentations was awarded a 2020 Arts and Accessibility grant from the National Arts and Disability Center. The album was released in February 2021.
Thomas’s 2014 GRAMMY® nominated recording of John Cage’s The Ten Thousand Things on the MicroFest label with acclaimed pianists Aron Kallay and Vicki Ray, legendary percussionist William Winant, and a recently discovered recording of John Cage himself performing 45’ for a Speaker was the first American recording of this seminal work. He has performed as a soloist with Ensemble Oh-Ton, People Inside Electronics, MicroFest, and the Schindler House and many others, and has been featured on Nordwest Radio in Hamburg, Germany. Thomas is a member of the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra of the South Bay, and Southwest Chamber Music since. He is a lecturer of Double Bass at the Bob Cole Conservatory of Music at the California State University, Long Beach.
Thomas is featured prominently on Plucking: The Music of Tom Johnson on MicroFest Records with the music of legendary composer Tom Johnson. He is also the author of Our Socially Awkward Marriage along with his wife Linda Peters.
In 2010, the world finally made sense to me. That was when, at the age of 47, I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Until that time, life had always felt mystifying, like it was governed by a secret rule book that everyone had a copy of except me. As it turned out, my struggles in navigating a neurotypical world had a logical explanation: my brain simply works differently.
It was my neurodiversity that led me to discover the double bass in elementary school. While my fellow fourth-graders were crowding around the violins, the double bass sat alone in a corner. I didn’t want the bass to feel bad, so I brought it home and used it to make scary sounds for a Halloween tape. This pivotal experience taught me that the overlooked double bass had an extraordinary range of expression.
As an adult, I became a double bass soloist who specialized in performing, recording, and internationally touring works by avant-garde composers such as John Cage, Chinary Ung, and Hanne Darboven. I had learned Max/MSP and assembled a portable performing rig so that I could perform new music written for double bass and computer.
I had also begun improvising electronic scores for classic silent films, which caught the attention of Canadian viol player Joëlle Morton. In 2013, Dr. Morton commissioned me to write and perform an electronic score for double bass, tenor viola da gamba, and soundscape for the 1927 classic film The Passion of Joan of Arc.
And so, at the age of 50, I embarked on a new role as a composer. Formally composing music showed me that my extensive experience in performing the works of others had taught me a lot about how music is put together. My completed score to The Passion of Joan of Arc premiered at the Toronto Silent Film Festival in 2013 and was featured in a radio broadcast over the CBC.
Other accomplishments as a composer soon followed, including my score to John Ford’s The Iron Horse, commissioned by The Autry in 2015; and performances in 2014 and 2016 at the Portland Art Museum’s Northwest Film Center with Nosferatu and The Man with the Movie Camera.
Through my artistic practice, I speak for the double bass community by revealing new possibilities. My compositions nearly always extend the double bass through elaborate electronic accompaniments that make use of classical avant-garde techniques. One of the biggest drawbacks of the double bass as a solo instrument is that it can be easily overpowered by accompanying voices. One remedy is to design electronic accompaniments that are inherently favorable to the instrument, and to use a bowed electric double bass that can be amplified.
I also speak for the Autism community, by representing how to turn painful challenges into unusual strengths. For instance, my need to make sense of seemingly disparate ideas in everyday life has given me the ability to combine musical elements that, on the surface, don’t seem to go together. My compositions often include banjo, mandolin and concertina, in addition to piano and various drums, all of which I play and record. This allows me to blend instruments that would never be practical to play together in an acoustic setting, such as organ and ukulele.
Over the past eight years, my work as a composer has included writing and performing music for dance, sound collage installations, two albums of ambient music, and 9 silent film scores. In 2020, I was awarded an Arts and Accessibility grant from the California Arts Council for my ambient album, Lamentations, released in February 2021. My intention was to create a space for grieving, and the tracks were designed to mirror the feelings of loss that we’re all experiencing due to the pandemic.
Looking forward, I’m planning to combine music with forms of storytelling other than silent films. Music has its roots in narrative, and I am interested in exploring how music and stories can be intertwined to help people find common ground. I also plan to continue composing music that is created with a specific purpose by building on Paul Hindemith’s concept of Gebrauchsmusik, the musical equivalent of functional art.