Creative Quarantine: Musician & Composer Adam Dorn, aka Mocean Worker

Adam Dorn / Mocean Worker | PhotoCredit: ©Tim Knox

Esthetic Lens caught up with Adam Dorn / Mocean Worker for some insight into what he’s been working on during the last year. Dorn was very generous and shared with us his thoughts as well as his latest series of compositions set to video, A Cue A Day.

1.How are you holding up?

Covid has been really a wild roller coaster for me personally. In the initial weeks of the pandemic, I sadly lost some close friends; I was really devastated. One friend who passed, Hal Willner was a lifelong friend and close collaborator. We did the music for SERIAL together; I wrote the original music, and Hal handled the music supervision. His passing was a gigantic loss for me.

As July turned into August, things started getting a little better. The combination of the positive US Election results, and my having found a nice focus with my “A Cue A Day” series, really led me to be far more positive and focused. The daily exercise of creating, setting a goal, and maintaing a daily practice has gone a long way to center me and calm me down. Living through Covid has ultimately turned into a positive experience; the closeness of my family, the practice of staying creative has been surprisingly centering. 

This is a piece that Charlie Hunter and I recorded a few years back. It’s a rhythmic improvisation. | A Cue A Day | Music: ©Adam Dorn ©Charlie Hunter

2. Has Covid-19 had an effect on your work? If so, in what way?

YES, Covid completely stopped ALL of my work for months. I primarily score films and tv shows, production shut down entirely in mid-March of 2020; I work on documentary films and action films, primarily. From March until October of 2020 I worked on one project, and nothing else; it was a first in almost thirty years! I realized I had been steadily working as a musician, composer, and recording artist non-stop. Work just stopping like that was very surprising. I wasn’t quite sure what to do until I started doing my “A Cue A Day” exercise in Mid-late October.  

This is a piece of music inspired by Ryuichi Sakamoto but clearly doesn’t sound like his music. Something about the view out of the train window just fascinated me. This piece wrote itself as a result. | A Cue A Day | Music: ©Adam Dorn

3. What are some of the unexpected creative things or projects that have developed for you while navigating the current state of the world?

What a perfect segue between answers! In Mid-Late October of 2020, I realized that I couldn’t just write music for the sake of writing it; I had incredible writer’s block and no focus. The thought of making an album crossed my mind but, I found that I couldn’t just write music without looking at video or imagery of some sort.  I tried writing music for months, and it just went nowhere, it was infuriating! Finally, on Oct 23rd, 2020, I realized that I needed to see footage and imagery in order to write. I stumbled upon a stock video website and searched for hours through their archives. (The site is called ) I signed up and started downloading sets of clips and compiling them inside of Avid’s Pro Tools software. I started writing music to selections of clips; I’d put in a sort of story order and just like that my writer’s block vanished. It was a fantastic feeling to have my creativity completely unlocked again! I’d take random clips of Tokyo’s daily life, or clips of the train system there and write music to them. I channeled inspiration from other composers’ works, for example, the first few clips I composed were “In the style” of Ryuichi Sakamoto. Truth be told they were really in my style, but with the sort of sonic / timbre inspirations of Sakamoto; he’s an idol of mine for sure.  Once these daily exercises kicked in it just took off like a runaway train. One hundred plus days later, and I’m still consistently writing music and putting it together with a found film every day. I’m not a film editor at all; the software I’m using is meant for music production, it has a cursory video component that allows me to do some basic stitching together. There are challenges with this process, but I love them. The musical styles I’m writing in are all over the place now; this has been an incredible tool to not only be creative but to also learn and grow as a composer. This has been an incredible opportunity for me to attempt to write with orchestral instruments in mind, which is not an area of focus in my formative musical training.

I painstakingly put this together to make everything work. It is a combination of different videos edited together to create a tense feeling. I loved writing this piece. | A Cue A Day | Music: ©Adam Dorn

4. Who do you wish were still with us to provide pointed commentary on what we are collectively experiencing and why?

There are two people that come to mind, off the top of my head; my father, Joel Dorn, and Miles Davis. My father was an incredible inspiration to me creatively. He worked in the music industry, as a record producer for forty years. His vast body of work inspired me, I chose to study music and become a musician and composer.  Miles Davis… there is no career that matches his. I look to Miles for the road map to the best creative arc in music history; it’s incredible what he did over the course of his career. So yes… my dad and Miles Davis being around are really where it’s at for me with this question!

I collaborated on this piece with Tarsicio Sañudo and he is a genius filmmaker. Check out his website | A Cue A Day | Music: ©Adam Dorn

5. What artists, performers, writers, have you come across recently that have created poignant work about where we are at right now?

I take inspiration from some of the artists I’ve worked with over the years. I’ve been fortunate to have some incredible mentors and collaborators over the decades. I’d say, Marcus Miller, Bill Frisell, Brian Eno, Hal Willner, my father (Joel Dorn), Miles Davis, Charlie Hunter, and Peter Gabriel (the only person here I’ve never met or worked with on this list) are constant inspirations to me. They all share in common a sound; a singular voice with their instruments and a. musical distinction as composers. I’m drawn to artists who have a signature voice. It is always my goal to be identified this way as well; having created something that I own…my sound. I feel like my Mocean Worker records are singular. I’m known for doing something very well, and I own that sound. As a composer, it’s a much different challenge; the work I do is all over the place but, I’m still trying to sound like me within all of my different projects.

I have no idea why I named this piece after Ernest Borgnine. This is a dramatic piece of music…kind of like Ernest’s divorce from Ethel Merman. | A Cue A Day | Music: ©Adam Dorn

6. What are you looking forward to?

People being vaccinated in very large numbers and less death from this illness. First and foremost is for my family to be safe and sound. I’m very excited to work as things open back up. I have a couple of films in the pipeline that I’m about to score and that’s exciting to me. That for me is the light at the end of this strange tunnel. 

This piece is inspired by The Crown and is an example of my journey in learning how to write and create Orchestral Music. | A Cue A Day | Music: ©Adam Dorn

Adam Dorn aka Mocean Worker is a Composer, Recording Artist, and Bass Player. Under the moniker Mocean Worker, he has recorded nine full-length albums. His music has been featured in films and tv shows such as “Better Call SaulCSI“, “The Sopranos“, “Six Feet Under“, “The Devil Wears Prada” to name a few. He’s composed music for feature films and documentaries including “Robin Williams – Come Inside My Mind” “Richard Pryor – Omit The Logic“, Alex Gibney’s Showtime limited series “Enemies“, and also Gibney’s HBO Limited series, “Agents Of Chaos“. Adam wrote the score for season 3 of the award-winning podcast “SERIAL” and his music has also been featured extensively at Disney Theme Parks all over the world in a variety of attractions including “Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge“. Adam has worked with many recording artists. Bill Frisell, U2, Marcus Miller, The Manhattan Transfer, Laurie Anderson, and Hal Willner.

Adam Dorn, Self-Portrait | ©Adam Dorn

Adam Dorn can be found online on Instagram and Twitter.