Rob Aster — that's "Radical Rob" to his friends — isn't exactly the Augusta National type. He has a curly mane of salt-and-pepper hair. He loves jamming on his bass guitar and sharing colorful tales of his days in the music business. And you can forget about a green jacket — Aster is partial to the black leather variety. "I'm a rocker," he says. "I confess."
He also happens to be an integral part of the Masters. Each year in the weeks before the tournament, Aster can be found in the basement of his New Jersey home feverishly producing the scores — some soaring, others subdued — that accompany the highlight packages, hole flyovers, and goosebump-inducing montages that help make the Masters, well, the Masters.
"We're like storytellers," Aster says of himself and his longtime collaborator, David Dachinger. "We're trying to help tell the story through the music, to pique the sense of achievement in victory and agony in defeat — and everything in between. It's analogous to a movie soundtrack." (Fitting, in that the Masters is now coming to you in 3-D.)
Aster and Dachinger don't limit themselves to golf — they have also produced music for the Super Bowl, the NCAA tournament and the Olympics, as well as shows such as "Jeopardy!" and "Dateline" — but the drama and rich pageantry of the royal and ancient game particularly appeals to Aster.
"I can't even begin to find the words to express what joy I get out of doing this stuff for golf. It's just different somehow," he says. "And it's incredibly flattering that the CBS guys seem to get energized by our music." Literally in the case of CBS announcer Jim Nantz, who stores at least one Masters track, "Fore Fathers," on his iPod. "I jog to it," Nantz says.
One of the biggest challenges of composing for the Masters, which Aster and Dachinger have done since 2006, is finding a fresh approach each year. "Everything has been done on TV in one way or the other," Aster says. So he spends a lot of late nights on his computer, sometimes a tumbler of whiskey in hand, sampling and mixing all kinds of instrumentals (yes, technology has changed the way music is made too) until he creates a "blueprint" for a score. He then sends that concept to Dachinger to compose and orchestrate. (Their alliance has paid off. Last year the pair was nominated for an Emmy for the score they wrote for the CBS special "Seve at the Masters.")
"One of the things that we learned some time ago is that you need to be very careful of the timbre of certain instruments because they compete with the timbre of the human voice," Aster says. "We can't step on Jim or [Nick] Faldo or any of those guys, so there are certain pieces where maybe we'll pull the melody out. So it'll just be the rhythm, which supports the narration. There will be other times where we'll keep the melody but it will be tucked back in a slightly lower register so as not to compete with another element."
Aster and Dachinger don't produce all the Masters music — the ubiquitous tinkly piano theme is a Dave Loggins original — but Aster estimates that their music comprised about 75 percent of the soundtrack in 2009. They also write for the PGA Championship and CBS's regular Tour events. A headbanger at heart, Aster is always looking for ways to give his golf soundtracks a hipper, edgier feel, and he says the CBS Sports producers generally have been accepting of his ear.
"They trust us," he says. "They kind of give us a long leash and allow us the opportunity to push the musical envelope."
Well, within reason of course, particularly when it comes to a certain tournament in early April. "No, you're not going hear any Ozzy Osbourne, heavy-riffing guitars at the Masters," Aster says, laughing. "That much I promise you."
You can find the duo's new album, Master Works: Soundtrack Music From and Inspired by Golf's Majors on CBS, and preview their songs on amazon.com.