I was recently asked by Ringtone specialists Personatones to answer some questions as part of a 10 question interview surrounding my composition style, influences, approach and management of my time and music, I was more than happy to take part and hope you will find my responses insightful.
1. When did you compose/ produce your first piece of music?
Being born in the late 1980s, I grew up with technology. I guess my first experience with music was at around 13 and was really loosely based around ‘arranging‘ than actual composing. I had some software called Dance eJay and we were all using it at school. I can clearly remember rushing home to continue dragging all these coloured panels containing different sample types from different categories; from lead lines to bases and percussion into a basic arrangement page. I guess the samples must have been in the same key or self adjusting as you selected them or something, as I was certainly not aware of such things then. It’s a great way for kids to get into music!
While in the band I contributed some rhythm riffs but never thought of myself as a songwriter or anything like that in those days. I found the whole process quite scary thinking back on it and mostly just wanted to play and have fun. My first serious composition, I guess, was around three years ago and it was a dark atmospheric electronic piece.
2. What was it that inspired you to begin composing/ producing?
I studied a module on my Music Production course at University which covered music and sound within the moving image and that really opened the door for me and inspired me to get composing.
I think film music has always moved me; I get very into the whole world of a film and the sonic environment is a big part of that. I mean, I’m laughing now, but I can remember hiding behind the sofa as a kid as soon as I heard Mussorgsky’s ‘Night On Bald Mountain’ in Disney’s Fantasia. The visuals were pretty creepy, but I think the music scared me more and those two elements put together was just too much!
My Dad purchased his first home cinema sound system in around 1995; I was just blown away experiencing surround sound for the very first time. I remember being transported from the front room straight into the action on the movie screen and would always look forward to watching a film with him.
3. Is there a philosophical approach that underpins your work?
It really depends on the project I guess. The great thing about composing to film is you are given the gift of the film itself and that is usually a great basis for inspiration; be it from the mood, the movement, the story or even the place, it literally can be anything. My job is to react to the visuals quickly and start to develop the themes and key motifs. I try to ‘become’ the character or event when looking for an emotional voice, but for me, defining the atmosphere and general mood of the picture is usually first on my priority list. This will then dictate the instrumentation and usually things start happening pretty fast.
When composing off picture, I think my inspiration comes from just general observation. If you look hard enough there is so much going on in the world, lets underscore it! Sometimes I come up with a script thatexists in my head and write to that; I think my music is generally very cinematic in approach every time.
4. What drives you to continue to be a composer/ producer?
Music is always surprising me, there is so much content out there I just feel like I’m learning constantly and always looking for new approaches to composition. I don’t think it will ever become boring or static, there is so much room for collaboration and exploration within music and film is a great place for this. I guess that is what drives me to continue composing and getting out there looking for projects.
5. Which composers’/ producers’ work do you particularly admire? and why?
Wow, where to even begin. I have come to admire composers from different angles, either the music itself, the approach to the composition, or a mix of the two I guess. I have recently spent some time exploring Jerry Goldsmith’s work for ‘Planet of the Apes’ and ‘Alien’ which are two very similar scores in terms of approach and function; the level of detail in the orchestration and amount of thought that went into the instrumentation is just unreal; and this is the thing you know, who would get away with releasing ‘Planet of the Apes’ as a commercial musical release on it’s own? I can’t imagine it would do too well, but when synced with Franklin J. Schaffner’s film, it just interlocked so well and was a successful score, film really is the composer’s best friend as it gives the green light for experimentation.
Generally I’m a bit of a mixed bag, I love Zimmer’s bombastic scores for the more contemporary action films; Williams for his romantic work; Steiner for his Mickey Mousing; Herrmann’s haunting, impressionist work for ‘Psycho’ and his Jazzy work in ‘Taxi Driver’ all the way up to Trent Reznor’s more electronic textural approach for ‘The Social Network’ and pretty much everything in-between. I’m pretty open-minded when it comes to music.
6. How do you go about starting a new piece?
It normally starts on the piano while I’m working out the foundations and trying to find my sonic voice then it really depends on the project, I try not to start orchestrating too early on as I consider that to be a separate task and it can create more work for yourself, especially if your core idea changes halfway through. At times however, I do take a linear approach and orchestrate/arrange as I’m composing. Other times, it is literally the timbre and expression of the instrument which I feel speak more than the notes themselves so I will start to play around with sounds and textures rather than ‘music’ itself, I guess this is more where my ‘sound design’ element comes into play. This obviously depends on how you define sound and music; to me there is little difference between the two.
7. What is it you do that defines your style?
I am often asked this question and find it really hard to answer. I feel my music tends to be consistent in mood. This is perhaps created through my use of basses and cellos. I love the drone effect, something I have perhaps picked from listening to eastern music, Indian classical music specifically and in a sense is perhaps intrinsic to film music in its attempt to add atmosphere to a scene. I try to change and add movement to accentuate parts of the music as it develops in my low instruments and I’m always trying to play around with my cellos and bases to create different textures between them. This is then then reversed at times moving the drone to 1st (and 2nd at times) violins and basses should my melodic line move to the cellos and violas. I’m guessing my style may change and develop over time, but for now this seems to be working for me .
8. How do you know when your piece is finished?
I don’t think a piece of music is ever finished as with any art, there is always a couple more things you could do here and there. The deadline I guess will dictate when the music is finished if working to project. I have resorted to completing a piece, saving the files and then archiving them on a separate hard-drive so I can’t open and start fiddling with my completed work. It’s down to discipline I think, telling yourself “no,” this one is done now. It’s not always the case, but it can be counter-productive agonising over previous works, once they’re done, they’re done and move on.
9. What are you working on at the moment?
I’m working on a few personal projects, nothing exclusively to picture at the moment but I try to keep composing as much as I can. I have an Indian/Western orchestral fusion in the works that I am really excited about and am working on a Mancini-esque big band arrangement as a rescore for the opening credits to the film ‘Catch Me If You Can’.
10. What other other passions do you have, when you’re not composing?
I like to cook, spend time with my girlfriend and socialize with friends and family as much as I can. I enjoy walking, attempting to catch up on TV series such as “Game of Thrones” (which I am still about a series behind on), playing some video games occasionally when I have the time and recently I have started becoming interested in photography and have found my way around Photoshop, but that is another story!