Ian Arber is a film and television composer, known for his work on “I Am Bolt” (2016), “Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation” (2015), “My Name Is Lenny” (2017) and BBC2’s comedy “Quacks” (2017). Ian is an emerging talent in the film music world. With a growing portfolio of work across a variety of genres, Ian is bringing a fresh and unique compositional style to each project…
I know you started in music from the age of five, so what are your earliest memories of any music?
I began playing cello at age 5. My earliest memories of music were certainly around this time period, I used to play in very young orchestras when I was 7/8 years old. I remember being fascinated by instruments, and wanted to build a collection. I had a bass guitar, electric guitar, classical guitar, cello and piano before the age of 10.
What musical studies did you undertake?
I studied cello through my whole childhood, earning grade 8 in my teens. I studied piano from 10, then began to produce music later in my teens. At university I studied Music Technology which focussed on music production, orchestration and composition.
Were you always drawn to TV or film music, or was this something that just happened as you experimented with performing and composing?
I was obsessed with movies, and movie music as a kid. Ever since seeing E.T. I was fascinated in what music could do to picture. It wasn’t until university that I really understood what it took to make a career as a film and TV composer. I would say that I have always been drawn to working in music, and that film was a passion I wanted to pursue in combination.
You worked as Joe Kraemer’s assistant on MISSION IMPOSSIBLE ROGUE NATION, what was your duties as assistant on this?
Cheerleader. Friend. No, seriously.. I guess doing what I could to allow Joe to focus on the creative aspects of the scoring process. On such a huge movie with intense deadlines, it was important to support Joe to allow him to focus on the music.
You collaborated with Ron Scalpello the director on MY NAME IS LENNY, did he have any specific instructions or ideas concerning what style of music he though the film needed?
I loved working with Ron. He had a very clear, and collaborative approach to the Lenny score. The basic idea was for the score to represent the trauma of Lenny’s past, and building uncontrollable anger within as a result. So the score is very sound-design heavy at parts, and builds throughout to disturbing and claustrophobic climaxes. We also wanted to incorporate the sound or feeling of punching in the percussion for some of the fight scenes. I actually ended up recording the sound of myself punching my studio sofa, and layering this in with the percussion.
How many players did you use on MY NAME IS LENNY?
One. Just me. We didn’t have the budget for an orchestra, and most of the score is distorted cello, piano and bass and electric guitar, all of which I performed live.
So you perform on your score, your scores, and do you conduct at all?
I perform on every score. Even if it’s just layering some cello ambience or percussion on top of samples to bring them to life. On the BBC series ‘Quacks’ I performed every instrument in an almost fully live score. A large selection of percussion and props from the show, cello, violin, guitars and a plucked piano.
You have worked on many documentaries, I AM BOLT and MO FARAH RACE OF HIS LIFE, come to mind straight away, is it more difficult working on a documentary as opposed to writing a score for a feature film?
I haven’t actually worked on a huge amount.. Perhaps 3 or 4, but generally I love working on cinematic documentaries. I Am Bolt and Mo Farah were both very cinematic and required “big” scores. It can be tricky to work on a documentary, as generally there is a lot of dialogue, and not a lot of room for a melody. But in the case of these 2, there was plenty of space for thematic writing.
Did you have any say in compiling what music went onto the MY NAME IS LENNY and I AM BOLT soundtrack releases?
Yes I put together the tracks/suits for soundtrack release, in collaboration with the label. They sometimes suggest an order change or to perhaps remove or add another track.
Are there any composers from film music and other genres of music that you feel have influenced you?
Bernard Herrmann, John Barry, John Williams, Joe Kraemer, Muse, Radiohead.. to name a few.
You worked on all 6 episodes of QUACKS for TV, is it demanding for the composer working on a series?
Yes, the whole of series 1! 🙂 – It can be, deadlines in TV can be very tight. I was scoring an episode a week at some stage on Quacks. I’m currently working on season 2 of Netflix show ‘Medici: Lorenzo the Magnificent’ and it is a lot of music, to be written in a short amount of time. So it’s important to keep writing and stay on top of deadlines.
What was your first scoring assignment, and how did you become involved on the project?
My first project was scoring a short film for a good friend and very talented director, Matt Campbell. I think I may have dropped him a message on facebook with my portfolio back in 2009 and we hit it off. I’ve scored 3 or 4 of his films since then.
For you what is the best time to become involved on a movie, do you start at the rough-cut stage and spot the movie with the director or producer or are you given a script?
It differs from project to project. The best time, for me, is to be hired during filming, when they have some rough footage from the shoot. Ideally you’re working with some picture, and have enough time to experiment and come up with some ideas before the edit starts. Deadlines suddenly become tight after the locked cut, so ideally I’m on board a good amount of time before then.
Is it hard to break into writing for film and TV?
Very… There’s no right way into the industry. You have to create your own network and make your own luck.
Budgets at times can be rather tight, especially for the music as it is often the last thing that is considered, if the budget is low how does this effect the way in which you score a film or TV project?
Low budget usually means no live musicians. You have to be a great programmer to be a composer these days. I make the samples sound as real as possible and record a layer or two of live instruments myself.
Have you encountered the TEMP track on any of your assignments, if so did you find that it was useful to you or maybe distracting?
I don’t think I’ve ever NOT encountered the temp. Sometimes it’s useful, sometimes it’s problematic. If the temp is a rough guide for tone and instrumentation or emotion, that’s fine. But sometimes a director can fall in love with a temp track, which can be tricky for a composer. I would hate to have to do a sound-alike of a temp track.
How do approach a project, I mean do you start with core themes and develop the score around these or do you work on smaller cues and stabs and from these develop the main themes?
This can differ.. but generally I like to work on some core themes. Once I have a few themes or ideas I and the director are happy with, I’ll begin to attack scenes. Either from scene one, or perhaps from the ‘biggest’ scene of the movie and backwards.
What are you working on at the moment?
I’m in the middle of season 2 of Medici. I’m also working on a documentary called The Story of Motown. There are a couple very exciting projects lined up for later in 2018 too.