The Netflix movie Gunpowder milkshake is your latest score, its directed by Navot Papushado who you collaborated with on Big Bad Wolves and Rabies, did the director have any specific ideas about the music as in its style or where it should be placed?
FI-Yes, we had many talks about the different styles we wanted to have in the film and what we wanted to say musically, our main idea was to give each character a signature tune that will be easy recognisable and would tell the audience which is which. Togther with Gareth Cousins the music editor we had a few spotting sessions and then also Navot and myself would go over cues and and changed and move things around during the early editing process.
The score we are told contains nods to the likes of Bernard Herrmann and also the scores from European 60’s noir movies, but also has a contemporary feel which includes rock infused tracks for the action scenes which by the look of the trailer there are many. You utilized a number of female soloists for the project, what size orchestra did you have for the movie and how much music did you write for the film?
FI-I wrote about close to 3hr of score over the past year for the film, as the film had many changes and recuts due to some test screening as you do, so some of the music had to be rewritten and also new cues were needed to be added. I had a 90 piece orchestra and choir, about ten soloist performers and a bunch of old synth and a theremin to give that retro feel.
How much time did you have to create and record the score?
FI – I worked on it for about a year give to take and we recorded over a week at Air Studios and the film was mixed at Abbey Road for a couple of weeks after.
What percentage of the score would you say is symphonic as in conventional players?
FI- the orchestra is always present in all the cues in one way or another, but its always playing fairly soft as I wanted to build it as the story moves forward, it comes into full force toward the second half of the film where the librarians are becoming more establish in the story.
Will there be a soundtrack release for the score and if so do you have any idea when this will be?
FI- Yes the soundtrack album will be released by Milan Records on all digital platforms and CD on demand and later in the year as a special vinyl edition via Mondo.
How would you describe the movie?
FI – Gunpowder Milkshake is a genre blender movie, think a Japanese assassin comic book, film noir, a western and a modern-day action thriller with a twist, very colourful, stylish and super fun!
BILL MARX is a native of Los Angeles, California. And has been a professional musician since he was sixteen years of age, he studied composition in New York at the Juilliard School of Music, and has continued on to this day as a renown jazz pianist. Mr. Marx has composed many symphonic orchestral works as well as music for motion pictures, television, and ballet. He has also produced and arranged for and performed with many jazz and pop artists, including the music for two record albums and all the television appearances of his father, Harpo Marx. As a stage performer, he has concertized worldwide for years, combining his piano artistry with humorous anecdotes about the life and times he shared with his dad, both personally and professionally as his musical arranger/conductor, many of which are chronicled in his father’s autobiography HARPO SPEAKS! and from Bill’s own autobiography, SON OF HARPO SPEAKS!
THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS OF THE UNITED STATES HAS DESIGNATED MR. MARX AS THE OFFICIAL SPOKESPERSON OF THE MARX BROTHERS FOR THE NATIONAL FILM REGISTRY, WHICH PROMOTES THE PRESERVATION OF AMERICAN MOTION PICTURE CLASSICS.
Composer and performer William (Bill) Marx, wrote the music for a handful of movies from the mid to late 1960’s through to the end of the 1980’s. His music for film may not be that well known but it is popular amongst aficionados of movie scores. With his scores for Count Yorga Vampire and its sequel The Return of Count Yorga (aka-Vampire Story) probably being the composers best-known works for film.
Even today some fifty plus years after seeing these movies I am still in awe of the way in which the composer scored them, the music often being the driving force behind scenes and also it is the score that strikes fear into the hearts and souls of any watching audience. My thanks to Mr. Marx for his time and his patience whilst I interrogated him and my heartfelt thanks to Tim Ayres, who put me in contact with the composer. JM. MMI. (2021).
You are obviously from a family background that is filled with talent as in the entertainment business, can I ask what are your earliest memories of any kind of music?
My earliest musical impact was when I was two years old. I learned to sing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” and “That’s What I Want For Christmas”. I have Victrola recordings of both. My dad exposed me to all kinds of music. Gershwin, Stravinsky, Be Bop, East and West coast Jazz, Bartok, French Impressionistic Composers, Kenton, who I later wrote for….etc…..yes, all kinds of music…..
What musical education did you have, and as a pianist I am guessing you focused more upon the piano when studying as well as composition etc?
I had started playing piano when I was four……But I became interested in composing when I was about twelve years old……I wound up as a composition major at seventeen when I went to Juilliard, where my teacher was Bernard Waagoner.
In my opinion your score for Count Yorga Vampire played a massive part in creating the harrowing and jumpy atmosphere within the movie, it is a great shame that your score has never been released, although it is available as an isolated score on one of the blu-ray releases. Do you think that it could be released alongside some of your other film music, the sequel The Return of Count Yorga for example, also thinking of this I suppose that the rights for the music are retained by AIP? The score is performed by mainly strings and woodwind with a scattering of percussion and piano, plus there are a handful of electronic effects, and I think I detected guitar? What size ensemble or orchestra did you have for the film?
Thank you for the Yorgaccolades you could Google and contact Tim Ayres about what he had to do to devote time to using the score. He has an informative internet show about composers. I used only eight players, as I felt that would create a greater intimacy than a large orchestra.
Considering the movie was released in 1970, it has stood the test of time very well and your score and the performance by Robert Quarry are the two main reasons for this. The music you wrote for the movie was way ahead of its time in its style and sound, taking into account most horror movies were still being scored in a way that started in the 1950’s. Did the director have any specific requests or instructions regarding the score and how it should sound?
The directorBob Kelljan who I worked with a few times allowed me to write whatever I felt would add to the overall atmosphere of the movie……Quarry was terrific.
I remember seeing the movie in 1970 at the cinema, I was fifteen at the time, I always remember the Main titles music, it set the scene straight away for the film and it also scared the hell out of me, because it was kind of soothing in a macabre way and lulled the audience into a false sense of security. Was this something that you did intentionally to create an atmosphere that was calm but at the same time apprehensive?
I guess the score did to you what I hoped it would do to its audiences.
How many times did you sit and watch the movie before deciding upon a style or sound and where the music should be placed to best serve the picture and how much time were you given to work n the composition and the recording of the score?
In those days we took our music timings for each scene on a Moviola. That is how I watched the film, my score taking me a month to write and record… The whole movie was shot in 10 days….
Did you conduct the score, and did you perform on it at all, I ask about performing because there is a lovely piano piece on the soundtrack and was wondering if this was you?
Yes, that was me on the piano and I also conducted the score.
I understand that you were arranging and conducting music for your father at the age of sixteen, was it always music that you wanted to pursue as a career?
I was a good baseball player, but for physical problems that prevented me from becoming one, I slipped back into music…
The film TheDeathmaster contained a rock styled score, and you also utilized sitar at certain points, was this because of the scenario, setting and period in which the film was set and can you remember who the sitar player was?
Bill Plummer was the sitar player on The Deathmaster score. It was a weird film about a weird cult in a weird vampire-hippie environment…. The director was Ray Danton, who was himself a good character actor….
Scream Blacula Scream, was a mix of both horror and comedy, the score was upbeat and at times funky plus it had a really good song, Spread your Love all over me, you wrote the music but who wrote the lyrics and who was the female vocalist?
I believe the director was Bob Kelljan, who also did the Yorga films. Marilyn Lovell wrote the lyrics to “Spread”, but I don’t remember who sang the song…
I think you began writing music for commercials during the 1960’s when you were arranging cover versions of songs for Vee Jay records, it was also in this decade that you started to score movies, your first being a short entitled, Weekend Pass which was in 1961, how did you become involved as the composer on this?
I was very good friends with Marion Thomas who at the time was dating this guy who wanted to make his first movie and I wanted to score my first movie, so we got together.
Your next movie was also a 1961 release entitled Walk the Angry Beach, but you did not score another movie until 1970 which was Count Yorga, what were you doing between movies musically?
I would play jazz piano in night clubs between composing, which is something I still do and enjoy today.
The Astral Factor was another interesting movie that you scored in 1978, which starred Stephanie Powers, I am not sure but according to certain websites it was re-scored in 1984, any idea why this happened?
I have no idea why they re-scored the picture, as I lost complete track of the film… They kept re-titling it…and I just had moved on to another project. They just might not have liked my score. Only they would know this.
You worked on a few horror movies as a composer, do you think that horror is a genre that requires more music than other types of movies and is there times within a movie that does not require music?
The director of any movie, regardless of its theme, determines the music requirements, if, where and when it shall be used for the appropriate scenes.
You also wrote music for TV Starsky and Hutch for example, is scoring TV shows hugely different from working on motion pictures?
Technically, there is no difference for me between scoring for movies or TV…
There is news from Hollywood about a re-make of the Blacula movies, if approached would you consider writing music for any such production?
I know nothing of the talk of a Blacula sequel, though it wouldn’t surprise me if there was.
My thanks to Bill Marx for his time and wonderful responses.
You had already worked with director Stanley Kubrick on Killers Kiss and Fear and Desire, but may I begin by asking about Paths of Glory, the score was mainly a percussive one, which at the time of the film’s release was certainly revolutionary and highly effective. I know Stanley Kubrick was a percussionist so did he have specific instructions about how the score should sound and where the music should be placed?
Stanley, after a few conversations, for the most part, left me alone. But I’m sure that me knowing he was a percussionist figured in.
You began your career as a musician playing Oboe, was it difficult to change direction and take on the role of being a composer?
It was exciting and challenging. Me being a jazz saxophonist (jazz joints around N.Y.) and concert oboist (Dallas Symphony, Pittsburgh, New York Little Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic,) put me way ahead of most composers who were mostly pianists as far as orchestration was concerned.
What do you feel is the purpose of music in film?
To get the audience to feel what the actors, and writers, were feeling.
You have worked on a number of TV series such as The Man from Uncle,Roots, and Star Trek, do you approach a TV series differently from scoring a motion picture, and are episodes scored in the order that they are broadcast?
No, it’s the same approach, and yes episodes are scored in the order that that are to be released.
When scoring a series for TV do you at times re introduce elements from previous episodes, as in re-cycle themes or phrases to keep continuity?
Yes, when appropriate, mainly to identify recurring characters, but it doesn’t happen often.
A few of your scores have been issued onto compact disc by various record labels, and recently Dragons Domain have released a compilation of your music that includes Cruise into Terror and Survive, do you ever have an input into what music will appear on any releases?
No, well, at least they haven’t yet asked me.
The Killing of Sister George is a score that I like a lot, how did you become involved on the movie and what size orchestra did you have for the score?
I got a hiring call from Robert Aldrich. The size of the orchestra was probably in the mid-twenties.
Roots was originally given to Quincy Jones, but you ended up scoring everything on the series and creating your own central theme. How much time did you have to work on the series?
Because of the Quincy situation, the first few scores were under time pressure: maybe a week for a full score. But, the rest of the series was done in standard time.
Whatever happened to Aunt Alice is a very atmospheric score, do you think that horror movies need more music than other genres of film?
I never actually thought about it, but, I bet they did.
Staying with Horror, your score for The Vampire or The Mark of the Vampire as it was also known, enhances and punctuates wonderfully the action on screen, the music at times sounds almost like a classical piece or something that might have been utilized in the early Universal horrors in the 1930’s. was this something that you set out to do, or was it a style that developed as you were working on the movie?
I do remember using an old liturgical chant: DIES IRIE, Day of Wrath.
Another two horror movies where you adopt a similar style although at times they are more dramatic sounding are I Bury the Living and Return of Dracula, when working out your scores or your musical ideas do you use keyboard or do you work these out on Oboe or maybe even write them straight to manuscript?
I like to work things out on the piano before I commit them to the Final Draft.
Is orchestration an important part of the composing process for you?
Hell, yes. Like I said, Playing in jazz groups and Symphony orchestras was the best preparation for movie composing I could get.
Too Late the Hero, is a great movie directed by Robert Aldrich, you collaborated with him on this, and other projects did the director have a hands-on approach when it came to the music?
I worked on a few with him yes, As for hands on no, Bob Aldrich was not at all.
I am guessing that working on so many movies and TV projects you have at some point encountered the Temp Track, do you find this a helpful tool or is it at times a distraction?
If you mean the music they put in temporarily, we just quickly edited temp tracks out of our minds.
Gilligan’s Island was a popular TV series in the States, and there were also a couple of movies that you scored as well, did the scoring process vary between the TV shows and the movies, or was it just about budget mainly?
TV projects were usually low budget, but the process was the same: get into the feelings of each scene.
You worked on two movies about Native American Indians, The Mystic Warrior and I Will Fight no more Forever, the latter was based on a true story, when writing the scores did you do research into native American instruments or sounds?
Very much so, I did a lot of research, and talked to a lot of Native American players and composers.
Sadly, there are a few non-commercial recordings of your scores out there, and some years ago many of your scores were issued on promo CDS, do you retain the rights to your music for film and TV or does it remain the property of the studios?
Frankly, I don’t recall who or what studio retained what rights.
What are your thoughts on the way that film music has developed over the past few years, I am of the opinion that there are far too few thematic scores and the style heavily relies upon soundscapes with very few melodies materializing, plus the main title as we knew it seems to have all but disappeared?
Yes, styles have changed. But I’m not sure if that’s good news or bad news.
You are still writing for movies, what have you scored recently and are you able to tell us what is next for you?
I did a comic parody of Star Trek, last year, but actually these days I’ve been writing screenplays, and enjoying doing this.
British born composer Gareth Coker is a talented and wonderfully gifted Maestro, who has written the atmospheric and haunting soundtracks for video games such as Ori and the Blind Forest, and Ori and the Willow theWisps. He has also scored Halo Infinite , Immortals Fenyx Rising ,and Ark.
Can I begin by asking was music always something that you wanted to do as a career?
Definitely not! I was always enthusiastic about music throughout my school life, but it hadn’t occurred to me that it could be a career until I was told by a schoolteacher that I should apply to music school for composition. I did so, got accepted to the Royal Academy of Music, and from then on (2002) I started to take it seriously. Even then, I did not become truly a working professional until 2010. After graduating the Academy, I spent three years teaching English in Japan, and then in 2009 I came to America to study at USC’s Scoring for Motion Pictures and Television program. It was only after finishing that program that I felt truly ready to try and make a career out of it.
Your scores are so theme laden, which is rare these days with the soundscape like sounds that are being used in film, would you say that it is important for characters in games and in films to have a musical identity so the audience or the players can be inspired by this?
I truly feel that good theming is the strongest tool in the box for when you’re wanting to give a film / game / character an identity. But of course, it is also one of the most challenging ones to craft. What defines a good theme? Is it the actual melody itself (E.T. Star Wars, etc.), or is it some kind of sonic texture that we’ve never heard before but immediately connects with the character (Dark Knight – Joker, or Into the Spider-verse – Prowler). Or a combination of both and everything in between?
The biggest thing with regards to musical identity is that a score should not be interchangeable with another one. When as a composer you have achieved that, then you’ve given your score something that the viewer / player will forever associate only with that project that it was attached to.
Your music for Ori and the Will of the Wisp is superb, how much music did you compose for this project?
Thankyou! All in all, probably close to four hours of music for the game, which was ‘reduced’ (ha) to 3 hours for the soundtrack. I’m very aware that the soundtrack is very long, but it does follow the golden path that the player will take through the game, thus the music really does reflect Ori’s journey throughout.
There are a number of ethnic instruments within the score for Ori and the Will of the Wisp, is is difficult at times to find musicians who are able to play these?
It honestly depends on the instrument. I’m very fortunate to be able to work with a woodwind collaborator, Kristin Naigus, who has a few hundred instruments at her disposal. Often I will present her with a melody and ask her to play it on more than one instrument, and we generally just pick the one that fits the track the best. It’s amazing the nuances and differences one learns to hear between a flute from South America – like the quena – and a flute from East Asia, like the bansuri.
In terms of other instruments, one just asks around the composer community. There’s a lot of us here in LA, and the chances are high that someone knows someone who can play a certain instrument that we want!
How did you become involved in the writing of music for games etc?
I started by working on student games and also being active in the games mod scene for a few years. Video game mods are free add-ons for games developed by the community or game developers who are between projects. I can actually trace most of my career opportunities back to my time working in mods. I was contacted by the developers of Ori through ModDB (a centralized website where a lot of mod developers hang out). My work on ARK Survival Evolved led from knowing a team that I worked with through ModDB, and so on. My other opportunities have all stemmed from these initial projects. For example, my work on Minecraft stemmed from Ori.
Your scores are grand and sweeping, and you also utilize voices to great effect, what size orchestra did you have for Ori and the Blind Forest?
For Ori and the Blind Forest, the string section for the majority of the game was chamber sized (22 strings), with a small woodwind section of flute, clarinet, and oboe. For a handful of the bigger and more dramatic cues in the game a bigger orchestra of 40 strings with full woodwind and brass section (minus trumpets). We also used the solo vocals of Aeralie Brighton extensively, along with solo winds. There was no live choir in the score due to budget reasons. For Will of the Wisps, the score needed a more mature sound and a slightly darker tone. The intimacy that the chamber orchestra provided for Blind Forest wasn’t required nearly as much. The string section for most of Will of the Wisps was 50, with a woodwind section and full brass section again contributing to the largest cues. We also had a choir of 20, occasionally double-tracked for the sound of 40.
Are there any composers or artists that you would say have inspired or influenced you to write in the way that you do, or does all music inspire you no matter what genre?
There’s composers I enjoy listening to, and I’m sure there’s a process of osmosis that happens when listening to other composer’s work often, but I try just to write what I feel will work, irrespective of inspiration. That said, I particularly enjoy the work of Mychael Danna, and his effortless fusions of world music, orchestra, and electronics. I’ll always be a fan of James Horner’s work and also Johann Johannsson. I can usually find something in any music to get inspired or interested by though, and I particularly enjoy trying to understand why others might like something more than I do (we all have different tastes!).
You have scored shorts, TV series as well as video games, does the scoring process differ at all from say a TV series to a short, is it more difficult to establish a thematic thread in a limited amount of time?
I think it mostly depends on the story trying to be told and whether the short / TV show has the opportunity for music and therefore themes to develop. If it’s there you grab it, and if not, you find another way to get the music to enhance what is already on-screen. So much of thematic development depends on the material you are working with. This often means you need to be working very closely with the director and/or editor to figure out the best approach. Ultimately, whether it’s a game, TV episode, or a short, it always just comes back to storytelling and then figuring out how to do that best within the context you’re given.
What musical education did you receive, and were there any areas or instruments that you focused more upon?
I started learning the piano from the age of eight, and then picked up trumpet, trombone, organ over the subsequent years. As I got into composing I started to make sure I had an understanding of the instruments I wrote for. I did this by spending a lot of time with performance students at the Royal Academy of Music, just doing my best to ingest as much information as they could give me!
Do you orchestrate all of your music, or is this sometimes not always possible also do you conduct all of your scores?
I used to, but when one becomes busier (a good problem to have!) it becomes physically impossible to orchestrate everything on a tight deadline. That said, when I am starting a project, I tend to orchestrate some cues myself to give a template to the orchestrator(s) for how to work on the rest of the score. Additionally, I make sure that the music is very clear in its dramatic intention, orchestration is a big part of that, so any orchestrator who works with me is going to have a good idea of what I’m trying to achieve even with my mockups.
How much time are you given to work on a game score, maybe use Ori and the Blind Forest as an example?
This entirely depends on the game, and how much the game developer is willing to share and how early they want the composer on board. There’s no real set answer. For example, on both Ori games I was on from the very beginning, a 4-5 year process each time. Not full-time, but generally just being around the game as it grew. Immortals Fenyx Rising I came on with about a year and a half to go in development. All my Minecraft expansions I was working on for about 2 months. I think one of the key factors in how much time a composer has depends on how narratively driven the game is, which requires a lot more customized content that isn’t dependent on a game’s music system, but also simply how large the game is. A 10-12 hour game doesn’t always need as much music as a game that will last more than 50 hours.
The only thing I will say, is that almost always, for narratively driven games, a better score comes from the composer being involved as soon as possible. It is a key factor of how a game’s identity and feel is forged.
So, in movies the composer normally spots the film to see where music should be placed to best serve the film, is scoring a game done in much the same way and when you are seeing the project for the first time is there anything like a temp track installed?
Spotting exists in games too, it’s just a bit more fluid. I’d say that spotting is actually one of the Ori games’ strongest assets in terms of music. The reason for that is because I play the game quite relentlessly during development, and therefore have the best possible understanding of where music can change and how it will affect the player. Even though games are non-linear, there are often key points which every player will experience that you can use to change the music. It’s spotting just with a different mindset.
As with temp tracks, it also depends per project. For Ori there were no temp tracks and I was encouraged to try and come up with a unique sound. For Immortals Fenyx Rising, my own music from Minecraft Greek Mythology was used as temp!
When you write a particular piece of music for Female voice, do you have a particular vocalist in mind?
There’s so many talented female singers, so it’s just a case of finding the most appropriate one for the project. Different voices have different timbres and characteristics.
Do you think that game score has in the past few years become more popular, and when a soundtrack is released do you like to supervise or have a say in what cues will appear on the recording?
Yes, I’ve generally supervised most of my soundtrack releases. I think for game soundtracks it is very hard to curate a good ‘listening experience’, because there is simply so much music, and the demand from fans to release as much as possible is extremely high.
I also think that in the age of streaming, a curated album is going to be a thing of the past. Users will curate their own playlists from the tracks that they like. That said, there is still room for curation on physical releases with vinyl and CD, but streaming releases I think will get broader and less focused. It’s a good thing that game music fans are so hungry for our work!
Do you have a set way in which you score a project, as in from start to finish, or do you tackle the bigger more prominent sections first and then move to smaller pieces?
I tend to look for the ‘pillars’ of a project, the scenes which will generally be built around. They’re also often the more difficult scenes and with the most weight attached to them amongst the production team. Often getting those scenes scored early can really help drive how the rest of the project goes.
For longer term projects I do a lot of concepting and palette building at the beginning. I often write long suites of music, a suite for a character or an environment or certain situation, and then I draw from those long suites to start creating cues that are more specific.
On Ori and the Will of the Wisps, what percentage of the score was realized via synthetic means or electronics?
About 20% of it was handled by synths or samples. In most of Ori there is an undulating pulse and rhythm. This is because the game is primarily a platformer game, whose emphasis is on movement. As a player you are always moving and so I want the music to feel constantly alive as the player moves through the environment. If you listen to almost any of the tracks, you can hear the aforementioned pulse. It is usually played with tonal instruments that are plucked or struck but they are also affected (reversed, delay, etc…) so to help make them sound otherworldly. This is obviously then combined with the orchestral element of the soundtrack and great care is made to make sure the disparate elements blend well together, and aren’t just mashed without any thought for the other.
Do you have a preference as to where you record your scores?
Abbey Road, Air Lyndhurst, Ocean Way Nashville, Synchron Stage Vienna. As a Brit, recording in London will always be my first choice. I would love to record at one of the LA stages one day, but it needs to be the right project.
Ark was a video game and soon will be realized as an animated series for TV, will you employ the themes you utilised in the video game within the TV series?
I can’t say much about this yet, but I can say that there will definitely be some musical convergence, and I’m having a great time utilizing the 6 years worth of prior ARK music from the game and drawing upon it for the TV show.
Your first credit is for Minecraft the video game, which was in 2009, how did you become involved on this?
This is a slight error by IMDB. Minecraft the game came out in 2009, but my involvement with it did not happen until 2016. Microsoft is the publisher of Minecraft, and after the success of Ori and the Blind Forest, I think it put me on their radar and they thought I was a good fit to do some of their expansions. It has since led to several albums, including the Mythology series (Greek, Chinese, Norse, Egyptian) which is a collection I’m quite proud of.
Have you given concerts of your scores from games, and if not would this be something that you would like to do when the current situation allows?
I’ve had a couple of concerts that have featured Ori medleys, and one concert entirely dedicated to Ori and the Blind Forest. I’d love to see more game-focused concerts, as I think the audience is definitely there for it. Some of the most engaging narratively driven music is being written for games and for sure I think fans and players would love to hear their favorite scores live and be in the same room as the music. It’s one thing to hear on speakers or headphones, it’s another to be in the moment with real players.
What is next for you?
Halo Infinite is out later this year, and then my work shifts to the ARK Animated TV series for 2022.
I think its true to say that thousands if not more people are already familiar with your music because of the success of the Great British Bake-Off series, how did you become involved with the series, and when you are working on the series do you recycle any of the cues that you may have used previously because I would imagine it’s a very tight schedule?
I had worked with the director, Andy Devonshire, recently on a documentary and he asked me if I was up for getting involved. Neither of us realised how successful the show would become! The first season Andy came round to my studio with coffee and donuts and literally sat with me as I wrote the music, so I had instant feedback. A particularly useful way of working when you are trying to find a sound. He is incredibly easy going and let me just get on with it, but when I did something, he liked he would comment and then I would move further in that direction.As I move through each season I have more and more music to play with. I now have music for each moment, so I write less original material each year, but I reuse themes and ideas in new pieces.
What size orchestra or ensemble do you use when working on the series?
I made the decision to keep the music more chamber size and not over do anything. I didn’t have budget for orchestral sessions and the music in the early seasons was made up of my samples, myself on clarinet, guitar, piano and percussion. As the seasons moved on, so did the quality of orchestral samples (companies like Spitfire Audio and Cinesamples came to the foreground when they hadn’t existed before) and so I was able to develop the palette into a larger sound when needed using the samples. I still lean heavily in guitar and clarinet. I think that each episode is an hour in duration and as far as I can hear the music is continuous is the score for the series more or less a wall to wall score as in continuous? Pretty much! You have also scored several feature films, is there a great deal of difference working on a TV series and scoring a motion picture? I am always trying to acheive the same things whether it’s film or tv, find the emotional beat/score the action etc.., but when a TV show runs and runs as the Bake Off has it is a total delight. Each time I start a new project I have the pressure of having to find “the sound”, whether that’s sonically or thematically, but in the case of Bake Off each new season feels familiar and I know exactly what I need to do. I work with the same editor (Simon Evans) each time and we have a real rapport and short hand, which takes time to establish, but after 11 years it’s innate!
Most of your scores have been for TV series, with some of these running for many episodes, when you are scoring a series with numerous episodes do you get to score these in the order that they will be screened, and do you think that a catchy theme or something that is melodic can help viewers identify with the series?
This varies each time. Often the episodes are out of order, but not by that much. So you might have 2 or 3 edits running at the same time so I might score 1 and 3 then do 2 and 4 or something like that. If it’s a drama series I have read the scripts and had conversations with the right people to know what the arc and overall story are so I can get a sense of what the music needs to do over a season arc. I absolutely think that a catchy theme or sonic motif can help the viewers identity with a series. You think of all those shows from things like Knight Rider to Game Of Thrones and how those musical nuggets become so important. What musical education did you receive, and were there any areas of music that you focused upon more than others? Musical family, Instruments from young, choir school, studied at school and further education too. I focused on guitar heavily and wanted to be in a band for a long period. I did a lot of session work and pushed that, but education wise the most useful thing I learnt and continue to try and constantly get better at is orchestration.
Were you always conscious of music even as a child, and were any of your family musical at all?
Yes always. My Dad played drums, guitar piano and organ (in church) and my parents sung in the church choir. My Dad used to always buy records on the weekend and then we’d turn it up loud and listen through.
Do you work on your own orchestrations and do you feel that orchestration is an important part of the process of composition?
I do and my demos are always fully detailed with the information I want (see your question in Upside Down Magic) and it is part of the process for me, but I know there are all kinds of methods. There is no right or wrong way, but when I write a melody or line I naturally have an inclination to break it across different instruments or change the colours as I move along. I suppose that’s a taste thing, not sure, but I know plenty of brilliant composers who start with a sound or something else and achieve what they are looking for.
Professor Marston and the Wonder Woman is a wonderfully thematic score, do you think in recent years there has been a trend for films to be scored with soundscapes as opposed to music, with the old fashion main title theme being abandoned, is this just a trend and do you think the themes will return?
I really enjoyed working on that. Angela was a great director and was keen to hear melodies in her film, which as you say can be rare. A lot of films nowdays are soundscapey. I don’t know if it’s a trend thing. Sometimes soundscapes and more textural things are the right tool for the job, but it does seem to be the current default. When you are scoring a project, how many times do you like to see a movie before starting work on ideas for the score and where music should be placed etc? I watch it on loop until I know every tick of every character. Every film has a natural tempo and the more I watch it the more I get into that and know where the music should be placed. I get into where people are breathing or blinking, the lot. It’s a little crazy!
If a soundtrack of yours is to get a release either as a CD or on digital platforms, are you involved in the content or in the selection of what will actually go onto the recording?
Usually I am involved, but not always. It’s tough deciding what to put on! I also view the soundtrack as different to the film, in that I don’t want every cue on there. I want the soundtrack to be the best listening experience I can make whereas the score in the film is there to support the film.
Shaun the Sheep Farmageddon is a great score and so much fun too, it seems to parody so many sci-fi movie scores and has a grand sound in places, how much time did you have to write and record the score and do animated films require more music than say live action films?
I was on this film for around 18 months, which is very unusual. The reason I was is that there is no dialogue, so long before they animated I was scoring to story board to try and help people decipher what was going on during playbacks. This meant I got all my themes sorted out before I actually scored the film properly nearer the end. It was a monumental amount of work though. In the end I think I wrote around 4-5 hours of music which in the end became 85 minutes. There is always a lot of music in animations and you often start earlier so it is usually takes up more time.
What composers or artists would you Say have influenced you in the way you score a movie or the style of music that you write?
David Bowie, Beatles, George Butterworth, Elgar, Stravinsky and from film: John Williams, Bernard Hermann, Harry Gregson-Williams.
Up Side Down Magic is a fantastic score, its filled with some brilliant themes and also contains haunting melodies and robust action cues. What size orchestra did you have for and what percentage of the work was realized via electronic instrumentation?
This was a very interesting challenging project due to where the world went at that time. I had a lot of fun on it writing themes and using different colours for different characters. I started scoring just as the world locked down and at that point there was no way to record anything. Studios were shut and I had to deliver. After some back and forth with Disney about the best way forward we decided to use my demos. The score you hear is straight from my computer with my samples. I had them mixed by the fantastic Forest Christenson to make them 5.1 and movie ready, but what you hear is what I created on my computer and comes back to my earlier point of what I aim for in my demos detail and orchestration wise.
What is coming next for you?
A BBC nature series, Ted Lasso 2 and more Aardman,
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