Tristram Cary, pioneer of electronic music.I would like to begin by giving some background to this interview. The Composer at the time was living in Australia, so the questions and the answers were sent by letter as it was a little while before the World Wide Web found its way into our lives. This interview was conducted back in August 1996. The text was originally printed in The Jerry Goldsmith music society’s journal Legend In 1997.

Born in Oxford England on May 14th 1925,Tristram Ogilvie Cary was the third child of the novelist Joyce Cary and Gertrude Margaret Cary(nee Ogilvie). He was educated at the Dragon School, Oxford and Westminster School, London. He served in the Royal Navy between 1943 and 1946, which interrupted his education, whilst in the Navy; Cary developed independently the idea that was to eventually become tape music. Upon his demob from the service, Cary took a BA at Oxford and then headed for London, where he studied composition, piano, horn, conducting and also viola. The composer passed away in 2008,aged 82.


I began by asking the composer who he studied with whilst he attended Trinity College of Music in London?



I studied with a number of people, Alec Rowley and George Oldroyd for composition, James Murray for piano but I cannot recall who my teachers were for Viola and conducting. I did also undertake to learn the Oboe whilst I was at the college, but again the name of the tutor escapes me now. I was 24 years of age by the time I got out of the Royal navy, and I had already written quite a lot of music by this time plus I had taken my Oxford Degree. I do not want to dismiss the teaching I was given by Oldroyd and Rowley, but saying this by that time I was more or less going my own way, and neither of them seemed to fully understand what I was doing in the field of electronic music. The whole thing was fairly frustrating, but I needed a diploma in case I had to teach in the future.



Many film music enthusiasts and also fans of Hammer films associateTristram Cary with the music for mainly Hammer productions, in fact this is a little bit of a fallacy, as Cary was responsible for composing just two scores for the house of horror. As the composer explained.



I did Quatermass and the Pit in 1967, and then in 1972 I returned to Hammer to work on the music for Blood from the Mummy’s Tomb. I cannot remember how I actually got involved with Hammer, 1967 was a frantically busy year for me, I am sure that it was Phil Martell who called me asking me to write the score for Quatermass. I have to be honest and say that I was not keen on the idea of doing the score, there was a lot of work to do, they wanted masses of electronic music plus a great deal of orchestral music also, but I had three kids to feed all of whom were in fee-paying schools and I needed every penny I could get, so of course I said yes.


Phil Martell was a very important figure within Hammers musical department, he was the MD and took over the position from John Hollingsworth after he passed away, I asked Mr Cary, did Martell conduct both of his scores for Hammer?




Yes Phil did conduct both the scores, which was something I was a little uncomfortable with as I would normally undertake this task myself.  




Tristram Cary’s first encounter with writing music for film came in 1955; this was for the famous Ealing studios comedy thriller THE LADYKILLERS which starred Alec Guinness amongst others. How did the composer become involved on the production?



I had by this time already done some work for the BBC, the director of THE LADYKILLERS- who was Sandy MacKendrick-had been listening to some of my music for BBC plays etc, consequently ,Sandy thought that my style of writing would be well suited to the black comedy that was THE LADYKILLERS. I went to Ealing and had some discussions, pretending that I was very experienced in the art of scoring movies, (which of course was not the case), and they knew that. Anyway they asked me to submit a couple of test sections, which I did. These two sections were actually recorded at the end of another recording session which turned out to be a John Addison score. Anyway, they laid these tracks to the film and they seemed to like them, because the very next day, they offered me the job. I was good friends with Sandy afterwards, and I last saw him a few years before his death in Los Angeles.



Cover of "The Ladykillers [Blu-ray]"
Cover of The Ladykillers [Blu-ray]

On the subject of Directors, the composer had worked with Joseph Losey and Don Chaffey on a number of projects, what was his relationship like with the two filmmakers?


Well, in short, both became friends of mine, and although Losey gave me no work after TIME WITHOUT PITY, he kind of apologized, saying that he was looking for a different kind of music, we did go on meeting up from time to time but we never collaborated again. Don however was one of my best friends, I was devastated when he passed away at only 73. I was privileged to work with him on four movies. He was a very keen follower of motor racing, and used to turn up in Adelaide when the Australian Grand Prix was run here. I last saw him in Hollywood in 1990; we stayed with him and his second wife Paula Kelly, the black singer. He died a year later at his holiday home in New Zealand.




When I interviewed composer James Bernard, he told me that Joseph Losey could at times be rather difficult. I asked Tristram Cary about both Losey and Chaffey, did they take an active role in where music should be placed in a film etc etc?




Well, this is a question that has no compact answer, both filmmakers discussed the music very closely, but Losey had no musical expertise, and would say things like, LOUD and fast here, leaving the details to me. Chaffey however was not a bad pianist and had an idea about the mechanics of music I suppose. Therefore he was inclined to interfere, (a little too much in my opinion). But, as we were such good friends I was able to tell him to lay off trying to write the music himself. Also Don would listen to me if I suggested he change a shot in the movie for the sake of making the music more effective, and we planned a lot of things together.




The composer has since the beginning of his musical career utilized and developed the use of electronics and it is probably true to say that Carey was one of the first composers to integrate electronics into a score for a film. Therefore I thought it appropriate to ask his opinion of the use of electronics and synthetics in film scores today.


This a difficult question to answer without going into endless chapter and verse, and in any case I don’t get to see many movies these days- I’m far too busy. But for what its worth I find NEW AGE tracks long, inactive and lacking development-extremely boring. Also, people are always claiming to have found a new sound or invented a new technique,whch normally turns out to be a digital version of what I and others were doing over 30 years ago.





When working on a film or indeed any project what stage of the proceedings did the composer like to become involved?



I prefer to get involved as early as I can, but many producers and directors do not consider the music until the last minute. When I am asked to score a picture I normally come on the scene and the film is 99 percent finished, at least all the filming is done, by this time the budget has all but gone and everything has to be done as cheaply as possible. In most cases I start work at the rough cut stage, but in some instances, e.g. the films of Don Chaffey, I got to se some of the shooting, and was able to make advance plan. In the case of animation, of course, it’s usual to do the music to story board before any action has been shot, and with television, one usually works to a script, but things are changing all the time.


 Cary worked on some episodes of DR WHO for the BBC; did he think that television was something that was easier to work on as opposed to scoring a movie or feature film?


It all depends on the actual job, remember back in the 1960’s TV lengths were much vaguer because you did not know the actual timings until the scenes were shot-Hence, much more flexible sections were necessary, with extensions and cuts possible, unlike the rigid timings on film. But, EASIER? Neither seemed to be particularly easy at the time, and there is never a job without its unexpected surprises.




Doctor Who: Devils' Planets – The Music of Tri...
 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)



At the time of this interview, London based label Silva Screen had released a compact disc, this was a compilation entitled QUATERMASS AND THE PIT-THE FILM MUSIC OF TRISTRAM CARY, VOL: 1. I asked the composer did this mean there would be more volumes released in the future ?






Yes, I can reveal that David Wish art is already working on a volume 2, this will include music from THE LADY KILLERS,I understand this is also destined for a compilation of music from Ealing Comedies, and the label have also showed an interest in releasing some of my music from the DR WHO series. and an album of my electro acoustic concert music. In fact there will be two albums, one will concentrate on the early tape music and the other will include my more recent computer music. I also have a Carol setting being released on the Australian label Tall Poppies, and a cello piece of mine will also be released on that label.




THE QUATERMASS AND THE PIT collection is a very interesting album; it is a great representation of your music from British films of the 1950’s and 1960’s. I particularly enjoyed SAMMY GOING SOUTH; I asked the composer had he a favourite section on the album or indeed a favourite piece of his own film music?




There is only one track on the compact disc from TWIST OF SAND, but there is a lot of good music in that film, and I hope that we will be able to return to it on the next album. TIME WITHOUT PITY is also a good score, but the recording was bad and it would need to be re-recorded. The critics at the time of the films release said that there was too much music in the film and also that the music was far too loud, but this is what Joe wanted. I think some of my best music has been for animation, in co-operation with Richard Williams, LITTLE ISLAND won a lot of awards in 1958, and IVOR PITTFALKS UNIVERSAL CONFIDENCE MAN, which was a cinemascope film that never actually got finished due to lack of money, but all the music was recorded and I have made a suite of it, so maybe that will one day be recorded and released? Musically, some of my best incidental music has been for radio.



 What were the composer’s musical influences?



I have lots of different influences, I think it is mainly Bach, Chopin, Bartok, Stravinski, Schoenburg and to a certain extent Messaien and Walton. Alan Rawsthorne’s music I greatly admire and although he is a great deal older than I we became good friends during the 1950’s and 1960’s, in fact he was instrumental in getting me more widely know during the early 1960’s.



 When working on a movie did the composer have a set way in which he worked?


Usually I had no choice in the way or the order in which I scored a film; this was because the deadlines were always so tight. Things would be so close that one had to get on with whatever was fine cut measured(often by myself) and available with final timings. I do try and get main thematic material sorted out before I start, but often altered key material as I went along, I prefer to compose main and also end credits last if I can, when the main body of the score is in place and I can then select key material for an Overture.  






Many thanks to Tristram Cary.