Category Archives: Film Composing

Speed scoring

So far this week I’ve only showcased stand-alone music tracks. As a filmmaker, the area which interests me the most is mixing music to picture. Below are a couple of recent examples of this. I’m not seasoned by any means, but these exercises made me appreciate the pressure film composers find themselves under. Music is generally added as one the last element in a production, usually just at the point when energy, money and time have all disappeared. Worse still, everyone seems to love the music when they hear it, but before long they want to start changing things – often people with little-to-no musical knowledge. It’s little wonder so many composers suffer exhaustion and mental disorders!

My first “speed scoring” effort was for a composing competition. I basically only had a day to create the tune. I’m pretty happy with the result considering the time constraints. This said I was a little miffed when they decided to change the goal-posts and extend the deadline by several days (this was just after I submitted the track). There is no denying this track would have greatly benefited from the additional time to improve the clarity of the mix. This said, it was still a useful exercise even if I wouldn’t rush out and do it again.

My second ‘speed-scoring’ experience came about when I was asked to make a video for an art exhibition. Once again, everything was left until two days before the opening (I only had an hour to prep, film and interview everything, after which the window of opportunity was gone). As if the lack of preparation for filming wasn’t stressful enough, the next problem was finding some music to edit against. I decided rather than spent the time trying to find the right tune – why not just write one? Which is exactly what happened.

I hope some of you will tune back in tomorrow for an exciting announcement!

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Eye Spy Part 2

Here are a couple of new tracks which probably fit together in the “spy mould”.

His Name Is Bond

The first track ‘Clever Girl’ was intended as an underscore building piece. I had some procedural/hacking montage going on in my head whilst composing, one where the main character is cracking a techno-conundrum or uncovering vital evidence. This one came together quickly – helped by the fact I was exploring some of my downloaded Noiiz libraries (recommended to anyone who likes playing with musical loops). I changed some loop pitches and distorted + mangled things for a more grungy feeling, the majority was still composed in a traditional manner.

(direct link: https://soundcloud.com/satorious/clever-girl)

The second track is actually my most recent track, one which clearly has a James Bond slant. I was just noodling away at the keyboard for fun and this was the end result. I’m going to confess I’m not really a huge fan of the last couple of Thomas Newman Bond scores. He is great at the subtle stuff, but not so great at giving Bond a confident swagger (unless he falls back on David Arnold’s orchestration of The Name’s Bond, James Bond). There is of course usually an exception to a rule, this being the opening track to Spectre. Anyway, I really wanted to bring back a bit of that cool John Barry/David Arnold swagger. Enjoy!

(direct link: https://soundcloud.com/satorious/his-name-is-bond
if you haven’t already, check my other Bond track out here)

Stay tuned!

It’s been ages since my last blog post, lots has been happening behind the scenes (expect a few announcements soon).

I’ve also started composing music again and contributing on the VI Control forum (which has many insanely talented members and high-profile film composers such as Hans Zimmer and Charlie Clouser). The forum really is an excellent place for upcoming film composers to talk online, I’ve learned a lot since joining.

For me, composing brings a tremendous buzz and sense of joy. That said I’m glad I’m a hobbyist: when you are not feeling ‘in the zone’ it can be absolutely debilitating. Composers often question their abilities and suffer other problems such as sleep deprivation and stress. There is a recognised link between creatives and mental illness, especially composers. Even some of the greats like Bartòk, Mussorgsky, Schostakovich, and Tchaikovsky are believed to have suffered mental disorders of various descriptions. My broken finger has allowed me to take a break (bad pun) from composing and to rediscover it. Once the joy wears off I’ll step away from keyboard again. But for now – all is good!

As I’ve not posted for a while, I will share a new tune each day this week before making a ‘big announcement’. Stay tuned!

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Bourne Again

Last week I watched the new Jason Bourne movie. With no James Bond film on the foreseeable horizon – this seemed the next best thing (aside from The Night Manager).

In terms of Bourne, I’m in the minority who is not a fan of The Bourne Ultimatum (which most people consider the best). Whilst I can appreciate it on some levels (eg. the excellent Waterloo sequence) I’m a far bigger fan of the first two (The Bourne Identity and The Bourne Supremacy). Both of these films have the heart and humanity of Marie (Franka Potente) which is contrasted nicely against the duplicitous cunning of Abbott (Brian Cox). These characters are both sorely missed in the later installments. The new film (which isn’t a strictly necessary addition to the series) plays like a greatest hits album but with slightly different renditions. It’s fun, familiar but not as good as the originals – but that’s not to say it’s not still enjoyable.

I’m also a massive fan of the musical scores from the first two Bourne movies. John Powell’s score for Identity was rather unique at the time – mixing throbbing percussion, atonal electronics, stabbing staccato strings against occasional acoustic elements. Supremacy expanded on these themes in the best possible way and introduced some new material (‘To the roof’ being my personal favourite). Much like the films, by the third installment everything was feeling familiar (in fact they even dropped cues from the first film over the top of some parts). The most recent (Jason Bourne) score is credited to both John Powell and David Buckley. I was sad to learn that John Powell’s wife died earlier this year, I suspect this is why David Buckley has also been involved this time around. He does a good job of weaving together some of Powell’s familiar themes.

I decided for fun I’d also like to try to emulate John Powell’s style and create an imaginary Bourne score. Had tremendous fun writing this! That said it tested my playing ability (the end is some of the fastest track work I’ve done – probably a rebellious response to the torn ligament in my index finger I’m still nursing). Hopefully fans of these scores can have some fun trying to see how many of the original themes they can spot!

World Domination

There are only a couple of weeks until the new Bond film is released and I’m now at that ridiculously hyper but impatient stage. One of the things which keeps me going is analysing some of the score before seeing the film, but so far we haven’t had a peep out of Thomas Newman (or from his other spy score for that matter – Spielberg’s Bridge of Spies).

I therefore decided to write my own take (something contemporary but classic – without real orchestra/brass – just to make life difficult).

russian satellite killer
Being as the title is Spectre – I was clearly thinking along the lines of Volcano lairs, deadly satellites and “laser beams” with this one. Enjoy! Click here to listen to it on Soundcloud.

Glory: James Horner (1953-2015)

Today started in an unusual manner. I woke on a normal school day and the children were already up and dressed (odd). Whilst making a cup of tea my wife told me to read the screen on her mobile phone. I read it, but it took a moment to fully digest: “Film Composer James Horner aged 61 dies in a plane crash”. I was quietly devastated.

The very first time I recall remembering his music was for the trailer of Backdraft back in 1991. I remember thinking “WOW”, that music has a real emotional punch to it.

When I watched the film I came away bitterly disappointed that this wonderful music was nowhere to be heard! What was this music? I needed to know and I discovered (long before the days of Google or Shazam) that it was James Horner and the piece was taken from the ending credits of Glory:

This is the piece I am going to remember James Horner for, it made me sit up and take notice (really at a point when I didn’t do this much). It feels more poignant today than ever.

James Horner (image by Getty)

It wasn’t long before I discoverd he had composed music to other film scores I loved – most notably Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan (I honestly thought it was Jerry Goldsmith), Aliens (I’ve lost track of the number of trailers which use Bishop’s Countdown in them), The Name of the Rose (I still find those bells creepy).

He would go on to win an Oscar for both his Titanic score and the song ‘My Heart will go on’. He was nominated for six other films. At the risk of being somewhat controversial – I didn’t rate Titanic as one of his better scores, but he did so many other memorable scores such as Apollo 13, Avatar, Braveheart, Casper and Field of Dreams – that there really is something for everyone.  The thing about James Horner for me was the way he could emotionally connect an audience to the scene in a beautiful yet bittersweet manner. Knowing we will never hear another of his majestic scores makes me feel a little emptier inside. RIP James Horner.

In the Moog for Music

My favourite band of recent times is Goldfrapp, yet I’m an 80’s child at heart. My favourite 80’s band is Tears for Fears. I had no idea of any link between the two until recently (Will Gregory collaborated on saxophone for Tears For Fears). Will is currently touring with his Moog Ensemble – something of a “Super Band” including the talents of Ade Utley from Portishead and film composer Graham Fitkin. The ensemble recently played in Oxford, I naturally felt compelled to attend.

Moog synths are analog with no presets but plenty of twisty dials and buttons to help sculpt sounds. They are also monophonic meaning you can only play one note at a time. As you can imagine, bringing this together takes skill. We thought it would either be complete genius or total disaster (and were extremely curious to know which).

The varied line-up included a number of classical pieces akin to Wendy Carlos’ Switched on Bach – clearly a source of inspiration.

The highlight of the first half was the rendition of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York, the second half was arguably even better once their own material was introduced.  Firstly there was a sublime piece called Swell. My personal favourites of the evening were the tracks written for the film “The Service of Tim Henman”, both extremely catchy!

Topping off the whole experience was the venue: St John The Evangelist church which allowed sounds to reverberate to great effect creating a wonderfully rich ambience.

Will Gregory Moog Ensemble

By the end, the audience were applauding for more despite the fact the band hadn’t rehearsed an encore (hey – we were the first place for the tour). All in all I’d recommend this to anyone interested in retro-synths or looking for something a little different from the norm. The current tour ends on 8th July, further information is available on the website.