Monday, 17 June 2013

BBCNOW and then (see what I did there?!)

Last Thursday was the recording for Wizards vs Aliens Series 2 with The BBC National Orchestra of Wales and what a triumph it was, even if I do say so myself.

It was a fun day.  I have to thank every single one of the players, they really played their hearts out.  We had a few technical problems in the first session and a hell of a lot of music to get through but we still managed to finish the second session 15 minutes early.  Most of that was because of how few takes we had to do.  On average three takes of a cue would mean the orchestra had nailed it, and some we only had to do two (the second being purely for safety as the first was so good).

I don't know what Huw, the engineer at Hoddinott Hall did, but the recordings sound fantastic.  I thought they sounded good last year, but this year they are amazing.  The level of separation is unbelievable so Dan has loads of control when mixing, which can be difficult when you're recording the whole orchestra at once.

Mark Wyllie's fantastic prep meant the sessions ran really smoothly, even with technical hitches, and his calm head saw any problems quickly rectified.  And as for Jeremy Holland-Smith... well... The man makes me feel like an impostor, he really is Mr Music.  The way he conducted the orchestra and directed their performance you would have thought he'd written the music himself.  He has an unnatural ability to interpret music and improve it greatly through that interpretation.  To you composers out there, if you ever have need of a conductor you should spend your money on him.  I know I always will in the future.

It's always tough in a recording session to make the calls and be sure you have the takes that you need but Dan and I seem to have managed, with the odd "Are you sure?" from Mark and Jeremy.

It was great to have my other brother Joe there too.  He kept an eye on the time, doing quick bits of maths to make sure we stayed on track and whether or not we had time to do another take of a particular cue.  It's a very useful thing to have someone doing that as it's one less thing to think about so I could concentrate on whether I had the performance I wanted or not.

Principal cellist John Senter is retiring from the orchestra next month (after 36 years) so it was an honour to have him playing on the score and also to have recorded a solo from him.  It's great to work with an orchestra that really cares about the music they are playing, regardless of what it is.  Associate Leader Nick Whiting (who was leading the orchestra for the sessions) popped into the control room in the first break to check that we were all happy with it so far and principal trumpet player Philippe Schartz also popped in to check we were happy.

As we had finished early I asked them to play through one cue one last time so that I could sit in the hall and hear them as live.  What a feeling.  There's nothing like a great orchestra going hell for leather right in front of you.  After I'd said my thank yous and told them all to go to the pub a few players came up to say how much they'd enjoyed the sessions.  That was such a lovely thing.  One of my aims with writing music (along side it working well to the picture, of course) is that the players will enjoy playing it.  Music should be fun for everyone involved, well, that's what I think, anyway.

I also need to thank Thom Robson who did the lions share of the copying (preparing the music for the players on a piece of software called Sibelius) without whom I don't think we would have been ready in time.

So all that's left to do is mix episodes 5-10, write the music for episodes 11-14 and then mix that.

Not a lot then...

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Wizards vs Aliens Update

So.  I've just had the feedback for episodes seven and eight back.  Luckily they went down a storm.  But that's not what I've enticed you hear to tell you.  You don't care about that really, do you?!  You want proper news.  Well, here it is...

I am delighted to say that I will be recording the score for this year's series with the fabulous BBC National Orchestra of Wales again.  And in just a few weeks (cripes!).

It was so much fun last year and they really played their hearts out for me (not literally, of course, that would just have been messy).  It also made a huge difference to the show.  It's great being able to say we're the only children's drama on the BBC that is scored with an actual (78 piece, may I add?!) orchestra.  And on a selfish note it's just great to hear that many musicians playing your music (and it makes me sound like a much better composer when there are that many people putting emotion and effort into my music).

It's going to work slightly differently to last year as (in theory, if I stop typing this blog and get on with some work) I'll have 10 of the 14 episode written by the time we record so there will be more specific cues recorded this year rather trying to preempt how the episodes were going to be paced and feel.  It's much better that way.

The other big change is that I'm not going to conduct it myself this time round.  Although it was a lot of fun, it was hugely stressful trying to conduct an orchestra I'd never worked with whilst running sessions in which there was a lot of music to fit in, in a recording venue I'd never worked with and trusting everyone in the control room to ensure we had the takes we needed (and they did a very good job of it, I have to say).

So that I can be more in control over yay-ing or nay-ing of takes (I'm a control freak) I'm bringing in the wonderful Jeremy Holland-Smith to conduct.  He's worked with BBCNOW on a number of occasions so they should feel comfortable under him and my hope is that it will help bring the music to life even more.

Hopefully we'll be able to document it more this time round and I may even post some pictures on twitter on the day, so keep your eyes peeled.

Now I need to get back to writing so, you know, bye and all that.

Friday, 5 April 2013

New Studio

So, last weekend my new studio furniture was installed.  It's so great.  Made from Sapele with Zebrano (which is a lovely combination) it's a massive improvement on what I had before.  

Late last year I asked Joseph William to design me new studio furniture so that I had a much better and more enjoyable work space.  We discussed what I needed and they sent over an initial design.  We talked it through and tweaked it as we went along before finalising the design.  And we ended up with this...

The top is curved and the draws continue that curve, which just looks so cool!

The speakers are on free floating solid stands.  I've got my Mac Pro on one side and my slave PC on the other.  The peripherals for the PC sit on the surface above the drawers and the Mac peripherals are all above the rack unit.  The speaker stands, bookcase and drawers all have Zebrano inlay.

There's a useful pop-up socket and a cupboard to hide my printer and all of the work surfaces and other edges have been scribed to the shape of the walls so that it fits perfectly.

My master keyboard is on a shelf below the rack unit.  The top above the keyboard is curved so that the piano keys are fully exposed.

The rack unit is 4u and there are Sapele blanking sheets to hide the empty spaces.

I really couldn't be happier with it.  Having used it all this week it's perfect.  Joseph William are going to make me matching wall mounts for my Ukuleles and Mandolin as well as a wall mounted headphone rack and audio cable rack, which will finish the studio off nicely.

Joseph William made the furniture modular so that if I move studio it can come with me and be reorganised to fit the new space, which is great because it means it's a studio for life.  It's definitely a good investment.

Anyway, I'll stop going on about the studio now. Have a good weekend, I'm off for a glass of wine!

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

My first blog post and a general catch up.  Cup of tea anyone?

Well, there are a few things to blog about today.  Not long ago I finished work on the HBO documentary The Damnation of Darwin.  It was a lot of fun and I had the chance to work with Antony Thomas again, the directer of For Neda.  I'm not sure when it will be aired but I'll definitely post a blog about it when I know.

Last Thursday was the premiere of Bette Bourne: It Goes With The Shoes at the London LGBT BFI Film Festival (it was also shown on Sunday).  I finished working on it a couple of weeks ago.  Working with Jeremy Jeffs, Mark Ravenhill and David Fairhead was a lot of fun - it's always great to find new people who are great to work with and have the same outlook as you.  It was very different from the usual music I write, more folky/jazzy, scored for autoharp, piano, guitars, ukeleles, accordion,  mandolins, percussion, vocals, string quartet, clarinet and whistling and was performed by myself, my brother Dan, the accordionist Jess Hart and all round musical guru Alex Baranowski.  The film had a great reception and is now going to do the rounds of the film festivals and also has a screening at the V&A and hopefully will get a cinema release and DVD release.  Stay tuned for more details.  Hopefully I'll be releasing a soundtrack album a little later in the year so, again, stay tuned.

I start on the second series of Wizards vs Aliens at the end of this week.  I'm really looking forward to it.  This series has 14 episodes and will take me until September to finish.  Once again my brother Dan will be helping me out with mixing and additional composition.  I've done the first spotting session for episodes one and two and will be spotting episodes three and four at the beginning of April.

And finally, my new studio furniture is arriving TODAY.  I'm so excited.  I commissioned it from Joseph William at the end of last year and they're coming to install it today.  Hopefully it will not only look amazing and make the studio a really nice place to be but it will improve my work flow.  I'll post some pics once it's installed.

Right, I'm off to have that cup of tea.  Now, where are those biscuits?