Saturday, 28 April 2018

Fang You For the Music

Hello. Me again!

You may be aware that I recently scored a theatrical adaptation of Dracula, penned by the one and only Phil Ford (The Sarah Jane Adventures, Wizards vs Aliens) and directed by Chris Finney (Wizards vs Aliens’ very own Caractacus Crowe!).

By necessity, I worked entirely from script – I didn’t even see the play until closing night! Normally, I’d go in during rehearsals and sculpt the music around what was being done on stage, timing scene changes and the like. That wasn’t possible this time, so I just had to use past experience and Phil’s script to guide me. Even though it was a little “seat of the pants”, it was a lot of fun to do. And luckily, it all worked well.

Phil’s adaptation stuck very closely to Bram Stoker’s novel so it was nice and dark. Chris and I tried out a few different ideas, but settled on a modern-sounding, synth-based score despite the play’s being set in the Victorian era. Here’s a little excerpt:

I used a lot of dark drones backed up with a bowed piano (one played by running a bow across the strings, rather than by hitting them in the usual way) and some ebow electric guitar (which I recorded with my own fair hands, despite not having practiced the guitar in… some time…). What’s an ebow? Pretty much exactly what it sounds like: an electric bow. It uses a feedback circuit (among other things) to create string vibrations when placed near the guitar’s pickups, so that instead of a “plucked” sound, you get an eerie, bowed sound.

There were a few times that I used sul ponticello strings to eerie effect. That’s a technique where the players play close to the bridge of the instrument to create a glassy, unstable sound; in fact, dependent on how hard and how close to the bridge the player plays, sometimes the notes actually jump entire octaves. I also used a grand piano and an upright piano, which I put through a number of delays to create a disorienting effect, and a harmonium, which I mangled a bit with various plugins so that it was both familiar and alien-sounding. (I’ll talk more about plugins, including using delays, later on).

Chris also wanted to explore the idea of a heartbeat – appropriate enough for a vampire story! – so I used a kick drum and two synths to create a musical approximation of a heartbeat that I could play in or out of time with the music, dependent on what effect we wanted to create. I also got the chance to write some Victorian parlour music – a nice little waltz for string quartet for the scene set in Lucy’s engagement party. Not something you get to do every day!

Overall the music, lighting, sound design, direction, and acting created a great show, and one I was really proud to have been a part of. And the music will live on – I’m currently reworking it slightly, and it will be released in time for Halloween as a library album – one of many I’ll tell you about in a future post!

Sam x

Wednesday, 18 April 2018

Hunter – No, Not the Gladiator!

Hello again…

Yes, I know. So soon! I wanted to share a little clip from The Forest after telling you all about it in my last post. I chose a section of the track “Hunter.” I think you can guess the general idea behind it – some predatory animal searching out its prey – but, as I said, I don’t want to say too much about what I was thinking when I wrote it. I want the music to spark your imagination!

I chose this track because it’s a good example of how I used live strings in combination with synths and virtual instruments (VIs), which is what I did on most tracks of the album. Why? The strings drive the music; underlying them, a drum pattern and various synths and VIs lend harmonic support and textural interest*. I’ll talk more about the process of creating the music and blending (or not blending, depending on what you’re going for) live musicians with electronic elements in a future blog.

The drums on this track were programmed by my brother Dan. (“You mean played, right?”) No, actually! Drum programming is where you build up the layers of beats using samples to design your own drum pattern, as opposed to using a drum synthesiser or, budget permitting, a real drummer (or drummers). Although, in this case, there are very few actual drums – but there are lots of plastic containers and interesting things. Keep an ear out for them!

Like what you hear? You can stream The Forest on Apple Music, Spotify, Deezer, Napster and many other platforms, or buy it on iTunes, Amazon, Pro Studio Masters and more!

Sam x

Friday, 13 April 2018

Long Time No (Middle) C

Hi, I know. Sorry. I’m so good at blogging that I haven’t done it in a literal age – I think the animated He-Man was still on its original airing the last time I wrote one! Anyway, I’m back and this time, I will be blogging regularly (yes, really – I mean it this time!).

I should really tell you about everything that’s happened since last *mumble*… So:

To start with, those albums I was banging on about. Well, two of them are available to buy and stream RIGHT NOW! The Forest and Cypher can both be found on all your favourite platforms. I’ll start by telling you a little about the first release, The Forest.

(Find it on iTunes/Apple Music, Spotify, Amazon, Deezer, and Google Play.)

The Forest

I blogged a little about it when I recorded the album, but let me refresh your memories. This album, released last August, was inspired by my dog walks through the local woodland. Written over the course of half a year, it’s sort of a concept album; the idea is that each track tells a story that might happen through the course of a single day (and night) in a forest. It starts at dawn and ends up at a moonlit pool, making its journey via a babbling brook and all sorts of plants and creatures going about their business. Could I be more specific about what I see in my head for each track? Yes – but I don’t want to. I want the music to do that for itself.

How it’s made

I did all the initial composition for The Forest in my studio. Then, because I wanted to create music that sounded different to anything I had done before, I went to my brother’s studio to avail myself of his synth collection (and also his skills as a producer. We often use each other as sounding boards for our respective work – more on that later!). Dan and I mucked about with a Roland Juno 6, a Roland SH-101, and an Arturia Minibrute. He also showed me how to use his Arturia Beatstep Pro to do some drum programming – which was so cool, I bought one as soon as I got back into my own studio!

The Forest was recorded at Script Studios in London. The fabulous musicians who played on it are Sara Wolstenholme, Kirsty Mangan, Laurie Anderson and Peter Gregson (with some piano and Hammond organ played by me). I was lucky enough to have Joe Rubel to engineer and mix the album and John Webber at Air Studios to master it. It sounds great – and that’s really thanks to the quality of players and to Joe and John’s amazing work. People often forget how much creativity mix and mastering engineers bring to a project, not to mention the giant leap in quality the players bring with their interpretations of your music.

So there you have it. A little about The Forest. Next time, I’ll tell you all about my second album, Cypher. But for now, TTFN.

Sam x