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Part 2 – Finding a musical ‘way in’ to a film

When I first begin to work on a soundtrack for a new documentary or drama series, one of my immediate tasks is to try and find a musical ‘way in’ to the film.

I believe that there has to be a reason certain instruments are chosen for a score. I ask myself what role should the music have or what is the music trying to achieve? All these things run through my mind. It is very much like trying to solve a problem. If I can find the right musical ‘answer’ then the film and music will hopefully be incredibly cohesive.

Initially for this series I toyed with the idea of using children’s choirs. A meeting with Chris Thornton the producer quashed that idea quickly. I also considered building up soundscapes with very metallic and hard percussive instruments – or even manipulating the sound of helicopters & military vehicles. The army helicopters hovering over west Belfast were such a persistent sound of my childhood.

Chris did not want any popular music from the period to appear in the series, so that was useful to know at an early stage.

Once I had viewed the rough cut a number of times I just left it running and sat down at a piano and started playing…reacting musically to the films.

It quickly became apparent to me that there was a lot going on in the pictures and the audio from the film (the ‘sync’ sound), so whatever I did musically it needed to be sympathetic to both. The music needed to be fairly sparse and leave a lot of space for the film to breath.

I also did not want my music to take political sides in the films and I began to think about my score as possibly being ‘observational’ rather than emotional.

I also made the conscious decision not to include in the soundtrack any instruments from the island of Ireland.

I always remember when Bill Clinton helped broker the Good Friday agreement, here was someone from well outside the conflict bringing a fresh view point. I liked the idea of trying this musically by scoring the soundtrack from instruments one would not usually associate with Northern Ireland .

As I played the piano, fragments of ideas and motifs came to me….and the seeds of the soundtrack began to form.

 

Read Part 3 here of the 7-part series on Scoring The Troubles: A Secret History here.