What really excited me about Producer Caroline Hawkins’ brief for this series was her desire to create a score more fitting for drama than documentary. Having worked with many directors and editors on TV dramas including Silent Witness and DCI Banks, I wanted this soundtrack to slowly pull the viewer into this amazing world full of emotions and feelings that is Meerkat Manor.
I was keen to create a bold soundworld for our stars bringing something unexpected to the wildlife genre. So, I decided to give our three meerkat matriarchs their own musical identities: The Whiskers living in the lush countryside were to have a full orchestra, Hakuna Matata in the arid part of the Manor would have tuned metallic percussion and shakers, while the land-grabbing Ubuntu Family would have mandolin, banjos, and harmonica.
The break in filming allowed me to record and create bespoke software instruments in Kontact using metallic bowls, wooden blocks, wind chimes, and shakers. By mixing software sounds with real instruments, I was then able to sculpt and finesse the sounds to picture.
I discovered how very small musical gestures or motives worked well with the meerkats’ movements and expressions, so before I had composed a single note, I had my unique palette of sounds.
I booked a 41-piece string orchestra, eight brass and eight woodwind players from the Hungarian Studio Orchestra in Budapest for the more dramatic larger scale cues and opening titles.
Due to travel restrictions, I monitored remotely using Audiomovers software to hear the orchestral mix, Source Connect to communicate with the conductor Peter Illenyi and Zoom for everyone to see the players, film, and bar counter.
It was amazing how seamless the recording sessions went, even though I was in the USA and my music team were in London and Oxford. A huge advantage was the production team could also attend the sessions virtually and hear everything in high-quality audio.
A score excites me most when it brings something unexpected to the story, which I hope we have achieved in Meerkat Manor: Rise of the Dynasty.
This article first appeared on Broadcastnow.co.uk on 11th June 2021.