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Part 3 – Irish Politics & Electric Guitar

My job as composer is not to create a piece of music that just sits under a sequence in a film to fill a void, but rather to craft a piece of music that is fulfilling a role that the images or story cannot do alone. In ‘The Troubles: A Secret History’ I did not want to take sides musically, there would be no theme for Martin McGuinness or Ian Paisley …but broad-brush strokes that arched over the entire film.

I have always been an admirer of Igor Stravinsky. My music teacher at RBAI in Belfast had played ‘The Rite of Spring” to our A level music class and it made a lasting impression on me. Stravinsky liked to juxtapose major chords on one another: in the Rite of Spring he uses E Major and E flat Major. When you combine these major chords the result is a powerful dissonance: a real clash of harmonies that creates a strong feeling of tension and unease.

In Irish politics there has often been a clash of ideas. Each side believes strongly in their ideals and has their own agenda. I wanted to find a way that I could represent that musically in the soundtrack.

The initial piano motifs and chords I had experimented with began to form one strong idea. I then began to experiment with repeating guitar arpeggios (ostinatos), and that gave me another robust harmonic sequence.

Sometimes the piano and electric guitar would be playing the same chords but then other times the piano chords would differ and move away from the central harmonic base. This juxtaposition created a tension in the music: the harmonic centre was being manipulated, pushed and pulled. As I played the music along to the films it very quickly created the sense of unease that I was looking for.

Electric Guitar – Dan Jeffries

These were the first few tentative steps in creating the soundtrack, but there was still a long way to go…

Read Part 4 here of the 7-part series on Scoring The Troubles: A Secret History here.