Part One - No Regrets
Q1. When did you start composing - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I started composing when I was really young with piano lessons at around three or four. I loved it but instead of practising, I would spend the whole time improvising and that's where I think my enjoyment of music came from. I come from a musical family and so was introduced to lots of different types of music from an early age, and I distinctly remember getting shivers from certain pieces and so that instilled in me the power that music can hold over your emotions.
Q2. For most artists, originality is first preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you? How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice? What is the relationship between copying, learning and your own creativity?
It’s not something I really actively thought about, but I've always had composers I love and so was influenced by them. I think most composers are the same in that your voice is found by taking everything in - be it life, art, feelings, aesthetics, music and putting that into a huge melting pot of ideas and that is how you to start to form an original voice. It's a continuous process.
Q3. What were some of the most important creative challenges when starting out as a composer, and how have they changed over time?
There are two main challenges young composers face – an economic one and an artistic one. Starting out as a working composer, in a lot of cases, you’re competing for gigs with guys that have done it full time for a long time and have the resources to hire orchestras, assistants and studios. That initial “turtle going into the sea for the first-time” moment is crucial, because you have to find a way of supporting yourself reasonably quickly or you are simply unable to create music. You also learn to be resourceful with what you have and find ways of making it work which stands you in good stead going forward. I find it interesting that a lot of people’s best work is done in these times when probably it should be the hardest time to create! Artistically, you have to have a huge amount of self-belief in what you're doing, with that you stand a great chance because starting out, you have to convince a lot of people that your music is great and deserves to be heard.
Q4. Tell us about your studio/workspace, please. What were criteria when setting it up, and how does this environment influence the creative process? How important, relatively speaking, are factors like mood, ergonomics, haptics and technology for you?
A lot of my work is film music based, so my studio reflects that. I have a relatively simple setup with a writing rig designed to produce real sounding demos to picture. I like having a space that's peaceful, neutral and big enough to have a sofa at the back for anyone I’m working with. It’s not too showy and doesn’t have lots of buttons and lights, but it feels comfortable and I’m happy spending 20 hours a day in there when I need to without it feeling too much like hard work!
Q5. Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
I do most of my initial writing while I’m out walking as the steadiness of walking helps me to come up with melody’s or ideas. If I’m ever struggling on something I’ll book a practice room somewhere and change up my routine, lock myself in with a piano and then not come out until I've got something! When I’m on a project, I'm probably not very good at balancing life/work. I like to work really long days and make sure I've given it everything. Once it's written and recorded I can catch up on sleep.
Q6. There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
I find ideas come when you least expect them, so I don't really have an ideal state of mind. Coming from a film music background I've got used to lots of distractions, and you learn to deal with them. Having said that, when I’m writing my standalone works, I like shutting myself off from the world when I’m coming up with concepts for pieces and initial ideas. I think that helps to know that you’ve exhausted every possible treatment of an idea, so you have fewer regrets.
Q7. Could you take me through the process of composing on the basis of one of your pieces that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from? How were they transformed in your mind? What did you start with, and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
‘Paradisium’ off my latest album Solace is a good example of how I usually work. I'll spend however long it takes to get a nugget of an idea. That’s the most intense part of any composition for me; that initial idea takes up a lot of brainpower and then once you have that idea you go through a journey with it. So, with ‘Paradisium’ I had an initial chorale that I wrote on a walk, took to the piano and spent days working on. Once I had those few bars, I then began to think about structure; the full chorale didn't appear till halfway through. I worked around that, refining the structure and how it was going to work. I use the structure to help achieve my favourite thing to do with a piece, which is to have a very conscious release moment where the piece comes to a head. After I have this initial sketch, it’s then time to colour it in and orchestrate which is the fun part. Once I've done that, I’ll leave it sit for a while and come back to it with some fresh ears and perspective and do any tweaks!
Q8. How do you make use of technology? In terms of the feedback mechanism between technology and creativity, what do humans excel at, what do machines excel at?
Technology used in the right way helps transmit an idea. Without technology, I wouldn’t be able to give a director an idea of how something sounds before an orchestra records it and I would be writing orchestral parts out by hand. I think if people remember that technology isn’t there to write the music for you but to facilitate someone writing music, they’ll continue to be a fantastic tool that furthers music. Fundamentally, humans excel at emotion - machines excel at facilitating an idea.
Q9. Collaborations can take on many forms. What role do they play in your approach, and what are your preferred ways of engaging with other creatives including the artists performing your work?
In film music, collaborations appear at every stage of the journey - from working with the director, right the way through to the recordings and then the mixing. On standalone works, collaboration plays no part at all until I get to the recordings, at which point it’s integral. The emotion and feeling live players bring to recordings is what makes it. I like to give the musicians space and confidence to add their own character to the music in the studio, and it’s the part of the whole process I enjoy the most.
Q10. How is writing the music and having it performed live connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
Although I seldom perform live, my equivalent is in the studio. The music is so linked to knowing that it’ll be performed in the studio and knowing who will be playing it. Picking the players is so, so important. Like casting in a film, it gives you the chance to shape the piece and knowing who’s going to be performing it allows you to understand what it's going to sound like as you’re writing it, and so provides subconscious feedback throughout the writing process.
Q11. Time is a variable seldom discussed within the context of contemporary composition. Can you tell me a bit about your perspective on time in relation to a composition and what role it plays in your work?
Time is one of the huge variables that goes into writing each piece. It’s quite instinctive and it’s there to serve the music. Space within music fascinates me, and I think as you grow up as a composer it’s something you become really more confident with.
Q12. How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
Sound, for me, serves the composition. You can't have an effective piece without solid compositional aspects, but you can have a good composition with rubbish sounds. So, they are secondary to the composition for me, and although often ideas of colour are formed at the same time as the composition, the sound aspect is usually brought into play once the underlying piece has been written.
Q13. Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
When you combine senses, you're multiplying the impact, which is why visuals combined with music have the chance to be so interesting. The combination of sight and hearing has the ability to be so much more powerful than either on their own. It’s fascinating that you can score something visual like a film in a hundred different ways and each way could be as valid as the next, manipulating the scene to a hundred different viewpoints and moods. It proves how one sense can dictate how another sense perceives its stimulus.
Q14. Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
My approach is pretty simple. I think I try to move people with my music and try to enjoy writing it.
Q15. It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
I’m quite old fashioned in my approach: I consider music an art form, although it needs to evolve and adapt. It's essential that the substance of the music is there, the thought is there, and dressing it up in something new shouldn’t detract from the music and the idea underneath it.