Segun Akinola on scoring Doctor Who, composing music during lockdown, and more

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Series 11 was all about having its own sound. It’s a completely different sound and a very different approach. It’s moving around musically, but also there is a series sound to it. With Series 12, it was not about changing the overall direction, but making sure that just as the story was developing and the characters were developing, the music was also developing. You could look back on Series 11 and hear something and think “That’s Series 11, not Series 12”, but [the new music] doesn’t sound out of place or like the direction is completely changed.

Here’s my interview with Segun Akinola, Doctor Who‘s current MVP – even as I’ve been frustrated with other aspects of the show, I’m never not impressed by his music. Some of the most memorable moments of Series 12 are down to his score, to my mind: his James Bond-esque motif does a lot of heavy lifting for Spyfall, the score for Nikola Tesla’s Night of Terror is brilliant from start to finish, and I did really love that arrangement of the theme tune in The Timeless Children

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Composer Jeff Russo on scoring Star Trek: Picard, Noah Hawley’s Star Trek movie, and more

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From an instrumental point of view, I wanted to connect it to our previous stories. So, the use of the flute at the beginning and in the end is inspired by Jean-Luc Picard playing the Ressikan flute in The Inner Light. That’s really the only true connection to a musical instrument in the show that I can remember in The Next Generation – other than Riker playing a trombone! It was like, “Let’s not use a trombone. We don’t need to use a trombone.” For one thing, it’s not Star Trek: Riker, and it’s not Riker’s story, so it didn’t strike me as something that would be meaningful. The flute seemed really meaningful to how Picard’s life had progressed.

A recent conversation with Jeff Russo, who was both very nice and very enthusiastic about Star Trek. Lots of interesting, thoughtful comments about how you approach the score for something like Picard – and, actually, how that’s subtly but significantly different from how you approach the score for Discovery. (Which, thinking about it, would probably have been a better thing to reference in the title there – my typically suppressed clickbait instincts got the better of me this time.)

Incidentally, this very nice picture of Jeff is one I borrowed from his website, and in turn which he took from Scoring Sessions, a website I’ve only just now come across but is clearly a phenomenal resource. I think the original photo credit, in this case, goes to Dan Goldwasser, the Editor-in-Chief of Scoring Sessions.

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Composer Kurt Farquhar on Black Lightning, the evolving sound of an ongoing series, and more

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We’ve had to change and alter things to be a little bit darker, a little bit edgier. There’s a lot of solo violin and cello, string quartets and things like that, mixed with some urban ethnic sounds and a lot of interesting samples. We’re just making up some shit, we’ll see! But it’s been pretty exciting. It’s a very interesting season, trying to figure out where they’re going. I personally have not been watching ahead – I watch an episode when I get it, when it’s ready for me, that’s when I look at it. I don’t look at any of it earlier, because I just want to be discovering this like the fans are, I want to be so close to my emotions so that the only difference between me and the fans is that I get to emotionally erupt onto the musical palette, you know? Like “oh my God, that was so cool!”

Another interview! This time with Kurt Farquhar, who’s the composer on Black Lightning – and lots of other things too, actually, because he hasn’t worked on fewer than five shows at once since 1991.

It was also quite interesting to hear about Kurt’s plan to start suggesting producers hire other, new composers instead of him – helping composers who are just starting out get more established. That’s pretty cool, I thought. Read more at the link, as per the norm.

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Nathaniel Blume on Prodigal Son, composing music with a bone saw, and more

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One of the central characters is a serial killer named The Surgeon; I got on eBay and found a surgical tool kit, a pair of bone cutters, things like that. We have a nice live room here at the studio, and I just set up shop in there, laying out all the various tools on a table, as well as a plastic tarp to approximate a body bag sound. We just turned on the recorder, and I went to town with all the various things that I had.

There was a little bit of a process afterwards of going through and finding the best sounds, and chopping them up, and making musical instruments out of them on the computer – essentially attaching all of those sounds to the keys on the keyboard, so that it became a playable instrument, almost like a drum pad of sorts, for the percussive elements. When I wrote the initial suite after reading the script, it came in handy to use those sounds as a starting point for the show.

Interviewing composers is always quite a lot of fun, actually – I know very little about music (I went to ukulele lessons for a few years and I still couldn’t tell you what a chord is), but every composer I’ve ever spoken to has always been really enthusiastic about their craft, which always makes for a really interesting discussion.

And Nathaniel was no exception! I thought his almost sort of ‘method composing’, using bone saws to score for a serial killer character, was fascinating to hear about. So, you know, click through and read about it.

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Composer Mac Quayle on American Crime Story, working with Ryan Murphy, and more

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More established composers mention this to up and coming composers, saying it’s really important that you develop your own voice, it’s really important to have a singular voice. I heard it a lot and so I think maybe it’s a little bit of a daunting target to hit.

And so it’s not something I’ve really set out to [do, thinking that] I need to develop this voice. Rather I just do the work that I’ve been asked to do and I try to be as creative as possible and try to do something unique if I can, and I’m making decisions while doing that that are inferred from my own experiences and my own tastes and life and all of that, and so hopefully the final product then does have this, some sort of stamp on it that you might able to identify as my voice.

I spoke with Mac Quayle a while back about American Crime StoryThe Assassination of Gianni Versace, as well as – across a wider discussion of his history of collaborations with Ryan Murphy – American Horror Story, Feud, and Scream Queens.

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Composer Anne Nikitin on American Animals, finding her voice, and more

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I’ve always had, and now talking to other composers, had a sort of hang-up that I didn’t have my own singular voice that was instantly recognisable as being me. I think that, you look at some of the Hollywood composers like Thomas Newman or Hans Zimmer, you instantly recognise their music.

I know myself and my composer friends, we always talk about that. Do we have a voice and what is it? Are we instantly recognisable? I’m thinking, I bet mine’s not being instantly recognisable. I much prefer being able to write in a variety of styles. I find it much more fun and adventurous and challenging.

Anne Nikitin was absolutely lovely to speak to, and we had a fascinating talk about music composition. Check it out!

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Composer Ariel Marx on evoking emotion through music, her score for The Tale and more

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We ultimately just settled on a pretty intimate, small palette. It’s just a combination of acoustic and electronic elements, strings, guitar, piano, bells. These variations of these instrumentation’s in colour kind of change as we deal the different decades of time and different subjects. Again, the palette is intimate, and the palette actually shifts over time as the memories begin to change. There’s certain emphasis and acoustic palettes and later emphasis on electronic palettes when things start to change and become clearer. It was a real very interesting process. Something that was interesting too is that the whole film is kind of about peeling back layers, so the music was very layered.

In hindsight, I feel like I should have put “her score for The Tale” before “evoking emotion through music”. Whatever. And I’m also increasingly wondering about Oxford commas in these review titles, actually.

Anyway! Ariel was lovely to talk to and is also very talented, so this is worth a read if you’re at all interested in music and writing music and such.

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Christopher Willis on The Death of Stalin, the Soviet composers who inspired the film’s score, and more

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The starting point was thinking about Soviet music from the 1950s, of which there was a lot, you know, there was a whole stable of Soviet concert composers who also wrote for movies in that period. Shostakovich being the most famous, and also Prokofiev who was slightly complicated one, because he came and went, and Weinburg. In fact, there’s a large number of others who are not so famous.

And we were thinking for a long time about the tone of it. There needed to be something that would give you the nervousness of the film and genuine danger, but also not tap into a straightforward drama. And going forward, funnily enough, most period dramas are known to tend to limit the sound of the music on the set, so there was something very interesting in getting closer to that sound.

This was a great interview, and I’m really pleased with how it turned out – Christopher was great to talk to, and said some fascinating things about The Death of Stalin.

I’m particularly fond of this one, actually, just because of how nice a guy Christopher was. I’ve found – purely anecdotally – that composers tend to be the nicest of all the people I’ve interviewed. Not sure why; might just be that I’ve largely interviewed some terribly nice people who happen to be composers. But it just sort of sticks in my mind, I suppose.

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Composer Siddhartha Khosla talks Marvel’s Runaways, the need to maintain an authentic sound, and more

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When I approach my scores, I approach them as if I’m making an album for the show and there’s a lot of thought and care and love that gets put into this and as any composer does. I just treat it all as an album, I like creating my own sounds. I’m not heavily reliant on MIDI, I’m more a purest in the sense that I like the use the actual original instruments, which is what I would have done on my albums.

So that’s the one common thread and sometimes some of my scores play like mini instrumental songs too and I think that’s where my songwriter background comes in. And sometimes they play like more traditional scores. Phonetically, some of it is very different to my albums. The approach is the same, it’s the idea of making a piece of art.

One of several recent interviews I conducted with a composer – Siddhartha Khosla is working on Marvel’s Runaways, Me, Myself and I, and This is Us.

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Composer Dominic Lewis on DuckTales, The Man in the High Castle, and more

That’s the way the music is gonna go – just an extra notch to really try and think about what the audience need to be feeling emotionally. And that’s not all the time, of course, there’s gonna be times where you’re gonna get swept up by the action, but we really wanna think about those moments where we wanna reflect and, kind of, in a feature way, where it’s not really obvious, not to do the first thing that you think of and really think about what people and what the audience are gonna be thinking.

I really enjoyed this interview – Dominic was great to talk to, a really interesting guy.

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