2018 in Review (So Far): Theatre, Animation and Reading Lots of Books

Happy New Q! The first quarter (Q1) of the year is done!

I’m going to stop commenting on how fast time is passing now – it’s been a pretty common statement in most of my posts since I started this blog (which’ll be 10 years ago in September. Crikey!). I don’t expect time to pass any more slowly any day soon so let’s just assume I said it from now on, ‘kay? Ta.

End of Year Review… Every 12 Weeks

I wrote here about Oliver Burkeman’s take on having a New Year review every 3 months (or so). So here it is! We’re freshly into the 2nd quarter of 2018 and I’ve only just found myself motivated to mark up my Perpetual Year Planner (if you’re interested… it’s the Mark-It brand and I can’t remember how long I’ve had it. Ages. Bargainously excellent investment).

In previous years it’s been incredibly useful to ‘see’ the grand overview of the battlefield that is the year ahead, and how projects and other life stuff slot in against each other.

So far, this year has been much more straightforward so a google calendar has ably done the work for me. However I’m about to embark on a longterm project ’til around the middle of next year so if I get any more work enquiries it’s super useful to see if I can realistically slot the work in here and there.

So, to review 2018…

Scoring The Department of Distractions in Sheffield and Newcastle

I continued work on Third Angel’s The Department of Distractions in January, its first performances at Northern Stage during the first week and a half of February. There were a couple of hiccups with sound in the venue and a bit of rejigging with the script after the second preview, so after a short break at home I headed back up to Newcastle to make sure everyone was happy with the new edits and to watch the show without sound bleed from the neighbouring stage – thanks Northern Stage for having me back, very much appreciated.

I really enjoyed my time in Newcastle. Though I saw only the city centre during the two weeks I was there, and crossed over one of the many bridges to Gateshead briefly one weekend, I felt really at home in this big Northern city, not least because of its excellent vegan eateries! Farplace Charity Shop, Tea Sutra Tea House and Super Natural Cafe made it very easy and enjoyable to both eat out and stock the cupboards whilst self-catering.

Here’s a little bit of music from The Department of Distractions (‘The Key‘):

Scoring Red Star’s Latest CG Animation

After a welcome break of a week or so, I worked on scoring Red Star’s most recent CG animated simulator ride film. It’s a company I’ve loved working with for years; this time was with a new director, so we spent a decent chunk of time at the start both talking and sending drafts and samples of music back and forth, really working on getting a clear brief and developing a common language, using the process I outlined in this post.

We decided to change my schedule when I completed the music earlier than expected – I’ll come back to finish this animation when the final render and sound design is complete.

Though the music itself is pretty much finished, sometimes the sync-points change timings a little in that final animation render, and it’s important for the sound design and music not to compete at pivotal moments. One or the other should always take precedence at any given moment to create a coherent soundscape. I’ll check it over before we got for a final dub, some point in the next month or so.

A Flexible Schedule

It’s good to be flexible*. When I’ve a lot of different projects to work on, I’m very careful with my schedule as a delay on one project will have a push-on effect on the next, especially if there’s no buffer time between projects.

My schedule is never set in stone – like any freelancer’s, it works best as a mosaic of pieces that can move around with some (or little) notice. It’s also for this reason I’ll sometimes over-schedule how much time a project will take by a small factor. It’s important to be aware of how many little things out of your control can impact on your diary.  For example:

  • feedback turnaround time from the client
  • redrafting or reversioning from a change in brief
  • change of schedule from client (they under- or over-estimate their schedule)
  • unexpected life events, e.g. illness, childcare, etc., outside of work (yours or the client’s)

On the most crass level, time is money, so the bigger the budget, the greater the leeway I factor into the schedule.

This also means there’s more time for experimentation, less pressure of an imminent deadline (at least at the start).

Whoever said, ‘to achieve great things, two things are needed; a plan, and not quite enough time,’ was an idiot.** Just the right amount of time plus a little buffer works just fine for me, thanks very much.


*…to a point. Not a pushover. That’s not being flexible; it’s something else entirely. It’s being on the receiving end of bullying: decidedly not good – for your work, your reputation or your mental health.

** it’s been attributed to Leonard Bernstein but there’s very little evidence. I strongly doubt any composer worth her salt would say this without an extremely sarcastic bent.


Time to Recharge, Read and Review (hence this post)

For various reasons there was a slight delay in starting my next project (initial briefing meeting is this week), which meant I had a nicely unexpected bit of time off. Admin, accounts, reading and sleeping were order of the day! Since ditching most of my social media activity in one form or another I’ve become a voracious reader, and the more long-form stuff I read the better my focus becomes, in all areas of life. Books I’ve read since the start of the year include:

  • The Snow – Adam Robers
  • Them – John Ronson
  • The View From The Bridge – Nick Meyer
  • Adam Robots – Adam Roberts
  • Occupy Me – Trisha Sullivan
  • Ancillary Justice – Ann Leckie
  • Changing Planes – Ursula Le Guin
  • The Attention Merchants – Tim Wu
  • Big Magic – Elizabeth Gulbert
  • Central Station – Lavie Tidhar
  • Reading Allowed – Chris Paling
  • The Diet Myth – Tim Spector
  • Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race – Reni Eddo Lodge
  • A History of Britain in 21 Women – Jenni Murray

Considering that I’d maybe get through a single fiction and maybe 3 non-fiction books before I’d quit any social media in the same length of time, this is quite an improvement.

I can highly recommend them all. Have you read any? Did you enjoy them?

I’m also getting well into podcasts. Faves at the mo include Real Talk Radio, Soundtracking with Edith Bowman, Hurry Slowly and Under The Skin.

Feeling incredibly rested and refreshed as I am after all that recharging and Comfort Zoning, and much more ready to dive into the brain-energy-intensive, creative, inventive work of starting a big new project, I really am…

Looking Forward to The Next 3 Months.

Though it’s with a company and director I know well and have worked with lots, the project itself is the largest we’ve worked on so far, so there’ll be some new challenges alongside the joy of scoring more big and splashy, action-adventure, beautiful CG animation.

There’s the usual uncertainty for me at start that’s become so like clockwork I hardly even notice it these days. Though… I say ‘hardly’. It’s still there. I’m not a robot (despite rumours to the contrary!).

However, I know for me that there’s also a (mostly) positive pattern to engaging in a new project:

  • I’ll learn something new – a new process of organisation, music or sound creation, find some new source of musical or artistic inspiration, a new way of looking at an old problem.
  • I’ll invest in a new bit of tech – this time I’ve got my eye on some new studio monitors, down the line I’ll treat myself to some new samples, and I’m toying with the idea of upgrading my laptop to ssd so it’s deals with larger or more complex arrangements and I’m more mobile… though tbh I love being ensconced and cosy in the studio so much there’s not a great deal of incentive.
  • I’ll usually try a different process – on this project in particular that might mean lots more instrumental recordings earlier on in the process, more collaboration, conversation and musical back-and-forth with instrumentalists, recording string ensembles, notation, assistants, orchestrators, delegating, building a team.
  • And this old, inevitable chestnut: I fully accept how unbelievably moody I’ll be at the beginning and I’m ready to apologise profusely to anyone who has the misfortune to inadvertently cross my path in these first few days/weeks/months.

Thanks Q1, it’s been a blast! Onwards to Q2!


Image: Flickr

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