Flood is over, and other news.

handwritten musical score with pencil

FLOOD IS DONE!

And now I’m on with scoring a couple of new animations for Red Star.

I’ve plans to release the Flood soundtrack Album (did you know you can still buy/stream ‘Look Across The Ocean’ in most online music stores?). There’s a series of posts I’m currently writing about the musical themes of Flood and how they all interconnect.

Also, I quit Twitter. It’s weird that it’s even a thing to mention. 

However, if you want to get in touch, here are the deets.

Social Media is screwing with my ability to focus so I’m probably going to quit it. Maybe. At some point.

A woman holds a note that says 'focus'

Focus is sometimes… challenging, isn’t it? I sometimes think I used to be better at it. Then I read an article that said I’m probably right:

“In fact, paying attention involves two separate functions: ‘enhancement’ (our ability to focus on things that matter) and ‘suppression’ (our ability to ignore the things that don’t). Interestingly, enhancement and suppression are not opposites, they are distinct processes in the brain. The latter becomes less reliable as you get older.” [my emphasis]

Continue reading “Social Media is screwing with my ability to focus so I’m probably going to quit it. Maybe. At some point.”

A Recipe For Undeniable Creative Success

Time is short and I’ve still got work to do. Rather than curl up in denial under the duvet with Netflix and a bottle of Belvedere, this is how I try to approach a challenging amount of creative work, such as the epic beast that is Flood.

Accept it. Don’t fight it. It’s going to get done. Have faith in yourself. If you don’t, who will?

Prioritise. Cut out all the chaff. Remove extraneous work and social obligations – anything that can be postponed, do it. What’s the most urgent music to be written? On this project, I had several songs to write for choir, so these were written first so that the performers could get to learning them as quickly as possible.

Schedule. Break all the work up into smaller bitesize chunks. Take a reasonable amount of time to plan your time so that you can…

Concentrate on today only. Worrying about what you have to do tomorrow, the day after, next week is a waste of your energy.

Focus. Turn off email, twitter, let the phone go to voicemail. Go offline. Work hard and jealously guard your time against anything less worth your while. This is important. No-one is going to write this music (or whatever work it is that you do) but you, and no-one else will get blamed when deadlines are missed. Work hard, whilst remembering to…

Communicate. Keep everyone in the loop who needs to be. On this project that meant the director, the writer, the sound designer, the producer, and a number of others at different times and in different ways. Whilst it’s important to get the job done, it’s also important to get the right job done, especially on something as fluid as new theatre. Scripts get re-written, budgets get squeezed, new technologies have their unforeseen quirks. Plans change, and you’ve got to make sure everyone’s on the same page.

Recharge. That amount of music cannot be written and still remain top quality when you’re running on fumes. Factor in at least a day or two every week where you step away from the  mac/piano/manuscript paper and do something else. Anything else. Get your head out of the game. Your subconscious will continue to work on the problem and you’ll find a miraculous pool of ideas are ready for you to dip into when you’re back at work the next day. Trust me on this, it really does work. I work anywhere up to 5+ times faster that morning after a day off. It’s truly bizarre if you’re not used to it. 🙂

To recap…

Accept – Prioritise – Schedule – Concentrate – Focus – Communicate – Recharge

A recipe for undeniable creative success.


This is a retooled post from 2010 when I was working on Anthology with Slung Low for the Liverpool Playhouse. I was far busier back then with work besides composition, including violin teaching and performance. Now I’m solely a composer, the method still holds true – so I thought it was worth another share.

 

Are Decisions Based On Emotion Bad For Business?

Or

What Would Mr Spock Do?

I’m going to come right out and say it.

I think emotions are key to business. They are a precious tool that should never, ever be ignored. They are the central line of dialogue between your higher brain functions and your subconscious, the route to your creative well.

And you can be creative in business. In fact, you must.

The important caveat in all of this: first you must disconnect from those feelings. Be the observer. Your emotions must not rule your behaviour, but instead inform that behaviour, balanced by the facts.

I like to condense this question down to: What would Mr Spock do?

As a Vulcan, Mr Spock has learned to disconnect from his emotions. As a half-human, he must work harder to rule those emotions, however. Mr Spock uses his emotions as an evaluative tool, that’s why he’s such a wonderfully popular character.

If a business choice feels good, that is a good sign.

Sometimes the pros and cons balance and cancel each other. Relying on cold, hard facts and logic will not make the decision.

Sometimes the pros will outweigh the cons, but there’s that one huge, hulking great ugly con that just churns your guts when you think about it.

The trick is to learn to interpret these emotions correctly. They are a tool, never forget. They do not rule you.

So, whilst a certain business decision may make you feel fear… is there an element of prickly excitement about that fear? That’s good fear, that probably means you should go for it!

Does the thought of spending time with a prospective new client on a particular project make you feel tired? That’s a seriously bad sign. How are you going to create awesome music (or whatever it is that you do in your business) when you’re feeling so low?

These are just a few examples. The point is to learn to read the emotions for what they are, subconscious pointers – yay or nay – for what’s right for you, business… and otherwise.

Flood Part 3 on the BBC and New Single Released

Set from Flood Part 2 (Malcolm Johnson Photography)

Flood: To The Sea, the third part of the Slung Low show for Hull City of Culture 2017 will be broadcast on BBC2 at 10pm this Saturday, 12th August as part of BBC Arts strand ‘Performance Live’. It’ll be on iPlayer for a month after that if you miss it. But you won’t miss it, will you? It’s too good to miss.

New Single Released – Look Across The Ocean

I’m releasing the song from Flood, ‘Look Across The Ocean’ – sung by the brilliant Gina Walters, backed by Archordia Strings – as a single to coincide with the broadcast. Yes, I’m attempting to do cross-platform marketing! But also I’ve had a couple of requests for it so I thought this was one of the better ways to give the song a bit more life.

For all of 99p from all the online music stores, or on whichever music subscription site or app of your choice, you can have a your very own piece of Flood to listen to when you need another fix.

Get it in yer ears! 

Look Across The Ocean is on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, Google Play and everywhere else good music is available online.

Flood Part 3: To The Sea Goes Into Post-Production

The beast of a show that is Flood, Part 3: To The Sea was filmed last week. It’ll be broadcast in mid-August on BBC2, and now it’s in post-production.

I’m still unpacking what I’ve learned from the experience and all the memories from those few months of scoring the show and working on site with a flipping brilliant gang of fellow theatre makers.

The score has been an intriguing and enlightening hybrid of my theatre and film work. For example: the show plays from beginning to end, like theatre eg NT Live; unlike film or television, where we would film a scene or a section repeatedly with several takes.  The music and sound is cued live and the actors can hear it and can react to it. However, we do have a contingency: once the film is edited together there’s still a small opportunity to edit the music to fit, but hopefully there won’t need to be much of that. Touch wood. Oh shit, I’ve jinxed it haven’t I.

The fidelity of the music is higher for broadcast that it is for little radio receivers that the live audience usually wears for Slung Low’s shows. So I’ve allowed the music to have a greater dynamic range (the quiets are quieter and the louds are louder) than I normally would, and there’s more intricacy in places that I know will be heard. There’s also lots more bass!

Now that Part 3 is in the can and off to post-production, it’s easier to take bird’s-eye view of the whole of Flood so far – the trailer, the short online film, the play on water in April earlier this year and this, latest instalment. Thematic development on this show has been an absolute joy! I’ve developed motifs for Gloriana, the woman from the sea with extra-human powers, and referenced the Love Song – ‘Look Across The Ocean’ – all over the place. In Part 2 it was a song first known only to two of the older characters, memories of their time together many years ago. Now it’s transmuted into a talisman of the strength and value of love in itself and as a way to power us into a future worth living for.

At least, that’s how I read it. Maybe you’ll hear something similar when you watch it on BBC2 in August. Date tbc..

Starting the Score – Flood, Part 3: ‘To The Sea’

Set from Flood Part 2 (Malcolm Johnson Photography)

I’ve started the score for the next instalment of Slung Low‘s Flood this week. ‘To The Sea’ is part 3 of the year-long project for Hull City of Culture.

Flood: To The Sea will be broadcast on BBC2 on Saturday, 12th August at 9pm. It’s live theatre, and the action takes place on and in the water of Victoria Dock, with several floating sets, pyrotechnics, and a beautiful, brutal script by James Phillips.

The story follows some of the characters who survived from part 2, Abundance, a show that played to audiences in April. In that show, we told the tale of the end of the world. Next, in Part 3, To The Sea, tells the story of what happens after.

Alan (director), Matt (sound designer and engineer) and I met on Monday at the Twisted Burger Diner in Sheffield to talk about the details in the score’s tone, purpose and scale; the schedule and technical/technological stuff. We discussed strategy for meeting the challenges of a piece of theatre to be broadcast on television. We also ate copious amounts of fried and baked vegan brunch goods***.

Now* I’m sat in the studio looking at that Monday meeting scrawl on the script, reminding myself of the score for parts 1** and 2 of the show, seeing what to cannibalise and where we need brand new material. It’s clear from the worlds the script inhabits that we’ll need a substantial amount of new material. Hopefully (!) how we incorporate the original themes and motifs from Parts 1 and 2 of Flood should prove fertile ground for some very interesting experiments when we head, in Part 3, back To The Sea…


*aside from writing this blog post. Classic displacement activity, Fenoughty.

**Watch Flood part 1: From The Sea here

***Thank you Twisted Burger Company for opening your lovely new diner not 25 minutes walk from my door. This vegan is very happy.


Image by Malcolm Johnson Photography for Slung Low

Theatre: Flood, Partus, and Late Nights in the Studio

Composing Music for Theatre with A Hot Chocolate In The Music Studio

My site got hacked and my last post about quitting Facebook at New Year got overwritten. Probably for the best really, it wasn’t that exciting.

What is exciting is all the new work that’s going on at HF studio HQ!! Sort of, anyway…

I’ve been working late evenings this week to get two theatre project scores out the door…

Flood

Flood, a show about the end of the world as we know it, is in production *right now this very second* by Slung Low. Here’s the teaser:

Made of four parts spread over a year, I’ve just finished the score for Part 1, a gorgeous short film about the very start of the story of Flood. It comes out on Monday.

Parts 2 and 4 are headphone, site-specific theatre pieces. Massive, ambitious, set on the water…! Part 3 is a BBC TV special. This show is huge (deep breaths, deep breaths…).

Partus

Partus is a show about childbirth in all its bloody glory, made by Third Angel. It’s touring from next Monday and I’m off to see the preview tonight. I’m taking a dear, and heavily pregnant, friend with me. I hope it’s not too terrifying!

JK – it’s a rather lovely and balanced piece of theatre about the expectations, the exhaustion, the euphoria, the shock, the sadness, and the stupidly long shifts. From the point of view of mothers and health professionals, there are stories of love, fear, joy, resilience and bravery. It played last year at The Crucible Studio, and this year it’s retooled, refocussed. There’s also a brand-spanking new song I co-wrote with one of the maker-performers, the the comedy genius that is Laura Lindsey.

Here’s the trailer with another of the awesome maker-performers, Stacey Sampson...


I’m still off of Facebook. I didn’t delete my account entirely, just deactivated it; I *might* have been developing a smidgeon of an addiction, and it was making me, in Sheffield parlance, a bit mardy. I missed it a bit to begin with but now I’m not sure I need to go back on it. I’m happier without it.

And speaking of happier, how great is the Headspace app? I’ve a *slight* tendency towards manic-anxiety-stress-catastrophising (I mean though, who doesn’t) and 10 minutes a day of sitting non-judgementally with my thoughts and breath is proving surprisingly effective at mitigating it. I’ve tried meditation on and off in the past but never took to a regular practise. Especially right now as I’m gearing up for a month of solid scoring for Part 2 of Flood. Mindfulness ftw.

New Year, New Work

Before I go headlong into burying my cortex in Flood music, for the next week or so I’m creating a few sound and music elements for two new projects: a mobile game and an online educational product, both of which will hopefully (touch wood) lead to similar work later down the line.

an empty road in the desert

A lot of my work is now repeat business with the same handful of companies (with whom I bloody love working and hope to do so ad infinitum); however, these recent two are new to me, and cultivating new client relationships is rather a nice way to keep your business and creativity on its toes.

Working with new directors is always an interesting process; exploring and conjuring a common language to properly understand their sound and music requirements is a brilliant workout for the grey matter.

It encourages necessitates a kind of mindfulness or more conscious awareness, not only of the (sometimes habitual) processes I go through to elicit a brief and then continue the conversation of drafting and feedback, but also of the actual composition procedure itself. The whys and wherefores of putting one note after or above another, the emotional and practical effect of these simple sounds, the need for or lack of complexity, ambiguity and complexity… assumptions I’ve made in the past through working with familiar people just don’t apply here. And so I have to start from scratch. Beginner’s mind.

And hopefully, what with a change being as good as a rest and all that, when I do return to Flood my neuronal workout will have a built a few more interesting creative pathways for me to draw on to score that behemoth of a show. Fingers crossed.

Happy New Year 2017, The Year That Hull Floods!

Happy New Year! How are your resolutions going? Politics is proving pretty disturbing at the moment so I’m burying my head in the sand work for now… and for the foreseeable, as 2017 is fairly solidly booked up work-wise already, which is a relief in unstable economic times, and also so that I can legitimately ignore the horrors of the daily news cycle guilt-free. Not that I really need an excuse: it gets more depressing everyday. Though sometimes it’s like a traffic accident, and you just. can’t. look. away….

sea and sky

There… that’s better.

After starting the year with a week tying up a few loose ends on an early score for Red Star‘s latest animation, I’ve just started prepping work on Flood, an epic beast of a 4-part show for Hull’s City of Culture, which includes two site-specific headphone shows and some other ridiculously fun film bits. Flood is being produced by Slung Low and is beyond ambitious in its scale, telling a gorgeous and particularly timely story.  I cannot wait to see these shows up-and-running, never mind putting them in front of an audience.

So far, I’ve roughly plotted cues on the first headphone show, I think I’ve got the bones of a theme and I’ve really got to get started on a song, as those two bits of tune will probably inform the rest of the music, one way or another. So, obvs, I’ve gone for classic displacement* activity and decided to update the blog…

Flood is the story is what happens ‘when the waters come’. It’s set in a near future, the same world as The White Whale’ (2014). I would love to tell you more because it’s so exciting but I might wreck some finely tuned promotional schedule so I’ll leave it at that for now. Sign up to Slung Low’s newsletter and you’ll be informed when box office starts selling tickets! Go do it now!

*always use your procrastinating tendencies productively. In other news, my studio has been surprisingly tidy of late.

It Happened Here and Writing for the Sake Of It

A Map of Holbeck, a Pen and an MP3 Player with Headphones on a Bench
It Happened Here is a Slung Low audio/installation adventure set in Holbeck, Leeds, which opened in August 2016. 

It Happened Here was a surprisingly freeing project to work on; usually my work is underscoring dialogue or action, either as live theatre or onscreen, and synchronisation with these events is a high priority – synchronisation of tone, emotion, pace, volume and complexity. This synchronisation can be quite strict, as in the case of much of my animation work, or fairly fluid in the case of promenade theatre. Nonetheless, there are always ‘sync-points’ to hit.

In It Happened Here, there were spaces in the script where music happened; however, the only brief for each section was simply a title, and sometimes a little description from one of the characters on how they felt about that particular title (attempting not to give away any spoilers here!).

Even the durations were deliberately left quite vague – for all but one movement of music, they were somewhere between 1 and 3 1/2 minutes for each.

So… the music was to last as long as I (or the music, I’m still never quite sure) wanted.

I haven’t written like this in years. Even when I sketch themes for work in advance of a show or in pre-production for a film based on the script or a director’s brief, each sketch will be under a minute in length, and it’ll get to the point pretty quickly. None of this developing of motifs or gentle building atmosphere that you often need to do under dialogue or onscreen action.

Part of me was a little wary of having such a free brief. I like to bounce and push against the boundaries of a specific project’s requirements – those restrictions force a level of creativity that really gets the grey matter firing in quite an addicting way. It’s a problem solving exercise – how do I fit the music into a specific time frame, synchronising to specific moments, whilst still creating something that could still be described (sometimes in the broadest definition) as a coherent musical piece. And I do love a problem solving exercise, I think it’s just how I’m wired…

In summary – those sync-points are a handy little crutch, a pre-arranged structure on which to hang the tunes. It Happened Here was different – no crutches at all (apart from one little bit of underscored dialogue towards the end, but… spoilers! Sorreeee.).

I wasn’t surprised (after the first day of writing some really dire stuff that will never see the light of day, essential part of the process and all that etc. etc.) to find that I really relished the opportunity to just write.

One of the most common question I get asked is whether I write just for myself; not for a brief or a project or a commission but just for the hell of it, I’ve-got-a-tune-in-my-head-that-I-gotta-get-down situation.

I don’t. I wonder if that’s sad sometimes… I used to when I was younger – in my teens and early 20s, I’d write violin duets for my sister and I, and pieces that might make there way onto demo CDs… but even for these two random examples there appears to be purpose. This music had a function outside of existing just for its own sake (violin duets = social, demo music = finding work), so maybe I’ve never just written just to write – an interesting revelation to me just typing this out.

In chatting with a lovely new friend very recently, he suggested that it’s because I might prefer to be involved in (or at least instigate) something bigger than just myself and my tunes, and that it was more rewarding to me to have the piece be in service of, and add value to, that bigger thing. Maybe he’s right.

Anyways, less of the psychoanalysis and back to It Happened Here – it was chuffing glorious to write with such a free brief and I enjoyed it immensely… making me think I could seek out similar opportunities in future, something with a purpose above and beyond itself – in this case working with my fave people, the promotion and inclusion of an oft-overlooked part of Leeds, and entertaining a wide, diverse and on-going group of people – but with a much looser requirement for synchronisation. Maybe. We’ll see.

It’s designed to be listened to whilst wandering the environs of Holbeck so, if you’re ever at The HUB for a show or whatever, do add in an extra hour or so before to do the tour.

Alternatively, you can listen to it elsewhere and it’ll still make sense. Download it to your phone or mp3 player of choice and listen at your leisure…


The lovely John Hunter wrote it, the quiet technical genius of Matt Angove recorded and sound designed it, and logistical organisational heroes Alan Lane and Sally Proctor produced it. Direction was a magnificent all-hands-on-deck scenario on this occasion and I received brilliant notes and feedback from all concerned (big thanks you guys 🙂 ).

I took the pictures. Please don’t nick them. Not that you would, obvs. See more of them here.