The Themes of Flood

Set from Flood Part 2 (Malcolm Johnson Photography)

Flood, a show of four parts, had four main themes. Inventing and developing themes is massively rewarding fun that you only really get to do on long projects - for example, on multi-part theatre, or feature films. It's all about exploration and trying to push the boundaries of these tiny motifs in melody, rhythm and sound design.

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

sea and sky

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

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.

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!

Headphones on a yellow background

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.

Birthing Partus – Writing Music for Devised Theatre

black and white image of vintage condenser microphone for voice

January was all about Third Angel‘s Partus and in February I worked on the preliminary score for Red Star‘s latest 3D animation. An excellent, varied and challenging start to the year in all the right ways.

I’m now starting to think about the latest edition of 15 Minutes Live – on at The Holbeck, Leeds, 10th April, 2016. Exactly a month today! There are 5 short radio plays, and I’ve 3 scripts already with two arriving as and when. The show is still a long way off, and I really don’t need to start working on it yet, but as an excessively paranoid type I like to get started, prepped and organised as early as humanly possible (though I did take a delightful week-and-a-half off between the last project and getting going on this), especially on shows with a live music element.

Partus - Birth in all its Bloody Glory posterIn contrast, Partus was a huge departure from my usual, uber-prepared way of working. One likes to squirrel oneself away in the studio for the bulk of work time actually planning, plotting, writing (for the purposes of work, I’m the most introverted person I know and possibly you’ll ever meet without realising it – I manage it to my own advantage well mwahahaha… ahem) peppering as necessary with meetings and rehearsals and general out-and-about time.

The more I can restrict face-time to the essential information-gathering and idea-collaborating environments, the more efficient and effective those times are, and the more time I get for proper experimentation in the studio, rather than drawing on past, effective – but sometimes cliched – motifs and chord progressions, instrumentation and sound design.


Deep-thinking, alone time is my most valuable resource for getting the right music for the job written on time.

Though I do like to mix it up when the opportunity arises, as such an opportunity did indeed arise in Partus, a devised piece by Third Angel about, “birth in all its bloody glory.”

The four-week process was split around Christmas – two weeks before, two weeks off for the holidays and then two weeks finalising with the first show on the Friday, into a run lasting a week or so. In a complete break from character, I spent a large portion of those four weeks in the rehearsal room with the rest of the team.

I do love a script when it comes to theatre work. Those words on the page fill me with optimism (usually), hope (always) and a clear vision of where to go next – or at least what the gaps are in my knowledge that need filling in order to get the music progressing. Then there’s the feeling that we’re all ‘on the same page’. We all have a clear and common point of reference. A new script will also give me a healthy terror of a ‘what-the-eff-am-I-going-to-write’ variety, but we won’t go there just yet.

Primarily, with a script, or even just a synopsis or scene breakdown, I can work out the purpose of the music, where it sits with the sound design, and the characters’ journeys. With music, we travel through time and space and into the deepest recesses of the human emotional journey – of both the characters, and more importantly the audience.

Though I don’t need it at the beginning of the process, there will come a point during the schedule where I may start to fret if the structure of the script hasn’t been defined and formalised – because I know how long it takes me to come up with ideas, write them, get them performed by the computer or people in time for delivery on time. And there is nothing that pisses me off more than not delivering work on time (ok there are lots of things but it’s at least up there in the top ten).

With this devised work, Partus, on day 1 there’s by definition no script, no scene breakdown, no synopsis. There’s a huge bank of research from mothers, fathers, midwives, nurses and other health workers… but there are no predefined characters, no arcs, no 3- or 5- or 7-act structure. Though it’s unsettling, it’s also quite liberating – I feel like I’ve a long enough lead up to the show to enjoy this not-knowing phase, and (hopefully not misplaced) faith that I’ll get the job done someway, somehow.

It’s an intriguing process, one I don’t normally get to see (and haven’t in many years, not since the early days of Slung Low) and not normally one I want or need to. I’ve a tendency to start scoring in my head immediately I see something that might need it, before allowing the process to weed out the chaff and develop what’s left into something more mature and worthwhile – that may not need music at all.

On this occasion, working with a company new to me on a topic that wouldn’t normally be on my radar, I decided to see what would happen if I worked differently, by necessity – there wasn’t really any other way to do it. It was lovely to be in the devising room and see the process in action, though long days were incredibly draining and later in those first two weeks I did have to catch myself from getting a little antsy for a brief or a structure of some kind.

“It’s all part of the process, you can’t rush it,” I’d tell myself.

“Well I’ll be rushing at the end if I don’t get some sort of structure RIGHT NOW,” I’d reply.

“Jeez, chill your beans,” would be my witty retort.

And so on, etc etc.

Eventually, a little time after New Year, the show coalesced into something tangible. Very few of the preliminary sketches I’d made during the Christmas break made it into the final score wholesale, but there was plenty of raw material if time got short… which it did, and that raw material got used and abused! The structure shifted substantially during those final few days before the first performance, though the ‘bricks’ of those structures and some of the narrative themes always remained consistent. We always had something to build on, and I usually had musical material to draw on as we swapped things around.

It was a challenging and exhausting process with some brilliant ladies (and gents!) creating a show on an enormous and emotive topic that was very well received. We made it! There’s something in that feeling – mostly relief and disbelief – but also of having finished a marathon at sprint speed and the endorphins have just kicked in…

This process has made me more open to different ways of working, and also confirmed how best I like to work given the right conditions. I’ll not stop loving the script as a universal concept, and I won’t stop pushing for one in some form by the point I’ll definitely need one to deliver the music on time (in fact, now I think I might be slightly more pushy…).

However, needs must as the devil drives, and if it’s to work with good people on worthwhile topics and interesting projects, I’m not too old a dog to learn new ways of working. Just to mix it up a touch, now and then. Give the grey matter a little jiggle to wake it up.

Now back to marking up these 15 Minutes Live scripts for cues. Wonder what the final two scripts will hold in store…*


**jk Alan and the writers 😉