Tag Archives: composition

Modular Strings

Creating live string recordings can be a costly process but one way to approach it (and save time and money) is with modular writing.  This is similar to working with loops, in that you create a series of phrases for a composition that you can layer and assemble like building blocks.  Here’s an example, made from 3 minutes of violins and cellos recordings, each recorded separately.

And here’s the score that was used for the sessions.  Everything is written to work harmonically with everything else, pretty much!

Technology itself  has become part of the composition process. Or at least the workflow you make for yourself is integral to your creative practice. This approach to writing for live strings brings the same sort of flexibility you have with midi and samples to real instrument recordings.

What makes a composer?

A most satisfying and fascinating part of my work is interacting with composers, quite a few of them.  Their working practices might have some similarities but they are quite frankly all, creatively, different.  You might think that composing conventions would lead to some similar characteristics,  but in fact the only tangible thread I see in all of them is a personal one – the desire and confidence to achieve.  That’s not to say I don’t see the occasional ‘wobble’!  At least it proves they are human; but there is an overriding persistence and tenacity in their nature that motivates them to continue.  Sure, the ability to create distinctive music is there as well.  It means nothing without that desire to succeed.

I have been contributing to Richard Jay‘s work over the last couple of years; he’s a composer and musician I have huge respect for and whose work must surely gain some recognition.  I think he labels the style ‘chill out classical’ and I’m hopeful he will catch the imagination of the Classic FM community when he completes his album project in 2009 – a diverse collection of compositions, beautifully crafted, emotional and expressive.  He’s just posted a video of one of the early tracks I worked on, Gone but not forgotten, featuring Davy Spillane. Even before this video, the composition had a big character – the video serves to communicate yet more emotion.  Another demonstration of how video and music enliven each other. Hear more of his work on his myspace page.


A music student asked me some questions about composing for a research project and although I’m not a composer (apart from dabbling in library) I have been a fly-on-the-wall of several composers – it’s a fascinating process!  Most of my contact with composers has bee in media music – for film, TV and games.  It is not music for its own sake, rather it communicates and manipulates in relation to visual imagery and story telling.  I feel that movies and games are the natural home of contemporary music (OK, not exclusively) as these media offer a place to bring together every musical influence without prejudice, so in movies and games (both designed to play on our emotions to the utmost) we see more influences and genres mashed-up than in any other arena.

How do you become a composer?
The inventor Thomas Edison left us with many life-changing inventions, plus a cliche: “genius is 1% inspiration, and 99% perspiration”.  It’s a maxim that suits any creative process.  Composers not only have to generate musical ideas, they need the self-belief, determination, courage and commitment to carry them through, and that covers not only the crafting of ideas (arranging, producing, recording) but the strength to establish themselves as credible composers with the people who will commission them for scores.

Sure, to be a composer you need a knowledge of musical language and a willingness to develop musical ideas, but just as important is the passion to carry those ideas through and convince others of their worth.  This is a character trait – dogged determination and confidence in yourself.

Not all the composers I know have come through a formal musical education – the self-taught route is just as viable, as learning comes from experience.

Why did you become involved in composition?

Any creator must have an overwhelming desire to create – a drive that leaves them in no doubt that they simply have to do it and cannot imagine stopping.

What type of projects does a composer work on?

The commissions are incredibly varied; any media that tells a story and manipulates emotion.  Radio, tv, video, film, web-based, theatre.  LIbrary music is still a huge business – still music for media, but trying to pre-empt the brief with off-the-shelf compositions to fit imagined scenarios.

Where does a composer work?
Most composers I know do very little on paper any more – possibly some sketches.  They work at a piano keyboard linked to a computer, recording and developing their ideas in digital audio software (Cubase, Nuendo, Logic, Pro Tools, Sibelius and others), so the working environment is a studio.

Is the income of a composer reliable?
Income for a composer has a front end and a back end – commission fees at the start of the process and royalties in the long term.  Although any freelance work is inevitably ‘unreliable’, once a composer has established an identity and credibility, income can be surprisingly reliable – particularly if they build a long term relationship with commissioners (such as film directors, documentary makers, library music publishers or games producers) as the composer becomes part of a team and grows with the rest of the group.

What are the ‘working hours’ of a composer?
I think all of the composers I know have at some stage gone without sleep for days on end!