Who or what inspired you to take up composing, and pursue a career in music?
Having been brought up in a musical family, there was no doubt that I’d end up in the music industry, though composing wasn’t initially the plan! I was trained as a concert pianist, yet my strengths were in my ability to sight-read at will (i.e. able to play anything that was presented to me in notation form at first sight). This skill is paramount when recording under pressure as a session musician for soundtracks etc. Thus I entered the realm of film composition.
Who or what were the most significant influences on your musical life and career as a composer?
I became the turn-to session pianist for two of the foremost British film composers in the 1980’s, and these two, Trevor Jones and George Fenton became my influences.
What have been the greatest challenges/frustrations of your career so far?
Where to start? The challenge, always, is the ability to convert that blank piece of paper (or, with music, silence) into something cohesive, appropriate and polished…all with that deadline looming and a gun at your head. Hours and hours of nothing followed by just one moment of inspiration which, in turn, is followed by a deluge of free-flowing ideas and answers. Whatever the job or commission, the journey is identical!
Ultimately, in my opinion, as a creative, we are forever frustrated by the industry, thwarted by so many factors, eking out success and satisfaction wherever possible, living in hope and ambition.
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working on a commissioned piece?
For challenges, please refer to the above answer.
The pleasures are immeasurable! It is a privilege working in the Entertainment industry. One is privy, in advance, to material that will (hopefully) end up in the public domain and thus (again hopefully) influence, entertain, amuse and stimulate an audience, simultaneously, larger than any one individual can muster on one’s own. I particularly remember the feeling of seeing giant billboards in London for the forthcoming release (in the UK) of the film “The Last Of The Mohicans”. I’d been intimately involved in the creation of the soundtrack and it had already been released in the USA. I knew the effect that the music had created over there and the unsuspecting British public’s ears were about to be blasted by some film score that was going to cause a stir. And here’s the thrill…the music will/ might become well known, famous even, while the perpetrators remain, on balance, anonymous. One cannot claim the same when it comes to directors and actors!
What are the special challenges/pleasures of working with particular musicians, singers, ensembles and orchestras?
Composing isn’t a spectator sport, so any time one is involved with other musicians, a certain amount of compromise is warranted. Working with orchestras is perhaps the easiest relationship to confront. Respect for, and acknowledgement of other musicians’ skills should be at the forefront of one’s dialogue, for no two people will ever agree entirely about music…it’s far too subjective a subject for there to be definitive opinion. Therefore the prime objective is to gain the confidence of whomever one is working with, thus allowing for the free flow of ideas between everybody involved.
Working with soloists and especially singers is particularly challenging…we are dealing with incredible egos here! The journey can be bewildering and tortuous but the results are usually quite exhilarating!
Of which works are you most proud?
Easy answer…”the next piece”!
But, interestingly, thanks to my incredibly supportive record label (Finyl Vinyl) I’ve recently been working on my own music, rather than commissioned work. Free rein, rather than meeting a film director’s demands, let alone needing to synchronise the music to picture, has afforded me the greatest freedom possible to express the pure ‘me’ in the composition. Thus I now have a collection of tracks that I am immensely proud of, that I can explain freely, and that have neither excuses nor compromises. Check out my alter ego “Sons Of Ben”, if you need proof!!
Also, I’ve been working with an incredible young singer/songwriter called Calista Kazuko. The collaborations with her have ended up rather pleasing…I must be getting better. Hence my “easy answer”!!
How would you characterise your compositional language?
I approached composition by some circuitous route (sight-reading and improvising rather than studying the skill) so that I do not have a particularly well-defined ‘language’. In an ideal world, I could live by producing pastiche, when demanded. But the opportunity that “Sons Of Ben” gave me to develop my own language, has been fascinating and informative. I’m obviously eclectic with a tendency for surprise and complication. Never relaxing!
How do you work?
I work best alone with no distractions. My studio, computer and music software (Logic Pro) plus library of sounds and samples – these are my only tools. Curiously, most inspiration enters my mind when I’m not working (there’s a conundrum). Thereafter it’s a race against time to record these ideas somehow so that they’re not lost forever!
Who are your favourite musicians/composers?
I don’t have any particular favourites, yet Danny Elfman and Jon Brion have impressed me. Both are bold, daring and disturbing with their choice of composing.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
If only one could ask Bach or Mozart this question! If anyone mentions my name (for the right reasons, I might add) decades after I’ve left this world, then that would equate with success. Strangely enough, I’m of the opinion that musical success and its attached financial reward (of the commission) are usually mutually exclusive!
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
It’s not what you know, it’s who you know (sorry for the cliché). Network, network and network. And be charming and FUN to be with. Everything else will fall into place.