The next thing to happen was for the production team (Anna Lisa Stone and Daisy Costello) to come to my house (on a farm near Castle Douglas at the time) and give me a fairly detailed brief. The documentary would run for around 29 minutes and there was a requirement for a variety of music cues, some fairly prominent, others as an atmospheric ‘bed’ under which various narration or other dialogue would take place. I think in total, I had to prepare around 15 different pieces of music, varying in length from 12 seconds through to almost 2 minutes. Most of my work would be done using Pro Tools on a Mac with an East West sample library activated by my midi piano keyboard. This library is very good for horns, strings, pianos, choirs etc.
For two of the pieces, we used a professional recording studio (Foundry Music Lab, Wishaw) and recorded the music with real violins and not just sampled sounds. We had great fun in the studio, and it was an opportunity to work again with my lifelong friend and recording engineer (and Wet Wet Wet guitarist) Graeme Duffin. For these pieces, I notated in Sibelius the melody and accompaniment for piano and violin. One of these was the sad and wistful ‘Jane’s Theme’; the other was a lively Hungarian Dance style piece I imaginatively (haha) entitled ‘Budapest’. Violinists Issy Trower and Jamie McLennan were fantastic. For the very tragic scenes of Jews being put on trains to Auschwitz, Jamie improvised on violin some Klezmer / Yiddish emotionally charged phrases. This collaboration enhanced the soundtrack greatly.
All the other music I created was never notated. Some of it was ‘composed’ live as I listened to the narration. More accurately, you might say I improvised the music as I went along, and if it worked, we kept it. For all the music cues I was given exact timings e.g. Music Cue 3a – 17.5 seconds. This was easier that it might sound.
Meeting the exact requirements of the production team in Glasgow was challenging and sometimes exhausting. Some nights I’d be sitting for many hours at the computer, sending revised versions of music cues. I might get a request on the phone or via email, ‘Can you make the music sound a little more war-like and menacing, perhaps with a low dark bass sound……’ Back and forward would come various requests as they matched my music cues to the video images. This was back in the days of painfully slow broadband speeds. They sent me a set of reference DVDs to look at to know what images I was attempting to put my music to.
The composing process for most of the project was a collaboration between myself and producer Anna Lisa and her film editor Colin Goudie. We would discuss, experiment, try out, change, alter, amend excerpts many times. Anna Lisa or Colin would sometimes say, “You’ve given us what we asked for, but actually we need something a little different’, or, ‘That’s not what we envisaged, can you try something else, maybe with strings?’ It was a real challenge, but immensely satisfying to complete the job.