Archive for the ‘Composer’ Category

Matt Berry passed me on to David Arnold.  You’ll notice the format has changed this time around.  Initially I liked the idea of a Q&A as a clean, unedited version of a conversation with no bias but now I’ve changed my mind.  A new year, a new format.  Hope you like.The Duchess Of Cambridge Attends The UK's Creative Industries Reception At The Royal Academy Of Arts

Gosh but Air Studios are beautiful to behold.  Crowning Belsize Park triumphantly like a red brick ark, the former church is now a temple to sound, founded by Sir George Martin.  As elegant as the Natural History Museum (and designed by the same man, Alfred Waterhouse), it has given birth to some of the world’s most famous music scores, a lot of them created by the composer David Arnold.  This year he was responsible for the music at the Olympic and Paralympic closing ceremonies.  As we sit in a soundproof room inside the studios he tells me, in his softly spoken voice, of the profound change in attitude he noticed at the time.

‘There felt like a national optimism and a sense of ‘We can do things like this’.  The tone changed from ‘This is going to be a disaster and everything is going to be terrible and London’s going to shut down and public transport is going to collapse and the security thing is going to be a disaster and we’re going to be bombed’…all the awful, awful things that people were predicting.  People were leaving London on the understanding of the predicted chaos that was going to ensue.  To then see the thing become about the greatest thing that you could imagine and the enthusiasm and the effervescence and the kindliness of all the people that volunteered.  I remember tweeting at the time ‘It feels like London has changed and I prefer it like this.’

There have been some big years in the life of the 50 year old composer David Arnold.  1993 perhaps, when Bjork sang ‘Play Dead’ against the backdrop of the swooning strings he’d composed, bringing him to the attention of the public.  Or 1997 when John Barry recommended him to Barbara Broccoli to score the next Bond film (he ended up doing five).  Neither of those will have been a match for 2012 though, when, as musical director for the closing ceremonies of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, his music reached a huge global audience.  ‘One thing that any artist would say to you is that nothing really beats people watching your work.  That it’s getting to people, the idea that it’s communicating.  The thing that comes from your hand or your mind goes out into the world and I’m sitting there on this little plastic chair in the ceremony realising that there’s a billion people experiencing this at the same time as I am.’

It had been three and a half years since David had taken a phone call from Martin Green, the producer of all ceremonies.  ‘He just floated the idea past me…I’m sure that they were asking a lot of people.’  Arnold had produced Shirley Bassey’s album ‘The Performance’ in 2009 and asked Green down to the Roundhouse to see her perform in October.  The following month he was invited to the unfinished stadium to meet with Kim Gavin, the creative director.  The two had previously worked on a Children in Need show at the Royal Albert Hall together and after hearing his ideas, David finally got a phone call seven months later to say he’d got the gig. Good job too, as he’d cancelled all of his commitments for the following two years.  ‘I thought, if there’s even the narrowest chance of me being able to do it then it would be worthwhile not doing anything else.’

Olympics-closing

Starting in January 2010, the ceremonies were designed by the Spring of 2011, though the music was being worked on up to and including 2012.  Was he able to enjoy the ceremonies from his little plastic chair? ‘I did because I submitted to the idea that I’d done all the work and all the recordings were done, the arrangements were done, everything was finished.  There was nothing at that point that I could do to change anything. I was debating whether to be in the control room where they were directing it, but that would have been like watching the whole thing through a video camera.   I wanted to be there rather than watch the thing technically.   I’d rather just be out there with everyone.  Bit like when you make a film.  It’s nice to be with an audience and feel how its being received.’

Ah yes, films.  Apart from Bond, he’s scored soundtracks for several genres of movie, from blockbusters ‘Independence Day’ and ‘Godzilla’, to comedies ‘Zoolander’ and ‘Hot Fuzz’ and the fantasy ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’.  Does he like to switch around? ‘It’s like: I wouldn’t eat the same thing every day. Some of them haven’t done that well, sometimes they are silly throwaway things and sometimes they’re not.  The main thing is, do I understand what’s going on and can I feel like I can be a part of it?  Does it make me hear things? There is one genre he hasn’t covered yet though.  ‘I’d love to do a proper really disturbing horror film.’

Arnold describes creating music for a set of moving images as like reading a book.  ‘You start imagining what things might look like depending on the description of it and you could probably do a drawing of it based on your understanding of it.‘  Having produced so many big successful scores for blockbusters, I imagined his reputation made him bulletproof when it came to criticism of his work, although he says otherwise.  ‘Sometimes they’re saying ‘I don’t really like it, it’s not working.  You have to trust your Director to know what’s best for the direction of the film.  That’s what directing is.  There are a million ways that music can change your perception of a picture and it needs to be the right one for the film that he’s making.’

Of all the films he’s scored, he tells me his favourite was the biopic ‘Amazing Grace’.  Little seen but well received by critics, it starred Ioan Gruffyd as William Wilberforce fighting for the end of slavery.  The subject matter proved inspirational. ‘There’s a different sense of responsibility to things which are factual rather than fiction based.  With such a thing as slavery, something which has constant repercussions in the world, you have a responsibility to tell an absolute truth.‘   His criteria for choosing films is simple: he just has to like the idea and the script.  It is the film, he says, rather than the Director that influences his choices.  ‘Would I rather work with the Steven Spielberg that made ‘1941’ or the one that made ‘Schindler’s List?’  Despite this, he will admit to being a fan of Paul Thomas Anderson’s work.  ‘His films invite great creativity.  The canvas they offer you…it’s experimental, it’s bold.  The Master is just incredible and Jonny Greenwood has done amazing stuff with him.’

Apart from movies, he has strong links with comedy, most famously the stirring patriotic theme for Little Britain.  It all started with an acting role in 1996, when he was playing the role of the producer of a band whose lead singer was Paul Kaye.  The bass player was David Walliams, who had just started working with Matt Lucas and the three of them became firm friends.  Arnold knows a lot of comedians these days, but it is Lucas, he says, who has probably made him laugh the hardest. ‘I went to a Chinese restaurant with him down the road.  It was before Little Britain but after Shooting Stars. Matt walked in and there was this guy who was drunk and he got up from the other side of the room and pointed at Matt and goes ‘Oh look, it’s that fat bloke off the telly!’ and Matt turned round and pointed at him and went ‘Oh look, its that c*** from the restaurant!’d01_1700_matt_445

Arnold has just produced the music for ‘Mr Stink’, a 3D version of one of Walliams childrens books that appeared on the BBC over Christmas, starring Hugh Bonneville, Sheridan Smith and Johnny Vegas.  He’s also working on a musical version of ‘Made in Dagenham’, which denied him the chance to work on Lucas’s forthcoming TV show.  Then there is something that is rather intriguing, ‘a kind of post Olympic music art thing that I wanted to do at the Olympics.  We ended up not doing it for lots of reasons – it’s a big logistical thing but it’s a way of delivering music to the country that they haven’t really had before.’   Though he’s not keen to elaborate on exactly what the project is for the time being, he describes it as a way of recapturing the positivity that resulted from putting on a very happy and successful Games.  It’s clear that he was very moved by the whole experience.

‘I don’t even know if I can do it because it’s going to be very expensive to do but doing the Olympics changed the way I want to do things.  There were moments of great national pride but also moments of great, creative, artistic beauty.  The sheer optimism that you felt and the relief as well that everything went ok.  As your head sadly and grindingly gets turned to things like the BBC Newsnight thing and…Jimmy Savile, the tedious inevitability of awfulness that keeps turning up…just to remind people that this national talent that we have, this optimism, is all still here.  It’s made me think that is inherently in a lot of people whereas I wasn’t sure before.  It was a catalyst that lifted people from absolute cynicism to an optimistic view of being alive in this country.  There’s that old adage ‘If it comes from the heart, it goes to the heart’.   It’s trying to make those connections and keep those things going.  Over the Olympics it felt like people were connected to each other in a very real way.  I think it’s the best thing that happened to the city, ever.’

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