carbon cycle (2017)
short film, documnetary, global mana foundation
dir: oliver cowley
This short scientific documentary outlines the role of carbon on earth, from the essential ingredient in most of our molecules to its part in suffocating greenhouse gasses.
I had the pleasure of being on board from the start with this project. Ollie contacted me with his initial vision, noting his love of “Cosmos” (narrated by Neil deGrasse Tyson) and the stunning visual effects (the show being executive produced by Brannon Braga of “Star Trek - The Next Generation” fame). This was my starting point and I proceeded to compose a lush orchestral piece reminiscent of “Star Trek: Voyager” and “Alien” (both composed by Jerry Goldsmith).
- full orchestra: we associate this with epic ideas, especially science and science fiction due to Star Wars, Star Trek, etc.
isolation of space
- lone melody over droning chord (like the opening of “Alien” by Jerry Goldsmith)
- Mixolydian mode (major scale, but with a minor 7th)
- ostinato: VII, I (both major chords, uplifting the piece, and the full tone distance between their roots gives a spaciousness)
- brass melody for regal quality
- string accompaniment with crescendoing brass (again, regal)
- slow, pulse not necessarily present: free flowing, like time and space
And then Ollie received the first incarnation of the CGI. Rather than simple grandeur, the visuals evoked visceral excitement. We ditched the music done so far and I started again, this time, we decided, with pumping, modern electro.
- synthetic instruments: by association, synths remind us of technology
- squelchy, heavily compressed drums with side-chaining: typical of electro music over the last five years or so, but done masterfully by Jon Hopkins on his “Immunity” album, especially with numerous short sounds coming together and providing syncopation around the kick drum
- thick with FX, but still somehow crisp and spacious
contrasting emotional states
- must use sounds that are versatile enough to be appropriate for energetic excitement and weightless beauty
- floaty, droning chords sit comfortably on their own (weightless beauty), or behind intense bass and beats (energetic excitement)
- for maximum impact, this movie needs to bee seen as “cool”, so the piece must be catchy and likeable
- fairly static
- contrast between resting on I (very comfortable) or iii (a bit tense)
- absent or almost featureless: the listener should be encapsulated in a cloud, not toe-tapping and singing along
- slow tempo (80bpm) to contrast “high energy” section
- with sparse melodic and harmonic material, a dependable beat can stabilise the listener’s emotions
- “doof” beat, ~120bpm (standard march tempo)
- crescendos and decrescendos to direct energy up or down
- synth bass with variable parameters to give character and development without changing pitch or rhythm
anxiety/tension (for “Industrial Revolution”)… but not too much!
- a very rapid, mainly conjunct synth ostinato (pc: 2 0 2 3 7 3 2 3): such material is frequently used to express “machines taking over”
- variable parameters to achieve expression and development without altering pitch or rhythm: meditative, but still with progress
- vocal-esque pitch-bend: like laboured breathing, represents the pollution engulfing the planet
- various electro sound FX for interest and depth of texture
Lots of people working on different things in different parts of the world, but unified by Ollie’s vision. I would write some more music and send it off. He would write back with alterations, new requests and the next CGI instalment. This went on for a few weeks with lots of correspondence via email and telephone, nipping and tucking our respective pieces of the puzzle, reimagining when another key component was adjusted. A very organic, malleable process with all parts being created simultaneously and being bound together as they arrived, but with constant re-evaluation.