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A touch of Vintage Vocal Swing

Some might say that the Andrews Sisters were the sound of a vintage generation.  The first all-female pop group and the originators of the girl power movement, and pioneers of Vintage Vocal Swing. This 1940’s signature sound inspired our recent collaboration with Joanna Forbes L’Estrange. ,

An eight-track album of 1940’s silky-smooth close harmony pieces with lyrical subject matter ranging from the USO (United Services Organisation), and Choo Choo’s, to a little Christmas ditty called Hurry Santa.

Mike Smith (drums), David, Ant Law (Guitar), Tom Farmer (Bass), Colin Good (Piano), Jeff and Audio Network founder Andrew Sunnucks.

Our first collaboration with Joanna couldn’t have been easier.  A mainstay on the London vocal scene, Joanna is equally at home in practically every genre of music, but it’s her time spent with the Swingle Singers that made this project, in particular, the right one for Joanna.

With the songs written and the recording date set, we found ourselves once again in the familiar setting of Abbey Road Studios – but this time in the iconic Studio 3, where Pink Floyd famously recorded “Dark Side of the Moon.”

We were lucky enough to put together a stellar line up of players who specialize in 30’s and 40’s music to set the stage for an incredible collaborative effort:

Back row: Enrico Tomasso (Trumpet), Malcolm Earle-Smith (Trombone), Mark Crooks (Clarinet), Howard McGill (Alto/Flute), Phil Todd (Tenor/Flute).

After a stunning day of rhythm and horn sessions, the stage was set for the evening vocals. What better way to get into the spirit of the music than to wear vintage 1940’s clothing, so that’s exactly what we did. David in an R.A.F. uniform, Jeff in 40’s-style trousers with suspenders and hat and the girls in classic matching Andrews Sisters’ outfits. Joanna joined by Sara Brimer-Davey and Joanna Goldsmith-Eteson expertly weaved their way through the vocal arrangements for three hours of pure joy. We were all instantly transported back almost 80 years.

Each of us in the studio that day commented on how we couldn’t remember a recording session that was more fun  – and since we are collectively talking about thousands of hours of studio time that is really saying something!

Look for our Vintage Vocal Swing album to be released by Audio Network in summer 2018!

Cartoon Capers with John Altman

One of the things we love most about the type of Media music writing we do is the huge breadth of styles that we get to work on, and this has been particularly apparent in our current project “Action Cartoon” – A collaboration with composing legend and Emmy winner John Altman.

So what do we mean by Action Cartoon?

Think, Simpsons with a touch of The Jetsons meet Spiderman, or Dangermouse with a pinch of Dick Barton….

Part of the creative challenge of this type of project is getting into the mindset of how this stuff was originally conceived, written and recorded back-in-the-day, in order to faithfully recreate music that stands up against the originals.

“This is where our collaborator John Altman came into his own,” said David.

To give you a bit of background, John is a musical director, arranger, composer, conductor and saxophonist. Beginning his career in the late 60’s as an in-demand saxophonist, through the years John has performed with the likes of Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Bob Marley, Muddy Waters and Prince, as well as being Van Morrison’s musical director.

John’s arranging and conducting talents garnered many hit records such as George Michael’s “Kissing a Fool”, Rod Stewart’s “Downtown Train” and Alison Moyet’s “That Ole Devil Called Love” which John also produced. He also arranged Monty Python’s “Always Look On The Bright Side of Life”, a song which has gained worldwide cult status. As well as having an A-List career working on commercial hits, John has an equally successful career as a busy film and TV composer and has worked on countless movies and TV shows. Big screen success has included Titanic, Shall We Dance and The Lost Empire to name a few of the long list.

“Working with John has been a wonderful learning experience,” said David “When we first discussed the project, John’s knowledge of the genre and of the process of the composers was remarkable.” We discussed in depth the original creative and recording processes, and John’s insight has added an authenticity we would never have achieved without his input.”

“For me, what’s been wonderful is the way ideas have flowed,” said Jeff Meegan. “A creative melting-pot, with everyone having input, for me, is the key to a successful collaboration.”

As always everything has to be carefully conceived. Every splodge of every note, from the conception of the scores through to the recording process. Once again at Abbey Road studio 2, with 11 hours of sessions where John will conduct and David and Jeff will jointly produce.

Meegan, Tobin and Altman

At Abbey Road with John Altman

One of the extra things that set this project apart will be the use of comedy percussion. This will be a signature sound of the collection. We hope to create a virtual mini library of bangs, hits, squeaks and pops during a percussion session in Abbey Road studio 3 with percussionist Paul Clarvis.

“We chose not to write any of these parts in advance,” said David. “We decided it would be more fun to work on these in real time with Paul. We asked him to bring everything but the kitchen sink… and then joked that he might want to throw that in his bag too!”

“Working with Jeff and David has been a real learning curve for me,” said John Altman. “ I’m used to collaborating on movies with directors and editors, or on records with artists and producers but this is my first experience of collaboration with fellow composers and I must confess I am enjoying being able to discuss what I’m doing along the way with people who share the same experiences. The first of many albums with Jeff and David I hope!”

Once the recordings are complete, we begin the meticulous process of mixing, creating all the necessary versions and putting all final finishing touches to everything.Look out early next year for the Action Cartoon Comedy album to be released on www.audionetwork.com and we’ll be posting some snippets here very soon!

 

The Toronto Film Festival Experience

Well.. now that the dust has settled on the Toronto International Film Festival 2017, here’s a quick insight into our experience of the wonderfully chaotic world of TIFF from a festival first-timer.

Despite both being industry veterans, this was the first time that either Jeff or I had attended a film festival and so we weren’t sure what to expect. Would we be waltzing up the red carpet, or run over in the public’s rush to search out celebrities?

Toronto International Film Festival

SuperSize Me 2 star, Morgan Spurlock on the Red Carpet with David and Jeff.

Well, I’m happy to report that the reality was both! It was a real pleasure to walk down the red carpet with the star of SuperSize Me 2, Morgan Spurlock at the premiere of our new movie – but equally I was amused to be asked “are you somebody?” when standing watching a stationary car for a glimpse of Matt Damon and George Clooney – who were arriving for the opening of Suburbicon.

My answer of “I’m not sure” seemed to confuse the eager stargazer I think, but the scrum towards the Hollywood A-listers reminded me how important movies and movie stars are to the rest of us, especially in a world going through some slightly choppy times.

Walking down Festival Avenue, a street that had been cordoned off for promotional events, gave me a chance to take in the genuine excitement that still exists around cinema and arts festivals of all sorts. There were street musicians, TV crews, people from all over the world who’d make pilgrimages to catch a glimpse of their favourite stars and interested locals, all wandering around in a sea of good-natured chatter.

At TIFF 2017 there were a staggering 339 new movies, shown in just 11 days. Some critics felt that the festival was almost too large, but without any previous experience to match it against, it just felt buzzy and exciting to us. This year featured many biopics, including the Lady Gaga story “Five Foot Two” and “Borg vs McEnroe”, which looks at the rivalry between the tennis stars in the 1980’s.

 

Toronto International Film Festival

The crazy world of TIFF 2017

As with all film festivals, there’s a competitive nature to them, with movies attempting to gain popularity, notoriety and ultimately looking to secure distribution deals. This year’s festival was no different and the winner of the People’s Choice Award went to “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri”. A harrowing, yet compelling movie by Academy award-winner Martin McDonagh, starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell. Other movies to gain recognition were “Bodied” – A satirical exploration of Battle Rapping and “I, Tonya” – The Tonya Harding Story.

For our own small part, the team on SuperSize Me 2 were delighted to have the movie named in the top three documentaries of the festival and, we all hope it bodes well for the upcoming awards season – but for our part, it was just a blast to be involved in the slightly crazy world that was TIFF 2017.

For a full list of festival winners and award nominees check out the TIFF awards site here. See also our blogs on the movie Supersize Me 2, and  A Film Season In Bloom

A film season in bloom

It’s the beginning of September and that marks start of the film awards season.

With the Venice, Telluride and Toronto film festivals all happening with in a few weeks of each other, it’s no wonder that many Oscar-contending films have made their debut at this time in years past. ‘Birdman”, “Slum Dog Millionaire”, “Black Swan”, “12 Years A Slave” and one of last years big winners “La la Land” to name a few.

As we run up to the end of the year there is no doubt that some of 2017’s most critically acclaimed films will come out if this year’s festival crop. On the slate for Venice are George Clooney’s “Suberbicon” starring Matt Damon and Alexander Payne’s Downsizing, also starring Matt Damon.  At Toronto, Alfonso Gomez-Rejon’s “The Current Wars” starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Michael Shannon as well as documentarian Morgan Spurlock’s “Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!” (scored by Jeff Meegan, David Tobin and Tim Garland).  While Telluride doesn’t give a list of films set to premiere we think one thing is clear: Regardless of your personal tastes, this season of festivals should prove to be both entertaining and informative and we can’t wait to see what goodness awaits!

The emotional touch

When writing production music, one of the interesting things for us as composers is to see the vastly differing creative and emotive ways our music is used on a vast variety of projects.

When writing production music, one of the interesting things for us as composers is to see the vastly differing creative and emotive ways our music is used on a vast variety of projects.

One of the reasons I never tire of writing music for picture is that the images can often be ambiguous and emotionally uncertain for a viewer, who is then guided as to how the producer wants them to feel about the film by the music. This is pretty powerful and I get a real kick out of knowing the effect that the music used has on the viewer / listener.

All the more reason why I was excited and delighted to see an article by Andrew Cocker, senior marketing director of Expedia, talking about how Expedia has decided to run a series of adverts chosen by running 6 x 3min documentaries and seeing which ones invoked the best response from audiences.

One of the adverts that ended up being commissioned was a moving film about a truck driver from the West Midlands in the UK who loves Opera and travels to Madrid to watch a live performance. It features some of the opera works featured in the Audio Network Opera Favourites album, produced and arranged by Jeff and me alongside Julian Gallant some while ago.

Recording this music was itself an emotional process, as (although recorded at Abbey Road) it was recorded live in real time, with singers and orchestra performing together. Putting world class singers and  players in an iconic studio and listening to them perform some of the greatest works in the opera repertoire was an emotional experience for all involved.

Here’s the advert in all its glory:

 

 

And here’s the article about the advert campaign:

 

Coming soon, more news on our latest projects and releases, from Patriotic American to Brass Band, from Cowboy to Native American Indian Chanting (no honestly) and our first feature film!

Our piece Quest for Justice

It was especially pleasing to see one of our tracks recently used in a behind the scenes documentary on the latest Star Wars movie “The Force Awakens”.

The documentary featured interviews with key members of the production team, along with some fabulous footage of one of the locations in the movie.

Luke Skywalker is living as hermit, at the top of what seems to be an infeasibly remote mountain in the middle of the sea. His hermit’s cell is approached by way of an ancient set of steps that leads from sea level to the summit.

What seemed to be a feat of computer-generated images was nothing less than a masterpiece of nature, and great piece of location scouting – the island of Skellig just off the coast of Kerry in South West Ireland.

The island is spectacular, rocky and barren and was home to an early Christian monastery.

Quest for Justice matches the majesty of the location. It is a stirring orchestral piece that was recorded in Studio 2 at Abbey Road Studios with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra and a huge choir. This stirring piece of music builds from a melodic string opening to a rousing chorale finale.

To see StarWars Behind the Scenes, click here. To hear this track and variations on the theme go to the Audio Network website.

Pasta joke…

Dolmio sauce ad follows in the footsteps of a movie classic

Writing music for TV advertising is a challenge. You have just half a minute in which to present a piece of music from beginning to end . And vital as your role is, you always have to remember that you’re there to support the advertiser’s message – and not to get in the way of its delivery.

﷯Our recent work for a Dolmio TV advert had to satisfy all of these conditions. Our brief was to create an original soundtrack for a pasta sauce advert and combine two highly contrasting musical styles in the allocated 30 seconds.

Neatly combining two national stereotypes the advert combined humour with the continuing public fascination with organised crime and the kind of joyful Italian family gathering that marked the openings of the first two Godfather films.

The original soundtracks for the first two Godfather films were composed by Nino Rota who collected an Oscar for the soundtrack of the second Godfather film, which has been voted the fifth greatest soundtrack of all time. No pressure there then…

The Dolmio scene opens with a brooding but comic tableau full of menace and highly redolent of the Mafia family ‘sit-down’ in the first Godfather movie, which really set the standard for this sort of thing. Just as things look set to get heavy between a motley collection of scarred animated heavies, with the inevitable “offer you can’t refuse” in bursts Momma with plates of steaming ragu and pasta with an abrupt switch in music to a jaunty and happy Italian folk tune.

Our mini-masterpiece was recorded live in Prague with a full-blown symphony orchestra. This might seem like using a sledgehammer to crack a nut but it allowed us to create a highly authentic live sound, Needless to say we took the opportunity of working with some top-class musicians – and to spend the evening testing out Prague’s well-earned reputation for excellent examples of the brewer’s art.

 

The illusion of sound

When we listen to a recording do we hear something that never happened – and does it matter?

What makes a great recording? Is it the sense of being in there, in the middle of the music, where you can hear everything? Or is a great recording one which is so technically blemish-free that it creates music that represents what the composer or arranger heard in their head but could never be performed?

What if we could hear what Robert Johnson or Enrico Caruso actually sounded like? The sound that we hear in our heads when we think of old recording artists comes is characterised by the limitations of the media with which they worked. Successive technologies have given us more faithful recordings and released constraints on the artist and the sound engineer. For example, there could be no crooners before the introduction of the microphone.

﷯As another example, the adoption of magnetic recording tape from Germany into the US after 1945 meant that the clicks and hisses that had been part of recordings disappeared. This, incidentally, meant that Bing Crosby could record his radio shows and spend more time on the golf course because there was now no difference between recorded and live sound.

But since the introduction of digital sound, and with the growth in computing power, things have really changed. A day or two of frantic activity at Abbey Road or Air Studios with an orchestra is followed by weeks of intensive post-production work, as we clean, polish, hone, shape and polish the files again. Like a man snipping alternate ends of his moustache, it’s sometimes hard to know when to stop.

Particularly when you start using a software tool like Izotope RX4, which is to sound what Adobe Photoshop is to images – and then some. In the hands of a skilled operator noises, distortions, hums, clicks, reverb and ambient noise are whisked away, as if with a wizard’s wand. Recordings made in different places can be made to sound the same. The result is pristine. But even Playboy models don’t look like Playboy models in real life. And sometimes recordings are beautiful but they are not accurate evidence of what happened.

So how far should you go in the pursuit of perfection? Doesn’t a bit of grunge actually add something? That’s real ambient grunge, not the digital stuff you add in after you’ve cleaned everything up.

‘ There is an unquantifiable magic about live recordings that appeals to many people. But of course, at the expense of letting the light in on the magic, even live recordings get the treatment in post-production. But it’s the stuff that gets left in that adds something.’

Bob Dylan’s concert at the Free Trade Hall in Manchester in 1966 became infamous for the exchange between Dylan and a young heckler who calls him Judas. Dylan replies by calling him a liar and then instructs The Band, in industrial language, to turn up the volume somewhat. The result is an incandescent outpouring of anger from the artist that could never have happened in the studio and would have made no sense if the heckle had been removed from the recording.

Some records are made never to be performed in a truly live sense. Phil Spector’s Wall of Sound relied on live recording of multiple instruments played in unison to create a dense aesthetic that was at its best when heard on cheap audio. The inevitable tiny time lags between players created a unique sound.

In his autobiography, Life, Keith Richards bemoans the fact that the Stones’ most exciting recordings were made when the technology was at its most primitive. They ”would record the room.” Now he says every element and instrument is recorded and months are spent putting all the elements back together to recreate the original sound. He has a point, but there is no right or wrong answer.

Of course, some live performances should never be heard. If you can stand it, listen to Britney Spears live microphone feed from her 2008 tour.

It’s a rule in show business that you should never work with animals or children. I volunteered to record the local school’s Christmas carol service and was disconcerted to hear the right channel mike clearly pick up some speech from one of the tiny young singers: “ I don’t like Johnny, he smells.” I left the comment in – sometimes the magic of live recordings wins out over the search for immaculate sound.

The technology at our disposal these days is superb – although I think that even RX would struggle to deal with this example of a live recording going horribly and hilariously wrong.


Mulberry ad wins praise from Campaign

We were very pleased to see that the Mulberry advertisement which features one of our tracks had been used by creative agency Adam & Eve/DDB London as part of their #win Christmas campaign.

 

Advertising bible Campaign awarded the video its Ad of the Day Award this month. An intimate jazz combo track called “When it’s Christmas Time” by Jeff, David and Charley Harrison provides a subtle background to an unfolding comedy of manners on Christmas morning somewhere in upper class Home Counties England.