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PHILIP ARCHER REPLIES

I emailed Phil some questions for my research report, and his replies were pretty interesting! There’re some nice bits I think I might quote in my report!


How do you go about creating a score for a film?

First of all I try to distill the essential elements of the film - the main themes, characters, settings - and start to think about what instruments or sound sources could be used to represent and express these sonically. I always try to put together a ’sound world’ before starting with any actual musical material, a combination of elements that will be coherent and flexible. This could be instruments associated with a particular time period or geographic location for example, or synthetic sounds with a specific character.

Next I draw up a ‘sound map’, which is usually a number of graphs showing how various elements play out over the course of the film. This varies from project to project, but it might illustrate how prominent the music is at various points, emotional build-ups and releases, or the balance of different themes throughout the narrative.

As an example, I’m working on a film with Jon Dunleavy at the moment which follows two opposing forces - ‘love’ and ‘chaos’ - and our sound map describes how dominant these different forces are at various points. 'Chaos’ is represented by harsh electronic sounds while 'Love’ has acoustic instruments and vocal elements, and this map helps with constructing an overall structure.

What’s your composing process? Is there anything you always try and get nailed down first, or go back to?

It’s quite boring, but I almost always work through fairly linearly. I’ll try and get a good grasp on the start and come up with something strong to open the film, and then things flow from there. Sometimes I revisit sections to try out alternative material, but I almost always end up using the original idea!

How do you sculpt the music to the required emotion, or the emotion to the required music?

It’s usually very intuitive. ​I tend to immerse myself in the style and feel of the required music by listening to other tracks or reference material, and then once I have a good idea of the instrumentation and sound sources I watch through the film with these in mind, and I start to hear material play in my head. Then I start the process of trying to get it out of my head into the world…

Do you have any progressions, instruments, or sounds that you’ve found really help evoke certain emotions or particular responses from an audience? Such as major scales for positive and minor for negative, or loud abrupt sounds for fear and softer soothing melodies for calm?

​​Yes, but I imagine these are mainly very conventional. Violins and other instruments with a similar timbre and range as the human voice are generally particularly expressive and emotive. Brass and deep percussion are associated with strength and power, and the volume and intensity of the music definitely has an impact. A lot of the time the timbre and instrumentation can have a substantial effect on the perceived meaning too - so the same progression or melody can have a very different effect depending on whether it’s played on a music box or a full orchestra, for example. Different styles of music can also differ in terms of what kind of material signifies a particular emotion, so a progression that has a particular effect in a 'classical’ music context may not work the same in a reggae track.

How integral is the use of music and sound to cultivating emotive responses for an animation or film, do you think, and why?

​​I think it can definitely enhance (or even change) the emotional response, compared to a silent picture

As to why we find music so affecting, I’m not sure anybody really knows. As I try to stress in my sound design sessions, sound and music seem to work more on our hearts than our heads, and while some emotional responses are cultural, there also seem to be some (nearly) universal ones too.

Do you think music can alter our perception of a scene? If so, how? (For example, a ‘lighter’ track making the scene seem familial, a ‘darker’ track making the scene seem tense, etc.)

​​Yes, for sure. Sound and music are often used to change the meaning of the picture - an obvious example would be horror films where otherwise innocent images are juxtaposed with eerie music to create a feeling of dread. The 'Singing in the Rain’ bit in A Clockwork Orange is quite an interesting juxtaposition too, and there are lots of examples of people re-cutting films into different genres with new music, like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2T5_0AGdFic