composer of music for film & television

Strings and Things

Strings ‘n’ Things


I spent  Monday, with Richard Kimmings, preparing the Pro Tools arrangements for a string recording session on Tuesday. The musical style for this project could be described as ‘MOR Pop Rock’ and this album is one of the grandest I have ever recorded -  also the audio track count in the Pro Tools session is impressively huge.  

For the string recording on Tuesday I wouldn't need access to every individual track in Pro Tools, so I spent the day reducing the sessions down to seven main instrumental groups:

  1. Drums and percussion
  2. Bass and synth bass
  3. Electric guitars
  4. Acoustic guitars
  5. Piano and Electric Piano
  6. Mellotron (choir & strings)
  7. Vocals

These seven tracks will give enough instrument level control to provide a suitable headphone mix for the string players to record to.


Tuesday morning was spent setting up microphones in the main studio space at the Chairworks Studio in Castleford, ready to record the nine string players. The setup was a mixture of stereo microphones, placed to capture the ensemble as a whole, and spot mics to capture individual players -

Before The Event

Leica M (Type 240) Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95

Overall Mics

Decca Tree array - 3 Blue Kiwi condenser set to Omni

Brauner VM1s stereo condenser set to cardioid 

AEA R88 stereo ribbon in blumlein  

Spot Mics

1st Violins - AEA R44 ribbon

2nd Violins - AEA R44 ribbon

Violas - AEA R44 ribbon

Cellos - 2x Telefunken U47

Bass - Soundelux Elux 251

A Last Review

Leica M (Type 240) Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95

I’ve been working on this project for over a year now and the strings are the last instruments to be added before mixing. Over the last 12 months I’ve become close to the details in each of these songs but, for the string players, today will be the first time they have heard the tracks. I love the sound of real strings but I’m not wanting to record strings on this project simply because I like the sound of strings. A good string arrangement can bring a new level of emotion to a track that would be difficult (perhaps impossible) to achieve in any other way. Will these players be able to provide the emotional drive I’m asking when all they are given is a musical score to play? Where does musical emotion come from? Can it really be reduced to a few lines and dots on a score? This would suggest that the pitch, rhythm and dynamic information contained in the score is all that is needed to create successful and emotional music. Human interpretation of the score is key. Computers can accurately reproduce the musical notation from the score time and time again without error, but when a group of musicians perform this written information, the sound becomes an audio flux, each player applying their own subtle interpretation to every moment whilst simultaneously listening and reacting to the evolving music around them, the score then comes to life.


Leica M (Type 240) Leica 50mm Noctilux-M ASPH f/0.95


I first met singer/songwriter Joy Villa whilst attending a photography workshop with Danish photographer Thorsten Von Overgaard. I mentioned to Joy, I would be happy to mix some of her work, and a couple of weeks ago she sent me some Pro Tools sessions of her tracks.



Leica M9P with Leica 90mm APO-Summicron f/2.0 ASPH

Mixing music for other artists, especially when they are not attending the mix, raises one crucial question: How far do I take the audio from where it is now? With computer software it’s now possible for me to completely change everything beyond recognition. Like Photoshop changed photography forever, so audio software like Pro Tools is changing music production. The track I was mixing for Joy was recorded (and already mixed) in New Zealand and I liked this original mix. So what exactly did I want to do with this track?

‘Get Your Freedom’ is an electro pop song with very minimal instrumentation, drum loop, bass, synth pad and vocal. I decided to stay fairly close to the original mix with the following changes.

 Drums - I was given one drum loop track. I re-triggered the kick with an 808 emulation, enabling me to bring the bass drum to the front of the mix. I also added AMS RMX16 to the snare in the chorus and a tremolo delay towards the end of the song. I also removed a little vocal sample that occurred each bar so that it was now every two bars.

Keyboard Pad - I used two of my favorite vintage H3000 presets to widen and reverse delay the pad and I also ran a darkened version through my 1970s AKG spring reverb for the verse.

Vocals - The main change was a repeat multitap delay added in the chorus repeating ‘freedom’. I also added a wide telephone effect to the spoken section.

Apart from those changes I created automation moves to the pad & choir and did final compression and EQ through my analog valve gear. Did my mix work? 

Vampire Of Fitzrovia

Leica M9P with Leica 90mm APO-Summicron f/2.0 ASPH

Whenever I finish a mix I find it impossible to know if it is good. I do know I’m happy with it at the moment of printing the final version but after that moment how it is perceived, for good or bad, is out of my hands. The photographer Garry Winogrand said “I photograph the world to see what the world looks like in a photograph”. I sometimes think I mix music so I can hear what music sounds like when I’ve mixed it. 


I spent Thursday with Tim Reilly and Jeff Dale, composing and recording a track to complete a new Cinematic Indie album project for Audio Network. We began with Jeff building a tom tom and handclap grove for the three of us to improvise to. After a couple of hours of recording ideas on acoustic guitars we decided to scrap everything and start again. Why did we all agree that the music was ‘wrong’ (or at least not worth keeping)?

I then plugged in an electric guitar and the moment I began to play, inspiration struck, I continued to play for another three minutes, finishing the main guitar part in one go.

Where does inspiration come from? How does it make it seem, creating something completely new - effortless, (when inspiration doesn’t strike attempting to compose music can feel like pulling teeth).

But what really intrigues me, even after inspiration strikes, is how I am able to be completely sure that I have composed something worthy of keeping. Why, after hours of trying out different possibilities and (disliking all of it) , is this new sequence of notes correct?

We spent the rest of the day building the arrangement and layering instruments on top of this guitar part so I hope it was a good decision to keep it!

Guitar Drum

Leica M (Type 240) with Leica 35mm Summilux f/1.4 ASPH

On Thursday evening I recorded bass and percussion for an ongoing Alt Rock project for Audio Network. 

Bass Assassin

Leica M (Type 240) with Leica 35mm Summilux f/1.4 ASPH

I had the very great pleasure of playing Chris Bussey’s original 1968 Fender Precision bass guitar and I fear there will be no going back for me after hearing the sound from this amazing instrument - Beautifully deep and round but with an incredible, constant, wide upper midrange lift that is quite simply iconic.

Happy Clap

Leica M (Type 240) with Leica 35mm Summilux f/1.4 ASPH


Perhaps the most important part of composing and supplying music for Audio Network is completing the different track length versions and paper work. For each track I have to supply full length/alternate mixes as well as 60/30 second versions and a collection of short stings. Also, complete data sheets containing track lengths, key, tempo, track description and provide a list of hashtags. Finally filling in copyright assignment forms for each work.

Anyone who knows me, knows that I spend most days in a creative headspace. I’m always internally constructing some musical adventure or musing on how to move a composition forwards. Paperwork and my mind are not happy bedfellows. I’m sure my mind becomes more creative when I attempt paperwork, just to get in the way and hopefully force me into quitting the task and start recording music again.


Concentration Face

Leica M (Type 240) with Leica 35mm Summilux f/1.4 ASPH

When I tell people I’m a musician, a common reaction is that it must be nice not to have a real job. The versioning and paperwork at the end of a project may seem, perhaps, more like ‘real work’ but music can be reduced to simple mathematics... using harmony or rhythm, musicians communicate in numbers - 3rds, 5ths, 16ths, 8ths, 7#9.... So, in a way, composing and recording music is just arranging a given set of numbers. into a understandable sequence where the final sum is something that makes sense and has use.... like accounting…. but with drums.

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