Solo set at James Lavelle’s Meltdown with UNKLE


Very very excited to announce that I’ve been invited to perform a solo set to kick of James Lavelle’s Meltdown 2014.

It’ll be a solo cello looping set in the Royal Festival Hall before I join the UNKLE line-up (my long-time conspirators) in the second half.

Nice article re the other artists here.

Hope you can come. It’s going to be different. In the meantime let me share a previous Meltdown experience with Jeff Buckley that changed my life entirely…

Exile – the Deer Valley mix

Here’s a new version of ‘Exile’ from ‘We are the Giant’ which has just opened at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. The reception for the film has been amazing and one reviewer has called the movie ‘… a devastating marvel…’ which has given all of us involved a great lift.

The view from where I’m based out here is so outrageously beautiful that I decided to annoy a number of passing skiers yesterday afternoon with my cello in the snow… If you were on the Jordanelle Blue Run in Deer Valley you have my apologies. The film above is the result…

We Are The Giant

The Parihaka children's choir who resited an armed militia

The Parihaka children’s choir who resited an armed militia

I’ve just finished mixing the soundtrack for We Are The Giant, my latest score composed for Greg Barker. The film is premiering at the Sundance Film Festival next week. Our other films together, Sergio and Manhunt also received their first outings in Park City Utah. (Update – there’s a free track to download in this post)

I saw the rough cut of the film only fairly recently and knew I had to be involved.

I was going to say that this film is a call to arms, but, the overwhelming modus operandi of the Arab Spring protagonists portrayed is more of a call to militant peace.

A few years ago I was in Sundance when Banksy was premiering his Exit through the Gift Shop, and taking the opportunity to add some serious value to the walls of certain businesses along Main Street, Park City. I was excited when I spotted this early one morning:

Banksy at Sundance - photo by Philip Sheppard

Banksy at Sundance – photo by Philip Sheppard

He springs to mind as his now infamous image of a rioter hurling a bouquet would be an appropriate logo for the film. In one extraordinary sequence of Greg Barker’s movie, a tidal wave of protesters brandish long stem flowers, not batons or guns unlike the brutal thugs sent to disperse them.

The Arab Spring is a collective, rather misleading term for a groundswell of national protests that have emerged since 2010. It’s no coincidence that this time period correlates to the emergence of direct social messaging, a truly efficient way of negating the deathly hand of state propaganda.

This capacity to network peer-to-peer has also developed in tandem with phones becoming powerful recording devices, meaning that atrocities are now documented at a mere arm’s length, making them harder to suppress and easier to disseminate.

This means that some of the stories portrayed in We Are The Giant make for difficult viewing. In fact, this is a score I’ve had to compose when my kids are far from my studio. I want them to know that this is happening, but they’re just too young to see it in such graphic detail. Unfortunately many of the young people in the film have no such luxury of choice.

This isn’t a film about politics, it’s a film about us.

People like you and me.

People with kids, with friends to see, with school runs, with household bills, with exams, with mobiles, with meals to cook, with to-do lists, with all the pressures and joys of normal life – except the prospect of imprisonment, torture and death are just as normal and domesticated.

I urge you to see this film. It’ll probably make you angry, but will leave you with hope in the fact that some good people do great things.

I’ve gone for a radically different approach to building music for this movie, it just didn’t seem appropriate to use a conventional orchestra for such raw, real footage. I built lots of new instruments from found sounds, and approached the whole score as a single piece of audio design which morphs from harmony and melody into cascading walls of noise.

This a riot sequence:

This is a sequence describing the historic standoff between the Māori Parihaka people and a huge armed militia in the mid 19th Century. The soldiers were dumbfounded by a children’s choir being the only line of defence that confronted them.

This is a sequence about exile – loneliness & separation (You can download this track if you click through):

Sometimes music & flowers are the best weapons…

People who made this film happen:

Director: Greg Barker

Producers: John Battsek, Julie Goldman, Greg Barker

Co, Producer: Razan Ghalayini

Line Producer: Diane Becker

Cinematographers: Muhammad Hamdy, Frank-Peter Lehmann

Editor: Joshua Altman

Sound Mix: Monkeyland Audio

Composer: Philip Sheppard

Plus: major support from PrettyBird.

Philip Sheppard – new tracks available from here.

Some advice to young musicians

I recently had the great pleasure of visiting Montana State University where I had the chance to talk to some of the students studying there about music, life & finding your way – making a career out of what you love doing.

I promised I’d put my notes from the final slides online. So… here they are…

My notebooks

My desk today…

Be Lucky, or Get Lucky

But what is luck?

Easy! It’s just lots of preparation meeting an opportunity.

Create your own luck.
No.1) Get very, very prepared
No.2) Make opportunities for yourself.

Work harder than anyone else you know.

Be businesslike. Run the paperwork & organization side of things like a business & it’ll generate the freedom to become an artist. Haydn & Bach fussed over the minutest details of their contracts – it meant they could leave them in a drawer and focus on the art – once everything was sorted.

Always carry an interesting contact card.
I make sure mine are a little bit different…

Travel with your work in your pocket… I can’t tell you how many times a USB key with my work on it has landed me a commission from what might just have been a chance meeting or a random conversation.

Be busy, permanently. If people see you’re busy, they will know you’re successful which will make you way more appealing than an artist with an empty diary.

Be insanely well organized and equipped.

Always carry manuscript paper/ notebook. You best ideas are best worked out right when you have them, on paper.

Write a business plan / manifesto / dream job description
Write what you want to be doing in 10 years time
Break it down into small steps
Really small steps
Zoom in on details & be objective
Work on it every day
Make it far-fetched. Really ambitious.
(I’ve done everything on my first plan – from 12 years ago, with the exception of one item on there… I can’t tell you what that was, it’s way too embarrassing)

Be Curious & Be Generous

Always work with people better than you.
I do, but I try to make sure they don’t realize it!

Ask people how they do what they do.
Successful people really love to explain their success.

Write a letter everyday to a different person you think is brilliant, clever or interesting. If I’ve enjoyed a score on a TV show or film, I always write to the composer.
Same thing if I’ve loved a book. It’s so easy to make contact, and it’s a good thing to do.
Talent can be contagious, as can success

Trade favors – I sometimes work for trades – eg, with filmmakers & photographers on condition they help with my publicity shots & showreels

Get Skilled & Get Specialized

Specialize in something utterly unique – even if it is merely a niche aspect of something quite commonplace

Be classical in your foundations, so you can be wild in your top floors.

Be physically & mentally fit

Listen emotionally, analytically and critically to everything. If you love a piece, try to work out what appeals to you. If a performer has a magnetic quality, try to work out how they achieve this.

Be artistically rich

Talk to your audience – they’re more nervous than you are.

Get comfortable onstage – without an instrument or the tools of your job

Sharpen your aural skills

Learn how to truly play in time & in tune. You’d be surprised how many well-known musicians can lose the plot when required to play to a click track.

Be technically astounding.
If you’re not, it’s just a matter of working much harder. And that’s easy.

If you really want to learn how to do something, then teach it…

Big, important stuff…

Define yourself as an artist.
Many classical players will define themselves by the instrument they play – eg, ‘I’m a violinist’.
It’s healthier to think, ‘I’m a musician who plays the violin…’,
or even,
‘I’m an artist, who’s a musician, who plays the violin…’.
You might need to keep that last one to yourself in case it sounds terribly pretentious when you say it out loud…

Attend courses that are not part of your regular studies

Try to actually own your work – this is complicated but the key to your future security

Learn all the science as well as all of the art around what you do.
Research what you do so you can speak with authority

Always say YES to something terrifying, then panic when you have time alone.

When you are challenged to perform in a bizarre circumstance, always accept the dare…

I’m that nightmare cellist who upon going into a pub & hearing ‘Go on mate, give us a tune..!’ will get the instrument out and play it. Believe me, it’s far more embarrassing for the chap that shouted it & will make that debut in Carnegie Hall feel like a walk in the park…

Your big break will be unexpected and probably utterly terrifying.
But, a split second of bravery will open the doors to your dreams…

I’m on @philipsheppard on twitter – always happy to correspond

Acme Inc… Or how not to use a Ukelele


The Acme Keyboard Telegraph

The Acme Keyboard Telegraph

My writing & recording studio is a library. This is not only because I draw great inspiration & solace from books – I mean you’ve never seen so many wartime Penguin Orangebacks in a row – but also because a wall full of books has great acoustic properties – it dampens the sound and (to my ear at least) bounces back a lovely diffuse quality in the instrument being recorded.I have a shelf in front of my music stand which has stacks of everything I’m currently reading.

I’ve recently become somewhat obsessed with the work of Chris Ware, and a copy of his Acme Novelty Yearbook is permanently open for inspiration.

Studio bookstack

Studio bookstack

Whilst much of his work deals with melancholia & failure, there’s a healthy dose of influence from the adverts in early American magazines, as well as repeated references to Ragtime


This piece is a concerto for a single chord on a ukelele written after reading a chunk of this amazing book. Hope you like it…