My solo performing setup generally includes loop pedals, pitch shifters and reverb units.
I’m doing a lot of experimentation at the moment with my live setup, using acoustic & electric cellos, new custom built units as well as some exciting new effects pedals from Boss, Boomerang & Line 6. Before I plan a programme I always draw a new circuit/ wiring plan and however much I try to simplify things around my feet, they always end up verging on the complex..!
The sketch above is the setup I have in my studio at the moment… Looking a little tangled for my liking…
Here’s a short improvisation from a set I performed in Mexico a couple of months ago. The guest speakers prior to me had mentioned whale songs, volcanos and one of my favourite pieces, La Folia. Needless to say, all of them found their way in.
It’s been great to see Andrew Bird storming Sundance with a live set where he built songs up from live loops on violin using a parallel setup of Line 6 delay modellers, one tightly locked, the other more for floating ambient lines. You can watch it here.
The great thing is that the gadgetry he’s using is rendered unimportant by the emotional punch of the songs. It’s easy to get hung up on gear for its own sake, but if you’re not making someone laugh, cry or get the chills, it ain’t worth it…
This is my notebook for the score of the forthcoming documentary film ‘Manhunt’ directed by Greg Barker. The film premieres at Sundance 2013 this coming week and tells the story of the CIA’s hunt for Bin Laden. It’s a great counterpoint to Zero Dark Thirty as it shows the frustrations, errors and dangers faced by the largely female intelligence officers, aka ‘the Sisterhood’.
Here’s a track or two from the soundtrack I’ve written.
This is the soundtrack to Liz Garbus’ celebrated film about the life of troubled chess genius Bobby Fischer, ‘Bobby Fischer Against the World’.
I wrote the score around themes by Bach keyboard works. You can sample the full album here. Thanks for listening,
Bobby Fischer Against the World, a film by Liz Garbus, has just premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. Here are a few tracks from my soundtrack composed for the film, plus… the title track as a free download. (Click to download & please leave a comment below).
I first heard about Bobby Fischer when I was a kid, heavily into performing classical music. Many of the great Russian virtuoso musicians and composers had a reputation for being chess fanatics, and I remember my mother’s violin professor Beatrix Marr, describing the friendly rivalry between Boris Spassky and David Oistrakh (one of the world’s greatest violinists). Beatrix regularly thrashed me in chess matches in her cottage, making no allowance for my age…
Music begins with an opening gesture, a phrase or a hook and runs along a temporal plane before reaching a cadence, resolution and ending. Great music lives on as an impression of an experience intertwined with emotion and context. You don’t need to be able to interpret what the blobs and squiggles on a musical staff mean in order to be enveloped in a mindblowing musical experience. You don’t need to learn the ‘rules’ of harmony to be profoundly moved by a performance. The great chess grandmasters inhabit a world we can literally never comprehend. A great chess match is a performance, a spontaneous composition of pure elegant counterpoint.
The supreme master of counterpoint in the entire history of music is J.S.Bach. Even as an experienced musician, I cannot begin to grasp how he processed vast amounts of mathematical musical data, rendering it into perfectly structured miniature cathedrals of sound. The inside of his brain must have had parallels with that of Bobby Fischer, but despite this vast intellect he (unlike Fischer) was able to live a life as a complete human being. (I mean, he had fourteen children for a start…).
Bach’s famous first prelude in C was my starting point for scoring Bobby Fischer against the World. I took the theme and turned it inside out – it begins as fragmented and hesitant gestures as if unsure before playing out to an inevitable endgame. (That’s the piano and string orchestra track above by the way).
The whole of the rest of the score is composed from Bach’s themes – from the Goldberg Variations to the keyboard concertos. This piece below is based on the D minor keyboard concerto, though it’s totally unrecognizable as it’s more like a romantic American/Russian prelude that descends into a shameless waltz. This piece runs underneath the famous match between Spassky and Fischer known as the Game of Placid Beauty. This track was written in New York, against the clock when we were rushing to finish the film, and was a piece that went through so many versions and changes before settling on what became ironically known as The Brooklyn Symphony (there’s always one cue in a film which is a major problem and this was it..!)
On a final note, one deeply sad aspect of the making of this film was the loss of the brilliant editor Karen Schmeer. I had already worked with Karen for two years on Greg Barker’s extraordinary film Sergio, and Karen was a joy to work with. We knew each other purely through emails, Skype chats and the odd phone call. We never met, and it’s a strange kind of mourning when the person you knew and liked existed purely at the end of another laptop. Karen had plotted to get me involved in this film by surreptitiously working my older pieces into the rough cut of the movie, without Liz Garbus (the director) fully catching on to what was happening. The day before Karen left us, she had confided to me that her cunning plan was working very nicely.
The film is naturally dedicated to Karen, and the music is wholeheartedly for her (well, the good bits at least…).
Here below is the score for the Brooklyn Symphony with her dedication at the top. Thanks for reading this – Philip Sheppard
The score for the Brooklyn Symphony from Bobby Fischer Against the World.
Here are a couple of Christmas tracks to download by way of thanks for all the great support this year!
Here’s a track called ‘Look Up’ (download using the down button on the right):
This is all about the happiness of flying down a mountain when your heart is full to bursting… Cady Coleman the wonderful astronaut is taking this track up into orbit on the International Space Station this week.
Think of her as she makes her incredible commute on the Soyuz rocket.
I’ve had a great month writing music in Oman as I worked on the sound design of the 40th anniversary celebrations, and have just completed my first album with Evelyn Glennie the percussion virtuoso. There’s a huge project next year which is very very hush hush but it involves being locked in a studio for two weeks conducting a symphony orchestra… more soon!
The robin laughed in the orange-tree: “Ho, windy North, a fig for thee: While breasts are red and wings are bold And green trees wave us globes of gold, Time’s scythe shall reap but bliss for me Sunlight, song, and the orange-tree.
Have a peaceful, wonderful Christmas and stay in touch!
It’s been a bit crazy round here… but I’ve been working with some amazing friends & musicians who’ve kept things sane and very happy.
I’ve been writing and recording with Evelyn Glennie, or Dame Evelyn Glennie O.B.E. as she should really be addressed. She’s one of the most phenomenal musicians I’ve ever worked with – stunning improviser, percussionista par excellence with a wicked sense of humour. By day two of recording together along with the great engineer Jake Jackson, we had completely forgotten the fact that she can’t hear a thing.
I really can’t wait to play you what we’ve come up with…
Meanwhile… The Tillman Story soundtrack is out on iTunes this week thanks to the sterling efforts of The Weinstein Co and Lakeshore records (who previously released my Shadow of the Moon Score). The film is featured in this week’s London Film Festival.
I’ve been back into the studio, (Abbey Road 2 this time), with the brilliant producer Ivor Guest to develop some nasty noises using a big string section for the latest release from France’s most idiosyncratic chanteuse Brigitte Fontaine. This woman is like Bjork’s cooler granny. Here’s a track I did with her with my electric cello doing some very disturbed things over the top…
She’s wonderful, outrageous and a darn good musician. The last album we worked on was called Prohibition and is worth a listen as I think it’s truly unique.
Meanwhile… I’ve been hard at work on recording and mixing my latest project, an incredible film about the chess genius Bobby Fischer. We assembled a fantastic string section in Air Studio 1 along with master engineer Geoff Foster who’s fresh off working on Narnia & Tron Legacy.
Geoff Foster looks up to see the orchestra left some time ago...
It was lovely being able to record the score with friends I’ve been in chamber groups with since the very early days, Pro Corda & Royal Academy and so forth, and yet pick up where we left off – the only downer being that we were playing my octets rather than Mendelssohn’s…!
You’ve read this far… that mean’s you’re awfully nice or haven’t anything better to do – so by way of an apology & thanks, here’s a track that isn’t particularly melancholic at all… which, if you like it, can be downloaded by clicking the down arrow. Leave me a note if you want!
I’ve recently completed work on the score for a new documentary by Greg Barker called ‘Sergio’. It’s based on the extraordinary biography of Sergio Vieira de Mello by Samantha Power called Chasing the Flame.
It has just premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. The soundtrack features an orchestral score with the beautiful solo playing of Brazilian guitarist Ife Tolentino who made the score come alive for me.
I’m glad to find a buzz around a film brought here by the BBC and HBO. This is Sergio, and it recounts the life and death of Sergio Vieira de Mello, heroic womaniser and daredevil James Bond/RFK of humanitarian politics, who was buried under the rubble caused by a car bomb, dying in Baghdad. I wanted for a change to see a film about someone admirable, and I can see people crying through the film. A Variety critic tells me that Sergio does catch something of a new mood, mournful but in quest of something to admire.