Over the last decade he’s been quietly building an extensive back catalogue of TV and film soundtracks alongside his own solo work and collaborations.
A gently subversive voice in the world of film scores and primetime dramas, Adrian has shown how creativity and commerce can co-exist. His high profile commission to create music for series one and two of BBC One drama The Village shows a composer who understands the mainstream but isn’t afraid to disrupt it.
Meanwhile his previous personal projects have involved members of The Elysian Quartet, Lucy Railton and sound artist Chris Watson, bringing together electronic and acoustic sounds under a lush widescreen umbrella.
His latest endeavour with Portico Quartet’s Jack Wyllie has seen Adrian take a different tangent, combining processed saxophones with gritty electronics.
The project receives its second live airing at Vortex Jazz Club in London on 12 November, while a vinyl release is imminent through Adrian’s experimental SN Variations imprint.
We caught up with him to learn more about his work and find out why he believes film scores have become too generic and safe over recent times…
What’s your earliest musical memory?
My dad was always walking round the house singing jazz tunes and there were always instruments round the house. Someone was always banging on the piano. I also have strong memories of early seventies’ Radiophonic Workshop stuff. It had a really big impact on me.
When did you first think you’d like to make music?
Always. I saved up and when I was about 11 or 12 I bought a little drum machine called the Boss DR-55. It was amazing to me that you could make music on machines like that and I used to spend hours on it, which is pretty much what I do now!
I come from that generation where we heard a lot of weird sounds and didn’t know how they were made – that was really interesting point of departure for me. If I couldn’t figure it out, I was drawn to it.
Electronic music to me is quite an arch term because when you mic up anything it becomes electronic. And now, working with acoustic musicians, quite often a good string player will try to make their violin or cello sound totally different.
I’ve never seen myself as an instrumentalist. I’ve always seen myself as someone who writes music with a number of different tools.
How do you respond to briefs that stipulate exactly what they want?
I don’t really do those kinds of briefs, they’re more common in the advertising world. The directors that I’ve generally worked with in film and TV have given me free rein. There’s only been a few times that people have asked for something I’m not comfortable with.
Say with TV, particularly The Village, when it’s a mainstream show some of my natural impulses have to be tempered a touch. You have to be appreciative that it is 9 o’clock on BBC One.
As I’m progressing, I’m interested in getting more extreme – which can be problematic when you’re working in commercial areas.
Do you consciously try to subvert the common musical signposts people use in film and TV scores?
For me, if I try to emulate things that already exist and don’t put any of myself in there, my connection with it becomes diminished. I need to work on things that I enjoy. For example, when people record grand piano for scores they generally mic it up really professionally. But with The Village I would try to find the crappiest piano I could and record it using lots of little mics and digital recorders – not things that you’d think would be the best way of capturing an acoustic instrument. But it created some interesting results and gave it character. So just doing little things like that can keep me entertained.
What attracted you to soundtrack work?
It was never a career choice, but I’ve always been interested in the abstraction of music in film and how it opened up a big palette of sound and approaches. And a lot of it was instrumental. I liked the idea that film music was very open.
A lot of it isn’t as open any more, I don’t think. It’s become a lot more generic and a lot of people use pretty pianos, little arpeggios and musical shorthand to have an emotionally strong and manipulative effect.
How does your approach to scores differ to your personal work? Does it all merge into one?
It started off being like that and now I have to think about them differently. But with the right film, I think the two of them could combine. I’m working on one right now where the musical language is very similar. That’s not to say I’m not happy with The Village – it’s a style that I wanted to do. But I’m aware that if you get too bold and too crazy with your ideas it might not work. So my own stuff is a lot more extreme in the sounds and techniques that I’m using, and there are a lot more electronics.
I did a whole piece using locked grooves that I cut in a mastering studio and recorded them running down. I wrote a piece for cello and violin to go over that. I find it hard to think of a film which would welcome that approach.
In the fifties and sixties, a lot of experimental animation used a lot of electro-acoustic composers but this year there was only really Mica Levi’s score for Under the Skin that drew on that post-war contemporary classical world.
Is there any director you’d really love to work with?
There are a lot of directors from the past that I would love to have worked with. In the UK now there are the obvious ones like Jonathan Glazier and Lynne Ramsay, who have an artistic action to what they do but still have the ability to reach people. Also, Peter Strickland and Ben Rivers.
What’s the thinking behind your label SN Variations?
I was working with some amazing musicians and had a growing interest in some of the outliers of the contemporary classical world. I wanted to have a different relationship with music – instead of these players coming in to do things for my work I wanted to hear what happened when I was behind a mixing desk and just literally recording them do their own thing.
I liked the idea of releasing these on 12-inch records. You might have a string quartet or a cello piece on one side and some electronic music - which comes from a totally different cultural place – on the other side. It’s about connecting those two worlds in an intelligent way. Also, I was keen to have a platform to record my own music, but that was less important.
Top photo credit: Ian Mann