Analog Suicide

Behind the world of I SPEAK MACHINE with Tara Busch & Maf Lewis


Paul Leonard-Morgan Interview! A Chat with the Composer of the Tremendous Dredd Score.

As previously mentioned, I found the score to Dredd to be quite brilliant indeed! Of course, whenever I discover new music that (for want of a more precise phrase) “melts my face”, I must do my best to learn more about the process behind such creations, and even learn a bit more about the workings of composing music for film – and share it with you, of course! I contacted Paul and he so kindly agreed to an interview & popped some lovely photos over for us too! Cool, yes? If you haven’t picked up the score to Dredd, you must!

So here we go – hope you enjoy!

TB – Dredd’s sound is very unique and non-traditional – Are there any new/vintage synths, software & techniques you discovered when making this score? You mentioned Paulstretch software, for example.
PLM – The whole score was a creative discovery. I had 4 months of trying out tons of different stuff with all my analogue gear and VI’s. My general way of working on soundtrack stuff is scoring everything in midi to picture, then gradually adding guitar, orchestra, etc. However, it became obvious pretty quickly was that this was going to be a really non-traditional score. We’ll get into synths in a minute, but from a technical side, the only really new technique would be using Paulstretch in a creative way. Alex Garland had pointed me to it, and I started playing with it for the beautiful Slo-Mo scenes. I wanted to create something which would reflect the sense of beauty and escape which would be going on in the head of the drug-user. It’s not a bleak thing, it’s one of the few moments of beauty in the score. So I started experimenting with different sounds and slowing them down thousands of percent. Some instruments worked better than others. Orchestra sounded rubbish, but anything with harmonic overtones, where the waveform really changes shape, worked a treat. Vocals, piano, melodica, guitar, they’re all in there. Then having worked that out, I would add layers of synth and guitar in real-time over it, so that it didn’t just sound like one long atmos fx. The real time Moog bass kept the feeling of movement in those scenes.

TB – And of course – in general, what synths did you use? Were there any that became your “go -to” piece of gear throughout the score?
PLM – Ah, synths. Well I’m not going to tell you them all, but through working with bands I’ve picked up a pretty decent collection of synths and keyboards. I’m not a total gear-slut, and I like doing stuff with them. I know it’s blasphemy to say it, but I do sometimes feel they sound “dated” used on their own. When I was doing some programming on No Doubt’s new album with Spike, the producer, we were using things like the old Crumar Orchestrator. They’ve got such an 8-bit sound to them! So things like that, Juno’s, Moogs, Rhodes, etc. But then recording them into Digital Performer (the sequencer I use) and actually doing stuff with them. For example, Anderson’s theme sounds like a synth, but is in fact several layers, one of them being a Paulstretched Rhodes, put through various fx. It’s crazy. And I really don’t know how my head got into that zone, as I had just finished scoring an orchestra soundtrack before Dredd! As far as VI’s, I’ve got tons of them. But again, I really go to work with them to create new sounds. I did the same on Limitless. I hate it when people just use Preset 1! (Though I have done that myself. Eek. Bad boy.) So things like all the Native Instruments stuff, Spectrasonics stuff. There’s some really expensive orchestra libraries in there, but you wouldn’t know it, as I layered them up against synths. My real go-to stuff, though, was the Arturia Analog Factory stuff. They just blow my mind. I warmed them up a bit through Neve desk, but they’re so powerful to filter, etc with the little keyboard, and sometimes it’s just way faster doing that, than having to record the real 80’s gear in as audio, with my shitty keyboard playing!

TB – Ma Ma’s requiem and Slo Mo seem to be the film’s moments of serenity and beauty, though still very dark (ie:drugs and death!). What was your technical and creative approach with the score, juxtaposing it with the intensity of the rest of the score/film?
PLM – We’ve already covered that a bit earlier on. But from a music point of view, I think the reason it works so well is that these were stand-alone pieces. I treated them as a song. So Ma Ma’s Requiem lasts about 3 minutes, so is itself like a pop video. And I remember Alex and I discussing it, saying how it was all about the music and the visuals. Anthony’s 3D stuff here was just stunning. I mean, what an opportunity to get to write for something like that! That never happens in film.

ML – Was the score influenced by late 80s early 90s breakbeat? What were your musical influences for the score, maybe J Saul Kane & Depth Charge?
PLM – Influences are things which go on subconsciously. All the music that you ever listen to, all the bands you ever work with, all the scores you ever write. They all influence you somehow. However, I intentionally didn’t want to do a typical Hollywood score for this movie. We talked about it a lot at the outset. Dredd is raw, urban. Mega-City one is this harsh, brutal place. 80’s electronica is in someways raw and brutal, too. The trick is how to bring that up to date, but also make it so that we can emotionally identify with Dredd and Anderson, as well as Mega City One itself. The city, for me, is a character. It goes without saying that the John Carpenter scores are genius, and I’ve always been a fan of that. So there’s the 80’s electronica gear. Then the Lalo Schifrin vibe of just raw bass. Just so cool. Think Dirty Harry. It just feels so right. But then similarly, we’ve got some pounding bass going along, and I love filtering that. So throw in some Chemical Brothers, I guess. Guitar, think Muse meets NIN. Drums, think Grandmaster Flash and Wu-Tang Clan, some really old school use of drums, really raw. But then mash that up with distorted real kit (we did 4 days recording at the end) to layer over the top of those beats. The sound of old 60s and 70’s drums I adore. Taking those sounds and making your own beats – man, I spend way too long doing that! I really get into it…

TB – At what point in the film’s production were you involved? Have you ever worked on a film where you were writing the score as it was being written and/or filmed?
PLM – I came on board to the film in August 2011. It was still being edited then. It makes a huge difference being able to work hand in hand with an editor and director, rather than just coming on board when everyone has finished it. It means you really get to collaborate and try things out. I’ve never had this happen before, where they would actually re-cut some of the scenes to my music as we went along. A frame here, a frame there. I loved it!

TB – You have a very strong classical background…how does this come into play when creating such a heavy, non-orchestral score like Dredd?
PLM – Classical’s just a term, like Rock, Techno, Dubstep, whatever. It’s just how people try and pigeon-hole styles. For me, my classical background opened my eyes to melody and chord structure in its most basic sense. Then, working with bands at the same time as studying at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music started giving me some diversity. Now I love doing crossover scores, where I get to do both.

TB – Several composers perform pieces from their scores live. Are you enticed to do so as well?
PLM – I adore performing live, but not sure how well some scores go down live. Dredd works great to picture, but as a standalone there are only 4 or 5 tracks which would work live, I reckon. Every sort of music has its place. It’s cool when you can do film cues which work standalone, but that’s an added bonus! I once toured an orchestra score with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, playing in places like Stirling Castle – it was a suite which I had written based on my score to A History Of Scotland. That was awesome. And when I did my solo album Filmtales, I did a gig with piano, beats and guest vocalists at the launch. Again, wicked buzz. I’m planning on doing some live dates next year of a more band vibe, and would def do tracks like Mini-guns. Just need to get the band together first…

TB – Lastly – name 3 bits of “desert island gear”, can be anything digital or analogue…
PLM – Rhodes (concert version) so I could play AND look cool on the island. Minimoog so I can sound Phat. Yamaha Concert Grand so I can rest my Moog on it.

All photos provided by Paul Leonard Morgan

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