We asked Ben some questions about his creative process for each of the stories he's worked on with us. Scroll down or use the links below to see his answers.

Story 1: The Golden Mango

Story 2: Munna and the Maharaja

Story 3: Eidgah




What main instrument/s did you select for this story and why?


I wanted to create a more festive backdrop for this film so there’s lots of percussion parts all intertwining and holding up the string parts with give an emotional resonance to the story whilst also giving it an overarching form.


Did any Islamic music traditions impact the music for this story as it is about Eid?


I don’t know enough about Islamic music to really try and integrate it properly into my own language without it feeling like musical appropriation. So whilst keeping the setting of the story in my head I went off on my own way!


In your work as a composer do you ever find yourself being influenced by non-Western traditions? And if "yes"...how? 


There are so many influences in the world and access to them is now nearly unlimited. Personally I rarely take specific influences from any music but let all that I hear gradually infiltrate and become part of my language, or not, in a very natural way. The subconscious is the best filter. As a composer working mainly in the western classical tradition non-western music is less prevalent in my work. However perhaps there are things in my music that I don’t even realise come from certain aspects of non-western traditions.


How can you show compassion through music composition? Can you give us an example in this story perhaps—where you might have used a moment to make us feel that way?


There are many ways to show compassion I suppose. In this particular piece it is the overriding theme of compassion is the piece of music. There are very few moments of direct story telling but a larger soundscape that puts you in the place, mood and theme of the story. The percussion gives us the sense of festivity but the slow turning string lines outline the development of compassion in the story.



Can you describe the various sounds and instruments you used?


The music uses the sounds from a mellotron, a predecessor of the synthesiser, used to great effect in the 60s on tracks such as Strawberry Fields Forever by The Beatles. Alongside that is a plucked double bass which underpins everything.


How different did this story feel to you from the first one ("The Golden Mango") and what impacted your decisions for the choices you made?


For this story I wanted to have a contrast in sound to the last one which was simpler, just piano. However, I wanted it to have a very specific identity so chose just one main instrument, the mellotron, which has a very distinctive "retro" sound which I felt worked well for the storytelling. It's only one instrument but it has many different sounds and colours.


What sounds did you choose for the characters and why?


In this story there are fewer character themes than "The Golden Mango" and they pass freely between the different sounds the mellotron makes. There is a distinctive theme for the Maharaja at the end, the old man (before he's revealed to be the Maharaja) and Munna. There are also minor background themes, like story telling and laughter.


Did you use any techniques like repetition, theme and variations, motif and development?


There’s quite a lot repetition and development of themes as the story circles round and round (Munna going to the old man with various items, then coming back to find his uncle mocking him). But the themes tend to develop by their combination with other themes and new ideas as well as colour variations, rather than developing the musical material of the themes. This keeps the ideas very distinctive without loosing their interest.




How did you go about what kind of music you wanted to create for this story?


Like most projects I didn’t really have any preconceptions of what it was going to sound like before I started work, I like to leave it open to surprises.

So I just watched the video and started from the beginning.

The first chords on the piano seemed to have a nice impressionistic feel that had resonance with the story so I started to develop ideas from there.


Did you try other instruments before you settle on the piano? 


Nope, I always compose at the piano, it’s a kind of orchestra in itself and also a way to concentrate on finding the musical material of the piece rather than any effects before the musical material has been found.

Once I had started with the piano and found the musical material I decided that it was the right sound for the piece as a whole. Also I don’t have much access to instruments with the lockdown and I’m very selective about using virtual instruments.


Was there a theme you used to denote characters?


Yes, each character and main idea or image, the mountains for example, has a little theme. This enables the music to tell the story at the same time as the narrator.

The themes can then transform and interact with each other in different ways to develop the music and its flow.


What's different about writing music for dance vs. a concert?


The music for dance has to serve ultimately the dance and the show whilst attempting to preserve the composer’s language and personality.

The music for a concert has nothing to serve apart from the composer’s own self expression.

That is not say one is better than the other, sometimes a composer's best work comes from being pushed out of their own boundaries and incurring unforeseen influences.


How did you score this music? Did you play it yourself?


The music for this piece was composed and then played into the computer via a midi piano using a sequencer, Logic Pro X.

The video can be added into the sequencer so that the timing of the music can be matched to the video.

The virtual piano, the sound you hear, used for the piece is the Hans Zimmer piano from Spitfire Audio.


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