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MORPHEUS MUSIC INTERVIEW - KIM HALLIDAY

19.06.13 - on release of Birdsong In Mist

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Q: Can you share with us something of your musical beginnings?   My memories of being very small seem to be accompanied by a soundtrack provided by the Beatles – I remember seeing the Our World broadcast of All You Need Is Love, for example, when I was 6 years old. I’m sure every generation says this, but I think that the period from when I began buying records aged about 11 until my late teens was one of the most exciting times – this was from about 1972 to 1980. That was the last time that being in a band was an act of rebellion, but also there was a fantastic diversity to the music I was listening to, and I still listen regularly to some of that same music. When you analyze it, the speed with which we went from quite simple (glam rock) to complex (prog rock) to simple (punk rock) to complex (new romantic) was very interesting.

I started learning the violin when I was 8, which I swapped for a guitar when I was 11. But I can remembered being awed by Tubular Bells, because Mike Oldfield had done it all himself. So I played in a lot of bands that never got beyond rehearsal studios – pub rock bands, punk bands, a psychobilly band, ska bands. I had a 4-track recorder, and then an 8-track, and eventually the technology caught up with my ambition, and I started to become properly self–sufficient, programming Notator (that eventually became Logic Pro) on an Atari computer, using early samplers. Quite soon after that I went to the London Film School to study Media Music, and learned to write music to picture.

  Q:  What have been some of the highlights of your musical career over the years?  

I think the highlights have always been when people outside the film and music industry let me know they liked something I’ve done. For example, I produced a CD some time ago called “(god save) the mad parade”. Before it was properly mastered, I took a couple of copies of the mixes to the pub to meet some friends, so I could get some feedback. One of them asked the bar staff to put it on the pub music system, and 2 minutes later two girls behind the bar were dancing to my tune! That kind of thing makes me very happy.
The first time my name was in the credits on a film in a proper cinema was good too. It was the National Film Theatre in London in a film festival called Fantasm, and a film I scored called B-Movie Status was supporting the premier of Candyman 2 – Farewell to the Flesh. I was very pleased with that.
And the critical success of Credo was very satisfying – one person kindly said my score was Bernard Herrmann-esque, which I took as a huge compliment (although if you believe the good reviews, you have to believe the bad ones too!).
I think I’m lucky to have been able to do the work I’ve done, with a lot of really talented people, so I take pleasure in every forward step.

   
 
Q:  So how would you describe Kim Halliday the personal artist as opposed to Kim Halliday the score provider?   This is an interesting question!
The first thing that comes to me is that the Score Provider is happy to take direction from other people in the team – to collaborate, to incorporate other peoples thoughts and ideas – often not musicians, but film directors, editors, other crew. I really like that process, as I think that the music is only one part of the film and my job as composer is to get as close to the Director’s vision as possible. The Personal Artist enjoyed the autonomy of Birdsong In Mist, but I also enjoyed the Remix process, when Rat Scabies came and pushed some of the tracks into a whole different place. That was the best of both worlds.

I really like writing to picture, although I feel like it’s becoming a bit of a lost art. So much film and television drama music is from libraries or placements that there’s less and less written specifically for the project. It’s a money driven thing, no doubt, but I like to make the music go bump when the action requires it - that’s the fun of it for me, and that’s why I like the horror genre. Without composed music, horror doesn’t work in the same way.

  Q: What inspires you to write, what gets you going, how do you start writing?  

When it’s a piece for a film, it normally follows some discussions about a scene or a theme or a mood. So the inspiration is a deadline! Sometimes a piece comes into my head almost fully formed, and then it’s a challenge to get what’s in my head into the recording. Other pieces start with a fragment that I work into a piece. I sit and improvise as well, either on the piano or the guitar. I enjoy all things equally, the fully formed piece is Art, I suppose, while the fragment requires my Craft. I’ve learned quite a lot of tricks to stimulate the creativity part of the process – polyrhythmic loops, for example, and all those composition tools like development, augmentation, inversion and so on, and my style is to manipulate sounds using processors and effects, which also stimulates pieces. I’ve also learned not to try and force it, and, because I often have several pieces going at once, there’s bound to be something to work on – either Art or Craft - to suit my mood.

       
Q:  What was the initial idea behind the Birdsong In Mist album - how was it conceived?  

I’d been working with the people at Parma (who run Ravello Records) for some time, writing things for placement in US productions, and I sent them a series of pieces that became Developments of Late, Seashore and Birdsong In Mist. They suggested a release, and I was pleased to do it.

  Q:  Were the tracks written specifically for the album?   I was writing a lot of material that might be called “ambient”, more peaceful pieces and studies, so I was in that kind of mood. I had those first three, and some other material from the last couple of years – things I’d written for films that didn’t get made, sketches and cues. That set included Pattern Recognition and Victim Selection.
My initial goal was to produce music that stood on its own but might be used in media projects, and also exploited my sound along with the techniques I use. That was in the background, but I wasn’t trying to write an album with a theme running through it. And I couldn’t keep up writing the quiet ones for long, so Steel Eye and November Falling Fast were louder. I had 22 tracks, I think, that I cut to the best 14. Then I wrote Silver for my wife on our Silver Wedding Anniversary, and I added that piece.
       
 
 
 
Q:  How would you say that your background in film, TV and media has shaped Birdsong In Mist?   One of the comments that has come up more than once is that the music has a “film score” style – I take that as a compliment, and I think it’s inevitably how my work is. I suppose writing in media means you write quite a lot of short pieces – film cues aren’t often very long – but you still have to try to have it all hold together. If you listen to the scores of Bernard Herrmann, David Shire, Thomas Newman, Danny Elfman, even the shortest of their cues are clearly part of the whole thing. These are composers I really respect and enjoy, and who have a clear personality in their music.

But you know, composition techniques apply to music of any kind, so while I accept that I write music that is suited towards media because that’s where I’ve chosen to work, I hope that everything I write works as music first and foremost, even when it’s inspired by images from someone else’s film. If I’m not writing to a specific timing for a piece of film, without that constraint, then I follow whichever process I’ve decided on for that piece.

  Q:  Can you tell us any background stories, anecdotes or explanations for the music that might help listeners to gain a more in depth appreciation?
  By way of explanation, my intention is always to comfort and disturb the listener in equal measure. Sometimes I achieve that through using unusual instruments, and other times by manipulating more obvious sounds – piano, guitars, basses for example – using digital effects, processors and editing sampled sounds. I also record found sound and use effects to change them, to use them as percussion or pads.
Oscar Wilde said, “Music is the art which is most nigh to tears and memory” and that’s one of my goals. But Sid Vicious said, “You just pick a chord, go twang, and you’ve got music” and sometimes I do that too.
       
Q:  What kind of reaction has the album evoked - has there been any particularly gratifying feedback?   There’s been a positive response to it, and some very complementary reviews. The release was aimed at the US Market, and there’s been a good reaction there – Parma have placed some pieces in television series, and there’s been some good uptake on college radio, particularly on the East Coast.

What’s been the most gratifying is that people have clearly been kind enough to listen properly, taken that time, and lots of them understood what I was trying to say in the music. I’ve found this from the people who were working on it, the people that have reviewed it, played on their radios shows, and listeners. It’s very nice when people take that time.

  Q:  What are you working on currently and do you have anything planned for the future?   I’m working on some new pieces (provisionally entitled “Small Things”), which are just very simple, short piano studies, and, at the same time some rather loud guitar based things. I think I’ll probably just put these on my website for download. And I’ve also got a couple of films to do, a really nice short film starring Josie Lawrence, and a documentary about women’s birth rights for my friends at One World Birth.
       

Speaking to Kim's label Ravello we gained some more perspective on the release and its artwork.

Q:  How did you initially begin work with Kim Halliday - what attracted you to his music?   We began our collaborative relationship with Kim through PARMA’s licensing program. We had long admired Kim’s compositional work for film, and were interested in exposing his music to a greater audience.

We continue to represent and leverage Kim’s music for placement in a variety of media platforms (film, television, advertisement, video games, etc.), and we’ve seen some tremendous joint successes in this capacity.

  Q:  What was the initial brief or vision in setting out to produce Birdsong In Mist?   Our vision behind BIRDSONG IN MIST was to create a collection of Kim’s music that showcases his talent and diversity as a composer. I believe that this album is an excellent representation of Kim’s artistic ability and sensitivity.
             
Q:  How would you describe Kim's music to anyone curious?   All of Kim’s music embodies a unique evocative aesthetic. It’s intricate, emotionally driven, diverse, and leaves room for each listener’s individual interpretation.


      I like this question too! If anyone asked me “What’s your music like, I’m curious?” I’d answer that I hope my music is curious too – file under “Curious”, I like that!
             
Q:  What was the brief for the artwork for Birdsong In Mist?   For BIRDSONG IN MIST we wanted to create a cover design that captured the mood of Kim's music. With Kim's experience scoring for suspense and horror films, we wanted the art to take on a gritty, dark, and cinematic feel. We also felt a bird image of some type should be considered to connect to the album title. These were the key aspects we kept in mind while developing the design.   Q:  How was the cover art put together?   The imagery for BIRDSONG IN MIST is original art work created at PARMA through the use of Photoshop. The crow image came about as we brainstormed the appropriate bird to use on the album. Crow symbology is dark and mysterious and it really added a great deal of drama to the artwork. We worked from the crow image and then added several overlays of grit and drips to further connect to the dark mood of the music. The emerald green color that we decided upon is a great color to reinforce a supernatural feel.
             
Q:  What are you hoping that viewers will absorb from the visual content of this release?   My goal is to have the viewer pick up the album and think, "oh cool, I need to hear this!" Viewing the cover is often the listener's first contact with the release so it needed to be impactful. Beyond drawing people in, the art needed to represent the music and tone of the album. Viewing the liner notes set against the gritty artwork will help set the expectations for what the listener is about to hear. In the end, the artwork we developed with Kim worked really well to convey the overall aesthetic of this multi-faceted album.


       

Thanks to Kim for allowing us that interview.

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