Composer Spotlight #2 - Alexander Proudlock
Welcome back to Composer Spotlight, where we talk with emerging film composers from across the globe about their musical background and route into the industry. This week we spoke with Alexander Proudlock, a British composer for concert, film and TV. Alexander has recorded with us on two previous occasions and always delivers challenging and well-crafted music that keeps us on our toes!
How would you describe your composition process?
Working from pencil and paper at the piano makes me feel I can have a relationship and a strong understanding of the music I can hear in my head. It’s very important for me to work in this way as you understand the properties of the material you’re writing and the pace in which comes into being. Only over the past few years, I made the move investing into a DAW, sample libraries and working from a fully equipped studio. I must admit, I struggled a lot with this because when you buy a sample library it’s like learning a new instrument or learning to drive (I didn’t realise this at the time but key switches can be your friend). These two ways of working do cross over a lot as I like to work with both tools, but this differs from project to project. Sometimes I might use the voice notes app on my phone and sing into it or I may find myself at the piano. There isn’t a default way in which you write your symphony, only what works best for you.
There’s a famous quote from Michelangelo regarding how he would approach sculpting a statue. Beneath the marble or granite stone, it is the job of the creator to mould and apply ones craft to unveil the beautiful statue that lies inside. On reflection, I feel we can all relate to this notion and yes, it depends on project to project but our work isn’t defined by the tools or technology we use, it just helps us achieve the end goal quicker.
Writing music is a craft and you should be able to apply your craft to any form of medium that you have interest in. I’m sure Mozart would be a film composer if he was alive today, with a studio in LA or London.
Do you think your music education has influenced the music you write?
From a very young age, I was exposed to a lot of music. Even though my family weren’t musicians, they had a big collection of tapes (showing my age) and vinyl records of Beatles music and Gershwin. Growing up in a rich musical household enabled me to discover a broad range of music and from the age of ten, I began to learn to play instruments.
For some reason in the English education system, at the age of 15 you are asked to decide what you want to do career-wise. This time for me was a very rich and engaging time in music, learning all sorts of repitore. I remember vividly performing Tuba for Holst’s Planet Suite at the Sage Gateshead and being transfixed by the sounds of the orchestra. It was a great time for me as I basically played any music that came my way. I was an Organ Scholar and become an Assistant Choir Director at my local Church, at the same time I also began to perform piano for fundraising events for local community groups in my home town. I basically lived and breathed music every day and to be honest I still do, it never leaves you.
By the end of my school education where I found my love for composing and arranging. From that moment I knew I wanted to enrich my life and others through the universal language of music, it was also to be the only way to express myself. It wasn’t until I attended the Royal Northern College of Music where I discovered my true being and the relationship I had with music. It was a long road of discovery, but I was committed to learning my craft and had a great support network at the time at the college to which helped me bring this out.
Further study for a masters after obtaining my degree helped me develop my craft even further to which allowed me to be exposed to a network of musicians and artists to carry into the future. I am forever grateful for this.
Alexander during a Northern Film Orchestra Session in January 2020.
How does composing for film differ from composing a stand-alone piece of music?
I see no difference in it at all, apart from the fact you work to serve the film, not your own ego. Writing for film, you are usually the last person invited to see the film. Being brought onto the project of a film last minute with pressures of delivering a musical soundscape to serve the film and we are employed to do so, I look at it as I am there to help the performances on screen, to help what’s behind a scene or a motive in character development. We are in a great position to help a film become a piece of entertainment.
Then when you write for a stand-alone piece, your only musical direction is writing for the players who are to perform your work. I like to weave in and out of writing for film and standalone as it emotionally supports your hunger for composing for the mediums. You usually find yourself alone writing for a stand-alone piece unless it was a collaborative project which relies on writing for a particular group or person. Film music, it solely relies on your instincts to picture and your response to it, working along with the Director and Editor for the project. Your music is helping the story and is an additional character in the film, that’s why it’s paramount to ensure a strong relationship with them during the process.
"Transposed Heads" - String quartet piece Alexander recorded with us in July 2020
What is an instrument that you love to write for?
I don’t have a singular instrument I only enjoy writing for. Writing for any instrument or ensemble is a gift and you should celebrate writing for that, not apologising for what you don’t have at your disposal. I remember my old tutor Christopher Austin telling me that a clarinet can be many clarinet’s. What he meant by that was that an instrument, say a clarinet can be used in so many creative ways so the instrument can function and adapt to any scenario.
During my training at the RNCM, I learned very quickly that to write for an instrument, any instrument, you must learn it’s very fabric of how it’s played and how sound is created. It’s very important to have this knowledge as it will help you communicate your idea and it’s playability. I’m still learning. You find that working with players, they are incredibly supportive in helping you find that sound you’re looking for. I learned from the very best, my fellow peers while studying. Nothing is more vital than a piece of music workshopped in a closed performance space to which you hear your creation come to life. Yes you have more bad moments than good, but you learn very quickly the inner workings of instruments when you start out and nothing is more important than learning from players.
I do like to write for strings a lot of the time but studying and learning to play Tuba in my early career is where my love to explore the brass family and the extended techniques came from. If I can recommend anyone the art of possibilities of writing for brass, I would say that you must listen and study the piece ‘A Motorbike Odyssey’ by Jan Sandström, John Corigliano’s film score to ‘The Red Violin’ and the film score ‘Alien’ by Jerry Goldsmith (particularly the Horn, quarter-tonal horizontal movement. Stunning way to have a pedal note but add movement by quarter-tone sliding). All examples push the boundaries of extended techniques within the brass family. Invest in some scores and hold off buying another sample library for a bit and if you can come across the sheet music, the notation is also interesting to learn and though isn’t the standard universal way of notating. Most of the aleatoric techniques seen are notated in a way that gives the player an improvising opportunity. It’s very much like a game or what we call in the musical canon ‘Chance music’. Some of us may be familiar with that phrase from the term being used to describe a lot of John Cage’s catalog.
You can find out more about Alexander and his work here: https://www.alexanderproudlock.co.uk
Thanks for checking out this interview!
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