Meet the music behind The True Adventures of Gidon Lev. Nigel Groom is a composer and musician living in LA and I knew we had made the perfect choice when I listened to the first version of "Gidon's Theme" that Nigel composed.
True, there is a lot of public domain music that you can find and other music that you can purchase, inexpensively, but for this project, which has really been the most meaningful project in my life, I knew that I wanted original music. As part of the early process with Nigel, I sent him samples of music that I liked, to help him narrow down the general feeling of the music that I wanted. There are several composers that I really enjoy - I've always noted the music in films - so I was able to point Nigel down particular paths, which saved us a lot of time. Nigel is incredibly articulate in the language of film and composing and he also intuited much about the emotions behind The True Adventures of Gidon Lev just by listening carefully to me, to our sound designer Vickie Sampson, and to Gidon himself. If you'd like to be in touch with Nigel, you can find his website here.
How did you hear about The True Adventures of Gidon Lev and what made you want to be involved with the project?
Vickie Sampson's daughter, Amy, contacted me saying her mum was working on an audiobook for a Holocaust survivor and was looking for a composer. I spoke with Vickie, and she told me all about Gidon and Julie, and I knew this was exactly the kind of project I wanted to get involved with.
What is your background as a musician and composer?
I was brought up in a music-loving household in 1980’s Britain. Genesis, Europe, Depeche Mode, Status Quo, all blaring throughout the house and in my dad's car. Rocky IV and Karate Kid in the VHS player. Vince DiCola’s ‘Training Montage’ on repeat in my Walkman.
I bought a bass guitar from the back of a catalogue in the mid 90's after falling in love with No Doubt, paying it off weekly with my paper round money, dedicating all of my spare time to learning Silverchair, Nirvana and Rage Against the Machine songs in my bedroom.
I toured and recorded in a band throughout most of my 20's and early 30's. I’ve always been really into big, heavy, angular guitars and creating urgency and drama with dynamics, and I’ve always had a love for sombre, dark, heavy and aggressive music, and melding all of these textures together with more fragile sounds and feelings.
When you compose original music, what is your process? How do you get to know the subject or brand that you are composing for?
It changes from project to project. Sometimes I'll find some nice piano chords as a background and then work out a melody, other times it's riffing around on guitar, and sometimes it starts with recording some atmospheric sounds and manipulating them to sound haunting.
In the case of this book, I'll imagine one single image from the brief: for example, we wanted to capture the essence of Gidon's bubbly nature, and a term which stuck with me was, "he's a real character". So, I begin to imagine a snapshot of a man in his 80's, full of childlike joy and energy, but not overly eccentric. I then imagine Gidon laughing, joking, playing, having fun, and then sounds start to appear in my imagination. Then it's just a case of putting together all of the different elements of my little daydream and rearranging that picture with sound.
I've always been more inspired to create music by how words and images make me feel, than I have by sound itself.
Can you tell us a little bit about the process? For example, how many stages does an original composition go through before it's finally "mastered"? And what is "mixing and mastering" anyway?!
My writing process is usually a huge mess. Like a stream of consciousness, I'll get all of my ideas recorded as quickly as possible, usually incredibly out of time, out of tune, and very un-musical. I'll keep going until I hit a wall and then I step away for a moment. This could be 10 minutes, or even a day or so. When I feel my ears are fresh again, I'll listen back and instinctively start aggressively deleting things that I find myself pondering on for too long. I'll find the elements which I'm fixated on, and very often that's where I'll develop the 'hook' and all the movement of the piece. By taking things away, I find more is being said. This is the stage where I really start to craft the composition and let it tell a story.
Once the composition is written, I'll typically wait a day and then start mixing it. This is where I'll fine-tune all the panning of the instruments, ad or take away reverb, compression, and EQ. Make sure the volume of each instrument is where I want it to be and not too loud and distorting. This is to get the piece sounding more musical and gives each instrument and sound it's own place in the recording.
Mastering is usually left again for another day, just another chance to rest my ears and come back fresh. This is the final chance to really polish the track and give it that extra sparkle. The process itself is the last part of post-production where you balance all the sonic elements (bass, middle, treble).
I like to test my mixes and masters on great speakers, headphones, poor speakers, laptop speakers, phone speakers, etc, to ensure that the track sounds good across the board.
What was your emotional experience composing the music for The True Adventures of Gidon Lev?
It's every emotional peak and trough. The worst of humanity and the sheer beauty of life. The happy, the sad, and lots of playfulness. I've had days where I've danced away from my desk to make a cup of tea, and other days where I found myself close to tears and stepped away and laid out on the couch for a moment.
I feel incredibly privileged to be asked to create a soundtrack to someone's extraordinary story.