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Interview with Pete Carroll (2018)

How did you first become a musician and what led to composing ?

I was the youngest of four kids, brought up in a musical household (my dad was a vicar with a nickname of “the voice” that sang and played organ and piano).  We all had piano lessons – I think I pestered to start at the age of 5.  When I was about 3, someone gave us a piano, I've been told.  They were invited round for tea to see the instrument in situ and apparently I was the only one that would “play” it to them…

Composing started off as an extension to ABRSM theory.  When I was about 10 or 11, I composed a tune which turned out to be one of the themes from Jupiter from the Planets!  Oops… But it was something I wanted to do, right from early teenagerhood.

What is your previous experience in music, was it in Pop / Rock bands or Orchestral or other ?
My experience was mostly church choirs, piano and orchestral – I took up bassoon when I started secondary school.

What films or music which inspired you to composer music ?

I was inspired by the music of Scott Bradley in the Tom and Jerry cartoons, along with the music by the Sherman Brothers in Bedknobs and Broomsticks – loved all the variations in the Portobello Road sequence.

What is your primary instrument ?
I have the highest exam grade on Bassoon, but probably feel most comfortable with Piano.

Can you play other instruments ?

In the sixth form, wanting to be a composer, I had a couple of years lessons on the viola, in order to master the alto clef and understand how stringed instruments work (I now play viola in the RTO - the Really Terrible Orchestra). At university, I had a couple of years of lessons on tuned and untuned percussion for similar reasons.  I also collect musical instruments as a hobby – I probably have in excess of 40 different instruments, most of which I play very badly…

Do you have any specific genres you like to write for / in ?

When people ask me what sort of music I write, I describe it as “the Opposite of Epic”.  You know what “Epic” music sounds like? – well, that’s the sort of music I don’t write 😊 .  More prosaically, others have described it as 'Classical Orchestral'. I like writing for chamber-sized groups, which has the advantage of being cheaper too!

What’s been your latest project you’ve composed for ?

I’ve written the music for a great 17 minute film by Chris Harrison called The Things We Leave Behind, about the impact on three generations – husband, daughter and granddaughter – of the death of the grandmother and the process of coming to terms with it.  I’m also writing some music for a podcast series by Simon Fox, set in space, called Spaced Out.

What format do you or would you want to write music for i.e. (Film, TV, Brands / TV Ads, Jingles, Libraries, Theme Tunes, Radio, Theater etc ?)

I’m happy to write music for whatever people think I can add value to! I enjoy it best when I can see that the music has a specific purpose, so I find it more challenging to write for Libraries for example.

What is your current DAW set up and why do you use that particular one ?

I run Cubase Pro 9.5 (soon to upgrade to version 10) on Windows, sometimes linked to Vienna Ensemble Pro, with Sibelius Pro as my notation software.  I’ve used Sibelius off and on for probably twenty years, from when it dominated the (small) UK market.  I think I got Cubase, because they had a special deal with the audio interface!  I got lucky, it’s a good program.  Now, it’s a case of sticking with what you know, knowing how to drive it and getting better at it.

What drawbacks or set backs have you experienced with Tech and also with taking your music career / talent forward ?

When I first decided to refocus my career back onto composition – I’d spent a long time in my first career in IT using mainframes – I was incredibly rusty at working with PC-based software, so learning the basics of how to get the best out of a DAW was a challenge, without having people around that I could ask face-to-face.  Also mixing is interesting – most people (and I included myself in this) don’t habitually listen carefully to the sound of the music that they listen to.  Also I find the attitude of “if it sounds good, it is good” very frustrating – it may well be true, but you can waste a lot of time trying out things that are never going to work.

What’s been your greatest pride / achievement musically speaking ?

I was given the opportunity to write an alternate score for an amazing film by Jean-Gabriel Périot called Nijuman No Borei (200,000 Phantoms) which is about a building in Hiroshima that amazingly survived the atomic bomb going off there, which was shown at the Sanctuary 2017 festival, in a dark-sky venue in Dumfries and Galloway.  But I’m also really proud of the music I’ve written for The Things We Leave Behind as well and pleased with the reception it’s got.

What is your workflow processes ? do you see the visuals first or do you get the mojo and have inspired ideas come or do you sit and midi keyboard dabble until something comes up ?

I have a Novello Manuscript Book 4, A5 landscape sketch book which I use to job down ideas whenever they come to me in musical shorthand, and then work these up as required when something comes along which fits them.  But failing that, I go with the mood of what’s required (maybe from reading the script, or early versions of the scene) then offering my ideas to the client and take it from there, reworking it until we’re both happy.  Occasionally I’ll dabble on a MIDI keyboard to see what happens, but it’s easy to waste a lot of time, and you can never quite remember your best ideas…

Where do you want to go with your music and what’s stopping you from doing that ?

I’d like to be able to live purely off composing, writing non-Epic, emotion-based music for exciting projects – film or video games or theatre or “art” installations in a way that isn’t just pastiche of the past.  The challenge I have at the moment is finding sufficient people – directors, producers, collaborative artists – that have similar aesthetics  and want to take a chance of working with me.  Notoriously as soon as someone mentions a project that they think might benefit from music, they are inundated with wannabe composers saying #DYNAC (Do You Need A Composer?) which tends to drown out those that have a more introspective view on the role of music in art, on the screen and in the theatre.

What is your dream set up ? DAW / Studio ?

My dream would be to have an acoustically well-treated well-lit room available for use 24 * 7, with Cubase, Sibelius and ProTools, a good selection of microphones, 3 (or 4) large Quad HD screens, a grand piano and enough space for half a dozen musicians, multiple sets of different qualities of (Quad) speakers, a good sized mixing desk, and everything plumbed in so that everything is available and just “works”…
Well, you did ask for my dream set-up

What films do you like and what scores  and why ?
I’ve an eclectic list! 

I love It’s a Wonderful Life with score by Dimitri Tiomkin – the way that he introduces the Dies Irae theme at the climatic moment;

the comedy Raising The Wind with score (and script!) by Edmund Crispin / Bruce Montgomery, who also wrote the music for the early Carry On films – a wonderfully musically literate film (and very funny);

Koyaanisqatsi with music by Philip Glass, which is just stunning both visually and musically when seen close up on the large screen;

The Draughtman’s Contract with music by Michael Nyman, for its playing with different layers of meaning and different layers of music; 

Still Alice, with score by Ilan Eshkeri, where the small scale of the music matches the film perfectly; and

Berberian Sound Studio, not so much for the soundtrack (by British Band Broadcast) as for the amazing sound design in the film, in a film all about Foley and Sound Design

What advice would go give yourself, looking back to when you first started your composing journey ?

Keep on top of technology and the theory of sound, Digital Audio Workstations and Sound Engineering / Sound Mixing – and don’t get distracted!

Also, do you have any preferences when mixing, and do you have your mixes professionally mastered ?

I used to be very bad at mixing, but I enjoy experimenting with unusual placements and using plug-ins in a non-conventional way.  Aiming for interesting sounds, rather than aiming for “realism”.  I’m getting better, but I still far prefer to get someone better than me to mix them professionally!

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