Composer Tim Arnold discusses what inspired his theme for B7 Media’s new audio soap opera, GREENBORNE.
Ten years can be a long between drinks for friends, but picking up again creatively with Andrew Mark Sewell made it feel just like yesterday since we plotted and brought my album Sonnet 155 to life at the Almeida Theatre. The last time we worked together, I brought my music to him and asked him if he could produce the live spectacle. He did so, with a commitment I have seldom seen in anyone in the music industry. And that’s the great thing about working with Andrew. B7 Media has its own unique take on creative projects and all that seems to matter is that the work is of a standard both rich in spirit and something that everyone involved approaches with love and devotion.
With Greenborne, Andrew asked me to create new music to his latest dramatic radio series, and of course I leapt at the chance to begin imagining a soundscape that would help create the sonic world of the series.
Most of the music I work on is usually of my own conception and therefore, a slightly limitless palette of choices. It’s always productive in the end, but it’s so much more pleasurable when someone else is telling you what THEY want. I love following a brief. Guessing with music what someone else is imagining brings a much greater reward when you come up with something they foresaw.
Whilst I was not classically trained, I have written for classical ensembles for most of my career. From what Andrew and Helen (Quigley) had suggested from the beginning of our conversations, it was clear that the music needed to be timeless. Most of my favourite British TV and Radio themes are from the 70’s. With Greenborne, there was a conscious effort to present something that might have come from that period, but with a structural flavour of more modern themes that we’ve been used to hearing recently. Series Producer, Helen Quigley, was an invaluable guide in the development of the music. We worked entirely remotely all over Lockdown 3 and it doesn’t feel like we’ve never met. It feels like we’ve been working together for years! That’s the wonderful thing about music being a language. Helen and I have been speaking it fluently right up until the last mix.
I wrote the theme on my old (out of tune) 1920’s Challen piano. I seem to write a lot of my new melodies on that piano, which is funny because it’s too old to actually put in tune. My piano tuner gave me the sad news that the strings are original, and they would break if we tuned them up correctly. So, I write in one key and then have to re-learn it afterwards on the perfectly tuned electric piano in my studio. But my trusty Challen keeps delivering melodies that I like so I won’t be looking to get a new piano that can be in tune any time soon. As with most of my instrumental music, once the composition was completed, I went straight to my dear friend and collaborator of 15 years, violinist Jonathan Hill.
Jonathan has been multi-tracking on my albums since 2006 and when we work together, it’s a bit like two people finding their other musical half. Since the first lockdown in the UK, Jonathan also began providing entire ensemble recordings for many different projects, since live work has been completely halted for all of us due to the pandemic. This meant that by the time we got to working on Greenborne together, he was more than ready for recording.
I think we tracked him about 32 times to create the main theme, which was all done at my home studio in North London. He played an assortment of violins, violas and contra-viola doubling as a cello. There are a few samples to reinforce the string section that were left over from the demo, but it’s pretty much all Jonathan. His one-man orchestra is an exquisite example of a classical artist at the top of his game. I played piano, bass and percussion.
I’m biased because everything I do revolves around recorded sound, but I do believe there’s nothing more exciting than getting away from screens, closing our eyes and just listening. Music, podcasts and indeed radio dramas are still the best way to let your own imagination participate with story in a way that stories on screens cannot achieve. We can make our own individual frame for a story that only uses sound. It’s much more personal.
I’m delighted to have worked with B7 again and composed music for a form of storytelling that I have real reverence for. I’m looking forward to Episode One of Greenborne, and hopefully Series Two!