MUSIC+SOUND AWARDS TALK TO...
2017 Jury Member +
Film + TV Composer
Nainita is an award-winning composer for film & television. She has written many memorable scores for broadcasters including the BBC, C4, ITV, HBO, SKY, Discovery, Nat Geo, and Smithsonian as well as for most of the leading UK independent production companies, and has developed a reputation for producing music that is original, rich, inspiring and diverse.
Many of Nainita’s projects have won or been nominated for numerous awards including OSCARS, BAFTAs, EMMYs and RTS Awards. She is a current BAFTA Breakthrough Brit 2016, won a RTS Best Sound award for Vinnie Jones: Russia's Toughest (Nat Geo) and won the MUSIC+SOUND AWARD 2016 for the Feature film THE CONFESSIONS OF THOMAS QUICK (BFI / Film4 / Picturehouse). She also scored the hugely internationally acclaimed, OSCAR nominated film, LITTLE TERRORIST, which won her a Lucarnia Intl film music award.
Nainita has also worked as Sound Designer on many features including LITTLE BUDDHA (Keanu Reeves, Bridget Fonda), AUGUST (Anthony Hopkins) and HACKERS (Angelina Jolie).
Where did your musical journey begin and how did your career start? I grew up being exposed to a very eclectic range of music, playing a variety of instruments from sitar, tablas, piano, violin and guitar as well as having aspirations to become a singer. I loved old film scores of the 60’s and 70’s as well as classic TV theme tunes and jingles that brought the art of scoring to my attention. However I’d always been a bit of a tom-boy and wanted to get into engineering, recording and sound. Following a degree in Maths, I got a scholarship to study sound at the NFTS. I was lucky enough to never have a ‘normal job’ as I talked my way into an assistant sound designer position at De Lane Lea. I had a great foundation in film sound, freelancing as a sound editor on feature films for directors such as Bertolucci (Little Buddha), Iain Softley (Backbeat, Hackers) and Werner Herzog. I got to work with the Synclavier - one of only 3 in the country – a dream come true for me. There were only a couple of people to coin the word ‘sound designer’ back then!
Even though I was working on big budget features, part of a ‘big machine’, it just wasn’t creative enough for me. I yearned to work in music, so I became a freelance engineer at studios like Jacob Studios in Surrey, Britannia Row, and eventually Real World Studios, working for Peter Gabriel.
Working with world musicians and learning from leading, pioneering engineers and producers combining genres of music where creativity and experimenting knew no bounds, was incredibly liberating.
Ultimately, I’d always wanted to work on my own music, to somehow combine my love of music and film. I felt that composing to visuals would somehow be my ultimate destiny. I started out by sending 100 CD showreels and I heard back from a games publisher where I ended up writing music and creating SFX for games for Playstation and Nintendo – titles such as Sheep, various flight simulators and Pro Pinball. Then by chance I met a music supervisor who offered me the job of writing the music for a travel series for Channel 4 – my first proper opportunity to compose for TV. The production company were happy, offered me another film which rolled on to another and another and another…
Enormous congratulations on being named as one of last year’s BAFTA Breakthrough Brit Honourees! Certainly an incredible acknowledgement. Now that the dust has settled, tell us a bit about what this accolade means to you and your career... Well BAFTA is one of the cornerstones of the film industry, an institution I have respected and looked up to all my life, so I’m very thankful to be included amongst such a gifted, diverse group of talent. These kinds of accolades are normally only given to writers, directors and producers – not composers - so being singled out in that regard has been quite an honour. In many ways it validates everything I have done to date and the path that I’m on.
With regards to my career, it’s a huge opportunity and with BAFTA’s endorsement, who are being incredibly supportive, they are helping facilitate the opening of doors that felt a little closed to me before. Having come from documentary, I am hoping to work in fiction and drama and more high-end documentary series. Indeed, I have been receiving mentoring, guidance and advice from some incredible film makers that I truly admire and respect.
I’m currently working on two feature film commissions, an Interactive movie / game commission with a BAFTA winning games producer – an area in which I’ve been wanting to explore more as I believe the ultimate future of entertainment lies in interactive, VR driven narrative stories – and in talks on some other exciting projects.
At 2016’s Music+Sound Awards, you won the Siren Award for Best Original Composition in a Feature Film Score with your outstanding work on ‘The Confessions of Thomas Quick’. It would be great to hear about your experiences on this project. ‘Thomas Quick’ was immensely satisfying but also quite a challenging score to write.
The film is a feature-doc about Sweden’s most notorious serial killer and a look at the criminal justice system, police detectives and psychiatrists involved over the 23 year period Thomas carried out the murders.
BAFTA winning director, Brian Hill, wanted a Nordic Noir inspired score that would be treated like a Scandinavian thriller, so the score needed to be cinematic, brooding, dark, dramatic, atmospheric.
I’d been in conversation with Brian about it for over 2 years while he got the funding together and in the end I only got the greenlight rather late in the day, having to write over 80mins of music in 4 weeks plus 1 week to record musicians and mix the score. The film was covered in temp which I ignored totally as I didn’t feel that it was cohesive or enhancing the story in any way. I also wanted to write an original distinctive score that didn’t follow convention.
During writing, the director would drop by every 4/5 days for listening sessions to hear work in progress and feedback. Due to lack of time, I ended up scoring the entire film wall to wall, and we only decided where to drop music back at final mix stage once we got to view the film with fresh eyes and ears away from the intensive writing process.
The tricky aspect was how to avoid manipulating the audience’s perception of Thomas and steering them too much emotionally.
I like to steer away from convention and I knew I didn’t want to follow cliché by using Scandinavian folk instruments such as the Hurdy Gurdy or Hardanger fiddle which I’ve worked with before on other projects.
About 3 years previously I heard Antti Palaanen, a phenomenal Finnish Accordionist, play at a world music festival. He transforms the accordion away from being a cutesy melodic instrument into a living breathing monster of a sound and yields it on stage like a techno-dance performance as though he is taming a Lion using his unique breathbox technique. It was mesmerizing and I waited 4 years to find the right project to collaborate with Antti!
Through a series of remote recordings, based in the western edge of Finland, I got some unique rhythmical textures and recordings that formed a part of the score. I also put together a small ensemble of players – violin, cello, trombone and double bass. I incorporated a lot of sliding notes and descending pitchbends to represent Thomas’s descending mental state into insanity. Thomas’ inner voice is represented by a female voice – ethereal harmonic voice that brings out a very fragile human quality to his supposedly cold calculating character.
The score was mixed by Steve Parr, film & TV mix engineer, at my own studio. The final element to the score was the song I wrote for the end credits. ‘The Loneliness Inside’ reflects Thomas’ reasons and state of mind for his actions, because the crux, the heart of the film touches upon loneliness. The song was sung by Eivor who is currently the voice of the BBC drama series ‘The Last Kingdom’.
I was introduced to her work a year prior and was so blown away by the authenticity and integrity of her singing I waited for the right project to work with her.
In the end, the song grew into something much more than the simple atmospheric song I was expected to write and ended up taking a life of its own. According to many, it sounds like a Bond song, which was completely unintentional!
What projects are you working on at the moment? On the documentary / factual front, a few current series commissions are: Earth’s Natural Wonders, a flagship series for BBC1 looking at the extraordinary places around the world where people live, and are fighting to survive, which will have a ‘Blue-chip’ orchestral score. Tribes, Predators & Me with Gordon Buchanon – a BBC NHU series; London’s Burning and The Force for ITV; The Hunt For the KGB Killers – a 90min drama-doc film for C4 about Litvinenko, the Russian agent poisoned by Polonium; and travelogues, The Ganges with Sue Perkins for BBC1, and From Here to Timbuktu for BBC2.
On the feature film front, Darkness Visible, a psychological horror for the BFI – the score will have organic edgy raw sounds with slight hints of ethnicity, strings ensemble and treated vocals. Ni’ihau – a WW2 drama set in Hawaii, filming in Pinewood, Malaysia, based on a true story which again will be quite unusual musically. I’m also experimenting with Paulstretch and granular synthesis alongside analogue synths, and guitar pedals as well as the Roli keyboard controller instruments. Last but not least, I have a lovely BBC film that’s just come in based around the poetry of reknowned poet, Simon Armitage, which will be a unique creative challenge.
It’s a great honour to have you sitting on 2017’s Music+Sound Awards jury. How do you think a competition like this impacts the industry I’m so excited to be sitting on the Jury! We need competitions like this that showcase the excellent work, artistry, craft and skill involved, but most importantly the importance of music and sound in the media industry. There are so many awards that celebrate film making in general and the value of music and sound can often be dismissed or overlooked. These awards have a huge impact on the validity of the various areas of our crafts, helping to acknowledge and celebrate the wide range of excellent talent and work in our field.
What’s the most important element of your studio? What’s your go-to instrument? Your favourite plug-in? Oh gosh – well I suppose it has to be something that I use everyday…my brain and the ideas it (tries to) generate! Seriously though – the ability to conceive creative approaches, fresh ideas and problem-solve musically is crucial to ‘keeping on top of your game’. On a practical level my most important element has to be my Mac Pro along with NI Kontakt sampler and my numerous Kontakt sound libraries. They help facilitate the translation of those ideas into something tangible! Other than that, I have a variety of hardware synths, string instruments and effects that complement the computer.
And lastly, amidst reports of lack of diversity in the industry, why do you think there are so few female composers? There are plenty of female performers and song-writers around but very few female media composers and sound designers. When I started, there were almost no female role models. For me gender (or even ethnicity) wasn’t an issue – I looked up to and admired a small handful of female artists such as Kate Bush, Laurie Anderson, Bjork and other mostly male artists and composers.
Statistics show that only 6% of film composers, worldwide, are female. Only 1% in the US and 3% of the composers working on the top 250 highest grossing films in 2016.
There can be a myriad reasons for this – some suggestions have been sexism in the industry with the view that women can’t write ‘action’ music or can only compose ‘emotional, pretty tunes’ (which in my opinion is nonsense). This attitude has certainly been the experience of some women I know in the USA.
Another suggestion is that women have traditionally not been interested in music technology, something that you have to embrace as a media composer.
Again, the industry can be rather clique-y and fitting in or being accepted by certain craftspeople or groups can be difficult - but then again, that can be difficult regardless of your gender. Ultimately, it's really down to you as an individual and your personality and to carving your own path, defying expectation.
Ultimately, musical skills and talent should be gender blind. Perhaps employers should bring in ‘blind pitching’ to level the playing field. Also, some female composers I have spoken to don’t actually want positive discrimination with schemes and quotas – they want to be treated as equals and to get the job on their own merits, not be given ‘special treatment’.
Conversely, Being a woman can actually work to your advantage! It can set you apart from the pack. It can be much harder for men to break through from the sea of male composers whereas a lone woman amongst the pack will be remembered and noticed.
Whatever the reasons, we are indeed seeing a new generation of female composers that are coming up through the ranks – more so in the UK now than ever before - and I truly hope that trend continues.
Find out more about Nainita at her website, www.soundology.com