What is neo-classic? It's the name of my album. It's also my description for the kind of classical music I write. Modern, and yet not in the "squeaky gate" way. Atmospheric and approachable. Mainly informed by composers from the early 20th century and some left-field pop. In short, the kind of music I wanted to hear.
The idea was to write some pieces with a filmic feel, picking up from where I left off with the soundtrack of "Orlando". Something broadly in the classical arena. A set of "tone-poems".
I was trying to be methodical and had set aside two months just to write.
I'd arrive at my studio, the Lavalounge, around 9.30 or 10.00h, with my favourite cappuccino of the time from the Movie Cafe in Wardour Street (RIP), power up, dial up a very natural palette of instrumental samples on the Akai S1100 - strings, wind, some brass and just see what emerged.
I wrote it the way I usually write: start with a sound, play around, find something I like - a set of notes or a progression or a texture, then gradually build the piece from there, playing all the parts in on my Logic sequencer on the Mac. This might take a day or it might take a week. Generally I wouldn't rework much at a later date, even though I always imagined I would.
Once I had my collection of pieces ready (at that point 11 pieces), I phoned up my favourite musicians and we'd replace the sampled parts with real instruments. The musicians were from various stages of my career. The strings were Antonia, Michael, Stella and Isabelle, the Subway Soopah Strings who used to busk at Piccadilly Circus, playing a brilliant version of Eleanor Rigby. Andy Findon and Dave Lea, were part of the group who played with Michael Nyman. Bruce Nockles too - he has such a distinctive sound with his trumpet, I used him whenever I could, as a pop producer. I used him on Strawberry Switchblade "Who Knows What Love Is?, Red Box "Chenko", Win "Shampoo Tears". Again, later, on Orlando.
Also, our close friend Grania FitzGerald was keen to sing (05). I thought I had a suitable track, "Buoyancy". It worked out well. We recorded it on a Saturday afternoon, all the harmonies and tracking. I paid her with a very fancy meal. Stefano Cavallini at The Halkin. La-di-dah! We were all happy.
I generally record one player at a time, using pop recording techniques rather than recording everyone as an ensemble. It's a longer process, more controlled and less risky than recording an orchestra in a big studio. It's a different sound, more present. I tend to record in a very forward "pop" kind of a way, using compression and some equalisation (tone controls like treble and bass) to emphasise, for instance, the sound of the bow on the strings of a violin, or the reediness of a bassoon.
Most of the writing and recording happened between 1997 and 1998.
Two pieces came later. I wrote Twin Towers on the Friday following 9-11. It's a piece for strings. Antonia and her brother Michael played, as did a Double Bass player called Alex l'Estrange. I had totally overlooked that the lowest note on the Double Bass is an "E" and had included a low "D". By the time Alex came in, it was too late to try it all "up a tone". He said, "no problem, I'll tune my bottom string down a tone." It was premiered by John Brunning on Classic FM on the second anniversary of 9-11.
"Hands" was a commission for a commercial for Orange. It started off as a piano piece. Then Charles Inge the Creative Director at the Advertising Agency Lowe's said he thought it could use one other element. I said, "what about a cello? That would work, I think." The piece needed to be a performance, so I took my ADAT tape machines into Angel studios where they have a good piano, and recorded Huw Watkins and Sarah Suckling on piano and cello respectively. I edited it to make two pieces, one 30 second and one 40 second. I re-edited it again in July 2007 to make a longer version for this album.
It was great when Transport for London used "Chamber Music IV" for their commercial, "My Other Car's a Bus." You can see it in the "advertising - it's art" section.
I'm really chuffed that Prada used "buoyancy" on their Men's Autumn/Winter 2008 catwalk show. You can watch it at www.prada.com>collections>fashion shows>man.
The sleeve is by Jonathan Barnbrook and Jon Abbott.
The album is now available both as a download and in CD format.