“I love hiring soloists to play on scores and work with them and encourage them to bring their passion and spirit to the foreground.”
Emmy nominated composer David Buckley of The Good Fight, Nobody & the upcoming Ric Roman Waugh film, Kandahar, walks us through his musical roots as a child, the gratification that comes from scoring, and how music from the early days plays a big part in his life. Also, what he has in the works, including a highly anticipated Netflix show.
We’d love to hear how it all began. How did you get started as a music composer?
I began my musical life as a choirboy at Wells Cathedral in England. During my time there I had the good fortune to sing on Peter Gabriel's soundtrack for The Last Temptation of Christ. I was probably 10 at the time and it was a real eye-opener for me to witness how music could work alongside film. A few years later we were asked to sing in quite an ambitious classical piece called The Plague and the Moonflower written by Richard Harvey, an incredible composer for film, tv and concert works and an amazing performer as well. Again, the experience of singing in this piece (which involved visuals, lighting, orchestra, synths, ethnic instruments, etc.) was another formative experience. In addition, although my mum was a music teacher she never forced me to practice repertoire on our piano at home, but rather just let me enjoy the freedom of improvising and mucking around. I played lots of instruments (badly), and basically was obsessed by all forms of music from these early days onwards!
What moment(s) in your life do you feel helped form the artist you are today?
In the choir we performed repertoire from the 11th century through to the present day, so it gave me an amazing understanding of 1000 years of western musical history on a daily basis. Also, singing in a choir such as this is effectively like being in a band: rehearsing, performing, broadcasting and touring throughout the year. And when we went on tour we would meet royal families, popes and other famous people – it was absolutely thrilling! It was also quite weird and very different to what other kids of my age were doing, but I loved it. But that training and discipline set me up well for the career I now have. I went on to study music at Cambridge University in England and it was there I got into a lot of early music both as a performer and an academic. Music written before 1600 still plays a big part in my life, mostly as a listener, but also I think it informs compositional choices I make and lives in my musical DNA.
Your commitment to film is undeniable and comes through in your work. What do you love about scoring to picture?
The other day I had to put some music together for a potential project, and I was listening to a few pieces in isolation, away from the film they were written for, and I was initially thinking 'what the hell is this!' It almost felt incomplete. Then I went and put them up against the movie they were written for and it all made sense again (thank god!) That's the essence of this job: creating music that operates alongside picture, and when you get that synthesis of sound and picture to work it's a very gratifying feeling. In my opinion, even before one writes a single note, I believe these is a great deal of work to be done: watching the picture over and over again digesting all you can – the way it's shot, the colors, the pace of the editing, the sound of it, the pitch of the dialogue, etc. I think it's about trying to absorb all the other artistry already there, and figuring out what you can add to this that feels specific and not redundant.
How do you approach collaborating with others?
I've been very fortunate to do some co-writing with some pretty illustrious composers, including my old mentor, Harry Gregson-Williams, John Powell and John Ottman. I've also written alongside Danny Elfman on a number of films and done a few bits for Hans Zimmer as well. To be around these guys and see not only their creative process but also how they deal with the politics of the business is an education for which I'll be forever grateful. Collaboration also happens on a more regular basis with musicians. I love hiring soloists to play on scores and work with them and encourage them to bring their passion and spirit to the foreground. Sure, when you book an orchestra, there is less room for this approach, as it could get pretty chaotic, but when you are dealing one-on-one with a talented musician, why on earth wouldn't you want them to make suggestions and bring their experience to the table. I suppose even with orchestras and larger groups I try and include other people's opinions: should we try it like this? shall we have the first violins playing an octave higher?, etc, etc. It's not about relinquishing responsibility as the final choices are mine and I'll be held accountable if the director hates it, but it's about hearing other opinions, tapping into other people's perspectives and making the most out of interacting with musicians. And of course, our job is to collaborate with our directors and producers, to hear their point of view, to challenge or indulge them, to bring our opinion to the table and be nimble and fluid if it doesn't meet with theirs.
Do you have any methods or practices that help spark new ideas?
We live in a world saturated with music – it's everywhere. And because we are constantly bombarded with music I think it can be hard to find the space to think of new ideas. Therefore, I do try and find time to get away from all the noise to clear my head. It's a tough thing to do, as we feel that we ought to be chained to our sequencers, pumping out cues to meet grueling deadlines, but the reward of stepping away from it all can be surprisingly beneficial. I think the muse can also descend in unlikely places. Sometimes I might be at a restaurant and a little idea occurs to me, so I wander off to the restroom and sing it into the phone. Again, being away from the normal environment in which we create can change our perspectives and allow new ideas to be born. And for me personally, the new often comes from the old. I mentioned already my big musical passion being early music which entered my veins from a very young age. I never see a time where I will not draw inspiration from the past.
We’re honored to have you as an Emergence Audio user, how do our instruments help in your creative process?
With sound design libraries I think two things are really important: interesting and well-recorded source material and GUI's that make manipulation of these sounds possible and fun. I love your libraries as they tick both boxes for me. I've done a couple of fairly big projects this year that incorporate sound design and all the libraries I've got from you guys have been useful and have come into play. I'm really excited to hear what you guys come up with next!
What are you currently working on?
Despite the challenges presented by the pandemic, 2021 was a busy year for me; too busy in fact and I started to get a bit sick. So I now feel relieved to be concentrating on just one project at this time, a Netflix show called The Sandman. It's been an enjoyable experience so far as I've been able to use quite a wide-ranging palette including orchestra, choir, early music instruments and synths/sound design, and yes that includes a few bits and bobs from you guys! Next year, I'll be returning to a couple of shows that I score including The Good Fight, which is me messing around with Baroque and Classical ideas and another called Evil which, genre wise, is a horror/comedy/drama mashup. I'm also going to score my third movie with director, Ric Roman Waugh, called Kandahar. As the name suggests, it's set in Afghanistan, so it will be interesting to see how much indigenous sound Ric wants to have in the score. I feel like the Duduk has been done to death, so come on Emergence Audio, come up with a cool new instrument that evokes the middle east in an interesting and new way, and I'll be the first to hit buy!