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Composer Peter Gregson Causes A Little Musical Chaos For His Latest Film

Updated on June 29, 2015
Courtesy of Peter Images Used With Permission
Courtesy of Peter Images Used With Permission

Meet Peter Gregson

Composer Peter Gregson is an acclaimed cellist with a reknowned reputation as being one of the best in the world. Extremely talented at his craft, he was the perfect choice for acclaimed actor and director, Alan Rickman, who everyone remembers as the unforgettable villain in the original Die Hard film; who is at the helm of his latest directorial venture in the period drama, A Little Chaos starring Oscar nominee Kate Winslet.

Gregson's elegant contribution to the film is one of the reasons the film is a must see. A newly minted talent that will no doubt be on the radar for future projects such as this film. For this very special Q&A session, Peter talks about the film, working on the score and the soundtrack release on Milan Records. So sit back and enjoy our short and pleasant conversation.

The Q & A Session

Hello Peter, how are you and thank you very much for taking the time to conduct this interview with you today inspite of your really busy schedule. It really is an honor to do so.

PG: My pleasure!

Please tell the readers about what made you become interested in music and what led you to become a cellist and now acclaimed film composer.

PG: I grew up around a lot of music, all sorts of different styles, and all sorts of different flavours.

Let’s talk about “A Little Chaos” which you recently wrote the music for. How did you become involved with the project?

PG: It all started back in February 2013 at The Print Room in West London, a fabulous performing arts venue. I had written the music for a new contemporary dance piece called FLOW, and through a string of coincidences, Alan Rickman happened to be in the audience. There was a drinks reception afterwards, and he came up to me and told me about his new film they were just about to start shooting, and asked if I’d like to do the music…! It’s quite a leap to go from that dance piece to the movie score, so I’m very grateful he has such an open ear for music!

Was it difficult or easier for you to find a tone for that music that you wrote for this film?

PG: I was attached from the end of the script stage, so was on set for quite a lot of filming and then wrote all the way through the edit - there was no temp score to speak of, so there was a lot of freedom to set the tone. It’s a bit of a mixed blessing, though, because it’s hard to discuss abstract things when you’re really looking for specificity!

In the end, I suppose you “listen to the film”, and see what works - it isn’t a big movie, it’s about a grand place, but it’s very intimate. It’s also set in the 17th Century, but is a pretty contemporary story about a strong woman in a male dominated world. There’s something about a small string section that is so fluid; it can be dressed up and be detailed and fancy, or dressed down and be really simple functional - there’s an elegance to refined string writing that really suited the film, we never felt it needed to become Regal, or draw attention to it, so we kept the sound palette pretty simple.

Did the director specifically give you an idea of what he wanted musically for the film?

PG: Alan was only firm in that wanted the music to be another character in the movie - to have a voice, an opinion, but never ahead of the story. It had to have a place in the narrative, but should never tell the audience what to think. Beyond that, it was really about taking music in and playing it, and talking it through. We worked closely on it for several months, so I think we ended up with something that is both true to the picture, but also (hopefully) works as standalone music away from the picture.

Was there a central character or characters that you immediately identified with from a musical standpoint that you felt would be the voice of the score?

Kate Winslet’s character, Sabine, is the heart of the film. She has this central chorale, over which every “theme” works. The opening cue to the movie, imaginatively called “Sabine”, was written more like a suite for the movie - I think I played it to Alan just after the wrapped filming and it sort of stuck.

What were the recording sessions for the score like?

PG: We had 52 mins of music to record in 3 days. To add to that, the whole score is actually only 9 people, so for the bigger cues (especially ‘A Little Chaos’!) we were multi-tracking, so it was logistically complex. I was very fortunate to have a terrific team around me to help deliver it, and we got there!

As a string player, I play on a lot of sessions, so am aware of the dynamics in the room between player, conductor, and “behind the glass”, so I decided to conduct the sessions as well - it’s tiring, but at the end of the day, I think it’s more efficient for the composer to conduct.

Did you have to revise any of your score as sometimes a film is either reedited once it’s locked the first time around?

PG: Yes, but it was rather good - they decided to make some edits after I had delivered the score, so we were sent back in to re-record any moments that weren’t right. I believe I’m right in saying there were no actual edits made to the recordings to accommodate picture - everything you hear was actually performed from a score!

The soundtrack will be released by Milan Records. Please tell the readers how you put the album together and what made you decide to put on the CD together the way you did?

PG: This is really easy to answer! This is everything except for one piece of “source music” (that is, a piece of pastiche period music I wrote to be played in the background of a party scene that is barely heard)

Do you think fans of the film will be happy with the album release?

PG: I really hope so - it’s a faithful representation of the music from the movie; only a few very subtle edits, and it’s presented in a way that will follow the progression of the movie.

Is it hard for you to put together a soundtrack of your work for a specific film?

PG: In some ways, yes, because with my composer hat on, every cue feels totally essential and important, but with my audience hat on, I just want to listen to a good album of music, so there were some continuity cues which could be left out, but it's otherwise in tact.

How did you feel when the label wanted to release your score?

PG: It was terrific! It's increasingly rare for scores to be released, and it's just so exciting for it to have a life alongside the movie.

Do you have a dream project you would love to do?

PG: I'd love to do a character driven thriller; a spy movie or something. I grew up on Bond, Bourne, and Bauer (action hero's and classical composers seem to start with the letter B? Bach, Brahms, and Beethoven...) so would love to sink my teeth into something fast paced and exciting, but really, it's about helping to tell a story, and they can be in any genre.

Please tell the readers about your future upcoming projects we have to look forward to.

PG: I have a new album coming out in August, called TOUCH. It's for cello, piano, synths, and string orchestra - actually the same lineup as A LITTLE CHAOS. I actually just finished approving the mixes this morning! I'm very excited for that to come out. It was written for, and recorded in 9.1 surround. Lots of space to play with!

Special Thanks to Peter Gregson for being so gracious with his time and to Stefan Karrer of Milan Records

Courtesy of Milan Records/Getty Images Used With Permission
Courtesy of Milan Records/Getty Images Used With Permission

Peter Gregson Biography (Courtesy Of Peter Gregson's Website Used With Permission)

"Peter Gregson is a cellist and composer "working at the forefront of the new music scene" (The New Yorker) Recently, he has premiered works by composers including Tod Machover, Daníel Bjarnason, Gabriel Prokofiev, Max Richter, Jóhann Jóhannsson, Steve Reich, and Sally Beamish; he collaborates with many of the world’s leading technologists, including Microsoft Labs, UnitedVisualArtists, Reactify and the MIT Media Lab.

Peter developed and was commissioned to compose ‘The Listening Machine‘, a data sonification of Twitter in collaboration with Daniel Jones and Britten Sinfonia for the BBC/Arts Council’s “The Space”, where it ran continuously between May-January 2013.

His debut solo album, ‘Terminal’, was commissioned by Bowers & Wilkins and launched in April 2010. A limited edition 10′′ vinyl was commissioned by Mute in May 2011, featuring new solo works for Peter written by Max Richter and Jóhann Jóhannsson and was released at the ‘Short Circuit’ Festival at The Roundhouse. In May 2012, Nonclassical released Gabriel Prokofiev’s ‘Cello Multitracks’, a cello suite written for Peter which the two have toured around the world.

'Lights in the Sky', his second studio album, composed for cello, piano, and analogue synthesisers, was released at Imogen Heap's 'Reverb Festival' in August 2014. His third studio album has been commissioned by Sono Luminus, and will be released in late 2015. Peter is featured soloist on Michael Price's debut album for Erased Tapes, 'Entanglement', which is released in Spring 2015.

In demand for his work across film and television soundtracks, Spitfire Audio developed a sample library of Peter's extended techniques and sounds from his blue, five-string electric cello, all recorded at Pixel, his studio in London.

He recently completed scoring his first feature film, 'A Little Chaos' , directed by Alan Rickman and starring Kate Winslet and Matthias Schoenaerts, which closed the Toronto International Film Festival 2014, and opens internationally in Spring 2015 with Focus Features and Lionsgate."



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