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When you watch a few COTB episodes in a row, the opening tune will most certainly become stuck in your head. It certainly did in mine (of course, I do watch an unhealthy amount of The Bartons). And rewatching the episodes, I noticed recurring themes in the music. I'm pretty sure Elly has her own theme, and variations of it play depending on her mood (or that of the scene).
That made me wonder: how does the music for a series come to be? And of course I had to go and find out, so I tracked down one of the people that was credited with the music on our object of affection: Royce Craven. Being the nice guy he is, he agreed to a little interview and all my questions got answered. Spoiler: I was right about Elly's theme! Oh, and Royce built a plane; I just had to find out more about that while I was at it.
About Royce Royce is co-credited for the music on COTB with Bryan Patterson. Other than a great composer (I think we can all agree on that), Royce is a software developer (hey.. we have something in common!) and is currently working on cool software for music production. Check out his website at www.bwalk.com.au or read the interview where he explains a bit more on what he does nowadays.
Thank you for agreeing to this, Royce. To start of, could you tell us a little about yourself? Where were you born, and when? Are you married? Any kids? We're nosy... I was born in Victoria in Australia in the 1950s and have lived with my partner and her daughter since 1983.
I think most people (somewhat) know how casting works for actors, but how does something like that work for a show's music production? In the 1980s, like actors, you needed to either have an agent or be a performing musician around the local scene (and be seen) and network with anyone involved with the industry.
Bryan Patterson and I had a wonderful extra member of the composing team, Keith Ridgway, who was really a natural networker and introduced us to TV and film producers and directors for much of our early music.
Keith left us to pursue a very successful life as a entertainment promoter and agent and is still going strong at Harness Management.
Did the show's producers have a style of music in mind? Or did they give you full freedom in your creativity? The producer, Jenny Hooks, and all the directors knew what they wanted, but after spotting where the music should go, left most of the other details to us. This is often the way you work in TV and as you are usually one the last people to work on the show there is great pressure to quickly get the job done.
Jenny was very aware of this and, to her credit, tried to bring us in as early as she could so we would have a bit more time to get things right. One of the few producers to ever do this.
How did you get the inspiration for the themes and the score? Did you get to see the footage and write the music "towards" what you'd see or was the music written without seeing the footage? After an episode is edited, usually the director, producer and composers sit though a viewing (or two, or three....) and work out how the music is to work. That is, is the music a link to an earlier episode or is there some danger or drama unfolding or perhaps underscoring is needed for a new character?
Many of the characters were given their own motif and it or part of it was used in the melody, but very often it was used inside the arrangement. Each episode is the directors vision of what it should be and, like a player in an orchestra, you are just there to add your skill to the teams work. Ultimately he/she (along with the producer) is the conductor pulling all the different parts together and so gets the final say.
You're credited with Bryan Patterson for the music. The end credits of the show don't specify who did what. Could you tell us a little bit on how you went about this? Did you write the score and the themes together? The episodes are done in a staggered parallel way. That is, while we were composing for one episode, another episode would be being edited and another would be being filmed etc. The cast works on a new episode with a different director as the previous episode's director continues on with the editors, then with us and so on with all the crew from the different processes involved in a drama production.
We received a early edited version of each episode with dialog, but no effects. The music had to be finished and recorded and mixed before the next episode arrived. So we would take turns to lead the composition on the latest episode while the other would see to the recording and finishing of the music production for the previous one.
Usually we would get together to critique, record and adjust the final mix of the music tracks. Occasionally, usually for a technical reason, they would have to re-shoot or a scene would be re-cut and then it was 'all hands on deck' to get the music re-done straight away.
The music seems to fall back on certain themes during important scenes. For instance, the character Elly seems to have her own theme, that changes depending on her mood in that particular scene. Could you tell us a bit more about how you came up with this? Music, generally, is built with a contrast between the new and the familiar. There is a careful balance though, as it quickly becomes boring if it is always familiar, but distracting if it is all too new.
That being said, if you told me that on your first viewing you didn't notice the music, I would be very happy as it means your attention wasn't drawn away from the drama.. Film and TV music is there to add something to the dramatic experience without getting in the way.Many themes or melodies are made up of parts, sometimes repeated (think Beethoven's 5th Symphony - da da da dum). Usually in clear sections.
In a drama it is sometime useful to try and subconsciously trigger memories of the audience by using bits of a theme. Sometimes the notes are altered or played backward or the lines played upside down or the rhythm slightly changed, but it is still there enough to identify. This is part of the standard craft of music composition.
Do the individual themes have titles? Only for us to help with the process.
Is the music available somewhere, or do us fans need to petition the ABC for it? The ABC has all the master recordings (or perhaps they lie in landfill somewhere) and own the distribution rights when associated with the production.
This music was written in 1988, so you only have to wait another 37 years [until copyright expires] and you can do whatever you want with the music. 8 )
So what have you been up with after working on the show? Have you scored other programmes? We continued to score TV documentaries etc for some time, but Bryan, being the brilliant person that he is, is also a gifted writer and journalist and concentrated more on that. He continued to write and released some orchestral CDs under various names, that I engineered and mixed. Now, after retiring from journalism, he is back composing with an old friend of ours.
I moved over to the theatre scene and wrote several musicals with my friend and lyricist Phillip Wheeldon. I was very lucky with many of them having seasons of a couple of years or more.
I started my working life at the ABC, as trainee working in many of the technical departments that were part of the production of the Bartons.
This technical bent has continued throughout my life with designing and building new electronic devices. Mainly for music production, but also some for my aircraft.
The electronic music side of things really kicked off , a few years before the Bartons when I was doing my music degree, I built two synthesizers. An ETI 4600 and an E&MM Spectrum (I still have them and still use them).
I have nearly finished an editor for the Conductive Labs NDLR ( pronounced Noodler) which is a fun gizmo that plays up to 4 Midi lines on your synthesiser that you can noodle (jam) against. It has become very popular, especially with ambient electronica composers/performers.
What's this about you building a aircraft? I'm pretty sure you're the only member of the cast or crew that has done that! You might need to check on that.
Australia is a BIG place and everyone should have a two seater aerobatic aircraft to get around in. 8 )
Royce Craven's aircraft, soaring above what is presumably Australia.
Photo by unknown photographer. Provided by Royce Craven. Used with permission.
In the intro I talked a bit about your software. I think it's fitting to end with you telling us a bit more on that. When I am engaged in composition, I am sometimes slowed down with the sound design process. That involves mainly programming the synth and effects needed for the piece. I rarely use the patches that come with the instruments, so it can take a long time to get the sounds I want.
To speed up this process, I have developed a few software editors for synthesizers and software for real time manipulation of sound. As these applications usually take a lot of time to develop, I feel it is a bit of a waste if it is only to be used for my work, so I often make it available on my website. www.bwalk.com.au
Thank you Royce, not only for answering these questions, but also for co-creating music for the show all of us here adore. It really adds to the shows identity and appeal; it would not be the same without it!
Well there you have it! I don't know about you, but I learned a lot from this interview. Make sure to visit Royce' website when you get a chance and drop him a line on his forum if you like!
Now, if I could just learn to play an instrument...