Modern Life is Rubbish composer on losing sleep, working hard and dreaming big
From the tender age of five, composer Orlando Roberton already knew he loved music. At university he created music from the simple sounds of daily life around him and soon found himself composing music to picture when a friend asked him to score his graduation film. In 2007, Roberton worked on a short film starring Benedict Cumberbatch called Inseparable and now he composes for film full time and is the founder and primary composer of Pixelphonics, a London-based company that makes music for TV, film and online media.
Some of his clients include Uber, Sony Music, Cadbury, Blackberry, London Underground and FIFA. Here Orlando tells Mandy News how he got started composing, the instruments and programs he uses and some advice for up-and-coming composers in the music world.
How did you get involved in music and TV/Film composing?
At the age of five, I picked up a bugle from the wall of a family friend's house and played it. Apparently, when asked "how did you learn that?" my response was "I just knowed". From there, I had an amazing and inspiring trumpet teacher called Bob Thompson, who cared less for music grades and more for Dizzy Gillespie and Miles Davis.
At university, I studied electroacoustic music, which, among other things, involved creating music from the mooing of cows and the flushing of toilets. After university, some friends in film school asked me to score their graduation film. It was a freebie, however I went for it, partly to test my skills at writing to picture. I loved the process and they were really pleased with the score. I still work with them today.
Breaking into music full time took a few years as I honed my production skills while developing my contacts. I juggled a few regular day jobs, while composing music at night.
My first TV break came in 2006, when I had the opportunity to pitch for a Frubes yoghurt TV advertisement. I gave it my all, consuming vast amounts of the product in my studio to inspire me. I won it, and then worked with them for a further two more adverts.
Eventually, in 2008 I was able to quit the day job and compose music full time!
How did you get involved with Modern Life is Rubbish?
In 2007, I was fortunate enough to compose the score for a short film starring Benedict Cumberbatch called Inseparable. I kept in touch with the producer Dominic Norris, who asked me to pitch for Modern Life is Rubbish.
What was the approach to working on the film? What instrumentation and programs do you usually use to compose?
The approach that the director Daniel Jerome Gill and I established was, for want of a better description, ‘Post Indie’. So taking inspiration from ‘Post Rock’, I went for a very stripped back, slowed down and simplified version of Indie, minus the drums and vocal lead lines.
I recorded electric guitar in Logic Pro and then went to town with FX and synthesised ambiences.
I also collaborated with the sound designer and sound mixer Richard Lewis and the talented team at Pindrop. In one of the opening scenes, where Natalie (played by Freya Mavor) is commuting to work, we synchronised and blended the "real life" sounds of a clunking elevator, the hi-hats in her headphones, building works, a bleeping lift and the rhythmic shuffle of office printers, with the music.
It’s quite a subtle effect, though I think it really adds to the atmosphere and helps convey the repetitive nature of a daily commute.
What are you working on now and for the rest of 2018?
At the moment, I’ve got a football TV theme in the pipeline, remixes of classic '90s dance tracks, as well as writing a lot of music for French TV shows, including Pop Idol, Bake Off, and The Island.
What advice do you have for up and coming composers who would like to work in the TV and Film world?
Cheaper and more accessible technology has made it extremely competitive these days, so an obsession with music, the ability to work to tight and sometimes stressful deadlines, and, at least when starting out, being able to survive on a just few hours sleep are all very useful skills!
I would advise to concentrate on really honing your production skills and putting together a body of creative and quality work. Good quality monitor speakers and accurate studio acoustics are essential, so I would suggest making these your first major purchases, along with a decent sound-card and DAW.
I would also listen to as much music as possible, from all genres, old and new. Over the years I’ve bookmarked thousands of tracks, and keep adding to them pretty much every day.
Finally, I encourage collaboration with other composers and musicians, it can be quite a solitary existence, so working with other composers just makes things more fun!
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