Jonathan Gunton

Being asked to compose the music for Burma was a great privilege.

I have worked with series producer Susanna Handslip before and our first meeting was to discuss ideas for the music before any filming took place. I went away to start researching as much as I could about Burma, it's instruments and music. Apparently the Burmese love thrash metal!

The process of composing for me is to start with ideas gathered from talking with the production team as I am trying to get a feel for the atmosphere I need to create. I do not want to be too intrusive with the music so as to distract from the information being presented. I also try and blend the traditional sounds of the country or region with a more contemporary western sound because for me that works and I think sounds good.

Composing themes is a strange experience. Sometimes hearing an instrument from the country or region can set off new ideas. Burma doesn’t have many distinct sounding instruments. They are mainly drum, percussive or stringed instruments including the Saung, a type of harp. I used more South East Asian instruments rather than purely Burmese as it broadened my musical palette. 

On Wild Burma it didn't take long before I cracked a musical style that worked. All but one track from my original tracks was greeted with excitement by the team. When I first presented the tracks one of the editors took 'Balloon flight' and laid it up against the sequence he was cutting. It worked really well and the track stayed.

After this point I attended many viewings where I spent a lot of time discussing musical ideas. I also viewed lots of footage which was a great inspiration.

I was pleased when I finally got the 'Wild Burma theme'. But I then needed to incorporate the theme into the existing tracks as well as the new ones where possible.

The track 'Journey to basecamp' is a good example of Burma meets the west using drums and bells from the region along with more western sounding guitars and bass instruments.

'Forests' I hope transports you to Burma with its blend of South East Asia instruments and more western sweeping strings, with the harp bridging both.

The last stage in composing a score is after the editing has finished. I go through all the music tracks and finesse them. I will mix the tracks, add and remove parts and get them to fit seamlessly with both the picture and sound.

Overall I was aiming to create a score that evokes mystery, intrigue, wonder, adventure, enchantment, sadness and danger.


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