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Meet the composer

Musically the series presented itself with some interesting challenges – how to score a series that traversed three very different geographical locations and continents, and secondly, how to bind the human dynamic of the tribes alongside the animals.

Nainita Desai
Throughout the series, singing and dance is an important part of the rituals of tribal life.
Nainita Desai

The approach we took in Episode 2 Lion people of the Kalahari, was to use a slightly different palette of sounds for the Ju/’hoansi Bushmen and the lions. The lions lent themselves to a more percussive and rhythmical feel, whereas the Ju/’hoansi Bushmen were friendly and warm, so we embraced their characters with acoustic African guitars played by world music specialist, Ben Mandelson. The two musical elements came together at times when these Bushmen stalked the lions. We also wanted the music to reflect the dry and hot terrain.

A lush score wouldn't fit, as we wanted to create a rough, dry, gritty, slightly edgy mood to empathise with the challenging terrain. Anaconda people of the Amazon and Crocodile people of New Guinea we had a different feel altogether. Water was the common element, ranging from Ecuador’s, Amazon river to the tropical swamps of Papua New Guinea.

Tuned percussion such as the Handpan and Marimbas lent themselves well to the watery rhythmical feel. We worked very closely with director Patrick Evans, and established a musical character for the crocodile by using low raspy brass horns that invoked fear and menace. As a contrast, the relationship of the tribes with the crocodiles is very spiritual, and so the traditional orchestral elements with human voice brought out the mystical relationship they have with the predator.

Throughout the series, singing and dance is an important part of the rituals of tribal life. Amazon and New Guinea had quite a primeval feel at times, so throat, gutteral singing and vocal elements were sometimes implemented alongside more organic hand clapping and hand percussion.

We first met with the team in the summer of 2015, which allowed time to research and write preliminary ideas in many different moods and emotions. This meant that the team could edit with over one hundred tracks in the early stages and experiment with approaches before settling into a style we all felt would fit the tone of the films.

Generally once we receive rough cuts of films, we like to start scoring films chronologically from start to finish, experiencing the same journey that the audience does as the story and film unfolds. Each episode had it’s own ‘sound world’ with a handful of tracks crossing over between the episodes.

The pretitles written towards the end of the series, had a more non-specific ethnic or orchestral fusion style that had to encompass many different emotions and moods that the series represented – ranging from epic, to warm community spirit, to the danger and fear that these animals invoke to one of transformation towards the end.

Once cues were written to picture, Series Director, Rachael Kinley, and Series Producer, Ted Oakes would feed back comments. One particular challenge was the Lion stalking scene and we found that generally the integration of sparse minimal music simulating the heartbeat and human response worked very effectively in bringing out Gordon’s trepidation and fear.

The essence of every film is Gordon’s transformative experience, and so by the end of each episode, there are some very emotional bittersweet reflections. These were handled with orchestral elements that we felt could really bring out the heartfelt emotions and messages.

Nainita Desai & Malcolm Laws