2016 Music & Sound Award winning composer team Nainita Desai and Malcolm Laws speak about their inspiration, challenges and where it all begins…
When did you both start composing … and why?
Nainita: I was in various bands, choirs and orchestras singing and playing various instruments, but didn’t start seriously writing until I left university and decided that’s what I really wanted to focus on, as I thought working in a studio would be cushier than touring plus I loved technology. I thought it would be like the deck of the Starship Enterprise – I liked all the flashing coloured lights in a room full of gear ! Little did I know… it’s all true!
Malcolm: I didn’t start writing professionally until I worked with Nainita, but spent time as a session musician and in bands playing guitar and bass and then working in the English Chamber orchestra.
We both love film and music and felt it was the only way of being able to express what we wanted to say creatively through music and visuals – the magic of the power of visuals and music are so much greater than the sum of the parts.
Who are your biggest influences?
We’re musical sponges, so we’re into everyone from Paco de Lucia, Barbra Streisand, Peter Gabriel, Ennio Morriccone to Hermann, Bach, Thomas Newman, Vaughan Williams.
You’ll have to guess which one of us likes who though
How did you both get such a great reputation in documentary composing?
We don’t like to be pigeon-holed, so are always searching for diverse and musically challenging projects. They have to be projects that resonate with us in some way, where we feel we can make a strong creative contribution to it. We have been very fortunate to have worked with some amazing film makers who have trusted us to do their films justice.
We think being collaborative, hard working, easy to work with and being ‘ideas’ people has stood us in good stead.
Documentaries are so creatively satisfying, inherently because they are based in reality, and quite often, reality is stranger than fiction – it’s such a visceral, emotive, powerful art form in itself.
What do you both personally consider to be incisive moments in your work and/or career?
They tend to be ‘first times’ or big creative challenges for us; ones that have pushed us into new genres and creative challenges. A few examples are:
- the first programme we ever scored ‘Globe Trekker Lonely Planet’ C4 series
- writing the genre-defying BBC 4 documentary musical – ‘City of Dreams-The Musical’ , that’s showing at Sheffield Doc Fest this year,
- the Nordic Thriller ‘The Confessions of Thomas Quick’ released in UK cinemas last year
- the first feature film I worked on; Bertolucci’s ‘Little Buddha’
- working with Peter Gabriel at Real World
- working with the English Chamber Orchestra
- the first natural history film we scored for the BBC NHU Wildlife on One series with David Attenborough.
What are currently your main compositional challenges?
At the moment, we’re writing some horror music for a feature film which is a unique challenge – trying to scare your audience and maintain that element of shock surprise when they turn a corner in a dark alleyway…
Our other musical challenges include quirky ‘frontier town’ music for a BBC series about Svalbard, and a BBC film about how children learn to read – the brief is “warm, spacey Bill Frisell and Steve Reich”!
Where do you both usually start when composing?
A blank slate is like a rabbit staring into headlights – a terrifying prospect! Every project is different – so sometimes we will start with researching some guide music that may be relevant to the current project.
Other times, we’ll just improvise on the keyboard or one of our world instruments.
Quite often I’ll be out running an errand and have fully formed musical ideas floating around in my head; if I can remember any of them by the time I get back into the studio, then it’s probably worth developing.
If you were both instruments, what instruments would you be and why?
M: Double Bass because the bass is the tree trunk from which all other musical branches stem from.
N: The Mac Pro – because that way I can be any instrument I want to be !
Finally, any recommendations of recent TV shows/ films that you’ve really enjoyed?
TV: Homeland, The Walking Dead, The Bridge, Game of Thrones, Modern Family.
Film: The Witch, Youth, The Duke of Burgundy, Ex Machina