The Making of ‘Kidnapped’
We have to say it was both an honour and a pleasure to be abducted!! 😉 So I thought it might be interesting to tell you a wee bit about how Sketch got involved with the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s recent production of ‘Kidnapped’ and how we adapted and wrote new music for it.
We’ll start with the master storyteller himself Graham McLaren, Associate Director of National Theatre of Scotland:
“Have you ever tried to explain a sound in your head? It’s a bit like explaining that taste you used to like … Well, over the last two years I’ve been trying. I knew that I was going to make a theatre version of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped and I knew how I wanted it to sound. I didn’t know, however how to articulate that to musicians or producers without resorting to a kind of ’embarrassing dad’ beatbox cum mouthmusic. So that’s what I did. But eh … no one could help. No one knew of anyone who seemed to be mixing those musical elements in that way. Anywhere. I had started to give up on the idea and began to resign myself to a more traditional sound when a track came on my radio and I nearly crashed my car.
I was driving along listening to radio Scotland and there it was. That sound in my head … only better. Dirtier, louder and much cooler than I had imagined. I pulled over on the hard shoulder of the road I was on and listened for a name. The band was called Sketch and the guy being interviewed was Iain Copeland. Iain talked about how he uses pre-recorded and sampled music alongside live players to achieve that big sound. Before the end of the radio interview I had texted a number of musician pals asking if anyone had a contact for Iain Copeland. Within the hour I had made contact and what followed was an open hearted full-throttle collaboration with what in my opinion is one of the great talents of the Scottish Music industry.”
The music for Kidnapped was a mixture of material from the 2 CDs ‘Shed Life’ and ‘Highland Time’ from the band Sketch. As well as this material, there was quite a lot of new music recorded and written for the show.
Iain: On arrival in Glasgow, I set up a small portable studio where I was staying. Quite a minimal set up, but adequate for the job in hand. I then got into sketching out some ideas for the music that might be possibly needed.
We started by treating it as a whole new project and went through the double secret process of creating new Sketch music, i.e. banging our heads together endlessly until something appeared that we liked! There was also some music that had been unfinished from the Highland Time CD – stuff that we just didn’t have time to finish for one reason or another. The usual album process for the band meant that we would have around 2 or 3 times the material that we really needed for a CD and we would pick our current favourites or what suited the album and put the rest in a ‘to be continued’ folder.
There were also loads of great new ideas that came out of the sessions, most of which made it into the show. The sessions were great fun and served to throw our new fiddler Charlie in at the deep end.
One of the these was for a track we ended up calling ‘Boat Crash’. We needed something heavy and dare I say violent for one of the pieces: you can hear it in the player to the right. Some wonderful piping and whistling by Ali Levack, all made up on the spot while we were recording it.
There were also some great new tracks that came out of these sessions that we didn’t use in the show due to time constraints: you can listen to a rough version of ‘The Chase is On’ to the right. This track invariably ended up being used as warm up music for the cast before the show.
As we continued with the rehearsals it was decided that the music would in fact be continuous throughout the whole performance. This presented an interesting challenge, basically how to break down the instrumentation in the music that was being used in the set pieces and use it as underscore for the dialogue. In fact I remember asking Graham what he thought of the ambient stuff I had composed and he replied ‘What ambient stuff??’! That was the point that I knew I had been reasonably successful in writing music that was present but not interfering with the focus of the production.
There were some fascinating re-arrangements of the tunes from the CDs, plus, due to it being theatre we could segue abruptly from one thing to another without it being jarring. A new and interesting technique perhaps for the next Sketch album?
As the show progressed in the Theatre, it was becoming obvious to me that I needed more control over Ableton Live than usual to make sure the cues all made it on time and we could elongate the music if necessary over dialogue. To achieve this I used a number of additions to the core setup. For the ‘tech-heids’ amongst you, I’ve also done a blog about how I customised Ableton Live and lots of other techy things which you can read here.
So, all in all, working on the music for Kidnapped was a great learning experience and has given me plenty of valuable insight into constructing music for theatre. It was also such a joy to work with such a great bunch, the students were fantastic, the stars of the future no less! Also many thanks to Graham for his kind words and for the opportunity to work with such an esteemed team. We hope to do so again very soon 🙂