All Things David Rhodes - China: Revealed

All Things David Rhodes

On October 1, 2006, "China: Revealed," the first film in the Discovery Channel "Atlas" series, will premiere in the United States, complete with a soundtrack by "The Footnote," otherwise known as Richard Evans and David Rhodes.

While he was working on the soundtrack earlier this year, David answered some questions for us about his experiences with the soundtrack process in general, and this program in particular.

Q: "China" is a rather broad subject. How do you go about writing material when the assignment is rather amorphous, such as coming up with music to evoke an entire country?

DR: It really starts with watching the film and listening to the temp score that the director and editor are using. It is normally clear which things they're really attached to, and one has to try and ape some of those things or come up with a better alternative.

The brief is not really to evoke an entire country, but to reflect the story(ies) within the film. In the China film there are half a dozen characters whose lives are looked at, so there are themes for each individual.

Q: How do you begin to come up with ideas?

DR: Play.

Q: Do you do any research, just write from your gut instinct, or is it some combination of the two?

DR: Most probably not enough research. The director wanted a score that would be accessible, and not off putting. We wrote initially to picture, which lead us up the garden path when the edit was drastically changed. Some of the more successful pieces were not written to picture, but just the verbal brief. We started imagining a heavily orchestral score, but as the project went on we introduced more guitar and electronics, so that now there is a broad range of material.

Q: Do you use the job as an opportunity to develop material you may have already started to play around with before, or do you start from scratch?

DR: Everything was fresh.

Q: Do you and Richard work separately, or do you develop musical ideas together?

DR: We divided the film up, with Richard working on the pastoral and historic cues. I worked on the urban scenes. We then wrote a couple of pieces together. In the latter stages we worked on everything together in Richardís studio. Iím looking forward to getting back into my shed to play around.

Q: What instrumentation did you determine would be best for the character, urban and rural themes? What guided those decisions?

DR: The main guide initially was the sample library that was available to us! Experimenting with the sounds and melodies. Some sounded too faux Chinese . . . my pieces, but when they were reviewed, and had strings added, they started to sound better. It was fortuitous that Richard was asked to produce a record for Guo Yue ["Music, Food and Love"], which entailed going to Beijing, so he was able to have some soloists play the lead lines of the pieces. I also used quite a lot of rhythm in my tunes.

Richardís pieces all sounded more fully formed than mine, as he is quite adept at putting together a string arrangement. My pieces required the intervention of a proper string arranger. I tend to use simple pads most of the time. A good arranger can take those and the melody and come up with all sorts of possibilities. With direction and an open mind the results can be very exciting.

Q: By "simple pads" you mean...?

DR: Straightforward string sounds, and synthetic string sounds that fill out the tune. (Sometimes referred to as meaningless waft!)

Q: What's the most challenging thing about writing orchestration for the different themes?

DR: Imagining the possibilities, and wondering if they might change your approach. Once the arranger was stuck into his side of the work, there was no going back.

Q: In general, programs like this are done on a relatively quick schedule. Why did 'China' turn into such an extended project?

DR: The China film is the template for the whole series of Discovery films. As such they kept changing their minds about the structure of the film. Now theyíre happy with it. However it has meant that a number of production companies have been awaiting the format before completing their edits.

Q: At the moment, you and Richard are working on two more programs in the series. Will you try to make the music for all three films similar in some way, to carry a theme, or are you approaching them as three completely separate projects?

DR: Richard and I are currently trying to decide how to proceed, as a lot of work needs to be done quickly. The tempo has upped now that everyone knows what theyíre trying to achieve. However we work, weíll endeavour to make it simpler. Iím not sure that any themes will recur.

Q: Which instrument or instruments do you compose on?

DR: Keyboards and guitar mostly, though grooves are most often the starting point.

Q: Electric or acoustic guitar? Do you have a particular favorite to write on?

DR: I have a Trussart telecaster which is my best friend at the moment. Iíve used it a lot in the last few months, on Nasioís record ["Universal Cry"], and in Geneva [performing with Peter Gabriel in October 2005 - ed.].

Q: Is there a point in the writing process where you traditionally get "stuck"? If so, what do you do then?

DR: Move onto something else, and return to the problem in the morning, or bang a drum.

Richard and David have also written the soundtrack for the fourth program in the series, "Australia: Revealed," which will premiere on October 22, 2006.

For more information on the "Discovery Atlas" series, check out Discovery Atlas.