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First at 50: I’ve made a solo album
To let off creative steam in this way would never been possible in my twenties
October 3, 2013 | By:
Composer Richard G Mitchell has had a career producing soundtracks for documentaries, television dramas and movies. Now, in his fifties, he has made his first solo album

Richard G Mitchell_mandolin image_620Since I was a teenager, I’ve been driven by the notion of composing and producing music to some sort of moving image.  However, I had no interest in a traditional academic musical training and was an early-Eighties graduate of St Martin’s School of Art, where I studied fine art and film.

The cinema, to me, felt like a great medium for composers to work in in the 20th century. It presented a wonderful opportunity to earn a living while experimenting with a wide variety of genres and styles of music, at a time when movie audiences didn’t have the expectations of those sitting in the concert halls.

Composers could try out interesting ideas that wouldn’t necessarily have retained an audience’s attention without the accompanying moving pictures. And commercial cinema changed the public’s acceptance of new musical forms by osmosis; jazz, atonal string arrangements, weird electronics, drum’n’bass.

Composing for films: a modern traditionalist

Initially I worked on documentaries and television dramas, producing electronic music scores, but while working on my first commercial Hollywood movie – Renny Harlin’s Born American – in the mid-Eighties, I started working with acoustic performances that I manipulated digitally using what was then ‘new and exciting’ recording technology.

As a consequence of scoring The Bridge – a period movie about an English impressionist painter – I was offered a variety of period films. I gained a reputation with directors for introducing more modern musical elements into work that may have had the expectation of a traditional orchestral score.

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Sadly, the independent film industry in the UK had great trouble coming to terms with the new digital era. Now that the DVD is on the decline, we are finding it more difficult than ever to fund independent films.

This coincided with a proliferation of amazingly stunning but cheap technology, so producing music for film costs less and less. Discussions with other movie composer friends (including BAFTA and Oscar winners) suggest that it’s getting more and more difficult to retain any space in which to be creative.

Even movies made for less than £10 million, which would once have been a fertile place for creative musical freedom, are now driven by marketing. The typical brief is: “I’m really sorry, but we simply want a copy of the score to DRIVEL IV as that was the score that tested the best.”

Film scores: experience counts

But I have found in my fifties that with a strong CV nobody can doubt your ability to deliver the goods. The ‘someone’s-going-to-find-me-out’ self-doubt has finally evaporated. Scoring film is one of the rare fields where experience is all.

Embracing exciting new music production trends may continue to invigorate my work, but the ability to make music that helps explain emotions and quickly understands how to solve problems is something I finally have the comfort of now I’m in my fifties.

My half-century must have left me feeling comfortable, because I’ve gone and made my first ever solo album. It’s a gentle piano album, a mix of modern, classical and jazz influences with a touch of ambient electronica.

It was as simple as ‘a moment in time’. I literally woke up one morning and knew I just wanted to sit at the piano and write some stuff that was bereft of visual influence of any kind.

What has been marvellous about the experience is that this was a totally intuitive project, a very liberating exercise with absolutely no pressure attached.

To let off creative steam in this way would never been possible in my twenties. I have tried to create a sonic world that stimulates an interesting space for mature thinking. Something sincere and devoid of flashy showmanship.

I guess with the confidence that comes with reaching my fifties, this album is my reaction to the relentless bombardment of media fighting for our dumbed-down attention, and a part of my continuing personal quest for dark and romantic beauty.

Piano Tree Elettriche by Richard G Mitchell is out on RGM Records and available on iTunes

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