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The Sound of Sherlock * 03 February 2012

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On Friday January 31 2012, at very short notice, we found ourselves attending a superb, funny and informative talk and demonstration of the creation of the music of Sherlock Series Two by Michael Price, one half of the series' composing duo alongside David Arnold. It's perhaps fair to say that the post production of any media, be it film, music or television, is dramatically less glamorous compared to the actual filming and performing of what you see onscreen, but it is without doubt the true nuts and bolts stage of the final product, and often can make or break any production - a sterling performance by an actor can be lost if subject to a bad film or video editor for example. 

In the case of music, the aim is of course to underscore and heighten what you are seeing onscreen, to draw your attention and emotions to a certain point. In the case of this talk by Michael Price, dubbed 'The Sound of Sherlock', the audience of musical creatives and students were led through the soundscape of three key scenes from Series Two, stripping the music down to reveal the sheer hard graft and brilliant inspiration that lay beneath.  

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Michael explained the methodology behind the music of Sherlock Series Two, that the new music should characterise each episode, retaining everything that made the scoring for Series One memorable but also introducing a new voice. At the same time, the music should exist for primarily dramatic reasons, and he noted his use of sound samples to seek out this drama in the material.

Starting with 'A Scandal in Belgravia', Michael showed us a key, closing scene from the end of the episode, which featured a dramatic and bombastic rendition of the much talked about 'Irene's Theme'. It was noted that this particular piece of music reflected the story of the episode itself, that Sherlock should be opened up to the idea of love, rather than love itself. Michael took us through the scene as it appears onscreen, the mixed audio version as it will appear on the Series Two soundtrack, and then the original 'demo' version of the score, over the time code marked fine cut of the episode, intriguing due to the presence of fill in material in place of incomplete visual effects shots. What was initially surprising was the sheer amount of detail in the music, with what we thought was a gigantic 56 layers of sound just for the one piece (this was nothing compared to what Michael demonstrated later!), and that most of the theme was arranged using synthesised sound on a MacBook using Logic Pro, with only the swelling, gorgeous strings recorded live at Air Studios. It appears on the Series two soundtrack as 'SHERlocked.'

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This was followed with a similar demonstration of a climactic scene from 'The Reichenbach Fall' between Sherlock and Moriarty - we're skirting spoilers like crazy, but if you've seen it, you'll know the one - which upped the audio channels to 72 separate sound layers! Here we saw a slightly different style compared to Irene's Theme, still string led but underscored with the use of dissonant ambience and bass to depict Moriarty onscreen, layered underneath other parts of the score to create a true undercurrent - not dissimilar to the characteristics of Jim himself, it must be said. This was intentionally contrasted with a richer, more active sound to represent Sherlock in counterpoint. It's worth stating how blurred this piece of music appears when you examine it in layers, the sound for Moriarty moving away from score and into the range of the sound designer - though, as Michael said, since the composer has created it, it's actually music. If you were looking for this piece on the Series Two soundtrack, it's 'Prepared to do Anything'. 

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Finally Michael demonstrated the driving rhythm of the horror tinged opening scene from 'The Hounds of Baskerville', which he considered the most sonically interesting of all the scores from Series Two, mainly due to the relative lack of live instrumentation. Indeed, the scene in question was composed entirely through synthesised sound, including plenty that Michael and David had created from complete scratch. Many sounds on the channels were labelled up with amusing names, such as 'Metal Hound', and the slightly alarmingly titled 'Bergerac Throb'. This single scene featured the most sound channels of any demonstrated, topping 78 in number. Then came the most fun part of the entire event. Michael played us the first scoring pass for the scene, but this was VERY different from the near final piece that accompanied the earlier demonstration of the 'Scandal' fine cut. The mixing on this was, frankly, bonkers, filled with warbling discordant sound that constantly elevated, to the point it merged with the scream of young Henry Knight onscreen. It was utterly delightful to hear, and very revealing about the creative process and the back and forth between a composer and a director that leads to a final piece of music. 

After the demonstration, the floor opened up to Q&A, with the questions put to Michael yielding many interesting responses and much trivia filled goodness. The highlights included Michael recounting his first meeting with David Arnold, having left the employ of the much missed composer Michael Kamen after the completion of the now classic HBO miniseries 'Band of Brothers', and the formation of their partnership, initially with Michael writing additional music for David before gaining equal billing on Sherlock. Much talk was made of the process of composing for television, including the fact Michael sometimes has to compose an average of six minutes of music a day, and the revelation of how different it is to write compared to film - cinema gains an extra two octaves of sound over the home market, which restricts the television composer at times - to the lovely technical factoid that the music for Sherlock is mixed in 4.1 surround, leaving the centre channel clear for the dialog - which would make it the standard 5.1 sound you can spot in places such as the technical information on the back of a DVD box. 

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And most teasingly of all, Michael knows the explanation for what happens at the conclusion of Sherlock Series two - something we decided not to press him on - after all, who wants the surprise spoilt before we see it? 

All in all, 'The Sound of Sherlock' was an enlightening and entertaining demonstration of the work of a score composer. Michael was an excellent and fun host, valiantly struggling through the hell of flu without missing a beat in his narration of what he was showing us. We'd like to thank him and the lovely Olivia from Screened Music for allowing us to attend such a wonderful event.

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 Screened Music is a network of composers working professionally in the realms of television and film. It was created to celebrate excellence in screen composition and profile the on-going achievements of the UK's most innovative and successful film & television composers.

The network also provides a community for screen composers, opening the lines of communication via online forums and facilitating collaborative processes via an online skills area. The Screened Music website also provides a platform for the discussion of contemporary production music, with a review system designed to highlight exceptional work.

For more information please visit the Screened Music website: www.screenedmusic.co.uk