This weekend I managed to get to the Hay On Wye Literary Festival. It’s always lots of fun, but is a rather strange event, kind of like a Glastonbury for the average radio 4 listener.
In this kind of environment, you can’t help but give in to a certain amount of ‘celeb spotting’ every time you see someone vaguely famous. At Hay, this inevitably makes for quite an eclectic collection of celebrities. During my short few hours there I almost bumped into the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams; walked past comedian funny-women Sue Perkins; and squeezed past the sizeable book-signing queue for Julia Donaldson, author of The Gruffalo. And of all the 3 ‘celebrities’ I successfully ‘spotted’, I’m quite charmed to report that it was the kids author who was definitely receiving the most attention from her fans.
I’m currently working on the music for a short horror film. One thing the filmmakers decided quite early on was that there would be a recurring melody that had a significant role in the plot. Near the beginning of the movie, one of the characters is idly humming a tune, and we later hear that same melody at a pivotal point coming from a mechanical music box. This theme would then also be used more subtly in the underscore as a leitmotif.
The tune we’ve ended up choosing is an old Welsh folk song called Robin Ddiog. There are a few samples on amazon if you want to hear what it sounds like, but a version far closer to my childhood experience of the song would be this performance below, of a young girl singing at what looks like a St David’s Day concert or Eisteddfod.
When I found out about the important role of the music box I remembered a long forgotten christmas present of a programable music box. It works in the same way as a player piano. You punch holes into a piece of paper, which you then feed through the instrument, and the spacing of the holes trigger different notes to sound.
When I mentioned this programable music box at a production meeting everyone was quite excited to have such a quirky and authentic way to produce this melody. But, as is often the case when working in film, the authentic sound is actually a lot less effective than an artificial substitute.
This is a quick recording I made just now, but even if we did record it properly in a studio, taking every precaution to dampen noise from the turing of mechanical cogs, it still wouldn’t sound as seamless and convincing as a Software Instrument with high quality samples of a Celesta.
So even though arranging this welsh folk song for a programmable music box hasn’t been of any real use, it has still been a nice change from the usual film music process and quite fun too.