It might seem unusual, at first: British folk/pop auteur Sean O’Hagan padding Here Come The Rattling Trees—his latest outing as bandleader of the High Llamas—with several breezy musical snippets that work as either introductions or codas to delicate, fully realized songs. But in fact, the project first coalesced as a narrative the singer scripted about his South London neighborhood of Peckham, where a local working-class recreation center was being threatened by snooty gentrification. But it quickly morphed into a full-scale production that he staged at a Covent Garden theater—hence the inclusion of rising and descending motifs. O’Hagan will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our new High Llamas feature.
O’Hagan: For the past seven years, I have been writing film scores with Tim Gane, my old friend from Stereolab. We were lucky enough to form a working relationship with the French film director Marc Fitoussi. Marc makes wonderful movies, contemporary stories of French urban and rural life, more comic than dramatic and very French.
What Tim and I have learned is how to create a small number of themes but recast the musicality of these themes to create a musical narative. Too many themes in a movie can interfere with the continuity of the story, but the trick is to reinterpret the theme so that the viewer initially responds to a fresh sound and then finds the familiarity in the cue. This technique becomes almost second nature, and I find myself drawn to this compositional style when I write outside film. I’m not sure whether this is a weakness or a strength?
When I wrote the music to Here Come The Rattling Trees, the underscore writing between the songs, the music which accompanied the narrative, was by far the most rewarding part of the process. It was as if I was settling in, but also hoping the underscores would ready the following song.