I’m really glad we captured this special event and can share this brief glimpse of our culture here at Spitfire. Both Paul and I were massively nervous, and had to be called back from the pub over the road after having sunk three double vodka and slimline tonics each in an alarmingly short period of time. Tundra has become part of our lives over the last six months, it seems so obvious now, yes, “of course you’d want to make this”. But then, for both Paul and I, it was a huge gamble.
The first hurdle was internal. We both had in our heads a clear idea of what it should sound like. But there was very little evidence of this in our existing lines save maybe for our ‘super sul tasto” experiments in Spitfire Symphonic Strings. That we wanted to do something that fitted into the “scandi” (for want of a better description) zeitgeist, but with the breadth and scale of a Hans Zimmer score, or Sibelius writ large, made it that much harder. I took a huge amount of time away from my family to produce and dictate every single articulation at the hall. With articulations beautifully orchestrated by Ben Foskett, it quickly became apparent when the band had hit that “Tundra” pay dirt. It was so obvious which performances fitted into the icy, mossy mould, and which didn’t.
The next problem was to explain it. What actually IS Tundra?! What is it for? A quiet orchestral library? That sounds a bit rubbish! This led to a boozy lunch with the crew followed by me briefing the entire team with a winey tear in my eye. The story began with me being kicked out of music college (after one day) for refusing to write atonal music, and being criticised for liking systems music, as it was “Music For Children” (as opposed to 18 musicians). In a single day this idiot of a teacher flushed my dreams of becoming a film composer, a dream hatched when I was five after seeing Flash Gordon (scored by Queen) down the lav. Or so it seemed. However it turns out it was the first day on a road to where I would use, abuse, hack, and finally (with Paul) develop technology as a means of bypassing my need to attend college, read music, study composition or play an instrument to any degree of competence. A process that would take 15 years before I was sat in front of an orchestra of 90 musicians in Prague playing grumpily and quite out of tune (I didn’t know they had a different middle C) my music for a Mandy Moore movie. Hence the tears, this was a heady speech. For me Tundra represented the zenith of this process and was a deeply personal project albeit being financed by Spitfire Audio and the world’s most supportive business partner! Going back to that conversation with that idiot teacher, what I failed to tell him was, I didn’t like modern concert music, in fact I thought it was utter shit. I didn’t much care for classical or the romantic eras. There were bits in the Baroque era I liked, and I thought the neo classicists were awesome. I very much liked film music, but what I really really dug was systems. For the likes of Reich and Adams had come up with orchestral music that to me sounded modern (even if MF18 was about 20 years old by that point) it offered up something that stimulated all of my cognitive resources (I paraphrase Adams there). It wasn’t the shit music I was hearing on the Radio (the early 90s were notoriously bad, you couldn’t have a day without hearing Stock of course & Waterman, or worse still, M People, the mother of all aberrations) or the rubbish that was emptying concert halls across North America and Western Europe. Systems was music that touched me directly, it stimulated and inspired me.
Moving on from that I explained when the touch paper from Tundra was lit. An evening on my own in Dulwich, something crap and easy in the oven and the Proms on BBC Radio 3 keeping me company. And there it was, I stopped in my tracks, a sound that had an impact as strongly as a smell transports you back to a spilled bucket of bleach in your childhood. It said “Rain, Trees, Moss”. This was the point the team starting thinking “OK, a bit pissed”. The piece was Fratres by Arvo Pärt, a composer whose name had been on the periphery of my consciousness. This piece was the most spiritual experience I had experienced with music. Not from a celestial being, but from my God - mother Earth. As I investigated him it turns out he’s a massively zealous chap, but to me it sounded like a place I found out he did hang out in a lot, an Estonian rainy forest with a load of moss on the ground.
So for me the ambition with Tundra was to create a writing tool for what I wanted my music to say, and that was an orchestral force uttering never heard before articulations, that stank of modernity, but pulled us earthbound towards the elements from which we are made.
Roll forward a few months and we’re at the ultra cool Electric Cinema in London’s ultra cool Brooklyn-esque Shoreditch. Our marketing chief, on hearing my teary and beery speech, had sent a camera crew and myself on a mission, to deliver the same beer lubricated speech in locations in Scotland, Estonia and Iceland. Places that I thought Tundra should connect people to. So here we were to premier the film, and my speech, and it was in my mind either an effective way of delivering a message that went beyond “quiet orchestra”, not a particularly compelling selling point. Or it was going to be a massive wank-fest with people laughing us out of town. I had even asked the design team to commission a mossy three foot wreath for the packaging so the experience was as tactile as it could possibly be. As always Paul stood by steadfastly and said “go on mate, if you think it’s worth it”. Were we about to become a laughing stock?
Needless to say Paul pulled off his demonstration with his usual flair. The film crew made an extraordinary film, editing successfully around the many false starts, ruined takes and accompanying expletives that would make the likes of Frankie Boyle blush. The wreath maker attended and Tom, our designer made a souvenir brochure to mark the event. I just about got out everything I needed to say out, and failing that, ended the presentation with a massive bribe.
I’m so thankful that the team rallied behind my whims, and that after talking to some of the many people who have added Tundra to their arsenal that there luckily seems to have been a singular desire for such an enterprise. I’m so honoured to work with such talented people and am delighted we can start a very special year for us at Spitfire with a glimpse back at this nerve wracking, but very important day. For me personally I also thank the team for helping me create something that will enable me to articulate my own personal musical ambitions, a rare and enviable privilege that I will never take for granted.
Thanks for reading,