With permission from ITV, Christian kindly invites us into the control room at Air Studios to witness in real time how quickly you can record orchestral players in London. With an enormous amount of material and just three hours, will they get to the finish line?

Behind The Curtain: Tutankhamun Sessions

I have always been amazed at London musicians. Well, I guess as a proud Londoner I’m aware of the rare melting pot of professions and industries that come together to create a rare opportunity with our orchestral players. With the sheer number of orchestras, chamber groups and bands playing in the vast array of live spaces available to us, combined with a huge number of ‘pits’ in Theatreland, there is a voracious appetite for live players. Combine this with a vibrant session scene and you create a need for ‘depping’. Whereby one excellent musician deputises for another without anyone being the wiser. The secret for this is in sight reading, and where that is concerned we have the best sight readers in the world. With our two world-class symphonic orchestral recording studios; Abbey Road & AIR Lyndhurst there is a thriving film music scene. But because of the deep well of diverse talent, players will be performing on kick-bollock-scramble sessions for the likes of Poirot or Downton Abbey, where entire series can be recorded in a matter of hours, to lengthy month-long treatises by the likes of Hans Zimmer, where players have to hone their skills into a laser-sighted forensic approach to their art. Oh, and there’s this sample developer in London who also books a lot of musicians to meticulously hone their craft over many concentrated and zen-like hours.

So basically, and in my humble opinion, and with utmost respect for other musicians both in Europe and Stateside... for film and TV sessions, we have the best that you can get!

However this is no use to man nor beast if the studio cannot handle working at a precise and lightening quick manner, and if the composer and his team are not prepared. So with this video I wanted to prove that with ten years of writing low budget crap, and the experience I have learned from that, the impossible really can be achieved (*with the exact science of technical preparation refined, a long term relationship with an orchestrator defined, and a working understanding with arguably the greatest team of engineers, Pro Tools operators and assistants at one of the greatest studios in the world*). You really can achieve the impossible. Not only can you capture the right instruments, playing the right notes, in the right order and at the right time against picture, but that you can capture a sound that is quite extraordinary in that time too.

Earlier this year, I was asked to write the score for a big new series allocated for the coveted Sunday night ‘Downton’ slot. We were handed a relatively (for TV) large orchestral budget, and decided to record the whole series in just two three hour sessions in London. This film is a real-time (save for some cuts made for legal purposes) account of those sessions.

The music was written, arranged, orchestrated and copied in the two weeks that led up to these sessions (which is why Ben and Christian are yawning and coughing so much). The live band was north of 50 strings players, and an (unseen) oboist and bassoonist in side booths. All the percussion, brass, and guitars are Spitfire samples, with some vocals (performed by Synergy) having already been recorded as what I call ‘underdubs’.

You’ll see that alongside keeping the session moving, I also have to make on-the-hop decisions that are pragmatic. For example, I decide to leave an imperfect bit of intonation because I observe a woman’s hat is flapping in the wind onscreen and therefore is likely to mask the rare ‘rub’ laid down to tape. You’ll also see that I start by feeding them material we can get through quickly, and that it is similar in style and theme, so that we can warm up, but also get a few cues under our belts before attacking the real ‘meat and taters’ about half way in the session (at about 1h 30mins). I have an impossible number of cues to get through, so as we go on we start working our way through cues that I would have been ‘happy’ to just use samples on. As we near the end I get Ben to print out two cues I had no intention of recording.... will we make it to the end and get everything done??!!

Many thanks to the incredibly talented people captured here for their hard work, but also to allow us to make what I believe is a really important film. Thanks also to ITV studios for granting permission, to the Musicians Union for their co-operation, and to Air Studios (as always) for making us feel so welcome.