5 Questions with Jim Copperthwaite

Recently we sat down with composer Jim Copperthwaite as he discussed in depth his newest musical creation, "Steve McQueen: The Man & Le Mans."
1. Describe your latest soundtrack on Varese.
A: It’s quite a hybrid.  I have a core string orchestra augmented by Piano and solo Flugelhorn along with processed electric guitars and lots of creative synth work.  It has its thematic core, its dramatic moments, but is more often than not is nuanced, atmospheric and beautiful.

2. Did the director give you any interesting instructions or feedback to help you create the tonal palate?
A: John McKenna, Gabriel Clarke and I considered a lot of approaches before I started writing.  They’d worked with me of a few things before so I think they were comfortable giving me a certain liberty to at least make suggestions about how the score might sound.  I provided them with a huge playlist of material that they digested in downtime during the shoot.  From this we were able to rule out certain approaches and refine others - for instance the notion of a solo Flugelhorn, which I felt could do a great job bringing some sense of the vulnerability of Steve McQueen.  By the time the edit began the music conversation was advanced enough for me to start writing in earnest.  

3. Which scene did you score first and why?
A: I actually wrote some themes off picture first.  Some of which made it into the film albeit in modified form - ‘Death Was All Around’ being one example.  The first scenes I wrote to picture for were the interviews with Alan Trustman.  He’s a remarkable character and captivating on the screen.  It’s nice to get the ball rolling with an important but not overly important moment.  You have to work your way into a score so I like to find scenes that don’t bring a huge amount of pressure with them.  That comes later, by which time your thinking and material is much more advanced.

4. What is your favorite Varese title in your collection?
A: There are so many.  It’s quite ridiculous that something I’ve written could sit in the same store as Herrmann’s Vertigo.  His work is utterly intimidating.  More recently I’ve been really impressed by Gary Yershon’s score for "Mr. Turner" - something I was switched on to by my engineer Nick Taylor.  It’s got a beautiful chamber feel, remarkable writing and lovely playing.  It’s something other than the usual Hollywood fare.  I’ve also long had a soft spot for Danny Elfman’s "Dolores Claiborne" score.

5. What kind of ensemble did you use to record the score?  Did you use any interesting or unusual instrumentation or soloists who deserve a shout-out?
A: The sound that begins the score is a wavering drone that I created from a recording of a Porsche 917 engine at full throttle.  This sound became central.  It’s really got something of the era in it.  I’m a Pianist by training so it’s quite natural for me that piano would feature.  In addition to that the core of the feel is an atmospheric infusion of strings, electronics and long ebow guitar.  A big shout must go to solo violinists David Pinter and Darryl Griffiths and Noel Langley (Flugelhorn).  I was particularly pleased about the inclusion of the Flugel. It really came to represent the vulnerability and isolation of McQueen - not concepts we traditionally associate with him.

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