If you haven't yet watched Tales from the Loop, Amazon's new sci-fi series, I highly recommend it. It's beautifully made with stunning visuals, interesting story, and, luckily for us, some mesmerizing music. That hauntingly alluring music was written by composers Paul Leonard-Morgan and Philip Glass, and blends some fantastic minimalist textures with intimate orchestration and thoughtful melodic writing. I recently had the opportunity to pick Paul's brain and ask about his experiences working on this series with Philip Glass.
Nick Dolan: I imagine you and Philip Glass have learned a lot from each other working on Tales from the Loop. What have you learned from him and what do you think he’s learned from you?
Paul Leonard-Morgan: The thing I learned the most from Philip is that less is more. It becomes so easy with technology, particularly when working on synth heavy scores, to just keep layering up sounds to make it bigger and bigger, whether it’s pure electronic, or hybrid crossover stuff. Philip reminded me that harmonies and melody are the basic foundation of compositions - the rest is just production. I’m classically trained, and it’s funny how easy it is to forget that! So Philip would come up with these wonderful chord sequences, I would start adding some melodies, for example on the cello, and we realized after a while that that was all we needed. Episode one had a huge orchestra, but when we started finding our groove, we just had a quartet, piano, flute and harp. You’d need to ask Philip what he took away from collaborating with me (ha!) but I like to think that some of my processing of real instruments, making Kontakt libraries out of sampling rocks in the garden for a lithophone, was something new.
Nick: How did the two of you balance the workload and collaboration?
Paul: It was pretty even. Philip wrote many ideas when we were looking for the initial themes, then I took those and ran for a while. Then, when I felt I had something solid working with a few of the pictures, I’d send back to Philip. From there, we’d both be coming up with ideas and sending them to each other - he would send harmonies, I would add melodies. I would send harmonies, he would add melodies. So strange picturing Philip Glass in his studio downloading my stuff...
Nick: Speaking of collaboration, how did the two of you decide on melodic themes, harmonic decisions, and orchestration?
Paul: It was a very organic process. We never intended it to be “one cue for you, one for me”, but genuinely had no idea how it would work. We started at Philip’s piano, just looking at Simon’s wonderful images and getting inspired. Philip’s use of triplets really created a wonderful dynamic / motif to add direction to the score. My cello theme over the top of it started taking it off in a different direction. From there, it’s about building trust with each other. I got over my nerves (ha!) and started suggesting things to him, instrumentation-wise. We were trying to come up with an instrument for the main Loop theme, something so basic that it could have been from thousands of years ago. Philip suggests the Egyptian Ney which i kind of riffed on, and suggested the recorder (which is what we went with) and the lithophone - something as far from being a synthesizer, electronic sound as possible. Orchestration we’re pretty much in the same page anyway once we’d found this sound. That was going to be the main motif, which record every time something weird is happening in the loop. Then the sound of the quartet came from one of the sessions for episode 2, and that kind of stuck. The cello became our “secret weapon”, in Nathaniel (the show runner’s) words.
Nick: You wrote the score before the show was shot, which is not typical; were there moments after shooting where you had to change the music, or was everything mostly shot to your music?
Paul: We wrote a lot fo music for episode 1 before it was shot, it’s true. Mark Romanek had asked us to write a suite to get him inspired and in the mood for when he was shooting. (We also had a couple of quartet cues to write for playback for episode 1). Definitely an unusual way of working, but very liberating! It meant Philip and I just went off and wrote a ton of stuff, sending it back and forth to each other and Mark, so the coloration between all 3 of us started early on. It makes such a change, as usually you have a few weeks on the first episode of a series, but for this we had 2 or 3 months, which meant we really had time to experiment with sounds and melodies. Nothing was shot to our music that I’m aware! Episode 6 I also had to play Mother Goose in time to Gaddis playing the piano, as that was already shot - that was tough!
Nick: What’s next for you?
Paul: I’m slammed at the moment, which is a very weird feeling in lockdown. I’m finishing up Cyberpunk, working on a new Michael Caine film, have a new film with Errol Morris just been commissioned for later in the year, have a film with nathaniel Kahn which I”m starting up, and a few documentaries. Finishing up my first ever concerto, and then Dynasty has season 4 starting some time later this year, when they’re allowed to shoot again. I feel lucky to be so busy in these strange times, but also definitely finding myself missing human interaction with musicians - remote recording is fine, but you can’t beat being in the studio with live players!
Thank you, Paul, for taking the time to do this Q&A! You can listen to the soundtrack on Amazon, Spotify, and iTunes.
Film | Music
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