I love conducting. It’s the most amazing privilege to stand up in front of the incredible musicians we have in London and guide them through your own tunes.
A lot of film composers don’t conduct their own music, and there’s a really good argument to be made for being in the control room with the director and the rest of the team, all hearing the music through the speakers together. Sometimes if there are changes to be made, or new approaches to take, you need to have a pencil in your hand rather than a baton.
But if you get the chance, why not? The vast majority of the time we’re working to click. So both you and the players have got headphones on, and you’re really shaping the intention and the dynamics rather than giving them the pulse. And you’re there to give your notes quickly after the first run through.
Every once in a while you get a chance to go ‘off-click’. The difference is remarkable. The musicians we work with have taken playing with a click to an astonishing level, but everything changes when they can take the headphones off. The body language changes. Players lean forward to make eye-contact with each other as they would in chamber music because they’re not all referring to an external thunk in their ears.
I’ve linked to a couple of videos here. One is a promo video for KPM, which is a library music company. There’s some footage of me conducting the string sessions for the recent Sherlock series, at Air studios. Definitely to click. I’ve got a screen in front of me with the film on, and the information from the Protools system they’re recording on in the control room. And I seem to spend the majority of my time looking at those rather than the players.
Then there’s a handheld, shaky-cam video taken from the balcony in Abbey Road Studio 1, of recording the End Titles of The Mountain Within. I’ve still got my cans on, but just so the control room can shout at me, and everyone else is just playing and listening to each other.
There are ways of splitting the difference and conducting with streamers rather than clicks to get some rubato back into the music, but mostly time and budget mean you’re racing through a session and playing to backing tracks.
Note to self. Be brave and go off click more often.