Composer Philip Sheppard has scored more than 20 films and documentaries (Manhunt, Bobby Fischer Against The World), worked with the likes of David Bowie and Jarvis Cocker, and says he only works with people “way more skilled” than he is. Recently, at Abbey Road Studios he re-scored and recorded each of the National Anthems with the London Philharmonic Orchestra, to be used for the next 25 years of Olympic events.
“I had to research and rearrange every one, then seek approval from each head of state” Sheppard says. “This was surreal and pressurized in equal measure. I drank a lot of coffee, developed a studio tan and learnt far too much about the key of B flat.”
Sheppard’s instrument of choice is cello. “The cello has a direct capacity to mimic the voice, so it’s a shortcut to making cues sound emotive. If I habitually composed on the piano, I’d be more inclined to think in chordal terms, whereas on the cello, I can be linear, letting the harmonies build through meshing melodies rather than relying on my absolute pitch,” he explains.
“The cello can be human and narrative or can be incredibly abstract, establishing wide shots and atmospheres through sonic complexity. It’s a peak of design in terms of its adaptability, and even though I sometimes use electronic instruments, if I want an insanely disturbed sound I’ll go back to an acoustic cello. When I worked on Heathen for David Bowie, the distortion noises were all done with a Stradivarius played straight into the mic.”
Sheppard’s film We Are the Giant premiered at the Sundance Film Festival this year. He is now researching a film set in North Korea and is writing a concerto for a set of films for Professor Brian Cox. Visit http://PhilipSheppard.com to learn more.