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November 2016

THE CINEMATIC ORCHESTRA

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Cinematic Orchestra – the Apollo, Manchester

In my last blog I had a little chat about how to stay inspired as a songwriter and I mentioned the importance of watching other acts perform live as a way to spark inspiration.

I did just that on Saturday night at The Apollo in Manchester with my friend as we went to see The Cinematic Orchestra. I also mentioned in my previous blog the electricity that is produced in a room full of enthusiastic people who have been brought together purely for their love of one band or artist. This happened on Saturday night too, as a crowded Apollo babbled excitedly in wait for The Cinematic Orchestra to make an appearance.

The 7 piece band called Submotion Orchestra opened the show. I had heard the name in passing a couple of times before but I had never actually listened to their music. Originating from Leeds, they are heavily influenced by Jazz, Dubstep, and Electronica mixed with Classical elements. Their set up included keys, bass, drums and a percussion section, trumpet, an FX and sound engineer, and a lead vocalist. These combinations create an amazing ambient sound, with heavy bass parts that filled the whole room, trumpet sections that completed the chilled jazz vibe, and ambient vocals swallowed in reverb and delay. Often using the dubstep influence of creating drops in the music, it was hard not to want to join in dancing, even as I found myself mesmerised watching their tight musicianship. My favourite track was ‘All Yours’ and was a clear favourite for much of the audience, who burst into cheers at the opening piano chords. I have since listened to Submotion Orchestra’s music online, and although the quality is good, it lacks the feeling and excitement that they managed to produce when they were playing live, which, in my opinion, is a compliment. The fact that they are more amazing live than as a recording proves just how brilliant their musicianship really is. If you ever get the chance to see them live, I would highly recommend!

Cinematic Orchestra

A very grainy picture of Submotion Orchestra 05.11.16

After a changeover interval, filled with DJ, Mr.Scruff, The Cinematic Orchestra made their way to the stage. Now, I’ll admit that my friend bought me tickets to this gig as a gift as we were both fond of some of their tracks, but we didn’t actually know a lot of their music. This didn’t matter though, as this can make a gig equally as exciting, as it allows you to be taken by surprise and discover their music live; a whole other experience to listening to a recording.

The Cinematic Orchestra was created in 1999 by Jason Swinscoe, before it became a group project. Many of their tracks have been used in film, so it’s likely you’ll have heard ‘To Build a Home’ and ‘Arrival of the Birds’ at some point. On Saturday night the number of musicians on stage varied between 10-13 members, which was incredible to see so many musicians in sync with each other, boasting amazing technical abilities. There was a string quartet, pianist, double bass player, percussionist, drummer, saxophonist, guitarist and a turntablist who provided the electronic elements. Throughout the show they often welcomed to the stage three guest female vocalists, who sadly I don’t know the names of to credit, but their voices were absolutely incredible, and provided a whole new dimension to the songs they featured on.

The show began with just the string quartet, who set the scene for the evening, creating beautiful melodies working harmoniously together. The first half of the set, to me, incorporated the jazzier aspect of their music, with the second half providing a heavier electronic sound, although not as dubstep heavy as Submotion Orchestra had been. Many of The Cinematic Orchestra’s songs seemed to stretch up to 10 minutes in length but somehow it never became boring, consistently keeping the audience mesmerised with the different elements and layers they created. As tight as their musicianship was, they still seemed to give a laid-back approach, as if they were enjoying themselves so much they couldn’t help but make improvisations, and could easily rely on the other members to help perfect it. It just proves how well rehearsed and how much effort was put into the show.

Cinematic Orchestra

Yet another very grainy shot, my camera clearly couldn’t handle the talent of The Cinematic Orchestra, 05.11.16

At one point in the evening, it dropped to just the saxophonist who took over the stage. Now, I am completely in awe of this, as the saxophonist used only himself and a loop pedal to create layers and layers of intense melodies and rhythms, sometimes intentionally clashing, until it climbed to a screeching pitch that, although almost too much for the ears to bear, was actually incredible to watch. Not only was the saxophonist keeping in time to his existing rhythms, and playing at an astonishingly high pitch, he also held the note for an insane amount of time, and I’m convinced I could see his face rapidly turning so red and purple I thought he might burst! Thankfully, he ended the note before his head exploded, and the audience screamed in exhilaration at his talent!

The lead violinist also captivated me at one point, in a track where he had a solo and played at such a speed and pitch I don’t know how his strings didn’t break. He played with such ease that the melody just glided above the other instruments into ridiculously high pitches and the applause from the room was electrifying.

When they finished the show, the whole of The Cinematic Orchestra took to the front of the stage to bow to the audience, who in turn continued to scream in admiration. I have witnessed many calls for an encore, but this one was a frenzy of clapping and yelling for more, with much of the Apollo stomping their feet in an effort to make as much noise as possible to get the ensemble back on stage. Like any great band, they made their second appearance and to my delight they actually played ‘To Build a Home’ as their encore. The arrangement  this time transferred from the usual piano version to the acoustic guitar, and was sung by the guitarist, who dedicated it to his children. Much of the song was stripped back to just guitar and vocals, before the crescendo of other instruments was introduced, letting the string quartet take over to produce beautiful sounds and melodies.

Cinematic Orchestra

The craft of the musicians and their skill of being able to work so well and intensely together was not only amazing, but also very inspiring. Their standard of musicianship was extremely admirable and it was clear that the audience appreciated it. I hope to continue to hear their music synced on films and shows for years to come.

M x

How to stay inspired as a songwriter

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Inspired

Since leaving university, I have pretty much become a full time songwriter. This means I have to ensure I am self-disciplined with my productivity, including songwriting. During my time at university I had lessons about songwriting, my friends were songwriters, even the people I lived with were songwriters, and I was surrounded by musicians virtually all the time. I found this was a great source of inspiration, with influences and ideas flowing constantly because I was surrounded by an enthusiasm for writing. Now I have left, it’s a little harder to stumble across such easy inspiration. However, something I do have on my side is time. Without having to concentrate on essays and dissertations, I have time to dedicate specifically to songwriting. I thought I would share some tips that I have found help me stay inspired and motivated, that might be useful to any songwriters out there. I can also look back on this when I’m struggling myself, as I often succumb to writer’s block. 

CREATE A SCHEDULE

At university, the only schedules I set myself included my academic timetable and library essay sessions. I very rarely set myself a writing schedule, I just wrote whenever I felt inspired or had the time. Of course, even now I still write when I feel inspired or have an itch to create something, but now that I have the luxury of flexibility, I like to commit more time to writing, as not only does this enhance my productivity, but also provide practice and techniques even if many of my ideas or songs get scrapped. Eventually the process will allow me to write something worth keeping.

Being a bit of a stationary fanatic, I like to make lists and plan all of the tasks that need to be done the following day in my diary. This is when I include a writing session. I like to dedicate at least 1-2 hours of writing on an average day (and more if possible), but I don’t necessarily restrict myself to certain times, just when I’m feeling most inspired, which for me is often in the evening. But sometimes I do it smack bang in the middle of the day to break up my tasks that mostly involve using the computer. It gives me a break from staring at a screen and lets me be creative so that when I start my afternoon tasks, my mind is fresh! So typically, I will write for a session in the middle of the day and come back to it in the evening for as long as I want. I also have a part time job, so this isn’t always possible, but this is why planning can become important, ensuring that I am including writing at some point. So far I have found that my productivity levels have increased!

HOW TO STAY INSPIRED AS A SONGWRITER

HOW TO STAY INSPIRED AS A SONGWRITER

LISTEN TO MUSIC

This is an obvious one, it’s most likely what got you writing in the first place but it may also be the most important one! Falling in love with a song is one of the best feelings, and songs often create memories. Mambo No.5 for example takes me back to being a 6 year old at my parents’ house parties, and being allowed to dance to that song before being tucked up into bed. Even if I hear it now, I have the urge to pull off some terrible dance moves!

What I’m trying to say is that listening to songs you already know and love can be inspirational even if you’ve heard them a hundred times before. For me, Laura Marling is a key influence. Listening to her album I Speak Because I Can for the first time as a 14 or 15 year old is what made me want to write in the first place. When I listen to it now I am instantly inspired by her melodies, lyrics and phrasing. Each time I listen, I often discover something new that I had missed before and it gives a whole new perspective to the song. This happened recently when I found an article depicting the meaning behind her song What He Wrote, that was inspired by love letters from World War Two. This strongly influenced the way I now write as it opened up many doors to song topics.

As important as it is to listen to old favourites, exploring new songs is equally significant. By this, I mean new songs to you, not necessarily new songs that have just been released, although obviously I’m not excluding them! For example, as part of my studies, I focused on Kate Bush having never really listened to her before, and although I wasn’t a fan of it all, I was intrigued by her style and influences.

New releases are useful to take influence from too, discovering up and coming musicians or even niche genres is something I really enjoy. Even as I write this I am listening to an Australian songwriter called RY X, and although it is not the style that I write in, I am drawn to his ambient sounds which I feel I could borrow to incorporate into my own works. I like him so much so that I have bought tickets to see him this month, and I hope that seeing him live will give me even more

inspiration, which leads me nicely to my next point

inspiration, which leads me nicely to my next point

WATCH OTHER MUSICIANS AND SONGWRITERS

This has to be one of the best and fun sources of inspiration, if the buzz in the room at a gig isn’t enough inspiration then nothing will be. The electricity in a room full of people who admire one particular musician or band is such an exciting feeling. You feel as if you are part of something very special with live gigs. Not only are you listening to some of your favourite songs, you are seeing them performed by the creator and it’s a different experience to hearing it through headphones. One of my favourite aspects of this is watching how each musician on stage performs. Everyone performs differently, and this is another way to gather ideas on how to perform once your songs are written. It does not matter if the artist in question is world famous, or someone who lives next door to you, in some way the performance will inspire you and will provide endless ideas. If you are unable to attend gigs, then watching live performances on YouTube can still be a really helpful tool, and is something I often do in between going to gigs.

BOOKS

If you have read some of my other blog posts, then you might have known that this would be on my list. In a similar way songs are useful for creativity, I find books and stories are too. A couple of blogs back I wrote about a play called The Crucible which has been the core to my song Abigail. I found the story interesting and eerie enough that I wanted to write something about it and so I found becoming the character, Abigail, achieved this. I find this is a great way to write, taking on characters to evoke different emotions and feelings in songs. This allows you to experiment with different stories and personalities that you perhaps couldn’t do from your own life experience. At the age of 21, I feel I have not yet had enough life experience or wisdom to write personally, but writing as a character allows me to incorporate both reality and fiction. For example, Abigail focuses primarily around jealousy and anger, and although the plot is twisted, at some point the listener will have felt the emotions of jealousy and anger and will be able to relate to the song in some way.

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THE HOLY GRAIL: THE THESAURUS

Thank goodness for the dictionary of synonyms.

If you’ve been using the same word throughout a song and are struggling to think of another, use a thesaurus. If the word you’re thinking of doesn’t describe well enough what you’re trying to say, use a thesaurus. Even if there’s a word that doesn’t have enough syllables to make the perfect sentence in a section of your song, use a thesaurus. I can’t express enough how useful I have found this as a tool in helping bring lyrics to life by using what is essentially just more interesting words.

Another device I find super handy is a rhyming dictionary. Google can offer you many of these and when you’re desperately looking for a word to rhyme in your song, a rhyming dictionary will do just the trick, and will often end up triggering extra ideas to use!

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AN EXTRA HELPFUL TIP

Something else I regularly do is select a book I’ve never read before and open it on a random page. Carelessly scanning down the page, words and phrases will often pop up and stand out before you, and jotting these little phrases down can be extremely useful. You can alter them to suit your song, but in a similar way to the thesaurus, it can enhance your writing. It could even be useful to use the word or phrase as a song title and write a song based around that!

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SOMETHING CHEESY

And finally, something a little cheesy but crucial, is being yourself when you write. As effective as it is to take influence from other people, being yourself when writing is invaluable. It’s what makes your music yours, and we don’t want everyone sounding the same. What a boring place the world would be then. And don’t forget the reason you started making music was for yourself anyway, so stay true to that.

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I don’t claim any of these tips to be the only way to write, or even the right way. I believe that there is no correct way to write songs, if there was, nothing new would be created! But these points are just techniques I find useful when I’m struggling to find inspiration musically and thought that they could be helpful in some way. I hope that for some of you this might break through the dreaded writer’s block!

M x