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Q&A with Brian Byrne – composer of Eileen Gray biopic ‘The Price of Desire’
12 Feb 2015 : Seán Brosnan
Brian Byrne is a two time IFTA-winning and Golden Globe nominated composer
Irish composer Brian Byrne talks to IFTN about his work on the upcoming ‘The Price of Desire’ – a film based on the life of Irish architect Eileen Gray (portrayed in the film by Irish actress Orla Brady).

Here, two time IFTA winner and Golden Globe nominee Byrne (‘Albert Nobbs’, ‘Zonad’) talks Eileen Gray, numerology and wanting to make Bosco’s theme music a little tougher!

IFTN: Tell us about your work on ‘The Price of Desire’.

‘I was fascinated by Eileen Gray's story and one thing that I found really interesting was that numerology played a big part in her concepts and designs. I thought it would be a really fun thing to see if I could write some of the music that way. A lot of famous composers have written music using numerology or put in hidden messages or codes in their compositions.

Brian Byrne:‘I started by taking the letters EG for Eileen Gray and used those notes to start a melodic idea and form a key structure. Then took E 1027 - the code in the title - for the famous house in France and wrote Eileen's love theme based on where certain numbers related to the scale.’

What training/education did you receive to become a composer?

‘I did my undergrad degree in music in Scotland and a post graduate degree in film composition the Royal College of Music in London in 1997-1998 and some extra Berklee touring courses in JAZZ.’

What was your first job in the industry?

‘After college...I played keyboards for Linda Martin and Dickie Rock!! And after three months I quit and only answered the phone to composition and arranging gigs. Had three quiet months then it just took off when people started to take me seriously as an arranger/composer.’

‘I was a session piano player for anything that moved in Ireland then moved to orchestration, arranging and composition. I arranged for Bono and the Corrs, RTE, BBC, and anyone that would have me. Moving toward film I began as an orchestrator and conductor for Jim Sheridan, John Carney and other Irish directors. But I found there were not enough opportunities in Ireland as a composer for film so I sold the car and moved lock-stock and barrel to LA in 2003 to give it a shot in Hollywood!’

What do you enjoy most about being a composer?

‘Simply, I love writing music and love the collaborative nature of the job and all the challenges each picture brings. I love the endless possibilities and being creative for a living and I love that no two projects are ever the same.’

And what do you consider the greatest challenges?

‘The all-nighters are getting harder. Every project comes with a lack of sleep that can be difficult and trying to produce the absolute best work you can under tight deadlines can be tough. But actually I love the deadline. It's my friend.’

‘Another challenge is the fact that music budgets are shrinking all the time... So you have to even more inventive to get some scores recorded.’

Describe your typical working day and the equipment you use.

‘There is no such thing as a typical working day for me as each project brings its’ own timeline and schedule, But I like to write straight after coffee in the morning after my kid has gone to school. I like to improvise and sketch main themes early in the day and when the brain starts to slow down I switch to more automated chores like orchestrating the cue or polishing the mock-ups or responding to the mass of emails about new cuts etc. Then - when it gets closer to the deadline of recording - I switch to very long days and nights and just try to make the deadline. You almost become the movie in the last two weeks before the downbeat.’

‘I use Sibelius to notate and orchestrate and Logic to score to picture, Protools to deliver my sounds to a bigger studio for prelays. And I do a lot of online sessions for better demos.’

What filmmaker/composer has influenced you?

‘Composer-wise...John Williams when I was very young turned me onto melody and amazing orchestration. Then Elmer Bernstein, Alan Silverstri, Gerry Goldsmith, Stravinsky, and all things jazz and big band. I love jazz and improv but the joke rings through – “what’s the difference between a jazz musician and a pizza? A pizza can feed a family of four!” So composition and arranging has helped that jazz habit a lot.’

‘Filmmakers that influenced me then are Martin Scorsese, Robert Altman, Stanley Kubrick. Woody Allen for his amazing use of source music.’

What Irish film or TV show would you have loved to have worked on?

‘My Left Foot’ and ‘The Field’ and not so seriously, ‘Bosco’...I would have made Bosco's theme a little tougher!’

What films and TV shows did you enjoy growing up that may have encouraged you to work in the industry?

‘As a kid I loved when epic film music met with beautiful cinema such as ‘ET’ or John Barry's music..... probably because my Dad liked the strings and french horns...’

‘And i loved the piano at the end of ‘The Incredible Hulk’ - beautiful harmony on a solo piano... There's as much power in a single instrument than a full orchestra.’

But later I began to like more subtle approaches like Mile Davis' improvised score to ‘Ascenseur Pour L’Echafaud’.

What’s the difference between working on an Irish production and working on an international production for you?

‘The Guinness is better in Ireland and I love coming home to work on Irish projects.’

‘I guess the obvious answer is the infrastructure is a little better for film making in LA all across the board. Studios, Tech people, amazing pool of players and help is abundant.’

‘But I have never followed the curve when it comes to writing or scoring or producing. In fact I love working in The Cauldron Studios in Dublin with my engineer friend Ciaran Byrne. We've worked on many projects together and sometimes it's great to have an ally when you are up against it. After much trial and error I have found a way of combining and cherry-picking the best talents in Ireland for my scores. Casting your players and team is super important and one huge advantage in Ireland is there are plenty of amazing players. Also with the internet now I can write anywhere and even record orchestras online when I am sitting at home.’

‘I work a lot with the RTE Concert orchestra too. I also know the players so well that I can tailor a score around certain players in the orchestra. I have a great relationship with the RTECO so they are super helpful when it comes to giving me everything I need to make the score sound as good as a Hollywood recording. I love conducting my own scores too as it puts you right in there with the players and you can help create the feeling and mood. Plus it's the most fun thing to do...conduct your own music. Dream job!’

What advice would you give to anyone wishing to get into composing?

‘Buckle up!!! Make sure you love writing music and are ready for massive ups and downs. Be versatile, up to date on gear, open to having your themes discarded and be ready to write three more straight away. Study the great composers - Ricard Strauss, Stravinsky, Bach, etc etc. Learn to improvise and talk the language of film music in everyday speak.’

‘Like coffee, a lot!’

‘Lighten up and don't try to be Beethoven when what the director really needs is a vamp. Suggest Beethoven when the director has no other suggestions than a vamp! You may surprise him/her.’

‘Listen and be open to new sounds. Be original. Don't try to be John Williams. There are plenty of John Williams sound-a-likes in Hollywood.’

‘Learn about publishing deals, royalties, click tracks, unions, non-unions. Enjoy it...if you are lucky enough to make a living as a composer you are very lucky. And make sure to get a good agent!’

Brian Byrne has also just finished scoring ‘Boychoir’ - a movie starring Oscar-winners Dustin Hoffman and Kathy Bates as well as Eddie Izzard and the American Boychoir which was directed by Francois Girard (director of the Oscar winning ‘The Red Violin’) – and is due for release in the US and Europe in the coming months.

'The Price of Desire' was written and directed by Northern Irish filmmaker Mary McGuckian and stars Dublin actress Orla Brady as Eileen Gray.

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