Media Parents Composer Jon Nicholls writes about his recent work for Radio 4 – Clouds in Trousers and In Weatherland.
Alongside my screen work, I’ve also been very involved in radio drama for a long time now as both composer and sound designer. I love it – at its best, it’s an almost cinematic form with an incredibly close and direct relationship with your audience. I’ve just finished working on two related series for Radio 4, which are going out over the next three weeks. The first is a wonderful book by Alexandra Harris called ‘Weatherland’, which is a history of English weather and writers’ and artists’ responses to it. I’ve a long-standing collaboration with the producer Tim Dee, based at BBC Bristol, with whom I’ve worked on over twenty radio projects (https://jonnicholls.com/radio-drama/radio-short-extracts/), and he asked me to compose a series of pieces exploring different aspects of the weather – ice, snow, clouds, wind etc – which was a lovely challenge. Very often the production process for radio drama is similar to that of television, with the composer receiving a ‘picture lock’ to score in the linear fashion we’re all used to, so it was terrific to be able to compose slightly more freely than I often get the chance to.
I’ve always loved the blending and layering of acoustic / organic sounds with electronics and samples, and this was a perfect opportunity to explore this in depth, mixing strings played by the brilliant Bristol Ensemble with abstract soundscapes and textures derived from processed recordings of wind and water. As quite often happens, my children (12 and 15) also both feature! They’re quite used by now to being woken up at odd hours of the day and night to have mics jammed in front of them, and they supplied some lovely whistling and distant wordless vocalisations for the wind piece. It’s being serialised on Radio 4 as a narrative history documentary the week after next.
However, that wasn’t the end of it… Tim felt that Alexandra’s book was so rich that there was much more to be done with it, and commissioned the writer Katie Hims to create a drama inspired by ‘Weatherland’. She’s written a beautiful and touching love story, ‘Clouds In Trousers’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b07b3nrd), starring Patsy Ferran and Patrick Troughton, which is being serialised all this week on Radio 4. I did score this one in the more standard way, but drew heavily on the set of pieces I’d already created for ‘Weatherland’, so hopefully they feel as if they share the same musical as well as literary DNA.