Composing the score for Australian Romantic Thriller ‘Secret Bridesmaids’ Business’
Channel 7’s Australian romantic thriller ‘Secret Bridesmaid’s Business’ is based on the stage play written by Elizabeth Coleman. The series stars Abbie Cornish, Katie McGrath, and Georgina Haig, and tells the story of a bride’s perfect wedding that turns deadly after one of her bridesmaids unknowingly invites a malevolent stranger into their lives, triggering a deadly chain reaction that blows open a hidden world of secrets. We caught up with composer James Orr to learn more about scoring the series with Lisa Gerrard.
Hi James, great to chat with you. You first began working with Lisa in 2007, contributing to soundtracks for features and documentaries such as ‘Balibo’, ‘Burning Man’, and ‘Jane Got A Gun’. Could you tell us a bit more about your on-going collaboration with Lisa and how your working relationship has developed over time?
I initially started with Lisa as a sound engineer, so I came from a very different perspective. Moving onto the musical side was a natural progression. Lisa and I have quite different tastes and interests in music, but we share a very similar approach and attitude towards the work. After a time you tend to develop a good understanding of the others intuition and working methods, and how you get the best out of each other. Lisa is a natural collaborator and very open to trying out ideas. It’s important to understand our strengths and weaknesses and where one can complement the other.
What were your initial ideas for the sound palette of the series and how did you bring out the key themes of friendship, loyalty, truth, and power?
At its core, this is a story about friendship, and how that stands up in times of distress and trouble. I think everyone can relate to that in some degree. But the focus on female friendship in particular was really interesting and refreshing to see. There were ideas thrown around early on in pre-production about how to emphasise the bonds of the main characters while their situations and relationships were still pure and unaffected by turmoil. We were looking for sounds and textures to bring out some of the hope and beauty early on, but shifting that to darker, more warped sounds as we progressed. We used a lot of vibraphone and tuned percussion, layered with solo cello and strings throughout, with synths taking up the darker palette. The voice was something that thread the story throughout.
Following on from this, how did you approach scoring the unique natures of the three main characters, Melanie, Saskia, and Olivia?
Each main character has a uniquely defined personality and worldview, often differing and conflicting, but they are bound by their longstanding friendship. Saskia, for example, is a no-nonsense, modern straight-shooter, and we found that something gritty, contemporary and electronic reflected her nature better. Olivia, on the other hand, has more of an old- world innocence, but steely resolve if pushed. We found a more organic approach, with use of cello and tuned percussion reflecting this particularly well. Though as the series progresses and their stories intertwine, this becomes far more blurred and tangled.
There is a sharp contrast between Melanie’s (Abbie Cornish) seemingly perfect suburban life with a happy marriage and wonderful children versus her increasing ventures into the unknown and often dangerous. How did you reflect this dichotomy within the score?
There’s always an uncertainty there throughout the score, as we get a sense for what Melanie is stepping into. We never wanted to go too sentimental or too content. The producers were very aware of not falling into that. So even early on where the story hasn’t unravelled yet, things are always tinged with an element of melancholy or mystery. We can sense the internal conflict in Melanie between her seemingly idyllic life and her desire to explore beyond that, and that tension is always there.
How did you incorporate Lisa’s voice?
Lisa is always mindful of when and where to use her voice in picture. What she does lends itself so well to telling the story in ways that typical words or music can’t. She often moved between using more prominent vocals to choir-like, shadowed voices. These would often be used as textures or sustained sounds accompanying cello, while using her lower register for some of the darker moments. Many of the sustained sounds in the score are made from her voice, pitch-shifting it, looping and processing it. She’s very creative when it comes to utilising the voice in a different way.
Tell us a little more about your working methods, recording sessions, and collaborating with the wider production team
There were pretty tight deadlines working on Secret Bridesmaids’ Business. We would usually record cellos first to rough ideas and pieces we might’ve had at the time. These were great springboards to develop ideas from, and the cello (played by Helen Mountfort) became a prominent feature throughout. Lisa would then try out vocal and melodic ideas. I really enjoy taking an almost remix approach to some of the work. Taking ideas and fragments and morphing them into something else.
The score very much takes a sharp turn from the more celebratory vibe early on and it was fun to explore some darker themes and utilise synths in with the organic material. We were fortunate enough to work with a wonderful music editor, Emily Rogers-Swanson, who was a great font of advice and knowledge. Also, the team at Air-Edel who kept everything on track and did the final mixing and string arrangement. It’s really important on projects like these that there’s a great team of people working on things, including the series producers who were amazingly supportive and open to pushing things. You need all the support you can get.
What else have you been up to recently?
It’s been a busy year working on the European Dead Can Dance tour which is set to go again next year. I will be doing some remixes for Astrid Williamson’s forthcoming album later in the year, which is always good fun. The documentary, ‘Green Light’, the score will be coming out very soon. I also have couple of film projects in the pipeline which I’m looking forward to.
Thank you very much, James! ‘Secret Bridesmaids’ Business’ is currently airing on Australian Channel 7, with the soundtrack soon to be released on Air-Edel Records.