Ambergris March

I saw the footage without it being edited and wrote my piece, and then it was edited to the music. But then there was also things where I just saw like a still image, and i went to write stuff. And then there’s also a lot of stuff that was done in April and may, where it was already edited footage that i would write to.

Seeing as you mentioned "Ambergris March" I’ll bring that up. I really like that piece. It’s harpsichord and glockenspiel and crotales and things, and Mark Bell is on it as well. Tell us about the piece, what were you thinking of and how did you put it together ?

Well that particular piece was after the climax of the movie, where out of nowhere it’s nocturnal, and you go outside on the ship and it’s like a dream-like scene, that almost is not attached to the rest of the movie. And it’s basically children, Japanese children, marching on the ship in the moonlight.

And the main star of the whole movie is this piece of sculpture which is based on ambergris, which is what whales throw up after they’ve eaten a lot of shrimp. They throw up these shrimp shells. And if you find this in the ocean, it’s like a really huge cylinder, then you become very rich because it’s precious, used a lot in cosmetics and stuff.

In this particular scene the children are jealous ; they want to be like the whale. So they’ve thrown a lot up in buckets and they’re marching in and they’ve stolen shrimp shells from the kitchen in the ship, and they’re marching with these two buckets. And then they stop by the ambergris which is lying there alone on the deck, and they take a bit of their puke and a little bit of shrimp shells and mash it together in their hands, and add to the ambergris because they want to collaborate with the whale.

So obviously you get a magical scene like that I knew a few things. I knew it had to be a march. I thought maybe a good thing, because the ambergris has a lot of barnacles on it, so actually the representative throughout the movie for the ambergris is actually bells, because I thought they were kind of shell-like and hollow on the inside. So I thought to make beats out of bells would be good, and for it to be kind of nocturnal. That’s maybe why the harpsichord came in there. But I guess I’m the sort of person that when I need a march I e-mail mark bell. [laugh]

Yeah, it’s got a really nice rhythmic track to it. I couldn’t quite work out what the sounds were, but it’s a really nice, sort of rubbery sound or something.

Yeah. Yeah, it’s a mixture, because we did actually get crotales, which is actually just live played. And most of the things in the song are actually live played. You know, we started off with the Sibelius files, where everything I’ve written was programmed or, you know, sequenced. But then we replaced everything with either bells, like a bell choir, and crotales, and triangles, and just anything we could think of. I have to confess, maybe a little bit thinking about those Shinto rituals that you see a lot in the streets in especially rural Japan.

BBC Radio 3, Mixing It, 5 august 2005