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Filmic welcomes composer Jocelyn Pook

Posted on Thu 24 Apr 2014
Jocelyn Pook

Renowned composer Jocelyn Pook will be here at Watershed on Sat 10 May to discuss her work in film as part of Filmic 14, the day after her St George's performance with the Jocelyn Pook Ensemble in a special Filmic commission on Fri 9 May.

One of the most distinctive voices in contemporary music, Pook writes and performs for film, theatre, opera, concerts and her own albums. She has received an Olivier Award for her music and sound design for the National Theatre production of Shaw's St Joan. Her impressive film credits began with 'Blight' (screening here at the talk on Sat 10 May) directed by John Smith for the BBC's Sound On Film series, which won eleven international awards, and the television film of DV8's Strange Fish. Since then, Jocelyn has written scores for Brick Lane, The Merchant of Venice and more in a wide and varied filmography that also includes Scorsese's Gangs of New York.

Aspects of how that career began - or at least began to develop - can be seen in the following interview Phil Johnson, Senior Producer at St George's Bristol did with her for the Independent On Sunday in 1999. This was at the time of her big breakthrough, when she had just composed the soundtrack to Eyes Wide Shut at Stanley Kubrick's request.

Phil has kindly allowed us to re-publish his interview here:

Even if you haven't heard of the contemporary classical composer Jocelyn Pook, it's almost certain that you've heard her music. Pook's beautiful composition "Blow the Wind - Pie Jesu", which sampled the voice of Kathleen Ferrier singing "Blow the Wind Southerly", was used as the theme-tune for a noted Orange mobile phone TV ad a few years ago.

You've probably seen Pook on television too, for as a viola player with the Electra Strings - the all-female string section she co-founded after leaving the Guildhall and touring with the Communards for three years - Pook helped to provide the backing for Jools Holland's Later series on BBC2, and worked with Meatloaf and Massive Attack, among many others. If neither of the above strikes a chord, don't worry: you will definitely be hearing an awful lot about Pook very soon, for she was chosen by Stanley Kubrick to be the principal composer for what has turned out to be his final film.

Eyes Wide Shut is released in the US next month, and in the UK in September, and Pook will be at the premiere in Los Angeles on 16 July. She's loath to reveal any details about the film itself - especially the rumoured steamy sex scenes between Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman - because she's already been reprimanded by the film's producer, Jan Harlan. "I've had my knuckles rapped for saying what I thought was common knowledge, so I'm very nervous about saying anything at all, let alone talking about all this sexy stuff."

The Kubrick commission goes back to the days of the Orange phone ad, when Kubrick first heard Pook's album Deluge (which includes "Blow the Wind - Pie Jesu") being played by the choreographer Yolande Snaith. He called Pook up, but she was on the phone at the time and put him on Call Waiting. When he eventually got through, he asked her to prepare a cassette of her works for him to listen to. Later that afternoon, a large black limousine pulled up outside her house in Islington to collect the tape. The next day the limo returned, and Pook was whisked off to Pinewood Studios to meet the director. "It was all very normal and we had an interesting meeting," she recalled at the time. "He was very musically literate."

"A lot has happened since," Pook said when I spoke to her again last week. "I've been working on the music and continuing to finish it, and the soundtrack includes original material and some things from the album, plus music by Shostakovich, Ligeti (whose music Kubrick also used for 2001: A Space Odyssey), and Chris Isaak. There's about 25 minutes of my music in all, and I've got the original screen composer credit. It's been very exciting, and we've been finishing off a few little things recently, with Jan Harlan taking over Kubrick's role."

When she was first commissioned, Pook was required to write blind, without having seen any of the footage. "Kubrick was very open, but then he began to home in on what was working and what wasn't," she says. "There were no explicit instructions, and you've got to be sceptical until the music is actually in the film, because so many changes can happen."

She first heard of Kubrick's death when a friend telephoned after hearing the news on the radio. "They'd just had a screening in New York and everyone was jubilant," she says. "I hadn't seen him for a while but we'd been in contact on the phone. It was a lovely experience working with him. I just feel very privileged to have had that relationship. The way he uses music is so thought out, so careful and bold. I was asked if I want to do Hollywood films, but it's difficult not to be choosy after working with Kubrick, especially given the way music is normally used in Hollywood. Working with him has made me continue to question the way music is used in films, and it's been a real learning process. I went back and looked at his other films, although I still find The Shining too scary to watch unless someone else is in the house. The space in his films, I love that, it's so bold."