Phil Brookes is a music composer and sound designer from Wales. He worked with TedEd, Greenpeace, Tate, Medium, Passion, Strangebeast, and more. His music and sound design have also played at festivals such as Cannes, BFI London, GLAS, and Giffoni with multi-award-winning films.
In the interview below, you can find how Phil came about becoming a musician and check out the valuable tips on how to start in the world of sounds. Also, dive into the acoustic details of a fun Socks project he worked on with Eva Münnich.
Phil Brookes' background
I'm a music composer and sound designer from Wales in the UK.
As far back as I can remember, I have always been drawn to music, sounds, and voices. Falling asleep in front of the washing machine as a kid, hypnotized by its drones (appropriate, considering the project I'll be talking about!) is my first sound memory.
I started mimicking funny accents and voices.
My father was an obsessive hi-fi enthusiast and would use recording equipment to create noises vocally, applying effects like reverb and delay to his voice just for fun. I would mimic him and people like Jim Carrey and Robin Williams with a little dictaphone and copy all of the funny accents and voices they would come up with.
My older brother played guitar, and it was his love for music and specifically the multi-instrumentalist Prince that really rubbed off on me. When my brother moved out, he left his guitar behind, and as an adolescent, I used it to teach myself enough to start writing and recording music. Challenging myself to create sounds I had heard on albums or on TV and then adding my own sounds to the existing material.
That passion for using whatever resources I had to create or recreate sound is what still inspires me to push myself today. I love the challenge of learning as I create and my favorite way to write is on the fly. Improvising, experimenting, jamming.
I taught myself piano and synth to create the music for 'But Milk is important'.
My obsession took me to The University of South Wales in Cardiff, where I met an awesome animator named Eirik Grønmo Bjørnsen. He returned to Norway and made a film with Anna Mantzaris called 'But Milk Is Important'.
I taught myself piano and synth to create the music for it, and since working on that film, I've taken on sound design roles as well, and I haven't stopped creating.
The X-Files Project, aka the "Socks Project"
Recently I worked with the amazing visual artist, Eva Münnich, on the first of three Lemonade Insurance projects I've created the music and sound for.
The Lemonade videos are funny 15-30 second short animations that are designed to be looped. Eva's project had a strong sci-fi/extraterrestrial theme to it, and so she had some great ideas about music and sound.
Nine times out of ten, I will create the sound first as the atmosphere I create will most likely inspire me musically.
We've also talked to Eva about the process of creating visuals and animation for the X-Files project. Read the interview with Eva Münnich.
Vocally, Eva liked the voices I had performed in a previous TedEd animation I worked on with Lisa Vertudaches.
In that animation, I had pitched up my vocals drastically. She thought this would work for the sock specifically and asked if I could shout "yay" in this voice. Whilst recording this "yay" I left it rolling and added the "seeya" just before the sock entered the UFO.
Eva liked it, so it stayed in. The rest of the voices were improvised and created as I saw them.
If the washing machine were to have a voice, it would be low.
To contrast the high voice of the sock, I lowered my voice for the washing machine; as it is a large object, I felt if it were to have a voice, it would have some depth to it. I blended these in with the foley and mixed the sounds ready for the music to be layered onto.
I loved the X-Files music as a kid.
Musically, Eva thought it would be cool to have something inspired by the theme from The X-Files, which I was very happy with as I loved that music as a kid!
Like most of the projects I've worked on, I work with an animatic (almost like a moving storyboard) that the animator gives me, so I can get a general idea of the timing, etc.
I listen to sci-fi movies and game soundtracks.
I listen to a lot of different genres of music, and that includes sci-fi movies and game soundtracks, so along with referencing the X Files theme, I had an idea of what instruments might work well within this genre.
I used mainly synth-based instruments, drones, and basses to lay the foundation of the music. Layering drones was about capturing the right atmosphere and representing the beam that emits from the ufo to abduct our little sock.
I then created an impactful drum, layering two kick drum samples and adding reverb and delay. I then added a delaying synth that pans from left to right to make the music seem more immersive. The final synth I played in was the six-note pattern that repeats itself throughout.
Whistling is a great human element to add to a piece of music.
It was time to take inspiration from the X-Files and add a delayed piano pattern and a whistle. I love whistling and find it's generally a great human element to add to a piece of music. I originally recorded some bass guitar parts too, but I felt it took away from the synthetic sound I was going for.
Creating an atmosphere in 15 seconds can be challenging.
I really loved working with Eva, and this short-form approach is really exciting and fun to create within. Although it's quick, it is still a lot of work and presents its own challenges.
Creating and establishing an atmosphere in 15 seconds with the sound can be difficult, and musically fitting in a melody that doesn't sound rushed within the timeframe can be quite a feat too.
Tips on how to start adding sound to visuals
If you want to start putting sound to a visual medium, there're currently more creative ways to do it than ever before, and there is really no better time to do it than now.
- If you have a creative drive, follow it to wherever it leads you. The best way to start creating is to make stuff you like and then show it to people.
- Message budding filmmakers who are in the same boat as you, they are always looking for help with sound, and you might forge a working relationship.
- You need to start somewhere. I was making ambient music before I even thought it was a possibility to work in film, and thankfully there was an animation department at my university, but before that, I had made and recorded enough music and sound that it made sense for me to follow that path when it presented itself.
- Make friends with other creatives; that's what collaborating is all about. If you are lucky enough to be in an area that has film nights, festivals, and events, then go to them and meet people.
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