It’s always a huge pleasure to listen to those creatively involved with Sherlock talk at length about the series, especially in person. Michael Price is one of the composers of the music for the series, alongside David Arnold, and on Saturday 22 September 2012 he hosted a thorough talk on the subject, demonstrating in detail the construction of important cues of music that appear in Sherlock Series Two, as well as some significant moments you may not have noticed in the episodes…
Structurally, Michael’s talk followed that of the session he gave at the BFI on January 31 2012, but here he layered in more detail to keep the demonstrations even more lively. Rather than focus on the technical as at the BFI, Michael instead brought attention to the actual emotional context of scoring alongside the imagery onscreen, as well as the nature of the composer’s job in reinforcing significant narrative moments both dramatically and subtly.
In the case of the close of A Scandal in Belgravia and ‘SHERlocked’, he highlighted how problematic the scoring could be from a visual standpoint - it’s mainly dialogue driven, with the flashback to Sherlock taking Irene’s pulse and then the revelation of the solving of the security code on her phone. The process of scoring the scene was complicated as it clearly builds to a dramatic point - the reveal of SHERLOCKED itself - but without any complex camera moves or large physical action from the actors the starting point for the music was less clear. Michael revealed that the cue itself jumps off from Lara Pulver’s eye movement, that little grain of uncertainty in Irene’s eyes when she realises that Sherlock may have deduced the solution, with the build in the music occurring as that realisation grows and everything begins to mentally unravel for her, with live recorded strings entering the track as her defeat by Sherlock is complete, finally crashing into full life with the password revealed onscreen. Michael provided the individual threads of instrumentation in Logic Pro on his MacBook Pro as he did at the BFI, but this time pointed out the timings of each element coming into play alongside the imagery you see onscreen, showing the very precise spotting of the elements that are designed to drawn attention to the moment you are seeing.
With that in mind, it was fascinating to re-watch the opening scene of The Hounds of Baskerville again. Michael demoed the glorious and bonkers version of the Hound theme as he did at the BFI, a piece of music that involves no live instruments. In the original version he supplied to Paul McGuigan, he went all out on the music, drowning out the dialogue and sound in the scene with music to invoke a sense of overwhelming menace. While the final version was toned down significantly, our new observational knowledge (coupled with watching the visuals on a big screen again) brought attention to the repeat of the theme after the cut to adult Henry Knight standing in Dewer’s Hollow - Russell Tovey’s action of seemingly sniffing the air kicks the music off again, something that hints immediately to the solution of the case itself if you think about it….
At this stage Michael brought up the incredibly complex sheet music for the climatic scenes of The Reichenbach Fall, revealing the competing forms of Sherlock and Moriarty’s themes, and then later the counterpointing of Sherlock’s theme on violin and John’s on piano as the pair talk in that emotional final scene. The thing we took away from all of this is there’s far more going on that just the visuals in the episodes, and the music is not just reinforcing an emotional state, but driving and even highlighting important points that hint at the resolution of narrative threads. It’s carefully considered work, the very best kind of scoring - scene specific while also incredibly beautiful.
Away from the episode demonstrations themselves, Michael peppered a few little easter eggs throughout, including the first apparent public playing of the original version of Sherlock’s Theme - rather fascinating by its differences. Imagine if you can the music that accompanies the Taxi Chase in A Study in Pink - ‘Pursuit’, Track 6 on the Series One soundtrack - an incredibly sparky piece that constantly elevates and turns ‘up’ throughout its duration. Now, imagine that piece where those highs are lows, where the notes turn down, and you’ll have the original version of Sherlock’s theme. It may not sound like much, but the differences were significant and surprisingly downbeat, robbing the theme of energy and the ‘zing’ we’ve come to associate with the character of Sherlock Holmes in the BBC series.
Unlike the BFI demonstration, this talk by Michael ably proved not just the ‘how’ but also the ‘why’ of film and television scoring and how a tiny inflection in the music can draw attention to a moment, and reinforce emotional and thematic connections. As always, Michael is a fantastic and thorough speaker on the subject of scoring, and we came away not just entertained but also far more knowledgable than when we entered!
We have to also say how fantastic it was to meet members of the hugely talented Sherlock Fan Orchestra after the event, and Aled Wyn Clark , the fantastic composer of the ringtones you can find in our download section. It goes without saying how communal an experience Sherlock has become, transcending its literary and televisual origins and instead becoming something that feeds creation - and it’s so enriching to see the creators involved with the series embracing that.
All we can say now is we’ll be paying far more attention to the music of Sherlock the next time we watch the episodes in full, as it turns out your eyes are not the only things you should be using to perceive what is occurring onscreen….
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