Ivor Novello Award-winning Composer, Dominik Scherrer is a man for all of time and all of history. If you gaze throughout his career so far, you will find a versatile range that never settles in one genre, and never gravitates towards a single style.
He grew up in a musical household, and got involved with music early on; initially classical, and then had his own bands. But he was drawn into the synergy of music and Film, and began to explore his passion in various ways. He would make art videos and compose music to them, and adapt literary works for the screen, set to music. Eventually and naturally, he was asked to score Films; starting with small ensemble scores until he was offered to do an orchestral score for a feature Film.
Exploring British culture
Born in Switzerland, but residing in Britain, Dominik has very much explored British culture in his music. From the dark back-alley’s of the big city in Ripper Street, to the quaint village life of Agatha Christie’s Marple, he has given his musical mind to so many corners of storytelling.
When I asked him about how his career has very much delved into the mystery aspects of drama, he gave me his insight into British Television as a whole:
In Britain we make a lot of crime fiction, so that’s what we end up scoring. It’s not so much of a choice. This is what is around. It’s a huge field however, and the genre is often more of a container for emotional drama, told through inventive film-making. So it’s an exciting process to create something within the constraints of the genre. That said, I do enjoy scoring comedy, science-fiction and other genres too.
If anyone from outside of Britain were to watch an average day of TV, they would see what Dominik means. As a nation, we do find ourselves gravitating towards the sinister, the criminal, and the overall questions that drama can present. We want to solve the mystery. We want to be challenged. And that is now true of most worldwide Television also, with more and more investigative stories being told.
Science-Fiction and Adventure: Keeping up the excitement
Before I focused on his prolific catalogue contained within the mystery genre, I wanted to know about his other interests and projects, such as the adventurous nature of the British science-fiction show Primeval.
I’m glad you call the style ‘adventurous’, as this was exactly the intention. The team in Primeval take us all on an adventure, investigating anomalies, fighting prehistoric beasts and coming up with gadgets to help them along. I kept exploring how to create an ultimate ‘primeval’ sound – something primitive, from the past, something we can’t quite fathom, but we know is part of what became the world we live in now.
As a fan of the show, I noticed some wonderful influences throughout the music. I asked him about his own personal influences, and who had an impact on the adventure Scoring for Primeval.
John Barry was an influence for that aspect of the score, particularly Barry’s use of brass. The action sequences in Primeval were challenging, particularly as they could last a very long time. The music had to keep up the excitement throughout. One of the masters of this is Alan Silvestri. He presents a cue, massively huge and exciting right at the start, but then manages to still increase the intensity for minutes and minutes, and keep the scale right up without having to resort to ‘breather’ moments, in order to build things up from there again. Anyone involved in Film-scoring knows how difficult this is and we can certainly learn a lot from people like Silvestri. I also took some influence from bands like the Prodigy, with their edgy, driving electronic music.
It is clear that Dominik’s musical mind is firmly in a talented place among those who have shaped the genre over the last few decades. Just the fact that he speaks so highly of the greats like Silvestri and Barry, shows his respect for the style and prowess he now continues with himself.
In The Emmy Spotlight: Scoring ‘The Missing’
The Missing is an intense psychological drama that went deep into the recesses of one mans mind; a father who had lost his son, and was filled with so many harrowing moments. Dominik was nominated for an Emmy award for his music on the show, and I was curious as to how a composer would approach this subject.
Indeed it was an intense story, in the script, and it became that in the finished production on the screen I hope. However, there is a long journey between these two stages of the process, where that intensity in the emotion has to be created with careful balancing of the actors’ performances, the script, photography, costumes etc. The music is only a cog in the wheel.
He also told me about how it was working on the series, specifically his own process of writing and his collaboration with the entire team of storytellers.
Scoring The Missing was satisfying as I was asked to come on board very early on, and I started writing music before principal photography began. My musical sketches were used as part of the weekly assemblies and rough cuts; so with the shoot, the cut and composition all happening at the same time, it became a very organic process. It was a very good team and there was room to explore daring ideas.
‘Ripper Street:’ Themes of loss and pain
With a story of many characters and incidents, it is sometimes an attractive notion to assign motifs to these individuals or events, to make things clearer musically. Giving separate things a ‘theme’ is known as a very successful and widely used technique. But as Dominik explains; it can also sometimes be a hindrance:
In Ripper Street, and most other shows I score, I don’t necessarily have individual themes for the characters. The problem with character themes is that you can easily compose yourself into a corner. As soon as those characters start to interact with each other, you have to choose which character’s theme should play. Or should you combine the two?
I try to find themes for underlying story beats or emotional threads. In Ripper Street we have themes of loss or pain, of people having landed on the wrong side of justice for example, and the score can tie these story motifs together. I may call these sorts of themes the ‘grand’ themes as they can spread across different characters, story lines and therefore can go across episodes, and across several seasons. Then we have a complex of themes that go with central character Edmund Reid’s emotional journey, which involve the story of the disappearance of his daughter and the change in his approach to fighting crime and evil. Again, they may not be ‘Reid’s themes’ directly, as the music during him investigating crime may be quite different.
Travelling Through Time: Holding a story together
It depends on the show. It’s perhaps odd to compare Primeval and The Missing, because the shows are so radically different! In Primeval it was a lot of fun to have certain music for the Permian, the Silurian or the Cretaceous period. For The Missing we found that again it was best to follow the undercurrent story-themes, which go across the time periods, as well as the characters. Those themes may then have different orchestration depending on the time period they play in. Also remember that music often links between scenes set in different times and therefore have a function to hold it all together and to make it feel like one story.
‘Music for media’ sounds a bit business-like for something that is an artistic process, so it’s best to write music for music’s sake, and make it work on its own, then worry later about fitting it to picture. Make music that’s good and interesting to your own ears. It’s fun and satisfying this way. There is always a demand for original ideas amongst producers and directors.
I am interested in music-driven films and I have written and directed two opera/musical theatre productions specifically made for the screen. The second, Hell for Leather was a biblical story of fallen angels set in a mythical version of London populated by Mad Max-style motorcyclists. We had an excellent cast with great voices, and the film did very well on the festival circuit. I currently have a new musical/Film piece in development, and it’s certainly an avenue I’d like to keep exploring; in between scoring more Films!