Alasdair Roberts, an insight into music and music in film:

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Alasdair Roberts: Image by Laurent Orseau

Nina Schonberg

Glasgow University’s own Cut Filmmaking Network arranged one of their weekly activities on Tuesday (22/02/2011) in the Boyd Orr building. The network hosts workshops and projects’ nights every week, varying from prosthetics to camerawork.


Alasdair Roberts: Image by Laurent Orseau

This week, the network had invited Alasdair Roberts as their guest, a folk musician (based in Glasgow since 1995), to talk about his career, which has also included working on soundtracks for various short films. In the filmmaking scene, he is probably most well known for his work on the David Mackenzie film Young Adam (starring Ewan McGregor and Tilda Swinton) from 2003, for which he played guitar.

He told us that his focus turned to music when he was a teenager, around 15 years old and since then he has been involved in music in various ways, though his focus  mainly being guitar and vocals. Folklore and traditional Gaelic melodies are something he is fascinated in and this is reflected directly in his music. He has never been taught in music but rather he learned by ear, which is how he still approaches music today. He listens to a lot of music to gain inspiration and always thinks about how he could incorporate fresh aspects into his own music and through this also develop himself as a musician. He has a distinctive style in his work but he still says there are no definite sources of inspiration for him rather that they change through time.

Roberts works actively in the music scene and has gigs all around the UK and also elsewhere in Europe. He makes his contacts during the gigs; if people have liked his work, they have approached him after the concerts. This is also how he ended up working on the films. Although composing for films is not his main focus, working on them is something he is definitely interested in. It is a way to challenge himself, which is something he may not otherwise do. He definitely is bolder when working on music for a soundtrack and he experiments more, for example, during his work on Luke Fowler’s short film Under No Enchantment, he recorded the demo on the field in which they were filming.

Roberts’ style of composing music for films is intuitive and laid-back. At first, he watches through the rough edit of the film several times and then goes away for a while before coming back to it. After that he goes into creating the demo and later works on for example the tempo or the timing in order to match the music with the live picture. If there is something he is not happy about he will consult and discuss it with the director and he also keeps the crew updated with his ideas and progress throughout the process. He approaches the work in his own way and time, often brainstorming and writing down ideas on train journeys. Even though he does not really contribute to the visual aspects of the films, he says that when he plays music he does experience it in a visual way.

His most recent album, Too Long in this Condition, which was released an August 2010, by Drag City included his interpretations of traditional folk songs and something he will be working on next September is a project for the Scottish Screen Archive (based in Edinburgh). This is something a bit different that he did for the first time 3-4 years ago, for a project called “Dancing Man”. In this project, they recorded a so called “live soundtrack” that they placed on top of the original sound recording of the film.

The Workshop was definitely something very interesting and as Ian Robertson, the Cut Network President put it, “It was great to hear about his experiences working with filmmakers and the thought process behind writing songs for films”, the aspect of filmmaking and also composing that most of the people don’t know much about.


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