We talked to the composer of the soundtrack for Library Theatre’s production of Arcadia at The Lowry. Jon Nicholls talks to us about his career and how he was inspired to write the music for Arcadia. Listen to samples from the soundtrack at the end of this item.
How did you get into sound composition?
I started out with music in pretty conventional ways – learning piano, violin etc when I was about 6, and I think I started composing around the same time. I’ve always been interested in music that goes with other things, and even at school I used to do little bits and pieces for school plays. Then at university I did music for a lot of student drama productions and short films, and also played in a lot of bands, which is where I first picked up some of my studio skills; I’ve always been as interested in recording and playing around with sound as I have in actual music. Then I got a few breaks after getting in touch with some professional theatre companies, and now work as either a composer or a sound designer, and often both together.
Do you do a lot of work with theatres?
I started out working just in theatre, as I love the collaborative process you only truly get in theatre, but I now work across theatre, film and tv, and I also do a lot of work with BBC radio drama. But theatre’s where I most enjoy working! It’s also lovely to build long-term relationships with companies – this is the fifth show I’ve done with the Library Theatre Company, and it’s very exciting to be working on their first production at The Lowry.
What process did you go through to create the music for Arcadia?
Well, to start with there’s a lot of period music already mentioned by Stoppard that has to be researched / pastiched – especially the waltz at the end, which was the first thing I wrote, and the piano music played by Thomasina and the unseen Count Zelinksy. As there’s so much discussion in the play about maths, physics and chaos theory, the other music I’ve written is based on different mathematical ideas that translate quite easily into musical ones – golden sections, the fibbonacci series, reflections etc. Hopefully it’s got a timeless quality – I’ve aimed for something that sounds classical, but also contemporary. There’s a slightly strange character called Gus who lives in a world of his own, who improvises on the piano, and his music’s based on the idea of fractals (which Valentine’s researching) – equations that repeat infinitely, but slightly differently each tine.
What for you is the highlight of Arcadia?
It’s such a wonderful play in all sorts of ways – fantastic characters, incredibly witty dialogue, a great story. I love the final scene where all the characters waltz together in the past and the present simultaneously – it’s a lovely theatrical idea, and also an emotional knockout; by then we in the audience know how Thomasina’s story really ends, unlike the characters on stage.