Sony Music released "A Perfect Planet (Soundtrack From The BBC Series) on January 8th, with music by composer Ilan Eshkeri (Stardust, The Young Victoria). The album features the music from Eshkeri’s fourth collaboration with Sir David Attenborough, the legendary naturalist who will narrate the BBC series.
In five parts, the series explores how forces of nature – volcanoes, sunlight, weather and oceans – drive, shape and support Earth’s great diversity of wildlife. Its final episode examines the impact of humans on the natural world and asks what can be done to restore a perfect balance. The series includes stunning footage filmed in 31 countries across six continents.
Global Mainstream Arts spoke to Ilan about his latest outing; what it took to conjure up the majestic sounds showcased on the soundtrack, his experiences in working on other publications such as Shaun The Sheep and where this new venture fits in with his achievements, how he and his team navigated through the challenges of the COVID lockdown(s) and what it was like to work again with Sir David Attenborough... including that mysterious butterfly.
Hi Ilan, arguably you've had amazing opportunities in scoring numerous films and TV series, from 47 Ronin to the Shaun The Sheep Movie, where does 'A Perfect Planet' sit among the productions you've scored?
"The message in Perfect Planet is very important and something that is very close to my heart. It ties in with the focus of other work that I am doing and the opportunity to help educate and spread the word about the impact of climate change means that this project is extremely important to me at this moment in time. It has always been a great pleasure and honour to work with Sir David Attenborough. The team at Silverback has been creatively very generous towards me allowing me enormous latitude with my creativity so that my experience on the production really stands out."
Did Sir David Attenborough bounce ideas back and forth with you; did he have some ideas alongside what you envisaged?
"As Sir David Attenborough is not the producer or director of the shows, he was not my creative point of contact. In the past I have met him when he came to a recording session at Abbey Road Studios, but the pandemic has not allowed this to happen in the recent months. The most extraordinary thing happened that time at Abbey Road, though. We were recording the orchestra in Studio 1. Sir David left just before lunch and I went out to speak to the orchestra and as I stood on the podium a butterfly floated down and landed on the conductor’s stand.
We were all stunned into silence. It was November and the studio has several soundproof doors between it and the outside world. How could this butterfly have appeared? I like to think that Sir David somehow left it as a sign of approval! I do know however that Sir David listens to the music when he’s recording his voice-overs and knowing his great passion for music, I am certain he would say if he was not happy with it."
Tell us about the creative scoring process, obviously lockdown posed logistical challenges and so how did yourself, the BBC crew and Silverback navigate through this?
"Not having face to face meetings is always difficult when you are talking about music because it is all about emotions and you get that from feeling the room. Fortunately I did have time to meet the producers and directors on several occasions before lockdown so I think creatively we had a good sense of each other which made it easier. Recording the musicians was extremely challenging. Many of the great London musicians who we would usually have recorded in places like Abbey Road had to record in their own living rooms. My producers and engineer Steve McLaughlin then had the unenviable task of making it all sound great.
We were lucky that we were able to record strings in Iceland where the pandemic hadn’t hit as hard at that time, as recording them individually would have created a different sound. Overall though, it was fortunate that I had decided to approach this score in an contemporary fashion and not in a traditionally symphonic way. Contemporary records are not typically preformed together like orchestras, so it was a normal process for guitar, bass, keyboard and other instruments to record separately.
Having said that, not being able to be in the room with the musician also made communications slower and harder. All in all it was a tremendous challenge but the idea that we made this music by overcoming these challenges and performing/recording it in places all over the world relates to the message in the show that everything and everyone on our planet is connected and that we have tremendous challenges to overcome."
Arguably 'A Perfect Planet' is a way for viewers to realise that they are human beings and are part of something larger, would you therefore agree that 'A Perfect Planet' is a reality-check for humans?
"Yes, I agree but I would rather describe it as an opportunity for people to educate themselves about what is happening and then decide to change their behaviour to help improve the situation. If every parent on the planet taught every child to recycle and to not waste things, for example and if every parent taught every child about climate and sustainability, then the culture and the attitude of people on the planet and towards the planet would quickly change. I hope this programme and my music can play a small part in this change that we so desperately need."
I guess in a way the natural forces have their own orchestrations e.g., the thunderous sound of volcanic eruptions, did this play an important role in your ideas for the score - were there any pieces that did not make the final cut?
"The idea of what the forces are did inspire the sound of the score of course, but the series producer and I wanted to celebrate the earth in all its wonder so, for example, in the past we've thought of volcanoes as dangerous and terrifying things but in this programme the volcanoes are creators of the building blocks for life so the music had to reflect that. Many things I write don’t make the final cut. It takes many ideas to find the perfect thing and I am my own harshest critic."
Outside of the film / TV realm, you've worked alongside the likes of Annie Lennox and KT Tunstall among others and so, do you ever feel the emotion of being 'star-struck' or is the feeling humbler?
"I am not often star-struck, famous people are people like the rest of us, but one story in particular does spring to mind. I was working with Annie Lennox and we had spent a few days together in the studio, I felt very comfortable chatting to her, then one morning I had put together an arrangement of 5 ’Sweet Dreams’. It’s a deceptively difficult piece of music to get right, but when I played my version, Annie was excited by it and - sitting right next to me - she began to sing the melody on top of my arrangement. When I heard that voice that I had grown up hearing as a child, I was completely overwhelmed. That is by far the most star-struck I have ever been! I don’t think I would've been able to stand up in that moment. Annie was always incredibly kind to me and is a true inspiration - standing on a stage with her is certainly a career highlight."
All being well 2021 should be a brighter year, with that in mind do you have other plans in the pipeline, or is it a case of one step at a time for the months ahead?
"I’m looking forward to getting back on the road with my show 'Space Station Earth' which I created with European Space Agency and astronaut Tim Peake. We did one show in the summer of 2019 in Stockholm in front of 10,000 people and it went better than I could ever have imagined, so I can’t wait to be back out there and show it to all of you. Please follow me for updates as tickets will go on sale soon."
You can now buy the album via https://soundtracks.lnk.to/APerfectPlanet
Don't forget to follow Ilan on Twitter & Instagram @ilaneshkeri
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