by Steve Francis
Resident composer at Bangarra Dance Theatre
‘Music for...’ is one of two Opera House Spotify playlist series where we ask friends of the House to curate playlists based on a theme of their choice: music for a particular moment, place or feeling.
Steve Francis is a prolific and multi award-winning composer and sound designer. A long-time close collaborator with the creative minds at Bangarra Dance Theatre and other arts wizards, Steve has a keen ear for music that is ripe for narrative - scores, soundtracks and compositions that tell stories, that preserve history, that move us.
Grab your headphones and settle into Music for... Storytelling; a playlist that will take you places, even if you're in lockdown.
“I first came across Ólafur’s music when I heard the score for the British TV series Broadchurch. I instantly connected with his use of simple felt pianos and beautifully textured vintage synths. This track from his 2013 release ‘For Now I Am Winter’ features his frequent collaborator Arnor Dan. I love the use of Arnor’s delicate voice over the soundscape.”
“This is from the score from the Utopia TV series. Don’t confuse this dark British show with Australia’s own hilarious show of the same name. Christobal’s music is weird and disturbing, and when I heard it for the first time I thought it was so bravely different from anything I’d heard on the small screen. The stand out for me is the way he creates instruments from a sampled voice to make something synthetic and yet is very human at the same time.”
“I love a simple piano with a beautiful vocal as long as it’s on the dark or strange side of the road. I imagine the story of the Chernobyl disaster was already an incredible inspiration but the depths Hildur went to in her response to this event is amazing. Perfect storytelling with only minimal instruments.”
Bangarra Dance Theatre's production of SandSong: Stories from the Great Sandy Desert. Image by Daniel Boud.
“If there was one composer I always turn to when I need inspiration it will be Jóhann Jóhannsson. I struggle to find the appropriate words to describe his music and how it resonates with me so I’ll defer to Joe Muggs from The Guardian newspaper who wrote about Jóhannsson’s music after he died in 2018;
Almost all of his music has a constant theme of loss and disappearance that, even when his composition is seemingly at its simplest or sweetest, gives it abyssal depths that feel like they could consume you if you listen too deeply.
I suggest you listen to it as deeply as you dare.”
“You’ll be noticing a trend right now. Yes, I listen to a lot of soundtracks. I can’t say I was a Nine Inch Nails fan when it was ‘uber-cool’ to be one, but I loved the dark driving textures in their music. Their move into film scoring has been pretty dramatic. Two Oscars and a BAFTA on the shelf. This track is from their Watchmen score. They have the best bad piano sound ever. I love the way they use a sweet melody over the out of tune piano to create tension. I think I need to attack my own upright piano before my next work.”
“I’m a sucker for melody and this has it in spades. It was hard to pick a track from his score for ‘The Leftovers’ TV series. They are all so beautiful. This deeply affecting drama and Max’s score are so entwined. It’s hard to imagine the series without his music - another deceptively simple piece that begs repeat listenings.”
Bangarra Dance Theatre's production of Dark Emu. Image by Daniel Boud.
“Guitar is actually my main instrument although you wouldn’t know it from the scores I’ve created. Gustavo has written some of my favourite music and this collaboration with director Alejandro González Iñárritu on the film 21 Grams is very special. I love the tremolo guitar and the way it embraces the noisy buzzing amplifier in the recording. It is wonderful to hear a unique voice in a film rather than the usual fare.”
“Kate Bush was an early adopter of samples in music with her innovative use of Australia’s own Fairlight system. It’s used heavily on the album Hounds of Love and this song was apparently written and arranged using Fairlight. The recorded version, however, is pretty much a string sextet, a couple of drummers and lots of vocals. The relentless groove of the strings is what I am most drawn to in this track. Her music is full of rich textures and despite it’s age, it doesn’t date. Every track on this album is worthy of being on this list - but who doesn’t love ‘Cloudbusting’. Also, listen to ‘Under Ice’ with headphones and your eyes closed….amazing!”
Bangarra Dance Theatre's production of Bennelong. Image by Daniel Boud.
“Another one from Jóhann Jóhannsson so that must say something. Orphée is a sublime album full of achingly beautiful music that always manages to transport me to another world. Not satisfied with this deceptively simple and beautiful opening piano motif, he then takes it on a journey adding subtle textures.You never want it to end. I wish I wrote this piece of music.”
“Not from a film but it was originally written to be part of Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet. It ended up on Radiohead’s album OK Computer and has since been plundered by numerous TV shows. Some good, (‘Black Mirror’), some not so good (‘Westworld’). Thom’s idea that the lovers should just elope is delivered with only his voice and guitar, before the mellotron and then the dark buzzy groove signal that it won’t be a happy ending. Another track with a great layered production that takes you on a wonderful journey. Despite its detailed arrangement, it’s a reminder to me that in the end it’s always the song that matters the most.
Ensemble Offspring's Artistic Director and lead percussionist Claire Edwardes dedicates a playlist to the composers of electro-acoustic-minimal art music that inspired their 'Mesmerism' concert, streaming live from the Joan Sutherland Theatre on Saturday 16 August.