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Composer Jude Obermüller shares his process for Julius Caesar

Find out more about the genius behind the music for Julius Caesar. Jude Obermüller is an award-winning British composer, whose eclectic works span music within theatre, dance and recorded media. Jude is the winner of the coveted Remixed Award at New York City Center in 2016. In this interview, he shares his process of composing and arrange the music pieces for Julius Caesar, and tells us how he intends to make the music pop in the park!

Do you have any specific hope on how the audience might experience with the different music pieces in this production of Julius Caesar and how each piece engages with the audience?
In keeping with Guy (the director) and Richard’s (set and costume designer) awesome vision for this production of Julius Caesar, our initial conversations regarding the music were geared around steering well clear of whatever the “Toga” version of the play might be. In not trying to give too much of our exciting world away(!), in musical terms, this meant finding a way to capture the grittiness and grandeur Guy really brings out of piece - whilst trying to avoid pomp at all costs. In being sensitive to the arc as a whole, as well as the scope of character motives at play, this resulted in the music taking a journey I’ve never quite followed before - in that the score contains both highly electronic and highly orchestral pieces of music… but rarely in tandem. Instead, these musical textures are almost entirely at odds with one another - which seems to create quite a buzz in the drama. This said, for me, the most exciting moments in the score are when the electronic and orchestral worlds completely come together or collide…in ways that I hope will not be entirely expected to an audience! 
My overall wish for the audience and their musical experience is that they get swept up in the filmic quality of the score (and the piece as a whole). I hope they will enjoy hearing fabulous musicians playing the recorded score. I hope they will find that the music aids in the experience of tracking drama that - thanks to Shakespearean English - can at times be difficult for us 2018’ers! 
For a world like Julius Caesar, it’s easy to fear that the music will live in the drear and grey - and make for a sleepy experience. With our version, I think the best overall description for how the music has ended up is something that lives between operatic and cinematic, via an arena tour. I hope it will sound as bold as Richard’s stunning set looks!

What was the process of composing and arranging the music pieces like? 
Right from the start, Guy made it clear that music was going to play a very key role in this realisation of our Caesar. Music was going to aid in everything from scene shifts, to character shifts to newly conceived moments of Lim Yu-Beng’s (fight choreographer) brilliant movement sequences. When Guy and I began work, we arranged to meet for what's known as the "spotting" process, which is essentially a meeting where the composer and director comb through the script, and find the moments that could be enhanced by music, or entirely built upon music. We sat in the cafe at the National Theatre in London for close to three hours in October 2017, and by the end of the meeting, had only gotten about 1/3rd of the way through the script! It was clear from this that our Caesar was going to require a beast of a score.
I’d send drafts of cues for moments in the show, or perhaps a “theme” for a character. My drafts would range from iPhone recordings of me at the piano to full demos of synthesised orchestration/electronic production. Once he and I agreed on the overall structure and sound for each of the 35 musical cues (which is A LOT for a play!), it was down to me to imagine the orchestration for each piece…” I’m hearing strings for this one…but why?”; “this one definitely needs a moody bass pulse… how do I achieve the specific sound in my head via audio manipulation or sampling?” - etc. etc. This actual compositional process itself is always very hard to quantify. It’s generally just a case of ‘getting on with it’ - and trusting that your ideas are good and that you have the ability to realise the ideas' greatest possible quality. For the 14 or so musical cues that Guy and I agreed would be more ‘orchestral’, I worked with some fabulous musicians. This involved days of preparing scores for each of the musicians; spending a day in each studio conducting the recording sessions; then listening the hundreds of takes available, somehow choosing the best, editing out any errors or noise interference; then beginning the gruelling mixing process. It’s an absolutely exhausting process - and you need to be willing to stay up all hours of the night and day to get it done properly. 

Then come the cues that have been recorded and finalised, but, when further into rehearsals, it becomes clear that more music is required to get an actor from one end of the stage to the other, or similar. This is where a composer has to get REALLY creative, to ensure the music they originally crafted still has ebb and flow with these additional 4 bars plonked in the middle. This is also where in-room collaboration is not only essential, but absolutely exciting - and is where me being in Singapore has been invaluable. One moment I loved in our process was watching a particular scene (which shall remain a secret!) several times, over the course of a few days… and Jo Kukathas (our Caesar)’s special acting choices inspired me to substantially shift the orchestration for a cue - which involved sending new scores back to London to be recorded, whilst I was here in Singapore. Other moments have included close collaboration with Yu-Beng - where he’s needed certain things accented musically for choreographic clarity, and it’s up to me to weave these into the music seamlessly - to (hopefully!) offer the impression that these accents were there all along. Moments like this are the most exciting parts of the process for me…everyone breathing in the room together, searching for the clearest and most exciting ways to tell the story.
The icing on the cake comes when I collaborate with our wonderful sound design team, to really make the music pop in the park.

Is there a specific piece of music in the production that is the signature music theme?
Yes, there is a theme that’s quite clearly present throughout the whole score. It’s what I originally called “Caesar’s Theme”, but really, having spent the last week in rehearsals and noticing more of my subconscious choices, it’s the theme for R.O.M.E. as a whole. In all, it’s my attempt at encapsulating the paralleled excitement and disenchantment that the crowds feel for certain leaders and the entire committee itself. I aimed for jointly glorious and dark. Effervescent and souring. Cheering with gusto and yelling with anger. This theme then comes back in several different guises throughout the show in a bid to pinpoint specific shifts in the drama. Our show also relies heavily on “the news”. I felt like a bit of a big dog writing a big, flashy, blatant news theme that pops up hither and thither throughout the show!

Complete this sentence: Watch Shakespeare in the Park – Julius Caesar because...
Watch Shakespeare in the Park – Julius Caesar because it truly feels like you’re at the rock concert version of this theatre classic! Guy’s interpretation is fast-paced and tantalisingly relevant in our modern day political zeitgeist. It’s electric; It’s bold; It sounds and looks like “now” - without ever teetering into gimmicky; SRT have commissioned a composer and real musicians to record a score - which of itself is a real rarity in the theatre nowadays (thanks, SRT!); And, believe it or not, our Caesar runs at a wham bam 2 hours…you’ll be home in time for tea!

Experience for yourself the epic music composed by Jude Obermüller for Shakespeare in the Park – Julius Caesar. Book your tickets here. Julius Caesar runs 2 – 27 May 2018 at Fort Canning Park.

Published on: 30-04-2018