From “The Sound and the Fury” by Mark Sinclair in Creative Review:
When the first reviews of Ben Wheatley’s film Kill List came out, many of them referenced Jim Williams’ haunting score. It was deemed “abrasively oppressive” and “eminently unsettling”, intrinsic to cementing “the mood of dread and anxiety”. “Britain has rarely seemed so eerie,” wrote Jonathan Dean in The Sunday Times, “the sound and score playing with an expert handle on tension, tension … release.” Screenings of the film were equally fraught – after its premiere at SXSW in Austin in 2011, a Q&A session followed where, according to one LA Times film blogger, “the audience was so seemingly disoriented and stunned, as if it had been collectively struck by a head-butt, that it took a few moments for anyone to think of a question to ask.” As visually arresting as Wheatley’s film is, Williams’ score had a significant role to play in rendering the audience in such a state.
Leading up to his collaborations with Wheatley, there’s little of the unsettling overtones that would inform Kill List and A Field in England in Williams’ career. Before composing music for film and television, he started out as a session guitarist, appearing on tracks by artists from Cindy Lauper to This Mortal Coil, and for much of his TV work Williams has co-written with John Lunn, creating the soundtracks for Lock Stock: The Series, Harley Street, Material Girl and four series of the BBC’s Hotel Babylon, for which the pair received an Ivor Novello nomination. In 2005, Williams wrote the score for Nicholas Laughland’s TV adaptation of Under the Greenwood Tree and, four years later, was asked to work on Down Terrace.
In Down Terrace, Wheatley had used some guitar picking by Bert Jansch: “I then wrote some material that covered the Jansch part, while referencing more moody stuff from Jansch’s band Pentangle, and I added some double bass and vibes material similar to the parts that Danny Thompson and Morris Pert added to the 1970s work of John Martyn,” says Williams. “For me, this created a melancholy mood that worked well..”
A Field in England required the most attention to historical detail, being set during the Civil War:
“I worked on some ‘contrapuntal’ material – where the harmony is made up of intricate strands of melody, common during the period in which the film is set – but that also worked well for the more Tangerine Dream and drone-style material,” Williams says. “These contrapuntal lines also worked on their own – as melodic fragments they provided a stark, eerie quality for some key scenes. You have to be pretty stringent to ensure authenticity, as the language is complicated with strict rules: it isn’t simply a case of ‘referencing’, as it might be with other aspects of movie making, it’s more like re-writing the dialogue for a scene in Flemish – or, more accurately, the Flemish spoken in the seventeenth-century!”
Kill List’s score was influenced by the initial use of music by the American avant-garde composer Morton Feldman in certain scenes. Williams wrote a simple melody line (set to a Middle English poem) and all the material for the score, be it for a chamber group or a sub-sonic track, was generated from this single fragment.
Williams’ most intense pieces don’t necessarily crescendo at the point of action, but rather when characters have space to think or reflect on what just happened – it’s effectively post-traumatic.
It’s little wonder that those audiences who sat through Wheatley’s darkest tale watched the closing credits in silence. And with the relentless, mind-expanding trip of A Field in England resulting in a similar speechlessness, Williams’ work with Wheatley has so far forged some unforgettable experiences in sound and vision.
Full article here:
Interview with Jim Williams here:
Jim Williams has collaborated in the recorded work of hundreds of artists and producers as diverse as Mark Anthony Turnage, This Mortal Coil, Pete Murphy, Maxi Priest and M-People. Read More
As well as much fruitful collaboration with multi-platinum producers and writers, Jim had long-term production and writing partnerships with Swamp Productions – the creators of Natalie Imbruglia’s massive “Left of the Middle” album, and The Matrix – the team behind Avril Lavigne’s 18 million selling album “Let Go”.
Other projects range from an award winning jazz ensemble with Golden Globe movie composer Craig Armstrong, to a high-profile RnB/Hip hop project with Universal Music, to a successful ad campaign with McCann-Erickson for “I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter!”
“Composer Jim Williams deserve(s) special mention for underpinning these ostensibly calm pastoral scenes with a constant undertow of clanging, churning menace.”
The Hollywood Reporter
“Jim Williams’ nervy percussive score deepens the sense of nameless foreboding.”
“The eerie music (martial drums, electronic noise, the delicate folk ballad.. ..has the same sonic status as the dialogue.”
“There are two musical interludes here… that are as unnerving as anything sung by the residents of Summerisle as they frogmarch Edward Woodward’s policeman to their cliff-top barbecue.”
“The doomy mood (is) abetted by Jim Williams’s spare, percussive score.”
British Film Institute
“Jim Williams’s eminently unsettling score – the film’s satumine heartbeat – pulses underneath.”
“Logical explanations, though, are less interesting than the overall mood of menace… through Jim Williams’s abrasively oppressive score.”
Independent on Sun
“Jim Williams’s score, incorporating mysterious chants and whistling, backward-played speech, and dragging strings, further cements a mood of dread and anxiety.”
“a superbly conceived soundtrack from Jim Williams…. effectively heightens the tension and makes brilliant use of some genuinely disturbing sounds.”
“Britain has rarely seemed so eerie, the sound and score playing with an expert handle on tension, tension…release.”
“an adventurous soundtrack by composer Jim Williams becomes increasingly unsettling: sparse martial rhythms interrupted by stabs of percussion and human and animal howls, accentuating and underscoring the onscreen dissonance without ever overwhelming it.”
British Film Institute
“What happens next is brutal and bloody and utterly unnerving, thanks in no small measure to Jim Williams’s brilliant score, which is filled with strings so taut, they sound like screams you might hear in the distance”
“dizzying folk-synth score…. startling score”
“A growling soundtrack”
“incredible ambient soundtrack”
“The superb soundtrack create(s) a wonderfully ominous atmosphere”
“A brilliantly eerie soundtrack”
Sound on Sight
“a brilliant, vaguely Kubrickian score: a mix of cacophonous, electronic soundscapes and 17th century folk songs”
“jaunty folk songs jangle over a bass note of lingering dread….soundtracked with a swelling electronic score”
“the brilliant Jim Williams soundtrack create(s) a very effective and disorientating nightmarish feeling”