The Light Burns Blue: An interview with Jake Bright

composer jake bright has been working hard in the rehearsal room, devising the music for THE LIGHT BURNS BLUE. here, he explores the process of scoring a piece of devised theatre, working COLLABORATIVELY with the young company, and tells us what we can expect from the show…

Jake Bright in the rehearsal room. Photos by Duncan Smith

Jake Bright in the rehearsal room. Photos by Duncan Smith

Can you tell us a little bit about the role music plays in The Light Burns Blue?

I’m always trying to work out how to enhance the drama and characters onstage – what they’re thinking, where the story’s going, how the characters feel. That’s the most important thing for me, capturing the moment. Since the whole piece is about a series of photographs, I guess that’s quite a good philosophy!

How do you even begin to approach the process of scoring a play – particularly one that is devised in the rehearsal room?

It all starts with great drama and Silva’s script has plenty of it. If the emotional and dramatic content of a scene is clear then the music flows naturally. For the most part, the music is based around a small series of piano pieces that I started sketching when I joined the process in early January. They were just little reactions to how the various characters were developing through the workshop phase. Since then, I’ve tried a few different ways to deliver these melodies, but the simplicity of the piano really seemed to cut through for me, particularly in support of Kate Alhadeff’s interpretation of Elsie. Aside from the prewritten cues, we rely a lot on improvisation to come up with some of the more complex choreographed scenes. It’s almost impossible to score these before I’ve seen them, so having a team who are keen to improvise has been a blessing.

Jake watches over music rehearsals with The Light Burns Blue company. Photos by Duncan Smith

Jake watches over music rehearsals with The Light Burns Blue company. Photos by Duncan Smith

The cast and I have been experimenting with realtime electronic manipulation and the results have been really ethereal. It fits with Max Johns’ visuals really well – they were a huge inspiration actually. It’s a big step for me personally and I’m fairly sure that it’s the first time any of the cast have been able to experiment with complex electrical manipulation in a musical context. The system we’ve designed together is quite sophisticated but the results are pretty special. We’ve found a way to give the piano a much broader palette – obviously it’s an incredibly versatile instrument anyway, but now we have another two or three dimensions of sound to play with. It’s been very liberating.

I like to think we’re taking Elsie’s attitude as an ‘artist’ and applying that to the music – we start with something familiar (the piano) and then manipulate it so that the audience can’t quite work out what it is they’re seeing (or in this case hearing). I think it sits somewhere between Claude Debussy, Ralph Vaughan-Williams, Brian Eno and Ólafur Arnalds.  Sonically, it’s quite hard to describe, but all will be revealed on opening night!

A lot of the Young Company are musically talented – have you found it helpful to work collaboratively?

Immensely. I was really nervous about taking the post within the team initially but they’ve helped me relax enormously. Writing for theatre is a new venture for me – I’m used to writing opera where every bar has purpose and the whole process is quite regimented, but this is much more organic, more spontaneous. The cast are really receptive to trying new things and as a result I’ve found myself being much more adventurous with the sounds we’re making. They’re really good musicians too – they’re actively involved with the writing process and I want to do everything I can to encourage them to write music. Composers have a bit of a reputation for being brash and single minded – a few members of the cast asked tentatively if they could have a go at writing, I think with fear that I might react negatively. But I’m so glad they’re keen to compose too – I think this is their show as much as it is anyone else’s so the more they can contribute, the happier I am. Of course I also love writing music, so to hear that other members of the cast want to get involved is incredible. It’s hard enough to get people enthused about writing new music as it is, so when someone puts themselves forward of their own accord I can’t help but feel like it’s a small victory.

I turned up on the first day of the intensive rehearsal fortnight armed with some scores and a laptop. It was the first time I’d taken the electronic systems out of my studio and I wasn’t sure how it was going to go, expecting it to take about three days with them to fully get their heads round what I wanted them to do. They’d nailed it by lunchtime on the first afternoon – it was astonishing really. If you present them with something new they run with it, embellish it and really force you to think on your feet. I love working like that. That’s when collaborations are magical.

Jake with The Light Burns Blue company in rehearsal. Photos by Duncan Smith

Jake with The Light Burns Blue company in rehearsal. Photos by Duncan Smith

Describe your average day in the rehearsal room…

Watching. Lots of watching. For the most part, I’ve just been taking the script in, digesting it and coming up with the most effective ways to portray an idea or mood. Now we’re starting to see things come together faster, I’m taking as much time as I can at the piano just to get stuff down on paper. The development all happens very fast – it can be quite hard to keep up with a scene sometimes. I’ve got a little leather bound white notebook that I take with me to everything and it’s packed with scribbles, dots, words, arrows and lists. My shorthand notes tend to need writing up (and decoding!) once I’m home. I’m pretty sure if someone found that book on the street they’d assume it was written in an alien alphabet…  It’s illegible to anyone but me…

You’ve just started your second week of intensive rehearsals – how are you feeling right now?

Excited. Anxious. Exhausted. The same way anyone feels a fortnight before a show starts!  I’m really impressed at how everything’s turned out so far and I’ve never been involved with a production where I’ve seen so many ‘eureka’ moments. There’s a lot of hard work still to be done but I know it will all be done with enthusiasm. Working with Director Lisa Gregan and Assistant Director James Kent is a pleasure – they both know what they want and how to get it so there’s never a minute wasted. Aside from anything else I just want to see the finished product. We all do. It’s going to be special.

What can people expect when they come to watch The Light Burns Blue?

It’s magical without being fantastical. Musically, I hope people will come away having experienced something totally new too. A timeless story about a young girl out of her depth. It’s a very human story.

The Light Burns Blue plays in Bristol Old Vic Studio between 15-18 April. Book tickets and find out more here. Click here to read diaries from The Light Burns Blue rehearsal room.

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