About Jim Williams
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.
From “The Sound and the Fury” Mark Sinclair: Creative Review. 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.
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!”