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Filmmaker Q+A : Alec Cheer on Night Kaleidoscope Soundtrack

Alec Cheer is a Glasgow based musician, performing under the name 'Cheer'.

His film work has been nominated for a BAFTA Scotland NT award, and awards at various festivals around the world.

His pumping Synth-Rock soundtrack for Tartan Features 'Night Kaleidoscope" has been getting a lot of praise around the net.

From reviewer Repeat Viewing - 'I finally got my lugs on Alec Cheer's frankly amazing Night KaleidoscopeOST.I cannot recommend the last of this list highly enough, it's easily one of the best things I've heard all year. I would try and describe it but that would be a waste of time so just give it a spin.CHECK IT OUT AND BE HAPPY! :))))…/night-kaleidoscope-ost'

We spoke to him about his inspiration behind Night Kaleidoscope and advice on getting into soundtracks.

Q) What was the inspiration for the Night Kaleidoscope soundtrack?

I think my main aim starting off was to try and get the BBC Radiophonic Workshop ‘Sound’, maybe something like opening titles to Chocky, probably down to equipment I had and what I thought I could possibly make. I think there is a great physicality to that Radiophonic Workshop sound that adds an air of reality and honesty that both me and Grant thought would be cool.

The main drive behind the soundtrack was really based on Grant’s ideas for what he wanted in the film. We’d had a good discussion back forth on email where we threw around ideas, we both have fairly eclectic taste in music so it was fun finding similar reference points, so in way the inspiration behind the soundtrack was a collaboration between me and Grant using those reference points.

I know Grant was keen on the Spectrum album Forever Alien, Harmonia, Tangerine Dream, and Throbbing Gristle, some of which I didn’t know. That Spectrum album is really great and weird! While I was mentioning the early Boards of Canada tapes, the Coil tune Batwings (A Limnal Hymn), John Carpenter, Fabio Frizzi, Disasterpeace, John Maus, and Grouper.

These two lines from Grant probably stuck with me:

“something with bubbly, pulsing synths and a clean another green world style guitar”

“mix of melodic and very non-melodic”

Q) What was your approach, did you work with a cut of the film or an idea?

I started off with an Idea of what the film was and then after seeing cuts of the film tried to remodel that idea to fit what I had seen. I think I first recorded five tracks of slightly different approaches and sent them to Grant, and then he would indicate what direction to go/what he wanted more of.

Because the film was still in the editing phase when I got involved, I think I relied on my idea of what the film could be quite a bit.

If you’ve ever lived/walked about some of the edgier parts of a Scottish city, it’s very easy to imagine how things could even more of a horror movie.

Q) Talk us through your process. How do you come up with the correct mood for a scene? Do you work with demos first, do you watch a scene through then go away and write something?

My process always starts with improvising with a keyboard or the drum machine with no set aim or I would look for a non-melodic sound or an interesting rhythm, something that would fire my imagination and then the track would evolve from there.

After watching different cuts of the film, I realised I need to change my approach by focusing on the chords and textures of music I had already made, and then I thought about presenting them in a different way.

Once I have recorded the basics of a track I would listen to it obsessively on headphones to try and make sense of it and how it might fit into the same world of the film with the other music that I have recorded. At this point I’m usually thinking about the creative choices I’ve made and what needs to change for the music to sound ‘right’ or ‘finished’. This for me can take weeks or be instant. Some of the tracks on the soundtrack went through all sorts of changes and mixes. I’ve found myself get attached to a certain sound even though it’s obviously really irritating and doing no service to the track at all, also it sometimes can take a while for me to realise that a track is actually totally rubbish and should be binned, I guess it’s all about perspective and editorship like any other creative practice.

Q) What equipment did you/do you use?

Yamaha PSS-390

Yamaha CS1X

Roland TR-505

Custom made electric guitar

Fender Jazzmaster Bass

Line 6 reverb/delay pedal

Hot Cake distortion pedal

Watkins Copycat

Garageband + Various VST plugins

Nearly dead Mac Book Air

Q) How did working in a more overtly electronic style fit with your previous work?

I’ve always loved electronic music and messing about with keyboards and discovering new sounds is one of the best things in the world to do (for me anyway).

I’ve always had an element of technology in my music (usually reverb and delay pedals) and I guess over time I’ve just accumulated various equipment that’s slowly worked its way into the music I’ve made. Sometimes genre tags can seem kind of restrictive, I try not to think of music that way, but yeah over the past couple of years I’ve more and more got into electronic sounds, I guess this soundtrack is the product of years of farting about.

Q) What advice can you offer upcoming composers?

Considering I still feel like I’m in my rookie season as one I don’t know if there is much I can say. I would maybe say to keep on working on stuff, stay naïve and don’t be afraid of mistakes, keeping looking for new things that fire your imagination. It’s better to do, than doing nothing at all.

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