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Hugo White is an award-winning songwriter, musician, producer and founding member of the critically acclaimed band, The Maccabees. He has recently composed the music for Dust, a new play for young people by award-winning children’s author Laura Dockrill, which streams online from Saturday 6 to Friday 19 February 2021 as part of a digital tour.
We caught up with Hugo to find out more about the show, why music helps bring a production to life, the difference between writing an album and a theatre show, and why he has recorded two songs for the production.
What was your inspiration for creating the music for Dust?
I was involved from a very early stage on this project. My inspiration came from the feeling of the script; the story has an underlying gentle magic to it that I always felt would translate into the music.
How does music help bring a production to life?
Music can really dictate how the audience is drawn through a play. It can provide a backdrop that can help heighten, or direct, the audience’s emotions, whether that be subliminal or direct and forceful. The beautiful thing about a soundtrack that’s written alongside a script is that it can essentially ensure the journey’s emotions are reflected, or played within the right context, throughout, heightening the experience.
How did you go about structuring the music? Do the different characters have their own musical themes?
I spent some time with Chris Ewell, the director of Dust, discussing this before I wrote the music in full. He had broken the script down for me, so we could clearly see all the transitions in mood and feeling that went alongside the characters. There are a lot of twists and turns in the play, so it was very important we were on the same page. With each character, I evolved a musical theme that could be reused, including a theme for the ‘dust’ itself.
“Music can really dictate how the audience is drawn through a play. It can provide a backdrop that can help heighten, or direct, the audience’s emotions, whether that be subliminal or direct and forceful.”
I believe there is a song in the show using your vocals. How did this come about?
Laura Dockrill’s script contained a few poems that naturally felt like songs for the characters to sing. I had originally sung these myself in the demos to map it out for the actors, however, a couple felt unique. Chris was keen to keep my vocal in the show and use it to create space and reflection in the play.
What’s your process for creating a score for the theatre?
Understanding is key; I need to really understand the script, where it pushes and pulls and what it’s making me feel emotionally. I sketched out a few pieces of music early on and kept building on them. Ultimately, there was a point where I really got into the headspace of it and I wrote and recorded the score over a two or three day period.
Is your writing process different when writing for an album or a play?
Yes, it is! My experience with writing albums is that you usually start with nothing and keep writing until a pattern emerges and you begin to realise what it is you’re getting to; from that point you begin refining. However, with a play the idea is already fully formed and realised before you start, so it’s just a case of aligning with it and being able to translate that emotionally through the music.
By its nature, music is about listening, whereas theatre is also about the visual. How are you feeling about hearing and seeing your score in a theatre setting?
I’m excited to see everything come together; there has been so much attention to detail in this project. I really hope people can enjoy it the way I have whilst creating the music for it.
Describe your music for Dust in three words.
Blissful. Floating. Earthy.
Finally, why should people watch Dust?
Because where else are you going to see a play about dust? It’s magic!
Dust streams online from Saturday 6 to Friday 19 February 2021 as part of a digital tour.
Dust is a co-production with Z-arts