067 Confessional – David R. Simpson – Theme from Confessional


The piece of music featured in this episode is called Confessional. It’s a menacing and grisly piece which I wrote for the historical audio drama Confessional, which tells the story of a 15th century French sadist called Gilles de Rais. The soundtrack aims to convey a dark and viscerally evil feel. This week we’ll look at some of the insights into why and how it was made. My name is David R Simpson. I’m a composer from Scotland, and this is How I Make Music.


02:37 Inspirations for the piece included the drone-based music written by Mark De Gli Antoni for Werner Herzog’s documentaries ‘Into The Abyss’ and ‘On Death Row’. Another influence was Hildur Guðnadóttir’s Oscar-winning score for Joker. An ugly drone with a beautiful string line speaks to me of two sides of humanity – both the monstrous and the sublime.

04:03 When I write for chamber music, I inevitably end up listening to the album ‘Handwriting’ by Rachels. It came out at the time of instrumental post-rock in the era of Scottish band Mogwai.

04:59 I chose this piece for How I Make Music to get across the sense of foreboding and evil, an unusual avenue for me. ‘Confessional’ aims to establish a strong mood immediately. 

05:52 I wanted to keep the composition drone-based but not rely on anachronistic electronic sounds. I am a self-taught double-bassist and cellist and multi-tracked them to create a rasping low sonority. The physicality of playing them worked with my vision of this barbaric central character. I wanted to take advantage of my lack of technique on these instruments, which brought across a rawness suited to the setting.

 07:52 The foundation of the piece is a pedal tone on G. The term ‘pedal tone’ comes from organs, which are played with the feet to create (usually low) drone notes over which other harmonic motion takes place. 

08:20 My friend is the guitar tech through the noise-rock band Sonic Youth. The band is known for the use of microtonal tensions to really amp up the discomfort. I wanted to explore the use of microtones with the fretless instruments to create an unsettling feel.

09:16 An early version of the piece began as an iPhone demo. Take a listen to how it sounded before I started developing it. 

09:46 There are a number of cello articulations in this piece, including drone, pizzicato, staccato and legato. I took advantage of glissando, sliding between notes in a way that you can’t really with a keyboard instrument. 

10:31 I wanted to emphasize the melody of the piano and retain a forward motion in the left hand. The studio piano had a lovely warm tone but because it’s so old I couldn’t get it in tune in context with the rest of the instruments. I ended up using a software piano. Take a listen and see if you can spot the difference between the two!

11:52 I chose to voice the chords in root position to keep the feel unobtrusive. I love the way Tori Amos rolls her chords right down to the lowest octave.

12:38 The tempo shifts up and down by 5bpm. It’s barely noticeable, but listen out for it. I used this technique to add a sort of subconsciousness disjointedness. I wanted the whole piece to feel like it was being dragged into existence. The combination of certain cello parts sounds like a heartbeat quickening. 

13:35 The software we use tends to divide music up into unnatural parts. Four bars of this, then four bars of that. I try to avoid those types of blocks and rather employ musical foreshadowing.

14:05 There’s a textural layer in the piece, a set of noises using extended techniques and time-domain effects. I automated the feedback and volume to create a crescendo, a technique I used when scoring the short film ‘Magda’. 

15:13 The Phrygian mode is a dark mode of the major scale which starts on the 3rd degree. The first two notes, a minor second, always remind me of a silly sitcom I grew up watching called The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. The minor second is echoed in other parts of the composition and introduce ambiguity. 


* Listen to audio drama Confessional by Jill Korn www.jillkorn.com/audio-drama
* Check out other work by David R. Simpson davidrsimpsonmusic.com/
* Follow David R. Simpson twitter.com/DavidRSimpson_


* David Whittaker – “Beyond The Ice Palace Title Music”
* Mark De Gli Antoni – “Into The Abyss Theme 01”
* Rachels – “Southbound To Marion”
* Mogwai – “Take Me Somewhere Nice”
* Tori Amos – “Pancake” (Live)
* Ronnie Hazlehurst – “The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin


* “Metronome, 168BPM.wav” by InspectorJ (www.jshaw.co.uk) of Freesound.org


How I Make Music is where behind-the-scenes musicians tell their own stories. Every Wednesday, we break apart a song, soundtrack or composition and investigate the insights into how it was made.

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