behind the music behind the scenes composer interview music whispers of the plains

Whispers of the Plains – Winifred Phillips

Here at HPM, we make no bones about being fans of Winifred Phillips and so it was with great delight that we were able to ask a few questions about her latest project and gain some juicy nuggets of insight into the creative process of writing a score. Here’s what Winifred had to say on composing, trophies and what a great motif means to her:


Congratulations on the excellent soundtrack to The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole – The Videogame. It feels like such a complete body of work, are you delighted at how it turned out?

I’m very happy that the music conveys a sense of completeness.  I tried as best I could to musically encompass the fantasy world in the Legend of the Guardians story – I wanted the music to help it feel as whole and real as possible.  So I’m glad that the music has come across effectively in that way.

The Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga’Hoole – The Videogame is such a rich soundtrack of moods and themes, and you mentioned in a video that you had tons of source material to draw on for the music. How do you draw inspiration from the books to make the music? Were there any particularly inspiring parts?

The Guardians of Ga’Hoole series of books by Kathryn Lasky were a tremendously rich source of inspiration for me.  In the books, Lasky created a grand fantasy world complete with a long history, several mythological traditions and cultures, and allusions to multiple languages for both the mortal and supernatural characters in the story.  I think that all music draws a lot of its inspiration from the culture and history of the society that it springs from.  For me, it was a real privilege to try to imagine how the music of Kathryn Lasky’s fantasy world would illuminate the nature of her characters and their civilization.

You have a typically orchestral sound to your soundtrack but this one seems more fierce in places. Were there any challenges or goals you’d set with this production that you really wanted to achieve or meet?

The story in Lasky’s series is epic, so my overriding goal for this project was to make sure that the music rose to that same level.  In the story, an ancient, supernatural evil is emerging from the past and threatening to destroy everything in the present.  The overall atmosphere is very dark.  The battles are really fierce.  The moments of peace are filled with a sense of foreboding.  Also, there is a pervasive sense of mystic timelessness to the setting, and that had to be represented in the score, too.  I wanted to make sure the music expressed all these ideas with the right intensity of emotion.

You were given complete freedom to write the music before anything was penned for the film. How does that influence what you composed?

It was fulfilling for me to be able to communicate my own impressions of the world of Ga’Hoole through my music.  Kathryn Lasky’s fiction was a real treat to interpret as a composer.

There are several motifs that grace the soundtrack throughout in different forms. What, to you, makes a great motif or lead melody?

Music is really subjective, so for me, a great motif is something that’s closely tied to a strong emotion, so that when you hear the motif you always feel a certain way.  For instance, in the second track on the soundtrack (With Heart’s Sublime), I wrote a motif with a certain character from the novels in mind — the singer of the Great Tree, whose voice would signal the end of everyone’s toils and the time to sleep.  I wrote that melody to be as gentle and protective as possible, to convey a sense of safety.  That theme actually turned out to be the most important theme in the score, the “Guardians Theme”, and I think that it was because it represented the safety and protectiveness that are embodied by the Guardians themselves.  It’s a very powerful feeling, knowing that there is a force for good out there that stands ready to protect you and keep you safe.

Of course, your long-term producer Winnie Waldron was involved. What qualities and help did she bring to your latest project?

For this project, Winnie concentrated on the overall impact of the music.  She has a set of golden ears that I rely on, and she gives me her impressions throughout the composition and recording of the score.  For this project, she had an intense focus on orchestral impact, and she would offer her observations about how my arrangements were sounding, and where the instrumentation needed more punch.  It was fantastic to have a set of objective ears that I could absolutely trust throughout the entire process.

Spore Hero was nominated for an International Film Music Critics Award. You must be getting a little trophy cabinet for all these awards soon!

I keep some of them on a shelf in my studio – I’m very grateful to have been recognized for my work.  That kind of affirmation helps a lot, especially when I’m about to start a new project, and I need a bit of encouragement in order to take the plunge and begin.

Is there anything juicy you can let myself and the readers in on for the future?

There are three projects I’m involved with right now, and they are all at varying stages of production.  But as always, I’m under orders to keep them all tightly under wraps.  Come next year, I’ll have some interesting news to share.

Three projects! Yikes! Look’s like Winifred has her work cut out for now so we’ll wish her the best of luck in those new ventures and a big thank for her to take the time to talk to us!

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