‘Bliss’ composer Will Bates on blending two disparate worlds together through music

British composer Will Bates chats about working with director Mike Cahill for the Salma Hayek and Owen Wilson science-fiction film, and touches upon the Rihanna documentary he is scoring for

“For a composer, working in sci-fi and fantasy is always exciting because you can play with the palate to create a broader spectrum of sounds to go for,” reflects composer Will Bates, whose latest release Bliss is streaming on Amazon Prime.

During an audio interview with Bates from his home in New York, the British musician chats about being thrilled at the challenge of taking on not one but two worlds for which to score. “There is a lot of electronics involved and blending of the two worlds,” he adds.

In the film, single father Greg (Owen Wilson) meets a mysterious homeless woman Isabel (Salma Hayek) who informs him that they are living in a world that is not real – and it becomes apparent that they are living in a computer simulation. Directed by Mike Cahill, who has given us other science-fiction projects such as I Origins and Another Earth, the film takes on a trippy visual of two worlds: one of ‘bliss’ where everything is lavish and perfect, and the ‘real’ world which is darker.

Collaborations, galore

The film offered a ‘levelling up’ in Cahill and Bates’ working relationship — the two had worked on a handful of films and series together. Bliss is their third film together. Bates explains, “We have developed a symbiotic working relationship that barely requires the usual communication. Bliss was always on the horizon; we were working on a show called Nightflyers and Mike gave me the script for the film in 2017, so we were talking about the music way back then.” Bates puts forth that directors and composers working together should look for “freedom and experimentation.” He elaborates that a new working relationship should empower creation, and that hesitation on anyone’s part can hinder that. However, open honesty is a must, he tacks on.

Given there was a lot more time for Bliss, Bates says this “longer gestation period” also facilitated more resources. This is the first time he worked with a full orchestra. He adds, “I don’t know how I managed to get through my whole career without doing that. I had used a lot of quintets and soloists, though, over the years.” Such collaborations, he says, make the process more natural. explaining, “Making music has to be a fearless expression and you can experiment in a safe place.”

For the conductor, Bates onboarded Eric Jacobsen, a cellist with whom he worked on Another Earth and I Origins; Jacobsen is also Music Director of the Orlando Philharmonic Orchestra. Bates also called on drummer Spencer Cohen, a close friend, to help create a more explosive sound for the darker world. Then came in jazz trumpeter Quentin Collins, with whom Bates grew up, to add more layers.

About Rihanna

  • Bates has also long been working on a Rihanna documentary, with filmmaker Peter Berg who is also working on documentaries on Novak Djokovic and Chris Cornell. Bates cannot divulge too much, but he shares that, “it has been in post-production for quite a while”.
  • Writing score for a documentary about another musical figure, “was a different process and felt different from the outset in that there’s a lot less music. With Rihanna’s, there’s a lot more of her own music, but I’ve had to do a couple of interpretations of her pieces which was fun. Peter had been making that film with her for months and months, with many meetings with her.”

“This was an opportunity to get everyone together. Now that we are in the middle of a pandemic, and now we’re in COVID, remembering the experience of Bliss was more magical because we did the whole orchestra session in January, before the whole world shut down, “he reflects.

An original track for ‘Bliss’

Then there is the original track ‘You And I’ that Bates wrote for Bliss, which came as a desire for the film to have a “vocalised epilogue”. For the vocals, he reached out to an old friend, Skye Edwards of Morcheeba.

“I ended up singing the sample just to show Skye; I wrote the song with her in mind. As she’s an old friend, I trusted her to hear my dodgy squawking. We did the whole thing over emails and when I got the recorded version with her vocals, I can’t describe the feeling she brought to it. She took it to an insanely different level with her vocal stems and Mike, who was tweaking the film’s cuts during the lockdowns, said it was phenomenal.”

Bates hopes that, given the film is on an OTT platform, people will discover the film organically; he sees there is rewatch value in this project given its complex themes.


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