Soundtrack: A Field in England

The first time I saw Ben Wheatley’s A Field in England, I knew it was special. I had no idea what I was watching, I was confused for the most part and it was late, but, I kept watching. I couldn’t stop watching. Like the story itself, this film has as an alchemy that makes it work and for me, one of the key elements of this magic was the music. Scored by British composer Jim Williams, A Field in England has one of those soundtracks that stays with you well beyond the watching of the film and beyond the context of which it belongs.

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Doing a little research about this score, I was most fascinated with the idea that director Ben Wheatley wanted the music to be diegetic in character. He wanted the instruments and over-all sound, to be ones that might have been played, could have been played by the little band of characters who wander across this particular field in England. However, this was not a fixed rule. The music at certain narrative points would transform to become more internal, as Wheatley describes, “more like the sounds of inside your body rather than a diegetic musical score”. The score becomes psychedelic and electrified to reflect the quickening of the magical elements of the film. Williams comments that he was given by Wheatley, more of a cultural brief as opposed to a specific criteria or set of examples to work from.

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What resulted was a very special score, with notable contributions from Martin Pavey and Blanck Mass, providing just the right amount of variance and inherent narrative. For the main theme, William’s score plumbs the depths of the double bass, humming violently at the lowest spectrums providing a sense of epic doom and latent power, against the lighter timbres of the period instruments. The theme formally used in the track, Walking Here two shadows Went, forms the basis of the score, and with William’s masterful treatment never feels over-used, rather it just leaves you wanting more. Following the brief and Wheatley’s penchant for genre-blurring, Williams follows suit and the resonant double bass turns into crunchy electric guitar, lutes turn into synthesised and psychedelic reed sounds with harpsichords and mandolins finding their way into the fray.

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I was fortunate enough to entice Jim to answer 15 Questions, but as a special treat for Music Without Words readers, I asked him to answer just a few more questions, but specifically about the score. I wanted to know where and how he got the ideas for the music.

“I referenced late Renaissance/early Baroque stuff – and actually one eight bar section is a direct lift of a French lute piece from Gaspar Sanz. I sent that version through to Ben as an example, and the next thing I knew, it was in the movie. For a recurring theme, I arranged the chord progression from the track Chernobyl by Blanck Mass that’s used in the film, and arranged it in a contrapuntal Baroque style for these sections. I then used all the period acoustic material and rearranged it so that it referenced electronica artists like Tangerine Dream, Can and Brian Eno, more contemporary drone stuff, and added a smattering of Ennio Morricone! Ben Wheatley stripped down some of the material to its stark components for some of the bleaker moments in the film.” Jim Williams

If you want to see the film, visit Channel 4 or Amazon to buy it. Watch the trailer here. To hear the soundtrack…I’m afraid you’re out of luck. Unless you bought the limited edition vinyl recording, Rook Films didn’t release the score digitally or on CD. But I’m hoping to change that so if you’d like to hear it – then write in and we’ll try and convince Rook that they need to release this treasure for fans and seekers alike.

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