Perth-based composer Ash Gibson Greig had his work cut out for him when he signed on to compose the soundtrack for Side Pony Productions’ The Confidence Man back in 2013, because in actual fact the show required not just one soundtrack, but six.
The Confidence Man is a groundbreaking theatrical work by Zoe Pepper and Adriane Daff that tells the story of a heist gone terribly wrong requires some further explanation: six volunteer actors from the audience wear audio headsets with running soundtracks that tell them what to do on stage.
These soundtracks each contain music, dialogue, monologues and stage directions voiced by a team of actors, and the volunteer actors only hear one soundtrack at a time. However, each audience member has his or her own mobile phone with a built-in app that allows him or her to choose which soundtrack of the six to listen to. Sound complicated? Well, it is, but luckily for audiences, all the hard work has been done, and for those who don’t want to get up on stage, all we have to do is sit back and choose our own adventure.
Greig explains his contribution to the complex process of putting this unusual piece together: “I had to basically do six 40-ish-minute underscores that were interlocked with each other; they had to get all the audio to sync and interlock and massage the story around that as well. It was a massive job. It was pretty insane.
“We’ve got Susan and Peter (the mother and father), the daughter Anita, and Peter’s friend Sam who comes into their lives and causes all the disruption and issues. Then there are two criminals, Alex and Maria. At the start the criminals are in their own place. So they share some of their own score but then if one goes for a walk or if they have an argument or something, one of them will be thinking different things to the other, so at this point the scores will diverge.”
When the characters are all in the same room, they might share the same soundtrack for a few minutes, but there might be slight variations if one character is hiding something, for instance. “Each character has their own sound within the sound world,” Greig says. “It’s actually pretty insane when I think about it, we didn’t have a huge amount of time. I think I did it all within a couple of weeks. It was all just crazy, then ‘Oh it’s done,’ and I wouldn’t see it until god knows when. And it’s funny looking back and going, ‘Holy crap, how the hell did we all do that?’”
Greig says he never got to see the final product as an audience member to hear how his soundtracks all come together during its initial Melbourne run, and he only did some trials as one of the characters with the headset and mask. “So I’m really looking forward to seeing it because I can’t remember what I wrote, I have no idea. I mean I’ve got it on record, but I haven’t listened to it. I’ll be able, as an audience member, to assess that as well, and go, ‘oh, nailed that bit,’ or ‘didn’t get that bit quite right.’”
When composing music for different characters, Greig says the most important thing is to get the psychology and the emotion right. “I’ve heard of a composer who was doing a really dark movie and sort of locked himself away for a few weeks or months even, much to his mental detriment. I don’t know if he came out of it that healthy but he certainly did a good soundtrack. My process is always knowing that I’m part of a bigger machine and I’m subservient to that. That’s just part of making the project the best it can be.”
The Confidence Man runs at Studio Underground in the State theatre Centre until Sunday, May 10. Be sure and arrive early if you’d like to volunteer to take part in the action.