An interview with Tom Hanies, composer of Intermission Music

Over months of workshops, Tom and artist/director Edwin Mingard worked with a group of young people experiencing homelessness to make the soundtrack to An Intermission. I interviewed Tom to learn a bit about the process.

Image of An interview with Tom Hanies, composer of Intermission Music
Thursday, February 18 2021

INTERMISSION MUSIC is the soundtrack to An Intermission, a portrait of contemporary Britain as seen through the eyes of young people experiencing homelessness in Stoke-On-Trent. Funny, intelligent and emotionally aware, the group tells a collective story through a series of arts interventions - music, choreography, interviews and animation - showing us the world as they experience it. ⁣⁣Over months of workshops, Tom and artist/director Edwin Mingard worked with the group to make the soundtrack. I interviewed Tom to learn a bit about the process.

*Usman Khalid: *Hey Tom, tell me a bit about your background?

*Tom Haines: *I’m a musician and sound mixer with a background in classical and experimental music. After studying, I started out making music and sound for films friends were making at art college and film school. This is something I’ve been developing since then, gradually over 20+ years, as well as scores for theatre and live performance. In order to supplement this non-commercial sound work, I also make music and sound for commercial TV, animation and film as a director of brains and hunch, a commercial artist led sound studio.

*UK: *what was your motivation to join the project?

TH: It was clear this project was like nothing I had ever worked on before. An unusual and risky music brief. To make functional music for a documentary film from material generated in workshops with young homeless people who were also constructing the film. If I’m honest, it was the things that made me nervous about the project that made me realise it was something i’d really like to do. Maybe I could bring something to the project in terms of my experience of constructing narrative music to picture, by using material we collected, sampled, manipulated and composed with the group working on the film?

*UK: *Tell me something about your experience working with young artists facing homelessness. Were there any positives or challenges you faced working with the group?

*TH: *The first thing we did, once I’d met the group, was get acquainted with the equipment I’d brought for the first workshop. Essentially mics, recorders, a contact mic, an induction coil for recording electro-magnetic fields (great for recording sounds generated by mobile phones), and some samplers and delay pedals etc. We collected some sounds, sampled them and then began to play with them. As we worked, Edwin projected rushes from the film on the wall of the room. We made sounds and melodies whilst looking at the images, and discussed how sound and music made the meaning of the images change. Some things worked, some things didn’t. After this initial session we picked up the equipment and went outdoors into a park where some of the film’s participants had slept, and recorded sounds from that environment. We tried the same process with these field recordings once we were back in the room. Listening back to them, sampling the recordings, and roughly laying them up to the picture. We quickly collected a large collection of sketches and recordings. Melodies, percussive samples, and textures made from field recordings. Between sessions, we curated this sound sketchbook, and edited snippets of it into the timeline of the working edit of the film, so we could work with the group on writing a functional documentary soundtrack for the film.

The challenges of working with the group were largely to do with the precarious life admin that all of these young people have to deal with. All of them having to deal with a complex and shifting timetable of responsibilities, often in sharp relief to a backdrop of turbulent relationships and situations. The most striking thing about the group was their ability to laugh at the often unworkable bureaucracy of their individual circumstances. A core group of regulars established itself in the sessions, and they managed to facilitate some cameo appearances from people that could not attend every session too.

*UK: *The film is exploring homelessness, amongst other issues. What more needs to be done in your opinion?

*TH: *Where do you even start? - One thing that I hope comes across in this work is that society needs to resolutely jettison the unjustifiable cultural stigma attached to homelessness, and that it is our system that is causing the perpetual ejection of people onto the streets, not the people suffering homelessness. These young people have been failed by our broken system, by broken attitudes, by broken politics, not by themselves.

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