British Sea Power: “We were on board straightaway.”

The Brighton-based band on live scoring Polish animation classics

Ever since they provided a live soundtrack to the 1934 ethnofiction Man of Aran in 2009, British Sea Power have balanced their main musical output with a series of documentary soundtracks.

On 5 April, for the closing gala of the Kinoteka festival of Polish film, the band will perform their latest cinematic score. Music for Polish Animation Classics will feature a series of shorts from the country’s century-old tradition of animation, each accompanied by a new piece of music from the band. The concert comes less than a week after the release of Let the Dancers Inherit the Party, the band’s latest studio album, on 31 March, and a day before a full UK and European tour.

Ahead of the evening, Jocks&Nerds caught up with Martin Noble, British Sea Power’s guitarist, to discuss the project.

So, first things first: how did this come about?

The Polish Cultural Institute have asked us about various projects that have cropped up: they’ve asked us if we wanted to go there, and for Kinoteka asked us about films they thought might work – but our schedules hadn’t worked, and nothing fully clicked. Then this came up, we had a look at the animations, and we were on board straightaway.

We were so excited that we’re doing this show a day before we go on tour to support the album. It’s quite a ridiculous amount of extra work we’ve taken on for ourselves.

Wow, it must have been an incredibly tight schedule. So, were you new to Polish animation?

Yeah. We got sent a number of clips, from [early 20th century puppet animator] Władysław Starewicz onwards. All in all, the anthology had about 20 films on it. We sat down over Christmas and watched as many as we could.

As there was such a wealth of styles and stories, we bashed out a few ideas to see which ones would work. Some of the films are extremely difficult to do a musical narrative to – they're quite abstract in their stories. It would have been easier to record something, but to play along live as a band is really difficult unless you do it all to a backing track.

So we’ve chosen to do the ones that work best when played by a band. There are some other really good ones – like Labyrinth, by Jan Lenica – that we unfortunately couldn’t do. We might actually show this films before we play, as it’s a shame for those films not to be seen.

Was working with animation a particularly different experience from working on live action?

It was interesting to work with the original music. We’re doing The Journey by Daniel Szczechura, which uses a really boring story for comic effect. The soundtrack is basically the sound of a bell and various train machinations. But we changed that to instead give it the feeling of sticking your head out of a train and watching the world go by. So our music has altered the mood of the film – I hope that’s ok!

Such effects seem common in animated films.

I think it used to be that way a lot, especially in European film. It wasn’t just music to create mood, but instead strange noises. I’m quite fascinated by it. And a lot of these animations do that – they’re more sound design based.

Will the performance have any continuous ideas, or is it more a series of discrete pieces?

Each one is a separate piece of music. Because of the workload and the album coming out, we divided it up so that each band member would do two or three, and then we got together to play them and tweak them. Which is slightly different for us as well: in the past we’ve played to full-length films. This is a series of much smaller versions of that. It’s been great fun.

Do you feel your work with films has fed into your albums?

Yeah, I think so, they work hand-in-hand along the way. Working on soundtracks helps you to explore different kinds of music, and also how to develop sounds over the course of an entire album. The next album should be a good mixture of rock music with these cinematic structures.

Are there any plans afoot to release the soundtrack?

Not at this point. With Man of Aran, we saw it as a one-off, but then we went onto record the others. But who knows, really – one step at a time!