The feeling and mood are what lead the direction of the music for composer Isobel Waller-Bridge

Born on April 23rd, 1984, in England, Isobel Waller-Bridge is an award-winning composer. Her awards include Best Composer at Underwire Film Festival and winner of Best Sound Designer at Off West End Theatre Awards. She has performed across Europe, USA, and across the UK, including the Royal Albert Hall and The Barbican in London, and Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh. Isobel has worked on many series for companies such as the BBC and ITV, for Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s (her sister) famous show Fleabag, miniseries Vanity Fair, three episodes of miniseries The ABC Murders, one episode of Black Mirror, and BBC One and SundanceTV’s production of The Split. Alongside composing for TV series, Waller-Bridge also works on shorts and documentaries such as Little Bird (2017) and Williams (2017) to name a few. 

Isobel Waller-Bridge has composed film scores for two narrative feature films. One of which is Vita and Virginia (2018), starring Gemma Arterton and Elizabeth Debicki respectively. The film explores the winding story of two successful writers of the early 20th century, Vita Sackville-West and Virginia Woolf. The music choice for this film surprised me as it seems a little odd and out of place. When watching Vita and Virginia, it took me by surprise to hear EDM in the midst of 20th century England. The beginning starts with eerie music, deep and dark, giving a creepy and mysterious feeling. The deep and low pulses in the music flow into the EDM as a machine prints pages and pages of a book. The low and distant pulsations echo throughout the film, almost like a constant hum in Virginia Woolf’s mind. Despite the EDM being out of place, it does add to the feeling of empowerment in some moments, such as when Vita talks of her womanly roles being more than just a mother. At times, the music uses short, staccato notes, which emphasizes curiosity, but generally speaking, the majority of the film’s music is trippy—maybe a reflection of the hazy state of mind of the characters. There are excerpts of flowy music that intensifies the intimacy between Vita and Virginia. The sounds of breath that imitate Virginia, along with the flowy music emphasize that intimacy. In contrast with the modern electronic music, sustained strings are played to create a strange and eerie atmosphere. I feel that although the electronic part of the music put me off slightly from the story, it was still cleverly written to reflect Virginia’s state of mind.

Isobel’s most recent film score was Emma. (2020). The new rendition of Jane Austen’s comical classic brings smiles to people’s faces. We watch the small town of Highbury, England, and all its drama to do with “Mr Martens” (Connor Swindells) being in love with “Miss Smith” (Mia Goth), and whether or not “Emma”  (Anya Taylor-Joy) will finally meet the elusive Frank Churchill. Emma’s wit and charm is put in use in her matchmaking, setting up her friends with eligible people in title and finance. For Emma., we are drifted into the British countryside with cute twinkly music, setting the jovial and lighthearted nature of the movie. Fitting with the 19th century story, the film’s opening scene is set to light Italian opera music. The sound of the harpsichord is comical. What makes this opening scene all the more funny to watch, is its perfect timing for the music to stop playing just as Emma speaks one little phrase, and then continues once she completes her phrase. Throughout the film, the music is uplifting and dance-like. It also helps outline a person’s character, for example, “Miss Taylor’s” (Gemma Whelan) wedding march is a very simple and humble piece of music to reflect her kind and humble nature. In moments of awkwardness or mischief, the music tends to be tango-like and exciting. The feeling of lightheartedness mixed with stateliness in a character is also shown by mixing the sound of brass instruments with breezy and lighthearted woodwinds. The bassoon adds to comedy purely by the sound of the instrument. The musical interludes between scenes are comedic and use themes and motifs from previous musical phrases, making them the perfect fillers. Some of the music fits the slight movements of the characters, such as facial expression changing. Interestingly, in intimate moments of the film, there is no music. This makes the intimacy more raw and intense as there is a break from music, which has been comedic throughout the entire movie. On the whole, a very pleasant score to listen to whilst accompanying a very pleasant film and story.

Aside from composing for films and TV shows, Isobel Waller-Bridge is a composer of instrumental music. Her most recent single is September. She signed to Mercury KX in February 2020 and her new single will be on a new compilation album FLOW to celebrate Mercury KX’s three year anniversary. Waller-Bridge also released an album in 2015 called Music for Strings. She experiments with different genres of music such as modern electronic music and classical music. Some pieces sound really relaxing, especially those with a focus on the strings. I am excited to listen to whatever new music she may be releasing. In an interview with Série Series, Isobel Waller-Bridge describes working with her sister, Phoebe Waller-Bridge, as amazing and like working with her best friend. It is a lot easier working together with her sister than when Isobel works with other directors, and likened working with Phoebe to working with directors after knowing them for over 20 years. She has said that when she is hired for a set, she doesn’t ask for the story, but rather the feeling or the mood in the story or scene. Thus, it is much easier to work with her sister because of their emotional understanding of each other.

© Sophia Jin (06/23/2020) FF2 Media

Featured Photo: Johnny Flynn and Anya Taylor-Joy in Emma. (2020)

Top Photo: Isobel Waller-Bridge

Middle Photo: Gemma Arterton and Elizabeth Debicki in Vita & Virginia (2018)

Bottom Photo: Callum Turner and Anya Taylor-Joy in Emma. (2020)

Photo Credits: IMDb; © 2017 – Orlando / Blinder Films Limited; Liam Daniel

Tags: Isobel Waller-Bridge, Sophia Jin

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Sophia is currently a student of classical music. She joined FF2 Media in 2018, and loves working with everyone on the team because not only does it promote women's roles in films, it also opens her up to more works done by women. Sophia is so glad that there is a space that is full of women alike in their passion to bring more attention to females who are just as capable or even more capable than men in the industry.
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