Below is a quick interview I did via email with Owen Gurry, a Welsh guitarist best known as a regular contributor to the movie scores of composer Benjamin Wallfisch, with his most recent collaboration with Wallfisch being on Blade Runner 2047.
What is your process, beginning to end, when you are given a scene/scenes to contribute your guitar work to?
This varies considerably. Most of the time when working as a guitarist on the projects you’ve mentioned I don’t work directly to picture. I usually create a very large suite of audio for the lead composer to use when scoring. Later on in the process I’ll often to overdubs to specific cues.
What are the most challenging aspects about applying the guitar to the visual medium? An instrument I find often left underrated as sound design and computational tool.
Guitar is remarkably flexible, especially when using processing effects and plugins so I find it lends itself well to almost every type of sound I’m asked to produce. If I had to choose a challenging aspect it would be that each performance I do is usually about 2 minutes long and needs to be perfect.
One of the biggest parts of my work on a score is to create something that doesn’t sound like a guitar. Most of the time I’m asked to create something that fits a given mood or expand on something in the temp. That could be a big horn sound, an increasingly tense repetitive sound or a subtle pad. I guess that’s the biggest challenge too – squeezing all those varied sounds from a guitar.
What software/hardware/guitar do you typically use? And does the gear choice vary greatly from project to project?
It does vary considerably; I have about 15 guitars of various types including acoustics, electrics, 7 strings, 8 strings, bass guitars etc. I also use other fretted instruments like mandolins, banjos, ukuleles etc. Basically anything I can get my hands on and mangle to sound the way I’m asked to.
There are some regulars though – my main electric is a Parker Fly and my main acoustic a Taylor 112. The mic I use almost all the time is an SE Electronics z5600aII. Software wise I always buying plugins and have a sizeable collections. SoundToys, FabFiler and the Slate Digital ones are some of my favourites. I’m always on the look out for new ways to keep things fresh and evolving.
Amp wise I change between using plugin amps like Guitar Rig, Positive Grid BIAS and Waves’ CLA Guitars and actual amps. I have a collection of tube amp heads that I’ve used in many ways over the years but these days tend to use them into a load box and an impulse response cabinet.
What is the most ‘left-field’ approach you have taken to applying your guitar to film?
I’ve had to think creatively a lot to get a given sound out of a guitar. I recently put the bottom 6 strings from a 9 string on a baritone and played it with a slide. Similarly I’ve used the bottom 6 from a 7 string set on an acoustic guitar to extend the range down. I’ve hit mandolins with pencils, used processing chains with a dozen plugins in to completely transform a sound and bowed a 7 string with a violin bow.
Specifically, I would like you ask you what and how you contributed to Blade Runner 2049? (Blade Runner being one of my top 5 films of all time, and being a huge fan of this recent sequel.) I also wanted to touch upon what it is like work with two composers on a film rather than the usual one?
There’s a limit to how much I can reveal about that process because I wasn’t the lead composer. Like most scores I’ve contributed to, I created a large suite of guitar parts towards the start of the process under the direction of one of the lead composers then did overdubs later in the process. Most of those guitar parts are heavily processed so most people would mistake them for synths etc