Joss Albért

Fire: interpretation 1 Film: Anna Cady and Saira Ahmed
Text: SESTINA – Claire Hillier
Music: Joss Albért

On first receiving Claire Hillier’s poem Sestina, a number of challenges were apparent when considering a musical response. My first reaction was that it was a dense and complex work and a soundtrack may well negate its richness by emotionally simplifying it. Another concern was that a lot had to be said in under four minutes, and any music should not battle for space with the reading.

That is why it was very important and revealing to receive a recording of Claire performing her work. From this point her reading became the lead instrument, as opposed to something abstract that I would manipulate through music.

When composing for film, music is often used to control the pace of moments within its narrative. My response to the reading has no defined pace. Instead, I responded directly to the reading’s motion and the music became a kind of ambient continuo.

To achieve this sense of stasis I chose a limited palette of guitar harmonics that would allow me to improvise to the performance with a restricted but evocative sound. As I followed Claire’s words, the music started to break up her performance into episodes. I’m not convinced these episodes are what Claire had in mind, but they are a key feature of my interpretation. I compounded them further by using sound effects and extra musical additions to create simple sound worlds for each episode, and I believe the result is curiously cinematic.

Joss Albért is a composer and writer with particular experience in producing music for screen. He helped set up successful audio design company Attic Sound & Music and has worked on a range of films and commercials. Recently he published ‘Naive Devices’, his first collection of poetry, and produced an accompanying album of readings set to music and sound design.

He is now pursuing a career as a film composer, and available for interesting collaborations. Find out more at