Introducing CJ Mirra: Award Winning Surf Film Composer


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Updated 1622d ago

There can be no denying that surfing and music are heavily intertwined. Those albums that bring to mind a moment in time and space – like the clean, sunny offshore days of Autumn 1991 when every beachside car and van was blasting out Nirvana’s newly released Nevermind.

Then there are the movie scores seared onto our psyches, that symbiotically transport us - Pink Floyd taking us through the barrel in Crystal Voyager, Gallagher & Lyle's Stay Young in the seminal Free Ride conjuring images of dusty soccer matches and Kirra tuberides, the driving bass of INXS echoing Occy’s backhand in Green Iguana or the haunting tones of The Screaming Orphans rising and falling like Fitz’s down the line charge in the Irish section of Litmus.

Surf music always seems to have a warmth, a golden glow that doesn’t always dovetail with the cold water surfer’s experience of thick neoprene, heavy water and misty mornings.

Surf movie aficionados will be familiar with the sounds of UK composer and musician CJ Mirra from his work with acclaimed filmmaker Chris McClean, documenting the frigid shores of Scotland, The Faroes, Ireland, Iceland and beyond or through the feature Headache directed by Felix Gansicke.

Just as Ennio Morriconi’s The Ecstasy of Gold conjures up the white light and baking desert heat and Clint Mansell’s haunting Moon score is thick with the grey dust of that expansive off world environment, so CJ Mirra’s scores perfectly capture the weight and pace of these cold water environments.

CJ’s new album ‘STATIC - Original Surf Soundtracks Vol.1’ on ltd edition vinyl, cassette and digital download is available HERE. In STATIC he has curated a selection of eight tracks, originally composed for these award winning surf films from the last four years.

We caught up with CJ Mirra to talk about how light, landscape and location all had an influence on harnessing the essence of these cold water locales.

You have been involved in creating surf movie soundtracks, working extensively with award winning filmmaker Chris McClean - how did this first come about?
The stars totally aligned for this one. I uploaded a song online by mistake and took it down 15 minutes later. In that time Chris heard it and wanted to use it on a short film he was working on for Channel 4.

By the time he went to listen to it again it was gone so he got in touch directly. We chatted on the phone for like 2 hours and the following week I started the score for the first film we did together, ‘Beyond The Scars.’ We've done about 20 projects together now. 

How does the collaborative process work between you and Chris?
Chris normally has a pretty complete idea of the structure of the film in advance. We chat about tone before it’s edited, so I have some sketches or make some sounds that I think will match.

If I’m on the film shoot then we’re talking about it and sometimes even starting on the music there and then. We did this when staying at Moy Hill Farm and it’s such a great way to work. Totally immersed in it. I’ll then firm up the musical ideas to a rough cut and he’ll finish the edit to the complete music. I’ll then do all the sound design (wave sounds/footsteps/atmos etc) as the final stage.

So, does being on the trips influence your creative output?
Camping in sub zero temperatures, waking at 4am to catch the light and the waves, I got a real sense of the scale of these environments and how we engage with them in those moments. It’s so sensory. Music is so vital to that illusion because it can reflect what you feel in those environments in a way images can’t

I don’t like to use the word epic too much but it really can be epic and awe-inspiring in these locations. It changed my attitude to the role of the music in the films too. The best cinema can make you feel like you’re in that world and it’s as complete and detailed as the experience of being there.

Music is so vital to that illusion because it can reflect what you feel in those environments in a way images can’t. 

How long does it take to finish a track from inspiration to in the can?
Ah, this is so varied. Edges Of Sanity took forever [laughs]. We knew this had to be right in every detail, every transition, every wave and have a tone all of its own.

The first big wave has a synth sound that sort of follows the shape of the break – I think I it took about two days till I was happy with it. Others flow almost in realtime.

You’ve also jumped the other the other side of the camera and made a surf film.
There’s a lot of down-time on the trips so I started taking a super8 film camera with me. Over three trips I had enough footage to make a short film called ‘Sound On The Shore’.

I developed the film myself in a cupboard and messed up a lot of it so it was really, really short. The film is heavily effected with colour toning and I tried to make it very dreamlike. A lot of the films I have worked on are super high resolution with great lenses and cinematography and drones and stuff because Chris lives and breathes it and can capture that detail. I’m always a bit detached from the action, a little further away, listening and thinking of the music so wanted the film to reflect that.

Tell us about the sound capture aspect of your work.
I have a small studio at home and another that I share with a friend in the name Mount Kimbie so I’m lucky to share some nice kit.

There’s a lot of manipulated samples including, yeah, some that I made using a clothes horse. If people are interested then it was an Asda clothes horse with a contact mic blu-tac’d to the frame which was plugged into a distortion pedal and then into Wem amplifier. I bowed the clothes horse’s bars with a cello bow and it just sounds amazing.

How did you work out the order for the tracks?
Doing our A/V show Chasing Zero changed the way I heard the music, the tracks became detached from the films and were performed live and people asked where they could get the music.

I’ve tried to keep the same mixes and sometimes even the sounds of the waves and wind where it works musically. Having Charles Dance agree to let me use his reading of Dan Crockett’s beautiful poem is unreal.

The whole process of getting this album together has been magic. Everything has come from the people who I’ve worked with and hung out with across these films.

You’re touring this spring with LeeAnn Curren. How did this collaboration come about?
I love LeeAnn’s sound. It’s raw and direct. We met at the London Surf / Film Festival last year at the premiere of Chris McClean’s film Headwind Haters which we both produced tracks for.

We got chatting and shared some music and decided to play together. I’m touring in the UK, France and Spain. She’s going to be in the live band when possible, accompanied by visuals from Chris McClean. We want to take the show as far as possible. Can’t wait to play these tracks live together.

Cover shot Scotland by Al Mackinnon

27th April Finisterre, London – SOLD OUT!
3rd May Finisterre, Exeter
4th May Finisterre, Bristol
5th May, The Poly, Falmouth
11th May, Standart, Biarritz, FR
More dates to follow. Full details: HERE