by Margaret Chrystall
INVERNESS film composer Fraya Thomsen is off to top international film festival Sundance where her music features on a short film that is screening there.
Fraya – who spent two years in London at the National Film and Television School gaining an MA in composing for film and TV – is thrilled that funding from Creative Scotland means she can go to the annual film festival in Utah.
"It’s the industry’s biggest gathering of independent film-makers and I’m really looking forward to getting the chance to meet future collaborators," she said.
The musician – is possibly best-known as a former Feis Rois tutor and as a performer as one half of harp and singing duo The Duplets with fellow Inverness exile Gillian Fleetwood.
Fraya had previously got a BA (Hons) in Scottish Music from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, when the chance came up to study film composing in London and Fraya worked hard to raise the funds to accept her place.
Since graduation last year, Fraya has worked on composing the music for six graduation films and also a number of separate film projects, including an art installation.
Speaking from Nuremberg where she had been invited to perform at a Burns ceilidh last week, Fraya laughed: "I’m also working on my friend Aniko’s film at the moment, but by February I might be back busking under the bridge at Camden!
"I’ve been spending the time since graduating 50/50 in London and Scotland."
The Duplets’ third album is one of the next things Fraya will soon be working on with Gillian.
She also has an upcoming live new music commission – Community And Stardust – in April at the Edinburgh International Harp Festival.
It was during her studies at the National Film and Television School that Fraya composed the score for Territory, the short documentary taking her to Sundance.
To do that she collaborated closely with director Eleanor Mortimer to compose music that worked both as a score and as featured music within the action on screen.
Territory has already won best short film at Hot Docs in Canada and focuses on the two primate species that share the rock of Gibraltar.
The monkeys (macaques known locally as Barbary apes) have populated the upper rock since before the British arrived.
But in the film, the growing tension in the relationship between humans and monkeys, leads to drastic action.
Fraya explained that, working closely with director Eleanor, part of her role as composer is to help create the tone of the film.
"The first film I made with Eleanor, Doc Poetry, was a four-minute film where huge ships come in at Felixstowe. It’s a humorous piece about consumerism, but the music I gave Eleanor and her editor helped them to find the tone they wanted.
"But for Territory, it was harder and I had about nine versions of the intro music. Eleanor makes observational documentary, so there is no narrator. She didn’t want to anthropomorphise the monkeys – to make them seem human – that was never her intention. She wanted to say something like ‘Look how rebellious they are and how much fun they are having!’.
"But for me there were fun things. Some of the music cues seem as if they are coming from the film, such as a pipe band appearing on the film.
"But I had to make a heightened version of what they were playing – and I wrote a Spanish pop music coming out of a car that drives past a monkey, so it almost has a graphic cartoon feeling to it at times, nothing is quite real though the film is shot in an observational style.
"So we had a lot of fun."
Fraya enjoyed her whole film composition and feels she learned a lot.
She says: "I learned so much. It was two years of amazing creative development in my 30s – and a great thing to be able to do.
"And it was good to learn about working with the directors.
"It’s so difficult to direct a film at all and there was a lot of learning about dealing with people and the art of collaborating!
"I am working for someone and their vision and that can sometimes take a lot of humility and a lot of tact. And some intuition!"
Fraya started her music career in Inverness where she began in the ’90s to play the Scottish small harp at Balnain House – then known as the "Home of Highland Music".
Since then Fraya has played traditional Scottish music in The Duplets throughout Scotland and as far afield as Australia, Mexico and Canada, the duo having already released two well-received albums.
After a year-long post as musician in residence with Feis Rois in 2011/12 – providing workshops as part of a life-long learning project – and composing in her development time, Fraya applied to study film composition.
Fraya has already won best composer at the Underwire Film Festival 2013 for her score written in her first year for Stay The Same, directed by Sam Firth and filmed every day for a year in Knoydart.
"It was the first score I mixed myself and I recorded it with the help of a friend.
"I felt so responsible for every single note, so when it came to the end of the first screening and my name came up I felt ‘Yes!’ and it was amazing!" laughs Fraya.
Fraya’s music features on films screened all over the world from Montreal, to Galway, Texas, an animation in Mumbai, others in Spain, Silicon Valley and Anchorage.
"And one that I worked on already with the Finnish film-maker Aniko Kuikka, whose next one I’m working on now, was shown in Finland," says Fraya.
"It would be lovely to go everywhere to see them.
"But Sundance is the place for independent film-makers and the chance to get to meet lots of people to potentially collaborate with."