Divine composition

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Those who imagine the music of angels to be a sonorous string symphony aren't far from the truth, if the hauntingly-beautiful music of Volkswagen's U.K. spot "Angel's Day Off" is any indication. Composed by James Radford of London's Radford Music, the soundtrack-anchored by the powerful strains of a solo viola-is as much a character in the spot as the inquisitive angel himself. Radford reflects on the joy of composing a little piece of heaven.

What was the tone you were going for?

The angels were an influence in the use of the ethereal voices, and the whole look and mood of the spot led to a slightly unusual sound.

Since there's no dialogue, did you actively try to make the music function as a storytelling element?

A spot without dialogue is a composer's dream! [Laughs] The chance to write music that won't be overpowered by dialogue and effects doesn't happen often. In that respect, yes, the music played a large part in the atmosphere and general feel of the spot. It needed to convey what was happening visually.

What was the thought process behind the instrumental choices you made?

The viola is perfect because it's simple, and it creates a "theme" for the main character in the spot. The other string elements in the track are a string quartet. There's also a marimba, which is a synthesizer/sample, as is the harmonic guitar. These additional instruments were added to give the piece some depth, and to add different themes and counterpoint to the music. And finally, some of the pads and the vocals/choir element are a singer friend of mine named Fiona. I felt the singing element was essential to give the musical its "unusual" quality and add to the ethereal effect of the angels.

Were you inspired by any existing piece of music while composing this soundtrack?

Surprisingly, for commercials, there really was no guide track for this spot. I think all composers, in whatever it is they write, are influenced by music that they love and have heard throughout their lives. But there was no specific inspiration for this piece, which meant that I was given the opportunity to create something completely new, without referencing existing music.

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