Composer Benji Merrison on Influences Old and New, and His Work on BBC's Dynasties

The journey from Rachmaninov to meerkats

Melding talent, flair and enthusiasm for audio and digital arts with influences from classical to club scenes, British composer Benji Merrison is a highly regarded award-winning modern composer.

Based in London, Benji works on globally renowned projects across film, television and live events. Selected credits including BBC's Dynasties (including the new Meerkat special), General Magic, Britannia, Victoria, Class, plus the 2021 action-movie SAS: Red Notice and feature documentary The Beatles and India. Events and exhibition credits include the London 2012 Olympics and Paralympics, Top Gear, Tate Modern, MTV EMAs and the National Youth Choir of Great Britain.

We caught up with Benji for our Liner Notes series to learn more about his musical tastes and journey through the years, as well as recent work he's proud of and admired.

Benji, tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

My claim to fame is that I'm the most famous Benji to have ever come from Melton Mowbray in the East Midlands, U.K. I now live in London, where there are three more famous Benjis than me. I'm trying to beat them.

Your earliest musical memory.

It started with sounds—I'd try and work out how they were created all the time. I couldn't sleep at night because all the little sounds were so interesting and, I guess in hindsight, a bit musical. I found it fun; my parents didn't.

Your first concert.

One that I played. It was a school Christmas concert in which I played the second movement of Rachmaninov's second piano concerto. It was painfully bad—I have video evidence to prove this—but the generous, captive parents clapped politely. The next year I attempted "Rhapsody in Blue," which was marginally better and I can still play the first three pages to this day.

Your favorite bands/musicians.

I'm going to go with childhood influence again: Debussy, Ravel, Scott Joplin, Chopin, early W.A.R.P, late romantic/early classical stuff. Electroacoustic music and jazz. Possibly Brian Eno and any Pink Floyd track before they start singing. I also enjoyed the instrument demos on the SOS/Future Music cover CDs. The EMU Morpheus was a particular highlight. 

How you get your music these days.

Internet mostly. I feel most comfortable with music at the piano, but nowadays it feels odd to play something that makes a sound without an on/off switch.

Your favorite place to see a concert.

Ahh, those heady old days! You'll be asking what my favourite pub is next!

Your favorite music video.

Autechre "Ganz Graf" by Alex Rutterford, or Aphex Twin "Come to Daddy" by Chris Cunningham. 

Your favorite music-focused TV show and/or podcast.

I might be biased here but everything that comes out of the BBC Natural History Unit is a guaranteed stunning listening/viewing spectacular.

A recent project you're proud of.

The work on the Dynasties films and Green Planet with co-composer Will Slater. We're discovering new sounds, structures and approaches all the time, which feels very liberating.

Someone else's project that you admired recently.

Always a big fan of James Newton Howard and have been listening to News of the World, which was a really nice folky soundtrack vibe. I also love Hannah Peel's score for The Deceived. She's producing some great work right now.

How musicians should approach working with brands.

Find your own vibe and voice, or at least strive for that, and don't worry too much about how that fits in with brands—unless that doesn't make you money, of course. In this case, reach for pizzicato strings, or sparsely played felt piano until you have enough money not to do that any more. In either case, work in Pro Tools because it sounds more "analogue" than Logic or Cubase.

How brands should approach working with musicians.

Give less comments and notes. Work with the first take, the pure instinct.

What music can do that nothing else can.

Stop time.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in the music world.

Trying to work out how to get into the music world.

Liner Notes is our weekly interview series, publishing every Monday, where we chat with folks in the music industry about their creative inspirations, their favorite bands and musicians, and generally what music means to them. For more about Liner Notes, and our Clio Music program, please get in touch.

Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd was editor in chief of the Clio Awards and editor of Muse by Clio from 2018 to 2023.

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