Established in the world of film, TV, radio, and theater, Isobel Waller-Bridge is a versatile and extraordinarily prolific, award-winning composer and sound designer equally comfortable creating orchestral works and experimental electronic soundscapes.
The eldest of three siblings, she was born in 1984 and raised in Ealing, west London by affluent parents. Her sister Phoebe went on to find fame as the writer and star of BBC TV’s comedy-drama, Fleabag, in 2016. While her father co-created an electronic trading system, her mother worked for the City of London’s livery company of Ironmongers. Waller-Bridge’s interest in music stemmed from sitting at the piano at the age of four. By the time she was ten, she’d composed her first score for a friend’s short film. In the early stages of her classical training, she drew inspiration from the sweeping, melodic work of Rachmaninov. However, it was her discovery of Janáček and Poulenc while at Edinburgh University that led her to gravitate toward pared-down compositions with an unusual use of harmony. After Edinburgh, Waller-Bridge gained a master’s degree from King’s College, London and a diploma from the Royal Academy of Music.
During the 2000s, she performed in an avant-garde collective called Tangent. However, by the end of the decade, she was focusing on her own compositions. One of her earliest to be publicly performed was a piano trio piece titled “Eikhah: Book of Lamentations,” which debuted in Edinburgh in 2008. In 2009, she composed for a Lucy Patrick Ward short film, but her big break came after providing additional orchestration for George Fenton’s Ivor Novello award-winning soundtrack to the BBC nature documentary Life. It led to similar work for Fenton the following year on the Hollywood-funded The Bounty Hunter. In contrast, she wrote delicate, almost mechanical, music box-like piano miniatures for director Claire Oakley’s debut short film, 2010′s Beautiful Enough. Before the year was out, she’d collaborated with Stephen Warbeck on Gilead, a BBC radio drama, and provided musical direction for a Manchester theatre production of A Christmas Carol. In 2011, she did the same for Katie Mitchell’s National Theatre run of A Woman Killed with Kindness.
In 2012, her orchestration could be heard on feature-length films such as John Roberts’ Day of the Flowers and Bart Layton’s The Imposter. Her versatility was clearly showcased in the wonky folk-rock that she contributed to a Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh production of Phil Porter’s Blink. The mournful strings and piano of her score for another Oakley short film, Physics, was much more in her comfort zone. In 2013, she provided music and sound design for no fewer than six stage productions. Notably, for a north London run of Rajiv Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries, she merged playful, Belle & Sebastian-style guitar- and piano-driven pieces with glitchy electronics. Although Angus Jackson’s Chichester production of If Only allowed her to experiment with Latin jazz, his later run of King Lear featured some of her most tense and dramatic pieces to date.
More work with Oakley followed in 2014, and Waller-Bridge’s somber score for her short film, James, won the Best Composer award at that year’s Underwire Festival. Her work on Nick Payne’s Incognito at west London’s Bush Theatre earned her the Best Sound Design gong at the Off West End Awards. Further film and theater work ensued in 2015, but it also saw her debut solo EP, Music for Strings. Recorded at Islington’s Angel Studios, the release was promoted a few months later by a rare live performance by Waller-Bridge at the same London borough’s Union Chapel.
Once again focusing on minimalist piano with orchestral augmentation, 2016 opened with her score to a BBC TV serialization of War & Peace. However, the debut of Fleabag on the same network in July proved a transformative moment for both Waller-Bridge sisters. An early cut of the first episode inspired the bedroom-recorded, punk- and heavy metal-inflected guitar riffs which ultimately bookended each episode of the BAFTA and Emmy Award-winning show. As the resultant offers of work flooded in, Waller-Bridge stepped back a little. 2017 saw her create odd, pulsing avant-garde electronica for Jack Thorne’s update of Woyzeck at the Old Vic, and solemn pieces for string ensemble graced Knives in Hens at the Donmar Warehouse. Understandably, 2018 brought a lot more TV work, for BBC’s The Split and The ABC Murders, as well as for ITV’s Vanity Fair. However, it was on the bubbling, electronic score to Chanya Button’s Vita & Virginia that she really excelled, with an unusual treatment for a film set in the 1920s.
Debuting in the middle of 2019, The Song Project was a live collaboration with the Dutch singer/songwriter Wende. Next, Waller-Bridge sent her sister out on tour with tailored sound design for a Fleabag stage show. Early 2020 brought an ornate, dynamic score for Emma, the directorial debut of the photographer Autumn de Wilde. Its release coincided with her debut single for Mercury KX, an introspective solo piano piece titled “September.” This was followed in March 2021 by “Illuminations,” a track replete with experimental chimes. The same year saw her deliver two contrasting film soundtracks for Christian Schwochow’s Munich: The Edge of War and Craig Roberts’ The Phantom of the Open. After working with the ballet dancer Francesca Hayward on Jess Kohl’s Siren, Waller-Bridge’s comment on climate change, “Temperatures,” debuted at the Royal Festival Hall. She kept her hand in theater sound design for London productions of The Forest and Mad House, while her work was also front and center in the middle of 2022 on Babak Anvari’s Netflix-funded crime thriller I Came By, as well as on Apple’s Roar TV anthology series. November saw the release of her VIII EP performed by the 12 Ensemble, and the year closed with her delicate score being featured on an animated adaptation of Charlie Mackesy’s book The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse. ~ James Wilkinson