Max and Ben Ringham had extremely opposite musical tastes growing up. There were “sound wars” in their bedroom. They did, however, pool their equipment – musical instruments, keyboards, samplers – which piled up high at one end of the room.
This pile turned into a mountain and then followed them to a shared studio in London in their twenties when they decided to make music together. They’re now in a 25-year professional partnership that started off composing drum’n’bass records, then making television production music, to becoming one (or two, to be precise) of the biggest names. sound and musical composition to organize it.
They have worked with everyone from Jamie Lloyd (on the famous Pinter to the Pinter season in the West End) to David Rosenberg (of Darkfield). Together with Ella Hickson, they created Anna, a groundbreaking National Theater production broadcast through binaural headphones. Blindness at the Donmar Warehouse, an installation featuring the voice of Juliet Stevenson, was one of the most experimentally daring shows of the pandemic with its rumbling and throbbing sound layers, while Pass Over, in the oven, carried ominous, buzzing notes to chime with the themes of existential fear in the room. More recently, they designed the sound of Prima Facie, with Jodie Comer, which featured the harsh skin of rain against dangerous notes of electronica.
The Ringhams have four years between them – Max is the oldest at 50 – but lack the power dynamic of a dominant/passive sibling. They play a conversational tag when we meet – Max intrudes on Ben’s thoughts, Ben builds on Max’s ideas – which feels, well, almost orchestral. They’ve been the recipients of the repeated joke that they’re one person who scrolls like two: “People have said ‘I bet Ben or Max don’t exist,'” Ben says.
The brothers come from a sound dynasty. If there were music wars in their childhood bedroom, there were bigger battles elsewhere in their north London family home. The kids in the apartment above them were into punk, and three of them grew up to be professional musicians. Their father, John Ringham, was an accomplished actor and musician with a grand piano in the living room. “Dad listened to music relentlessly, so he would play the piano or turn on the radios as he walked through the house, leaving everyone on,” Max says.
Their two older sisters had the same passion: “Jessica was really into AC/DC, Hannah was into an eclectic range of things,” Max says, while their mother, Felicitas Ringham, a French literature scholar, wrote dictionaries and books on semiotics.
When Max went to Belize for six months, Ben agreed to oversee his drum’n’bass work and was hooked the moment Ben returned: “I refused to give up because I really enjoyed it. .” At first, they lived off shared cans of beans and scrambled for errands. “We did a lot of library music [generic production music]. It was a very good discipline to create styles of music very quickly. Ben adds, “It’s about being intuitive and trusting your ability to keep going.
The two sisters ended up getting into the creative industry as well; Jessica is a wigmaker while Hannah co-founded the theater collective Shunt. At Shunt, the brothers expanded on a few aspects of their practice and set about creating immersive sound and music for theater spaces.
“Shunt was a free-for-all art game,” Ben says, reflecting on the lack of distinctions between writers, directors, or designers. “It was really exciting for us because we’ve always been more stimulated in an environment where people are discussing things other than sound,” adds Max.
They always work according to the mantra “why can’t we do it?” resulting from these interdisciplinary collaborations. There’s no fine line between composing music and creating a sound design for them, or writing music versus writing a script. Their last two projects testify to this hybridity. They have just finished co-writing the music and screenplays (with Dan Rebellato) for Exemplar, a series which will air on BBC Radio 4 in August with Gina McKee and Charlie Hardwick, among others, about a forensic audiologist. They’re also working on a new musical with Tanika Gupta – she’s writing the book, they’re the music.
As fruitful as their collaboration is, being brothers and colleagues also has its constraints, although their financial agreement is set in stone. “We said early on, it doesn’t matter who does what job, it’s always 50% and there’s no discussion about that,” Ben says. “We constantly talk about parity and we make sure to take care of that side,” adds Max.
Creatively, there is never a project that one of them will do alone. “At the design stage, we exchange ideas, discuss palettes and sounds. But by the time a show goes into technical rehearsals, it’s usually one of us who takes over,” explains Max, adding that a director has rarely expressed a desire to work with one. or the other.
When they listen to their sound and music from years ago, they can’t always be sure who wrote what: “We’ll say ‘That’s really good, I’m sure I wrote that’ or ‘That sucks – it was you.’” Ben says with a laugh.
The Holy Grail now captures a sound no one else has, they say, suddenly resembling sound world anoraks. They’ll annoy their partners by stopping on a street corner to record the creaking of a railing, a subway grate in New York or the wind whistling around an Antony Gormley sculpture in Folkstone, like one of they did it the week before.
Recording everything on their phones is “not perfect, but it’s unlike anyone else, and that’s the motto,” Ben says. “Having something unique that nobody else has – we’re pretty obsessed with that,” adds Max, “and nobody has the creaky door.”