What is your first memory of any kind of music or contact with a musical instrument and do you come from a family background that is musical?
– Well, I remember my mother told me that when I was born, the doctor just took me in his arms and played classical music to the new born I was. Who knows? Maybe it all started here?
Apart from my father, who was playing jazz guitar when he was young (and even released an album) but didn’t turn it into his job at the end, there are no composers/musicians, or even artists in my close family…I’m the only one, I’m afraid.
What musical education did you receive, and what areas of music did you concentrate upon?
I’m kind of a self-made composer, which means I didn’t have the opportunity to study music in an “official” way. All I learned (and still am learning) comes from what I’ve listened to and “studied” by myself since my childhood. I can say for sure that it is my passion for movies and videogames that led me to turn my attention to music. I remember, as a child, always being listening to synthetic videogames music, sometimes instead of playing the games
themselves, and really annoying my parents with those “beep” sounds they didn’t understand at all. I even composed some music on 8-bit computers like “Amstrad”, on which there was no musical tools, and so you had to be a real computer programmer, even for composing music. But around 1987, a personal computer called “Commodore Amiga”, opened new horizons to me, as it enabled the perspective of using samples with a different way as synthesizers: the so-called “sound-trackers”.
Then I began to really involve myself in composing music, at the point that someday, came the emergence of a new period called “demo scene”, where computer geeks started unite their talents to create some kind of video clips on computers and spreading them on floppy disks and modems (there was no internet, back then)), each clip involving, mostly, a programmer, a graphic artist, and a composer.
I had the chance to be really quickly well appreciated by international “scene members”, at the point that I entered directly classified to the first place of what was called “The Euro charts”, a periodic classment of best programmers, graphic artists and composers from the demo scene, for which everyone in the world could vote. From this time, I still didn’t plan to make music my full time job, probably by lack of self trust. But one day, a very good friend of mine told me “Raphaël, you are talented, and if you don’t try to reach videogames companies, I’ll do it for you! As I can tell you, you WILL be a videogames music composer!” A couple of weeks later, I had a phone call from 2 great videogames companies: “Ocean Software” and “Delphine Software International”. It was amazing, for me, as one of those 2 companies produced games I even used to skip school to play them. So, imagine my feelings, when Paul Cuisset, the company director, called me to work on his future productions. A dream coming true…A few years later, the same friend told me” Now that you’ve done videogames music, I can assure you will compose for feature films!”And he was right too, about that. Many years after, however and to be frank, I must confess I still can’t read a musical score, today, and I’m still working with computers, as I always did.
Did you always want to write music for film, if so what inspired you to take this career route?
All I can tell is that I’ve always been a music addict, since my childhood. I remember always having some kind of melodies rolling in my head, without being conscious that I was already composing.
As I said before, it’s my passion for movies and videogames that leaded me to compose music. However, at the beginning, willing to be a videogames composer wasn’t easy at all, as most people were not considering it was a “real” job, because of the “beep” syndrome people couldn’t see that, already at this time, there was music ingenious composing masterful pieces with “beep” sounds. I’ve always considered that the human brain and soul behind a piece of art, was the only thing that matters…Still today, I can be much more moved by a piece of music made on a Commodore Amiga with 4 channels monophonic voices, than some other pieces played by a great symphonic orchestra. After all, at the end, only the result matters…
AMONG THE LIVING is one of your latest assignments, how did you become involved on this and how long did you have to score the movie?
In the past, after having worked for about 12 years in videogames industry, I decided, in 2003, that I would try my luck in movies.
So, I decided to search for young directors making short films, as I thought it would be the best scoring school, instead of already trying to reach “big” feature films directors, which I though wouldn’t work at all. Some friend of mine then told me about a guy in videogames business who had gone to movies business, and also knowing (and liking) my work. So, we met. And then, he introduced me to a young director making a short comedy-sci-fi horror film.
That was my first contact with director Julien Maury (of the “Maury and Bustillo” famous film duo). I did his two short films soundtracks, he seemed to love them, and so, naturally, when he managed to direct his first feature film with Alexandre Bustillo, “Inside” (“A l’intérieur”), in 2006, he offered me to do the soundtrack. That is how it began. Then came “Livid” (“Livide”), “Among the Living” (“Aux Yeux des Vivants”) and soon “The ABCs of Death 2” (“X” segment) still with the 2 directors. Now we even are real friends, which turns it even more fantastic to work with each other.
AMONG THE LIVING contains some unusual and also highly original instrumentation and orchestration, when you began working on the picture did you immediately think of using a whistler or was this an idea that evolved as you were working on the score?
Thanks a lot. To be frank, there was a first version of the soundtrack, in which I had done absolutely what I felt about the movie, without even discussing with directors, which was a big mistake. Indeed, instead of the final dark and dirty whistling musical direction, led by the prologue, I had took a more symphonic direction, at the beginning, closer to my previous feature film with same directors, “Livid”. When they listened to it, they told me: this is very good. You made your own movie, musically speaking, and it’s quite interesting. But this is not what we have in mind for “our” film. We want something dark, dirty and frightening. “From that time, I decided that the “Faucheur” theme (bad guys family), that was already written for cellos, could have been interesting if played by a simple whistle. But not a clean one, more like an old bad take from a bad whistler, to strengthen the sticky and stifling side of one of the family’s “normal” days. That’s why I decided to whistle myself, as I’m a very bad whistler. And as a result, the two directors just loved the idea, and then we decided to use it as a real leitmotiv for the bad guy.
What size orchestra did you use for the AMONG THE LIVING score and what percentage of the line up was synthetic?
Well, first of all, I have to thank you! Indeed, absolutely all instruments are virtual, in “Among the Living”, except, of course, my dirty whistling parts and dark voices, which also are my voice originally. The simple fact you’re asking the question is a huge reward, for me, as I consider working on virtual instruments as fascinating and difficult as working with “real” instruments.
Besides, I don’t quite like the term of “real” instrument. After all, what is a real instrument? Only result matters, once again, and the final goal of music is putting sound to the audience hears and minds, no matter the sound is coming from a tangible and palpable instrument or a computer connected speaker/headphone. Computers are no more dissociable to film music, today, as they allow to take any musical direction (big orchestras, electro, sound design…) no matter the budget. For instance, the solo violin playing the overture and end credits of “Among the Living” took me several weeks to reach the way it sounds, to fit what I exactly had in mind. So, it’s a hard work too, to manage to reach a realistic sounding virtual instrument, with some gain of time, too, as you don’t have to wait for musicians to play your score, to have an idea of the result. Of course, I’m not saying computers are better than real instruments (I definitely prefer having real musicians when possible) but again, they are more like complementary, additional than replacing each other. I love both of them. And I’m pretty sure Mozart, Bach, Beethoven and many others, would have just loved the opportunity to write a score and hear it immediately, using a computer.
Do you conduct at all or do you find it more productive to utilize the services of a conductor so that you are free to monitor the scoring session from the control box?
Ah, the question has already been answered: conducting is a real job, I’m just a composer, and I let professional conductors do their job, when needed, as they just do it brilliantly. So, yes, I stay most of the time in the control box, from where I get out sometimes to have a word with the conductor and musicians, which is a great part of scoring, when working on film with a big enough budget
The score for AMONG THE LIVING has been issued on a MSM/KRONOS compact disc, were you involved in the compiling of the disc or the sequencing of tracks from the soundtrack?
Of course…Mikael Carlsson of “MovieScore Media” and Godwin Borg of “Kronos Records” gave me a total liberty in sequencing the CD and in the visual choices. It was my choice, for instance, to keep the ENTIRE soundtrack on the CD, even the sound design parts, as it is my very first film feature soundtrack released on CD, and as I wanted to make it, above all, for the soundtrack geek I’ve always been, meaning I’m always annoyed when hearing that
some music parts from the original film I watch in a theatre, are missing on the soundtrack CD/Digital release. With “Among the Living” soundtrack, you’ll hear ALL of what you can hear in the film! It was really cool to work with MSM and Kronos, and I hope we’ll do it again in the future.
When working on movies how many times do you like to see them before arriving at any ideas about the type of music that it requires?
The first moment I think I’ve decided which musical directions to take for the film, is reading the scenario. Indeed, I’m lucky that directors always send me the script as soon as finished (even before its final version, sometimes), so we can begin discussions and choices for the soundtrack. They even invite me on shooting sets to feel the “live” atmosphere of the films, or at least they send me the rushes by internet, day by day, during shooting. However, most of the time, it is when I get the first edited pieces of the film that I really begin to decide the real final musical way of the film, as I think editing is a real guide, for a composer (in terms of rhythm, musical colour etc)…
At what stage of production do you prefer to become involved on a project, is it better to see a script or do you find it more helpful to wait and see the film in its rough cut stage?
I think the more we get the best! So much cases, in videogames mostly, where production only contacts you when the project is near its end…A pity…
AMONG THE LIVING has as I have said very original orchestration and I think this is one of the reasons why I liked the score so much, it ‘s unusual and innovative, do you orchestrate all of your own work for film, or is this something that due to scheduling etc is not always possible?
Well, thanks again. I’ll tell you. I really prefer doing less soundtracks and keep total control on their composition and production, than doing more and needing to let part of my job done by someone else. So yes, I do everything, when writing music, composing, arranging, orchestrating, mixing etc…Of course, if I have to work with a real orchestra, this is different then I have to let the conductor do his job, but I’ll make sure he gets a score that is quite playable for his orchestra. To summarize, I have a philosophy “If the score is bad, it’s all my fault, but if it’s good, it’s thanks to me!”
You worked with Alexandre Bustillo the director of AMONG THE LIVING previously on LIVID did he have specific ideas when it came to the music in both these movies, or were you more or less left to arrive at the sound and style by yourself?
Of course, Alexandre and Julien, the directing duo, always have a first idea of what they expect from me to bring to their movies, but they also give me a total freedom in adding some ideas, trying some weird things, proposing sometimes the opposite from what was initially planned in a sequence, etc…Which is kind of great, for a composer.
What composers or artists would you say have influenced you or have had any effect upon you when it comes to the way in which you approach scoring a movie?
Of course, there are several of them, but if I had to give a single name, that would be for sure John Williams. Indeed, he is the only one composer who gives me the feeling he knows which switches to turn on in my brain to fully stimulate my musical dreams connexions! I think his music is so rich that you even can find melodies in his orchestrations. Nothing seems comparable to a new Williams piece…except Williams…Of course, there are lots of other composers I just love, just after him, and who made me what I am Jerry Goldsmith, John Barry, Miklos Rosza, James Horner, Basil Poledouris, Bernard Herrmann, Alan Silvestri, Maurice Jarre, Vangelis, Hans Zimmer…Thanks to all of them, there was a time I couldn’t see film music other than being orchestral and symphonic. Today, I think the best way to innovate in scoring is to marry real orchestras with electronic instruments, or even using electronic orchestras in a way that wouldn’t be possible with real instruments. So many possibilities…And again, only result counts…
I think I am correct when I say you began by scoring a great number of video games, how did you begin working on motion pictures and what would you say are the main differences between scoring a feature film, a short film and working on a game?
Videogames led me to film scoring, as the first person from the movie business I met, Julien Maury, had been introduced to me by a common friend who had known my work in the videogames industry since a long time, and had moved from videogames to movies. The difference between videogames and films music is much less now than when I started about 23 years ago. At the time, it had to do with the inherent technical limitations of each machine. For example, just on the PC, it had to deal with on compatible MIDI sound cards.
Except that everyone was free to have the sound card of their choice. As a result, it should be taken into account that the same sequence sounds good for the PC of each player. A real challenge. Moreover, at the consoles, it was again each composition as often as existing consoles, because each had its own sound system, it should be used as a small very limited memory and number of channels synthesizer. This led to these synthetic records that irritated both parents and marvelled fortunately their children. And finally, today, these same children pay tribute to the music of yesteryear games by composing themselves in the synthetic
style that became thus a style of its own. Today, there is no technical limit, in composing for videogames, but there still is a difference: whereas in films you just work on a total linear
sequence, in videogames you have to kind of anticipate all situations where the player can find himself in. Also, you can work on real-time interactivity, by using, for instance, multi-tracks scores, with add/remove instruments system depending on player situation.20 years ago, on “Fade to Black”, for instance, I was kind of proud being named by some journalists as “one of the first interactive music composer”. However, when you work on cinematic sequences of a videogame, it is exactly the same as in cinema.
What would you say is the purpose of music in film?
Film music is like a second storyteller making the audience feel something else that just what they can see on the screen. If the composer has nothing more to say in a scene than the director, then he should stay away from the scene. Of course, sometimes, music’s purpose is only to reinforce a feeling, especially in action sequences or some scary ones…But I really do like better music adding information than only underlining it…And sometimes, silent
is really better…
Have any of the movies or games that you have scored been tracked with a temp track and if so was this something that found to be helpful in finding out what a director etc wanted for the project, or was it a distraction?
In videogames, never. In feature films, always. Temp tracks don’t disturb me, as I think I manage never to copy them, but only to use them as musical directions, and language to dialogue with directors and editors. Indeed, it is not easy for a director/editor to express what they expect from the composer in their film, and temp tracks are made for this: indicate the psychological direction, the needed musical colour of a sequence. The danger is when some composers are not able to compose something of their own, which means not only inspiring from temp tracks, but making a near plagiarism from it. It is sad, when watching a movie, to recognize which temps track must have been used for it. Unfortunately it happens quite often…
Do you use a piano or keyboard when working out your musical ideas or do you turn to a more hi-tech method?
Definitely Hi-tech! I entirely “program” my music with a computer keyboard: score, arrangement, orchestrating, effects, speed etc…It’s a long and very precise work, and I just love to be alone in my work room, giving birth to new pieces. However, sometimes, I just love to walk my fingers on my girlfriend’s piano, a very beautiful sound.
Using AMONG THE LIVING as an example, did you begin by creating a central theme in the first place and then create the remainder of the score around this or do you tackle larger cues first or maybe start with stabs and core sounds before starting on the main score?
Indeed, I began with a central theme, the one with lead violin, cellos and chords…which is the one you hear in the end credits. But it is that piece that led me to write all variations, including in sound design (that’s why we decided to put him back in first place in the “Among the Living soundtrack release. So, indeed, I love composing a central theme building the score’s foundations. I’m really attached to the idea of a well constructed score, with logical use of themes, even if you don’t hear many themes, in movie scores, since about 15 years…
What is next for you?
Well, apart from 2 new videogames scores and sound effects/voices, and the Maury & Bustillo’s “X” segment from upcoming “ABCs of Death 2” feature film anthology, there are about 4 features films soundtracks showing themselves to the horizon for me, including next Maury & Bustillo’s. I’ll be able to talk
about all of them very soon.