Can I start by asking what would you say inspired you to become a composer?
I was inspired very early by the music of cinema because one of my aunts had a cinema in the south of France. From an early age I went into this huge room and I watched the same movie several times. I was seven years old. When I went home, the music of the film went through my head, I went to the piano and played it. Very quickly, I felt the need to imagine another music, the desire to compose began at that time.
Was film music always a career you wanted to pursue or were you just wanting a career in music and film music became part of this?
Music was everything that mattered to me. I wanted to live this art and could not imagine doing anything else. I only thought about it and spent most of my time working on my piano, doing scales like everything else. Whole hours. I worked my instrument up to ten hours a day. After having taught, I decided to compose because I felt the need to be creative and not just to remain an interpreter.
What musical education did you have and did you focus upon one area or areas of music whilst training?
I had a very classical education. I studied piano and harmony with Jeanne Vidal who was a pupil of daisy Long then returned to the conservatory in Toulouse and finally in Paris with Aldo Ciccolini. There were, of course, classes of harmony, that of chamber music. But the piano remained the essence of my concerns.
Were any of your family musical at all?
Unfortunately I was the only one to make music. My father was a regular soldier and I think he’s always been disappointed that I’m not following his path. I was basically encouraged by my mother, besides, my father never came to support me when I was competing and was not going to see the films for which I composed the music. The strangest thing about all this is that as far back as I can remember I’ve always heard music in my head.
Would you say that contemporary film music is less melodic or not as theme based as movie scores from the 1970’s and back to the 1960’s?
Contemporary film music may be less thematic than that of the 70s or even the 60s. That said, I think there are styles of music that go with the times. Nowadays it can be less or more minimalist. I think for example of the beautiful music written by Michel Legrand. As beautiful as they are, they are representative of a cinema of another era.
Are there any film music composers or indeed musical artists that you find particularly interesting and for what reasons?
There are many yes! It is always a delicate question because to name names is also to forget. But I find for example the work of Ennio Morricone exemplary. He is an immense composer, one of whom immediately recognizes his style, although he has evolved and adapted throughout his career. There is also Gabriel Yared who still signs remarkable orchestrations, Philippe Glass who was the first to introduce a repetitive structure. Iglesias who works a lot with Pedro Almodovar is a very good writing technician in that he really has the orchestration skills. Its invoice is always elegant and efficient and fits perfectly to the image. I also really like the melodic potential of Georges Delerue. Moreover, shortly after composing the music of Yvonne’s perfume, Colette Delerue phoned me spontaneously in the middle of the night (she called me from Los Angeles) to tell me how much my musical writing reminded her of her Husbands music. It had touched me so much that the companion of such a musician calls me to tell me that. It’s a nice memory
When you begin to work on a movie, what is the first order of practise for you, by this I mean do you like to develop a central theme or do you work on smaller cues before creating the main core theme?
When I’m working on a film I’m not necessarily trying to establish a main theme or secondary themes. I do not have a method or recipe for that. The music imposes itself suddenly and completely. I do not hear a melody that I will harmonize but the whole in its total structure. This is a pretty difficult process because it can happen for hours without anything coming as it can come right away.
How much time do you like to be given to write a score for a movie, or is every project different?
Mostly we have five to six weeks to complete the score, but this kind of exercise is rare. I think that all the composers wish to have a maximum of time but this is far from being the case in France. Often we only get five or six weeks to write the music and carry out the orchestration. This may be sufficient depending on the content of the orchestral score. For example, writing the score of Confidences too intimate took me three weeks. But being in a state of emergency is good. I wrote my first music for the feature film in three weeks as well. I did not have any more delays because the music had to be written originally by Michael Nyman and the studio recording date being fixed, I had to work day and night to deliver 40 minutes of orchestrated music with several themes and music styles. I happened to have more time, to be part of the project when the film was not yet shot as for THE Widow of Saint Peter. This allowed me to start writing on the screenplay,
I think your first scoring assignment was in 1991 when you wrote the music for a short entitled DE L’AUTRE COTE DU PARC how did you become involved on the movie?
DE L’AUTRE COTE DU PARC , was not my first short film. At the time I was taking drama lessons and a student of the course told me that one of his friends had just finished his film and was looking for a composer. We met and then reworked another project for which I had asked Ivry Gitlis to perform the score of the solo violin. A kind of rapsodie.
THE WIDOW OF SAINT PIERRE was I think an interesting movie and your music helped it so much, what size orchestra did have for the movie and where did you record the score?
For the widow of Saint Peter the orchestra was quite important. A hundred musicians. It was an ambitious film with beautiful actors but the score should not in any way look like a Wagnerian orchestra. What counts is the way we write the orchestration and not the number of musicians. To give an example that everyone will be able to understand, in the second concerto of Rachmaninov the composer has shown economy of means. Apart from thirty strings, he uses wood and brass by two apart from horns and timpani. That’s all ! And it’s one of the most beautiful scores for piano and orchestra that has a phenomenal scale. Another example in his famous requiem, Mozart takes only thirty performers. It’s just wonderful because it’s remarkably well written. The main thing is that the music sounds great and that is the orchestration that gives this feeling of uniqueness and consistency. We can therefore obtain a certain power with a minimum number of performers
You have worked with director Patrice Leconte on more than one movie, does he have a hands on approach when it comes to the music in his films or does he allow you a certain amount of freedom to things? the score before maybe suggesting?
We worked four times together. Patrice Leconte attaches great importance to music. Very soon he listens to music before shooting and sets the film with a temporary music as do a lot of directors. For him, music is essential to the narrative process of the film. Patrice gives indications and leaves free the composer, he is not elsewhere musician but simple music lover and knows how to stay in his place. That said it is very easy and pleasant enough to collaborate with a guy like him because he has a very precise idea of what he wants. This avoids going in all directions. I remember working with a director who after three weeks of writing had phoned me in the middle of the night to ask me if the style of writing that he had asked me was finally a good choice!
I was looking at you credits and I noticed that you more or less stopped scoring movies in 2008, have you ceased working in film or are you focusing upon other genres of music at this time?
It’s an embarrassing question. Writing for cinema requires total availability and phenomenal energy. My mother is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and I took care of my recently deceased godmother, who was also affected by this same disease. Today I finally recover my life.
What would you say was the purpose of music in film?
It depends on the film and the director but generally the music is the perfume of the film, the inside of the characters. In the image a comedian can say a sentence and think something else. The music can at that moment reveal what the character has in the head. It plunges us from the opening credits in the flesh of the film, it remains an essential element even if one can think that everything remains important in the cinematographic process. The music remains the inseparable couple image / sound. I think it’s because the music was in the days when the cinema was silent, the voice, the reflection but also the emotional actors.
Were any of your films tracked with a temp music track, if so do you think that this is helpful to the composer or do you think it is distracting?
I’m not bothered by this kind of exercise. To give you an idea, when you have a first feature film projected with the music of Michael Nyman who just had an Oscar for ‘the piano lesson’ and you have to rewrite the whole score, it is seasoned with fear. Temporary music, on the other hand, can help to give an indication, a color, an artistic direction. It gives the general mood, a kind of idea of what might be appropriate. But be careful, you watch twice a sequence with a good temporary music, this is not a problem. But if you watch five or six times this sequence working perfectly, it will be very difficult to get used to other music for the editing team and sometimes for the director. This is the problem of some filmmakers or editors who can not get away from a temporary music. After a while, when the composer delivers the music written for the film, it can be perceived as a kind of lie … Fortunately I never had this kind of problem.
MAN ON A TRAIN is such an atmospheric score, I think I am right if I say you fused both symphonic and synthetic elements in the score, what is your opinion on the increased use of samples and synthesised sounds within scores?
For the score of Man on a Train I wanted to approach the composition in a completely different way. I did not want to start from a narrative idea to compose the music of this film even if in the end, there is a melody and a narration. I started from the idea that there is in this story, the meeting of two worlds totally opposed to each other. Two worlds that we find in the main characters. So I recorded Dobro guitar sequences that I cut and then glued as a puzzle while mixing them with a symphony orchestra. A bit like mixing the life of Johnny Hallyday and that of Jean Rochefort in the film. This is imposed on me from the reading of the scenario and it was validated by Patrice Leconte. Writing a totally “classical” score would have served the film. The tandem music image is extremely powerful. The same musical passage used on a different sequence will express an entirely different thing. Some images of staggered on the setting of the music give a different intention. What is needed above all is to stay right. Generally the sound design gives a lot of body to the score. It may be too much used systematically to “save” or to give a force that was not able to give the composer to the writing of the orchestra.
What is your principal instrument for working out your musical ideas?
My main instrument is my body. My emotional, my hyper sensitivity. I do not create music by putting my fingers on the keyboard. it is built from within, the paper, the keyboard are only the expression of the internal phenomenon of which I do not know the nature and which always surprises me.
Do you orchestrate all of the music that you write, or are there times when you may use an orchestrator?
I never used an orchestrator and I do not know if I’ll be able to do that one day. I know that many do it to take more projects and earn more money also by subcontracting or even having musicians who write in their no. But it’s an important part of the creation that escapes them. I often see for scores released in the USA, three sometimes four orchestrators. The result is often good because they are great technicians of orchestral writing but one can wonder who is the father of the work? Who can really say who wrote The_Dark_Knight_This is a bit like asking Picasso to sketch out a drawing and Pissaro to put some color on it … Then there’s the overwhelming command and the the way to answer it is to delegate, it’s a kind of outsourcing. I do not understand how you can sign a job while using the work of others …
Have you a preferred studio where you record your music?
I really like to record in the Guillaume Tell studios, this former cinema turned into recording studios. In addition, it has a huge room that can accommodate large formations. There is a special atmosphere in this place.
There has been a lot of discussion amongst collectors about the use of the DRONE sound in film scores recently, is it music or is it sound design, and is it just a trend do you think?
This is a trend, I am sure.
How much of an impact on the score does the budget have?
Harmful. The film music budget remains the poor child of cinema in France. Producers really think about it once the film is found and if there have been significant overruns they are cutting back on the music budget. Many recognize how important music is, but they give little consideration to this position.
At what stage of the production do you like to become involved, does it help to have a script or is it better to become involved at the rough cut stage and how many times do you go over a movie before you begin to decide where music would be best placed?
We obviously can not know where the music will be placed on the image when reading a script. Generally this is chosen with the director. But editing a temporary music can also be put to the image for several reasons. On too intimate confidences Patrice Leconte and his editor had placed the music most often when the characters spoke of their past or their emotions. Very quickly I found that it did not really work and I took on me, placing the music when the actors were in their reflection. This was immediately validated by the director.
Can you tell us what you are working on at the moment?
Currently I have just finished writing a book, a first novel which I also wrote adaptation for the cinema. I would be very happy to present this project to a young American director… I have just finished writing a play. I also wrote the music of a ballet. The cinema is starting to miss me a bit but I want to come back with a nice project!
We are also missing Maestro Esteve, and I for one look forward to his return to scoring motion pictures, let us hope that a worthy project is waiting in the wings for him, so we can one again hear is eloquent and haunting themes and his emotive and atmospheric musical tones.