TALKING TO COMPOSER SIMON FRANGLEN ABOUT ONE OF HIS RECENT ASSIGNMENTS.
With over four hundred music credits that range from English Grime rap hits to classical, Simon Franglen has worked with an array of artists including Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, Celine Dion, Luciano Pavarotti, Toni Braxton, The Corrs, and Madonna. After several years as a top line session musician and record producer in Los Angeles, Franglen started in films working for John Barry, initially on the soundtrack to Dances with Wolves, then on Chaplin and many other projects after that. He created the gritty electronica for Howard Shore’s score to David Fincher’s Se7en and David Cronenberg’s Crash, produced the vocals for Moulin Rouge, programmed for the Bodyguard soundtrack. He was well-known for his long-time collaboration with James Horner as arranger and score producer on films such as ‘Avatar and The Magnificent Seven and many others. After James Horner’s tragic death in 2016, Simon completed the score to the re-boot of The Magnificent Seven, for which he received an ASCAP award. He finished the composition and delivered the music to Lightstorm/Disney’s ‘Pandora, World of Avatar’ – the ground-breaking theme park area in Florida. He received a Grammy Award for Record of the Year as producer for My Heart Will Go On from James Cameron’s Titanic, and received Golden Globe, Grammy Award and World Soundtrack Award nominations for co-writing and producing the theme song I See You from Cameron’s Avatar.
Can I begin by asking how you became involved on Notre Dame Brule?
Jean-Jacques Annaud is a very dear friend of mine. He called me in late 2020 to tell me about the project, and with JJ, then answer is always yes.
How many times did you see the film before starting to formulate ideas about the music and where it would be best placed?
Covid 19 delayed my opportunity to see the film during production, JJ invited me to the shooting within Notre-Dame, but the quarantine restrictions at the time stopped me from going. Later in the summer of 2021, JJ invited me to Burgundy, where he was cutting the movie. This also allowed me to visit Sens Cathedral where they had done some of the shooting, and record the wonderful 500 year old bells there. We spent a couple of weeks there, watching the film together, discussing how the music should emotionally respond as events unfurled.
Your actors and your story drive the sound of the score, and in this case my leading lady was a thousand-year-old icon. Choir, orchestra, church bells, a solo soprano were all colours for the cathedral. Our heroes were the firefighters, young men and women who risked their lives by climbing through the fire to stop the total collapse of the entire building – that required a more brass lead sound to allow it to speak through the sound of the fire and collapsing timbers.
Did the director have any specific ideas regarding the style of music or indeed a sound that he was looking for?
Obviously JJ drove the score, that is true of all directors, but then he gave me a very specific brief: “Go write what you feel”. There was little or no temp music in his cut, JJ says that he doesn’t like box composers in with other films’ music. He had very specific notes about every scene, about how the music should feel, what points to hit, which undercurrent to feed into, but then he left me to it. I would write cues, send JJ demos and he would then give me feedback. I went back to France a couple of more times to sit with him and importantly, to meet the sound effects team so that I could get a sense of where the music would sit in the Atmos dub. Roaring fire is as bad for music as my other favourite counterparts, helicopters and machine guns, so you have to write to make the music work for the film, not the soundtrack album; this means that sometimes clarity of line is of more importance within the cinema than thematic extensions or additional orchestration.
What size orchestra and choir did you utilize for the score and where did you record it?
Covid was, as with most projects over the past couple of years, the driving factor in what we could do and how and where we could record. I prefer to record the whole orchestra at once if I can, so we recorded the entire orchestra over a couple of days at the Hall at Air Studios. Restrictions meant that the maximum I could record was 70 players at one time.
I used the wonderful Tenebrae Choir for all the choral work, and Grace Davidson as the principal soloist whose voice you hear across many of the cues. We recorded them at Abbey Road Studio 1. Simon Rhodes was, of course, the recording engineer and mixer for this.
I am pleased that a soundtrack album will be released, and it is already available on digital streaming platforms, did you have any input into the release, as in selecting what tracks or pieces would be included on the release, and will the release include the complete score?
Sony Milan contacted me to ask if I and Pathé Films would be interested. Milan had released the ‘Curse of Turandot’ soundtrack, which had gone very well, and they have done a wonderful job in putting together the new soundtrack. I am very pleased there is a physical release as well. I wrote about 85 minutes of score for the film, so some cues have not made their way onto the soundtrack, but I am very pleased with the outcome. We made a choice to keep the score in film order, I think it allows the listener to take the journey with the music. I also made a choice to record a true end title, rather than editing together some elements from cues within the film as often happens these days. I wanted to reflect Jean-Jacques amazing film as the titles rolled.
How much time did you have to write the score
I think I wrote it in about 9 weeks.
Did you conduct the score, or do you prefer to supervise the recording and have a conductor?
I conducted some of the score, specifically the main themes and major plot points, who wouldn’t want to do that, but most of the score was conducted by my lead orchestrator, Steven Baker. Jean-Jacques liked to sit with me in the control room and discuss the cues as they went down in case any elements needed tweaking. We didn’t have a lot of time, and therefore this allowed me to work faster.
Many thanks to the composer for his time.