TALKING TO COMPOSER CYRILLE MARCHESSEAU.
Your most recent score is for the amazing short-animated movie Paper Birds, how did you become involved as composer on the movie?
Actually, this is not a short-animated movie but a VR Interactive film.
Ok, thankyou my mistake. So how did you become involved on the project?
We were in Los Angeles with the magic team from “Gloomy Eyes” for the Annie Awards, and German the 3DAR’s CEO tells me : “I have something to show you, let’s meet Toto”. And he showed me on a VR headset the Paper Birds’s prototype. I saw this little boy walking slowly on a bridge and then sat on a pontoon above the river and began playing a bandoneon piece which became fully magic with some sparkling effects in the night. I was totally blown away by it and almost cried because it was so emotive. He then explained this was the new one, the new baby. A musical tale and he asked me to put my heart and soul and he never stopped repeating that because this is the Paper Birds’s essence.
Did the directors Federico Carlini and German Heller have set ideas about how the music should work in the movie or what style of music should be placed on the film?
No not really, but he was insistent that we will have some bandoneon here. (laughs). They did ask me to have a female singer for Azul and some percussion such as a hang drum for the other world. The most important thing is that they are both musicians, Federico is an amazing guitarist, so they have precise ideas of what they like and what they don’t like. They pushed me many times in the process, and I love that! But they let me be free to propose things, this is the key. If someone trusts you, you can realise so much more than you think and overlap your own boundaries.
It is indeed a wonderfully thematic score, what size of orchestra did you utilise for the soundtrack, and did you also incorporate electronic support or samples?
Because of the Covid’s situation it was a little more complicated than expected. We had to be creative in many ways, that’s why there are many soloists as the great Juanjo Mosalini for the bandoneon, Pierre-François Dufour with his magic cello, Nicole Salmi for the song and many others in violin, percussion etc…The Orchestral parts were recorded with the Budapest Orchestra with 40 musicians. But for me this is mostly an atmospherically score as I create my own pad and sounds with many FX plugins, with lyrical climax indeed because I am into the romantic composer’s tradition.
There are voices utilised within the score, what choir is this and who are the solo performers?
All the choirs you hear in the score are samples which are combined and enhanced by electronic sound. Apart Nicole Salmi who brings her own universe for Azul’s track. I was looking for a classical singer but German suggested Nicole which turned out to be perfect! She is a well-known Brazilian singer and she brings a lot of charm to this scene.
Did you conduct and orchestrate the score or perform on it at all?
Yes, I orchestrated the score, but I didn’t conduct it, this was a full remote session. I do play the piano which is my instrument.
The music is delicate and emotive, how many viewings did you have of the movie before you began to formulate any ideas about how the score would work for the movie and what it would sound like?
Not so many times, I love to keep some freshness when I write a score, I always try the melody with and without the movie. In VR this is a game change. This is a new way of storytelling, and the music is a part of it, even more than in classical animation which is mainly illustrative. I always record some mock-ups which is so much better for Directors to feel the emotive intensions or the power of a part than a simple piano melody track.
The movie runs for thirty minutes, does the music run almost continuously in the film?
This is a musical tale, so there is a lot of music but luckily for the viewers some parts are only underscores so the SFX from Source-Sound and the amazing voices from Archie Yates, Joss Stone and Edward Norton can bring their magic too. As composers we have to keep in mind that we work for the film’s interest, we are a part of the team, so we have to help the viewer to focus on the story in the best way, but not use this opportunity to fill the gap with more music than we should…I hope so anyway. Silence is important too as well as the music’s placement.
There is a sound and style to your music for both Gloomy Eyes and Paper Birds that for me at times evokes the work of Italian composers such as Nicola Piovani and Luis Bacalov, what composers would you say have had an influence upon you and inspired you to write in the way you do for film?
Thanks for the comparison but I didn’t realize it. In a way I grew up with Morricone’s scores, so it makes sense I suppose. I also appreciate Franco Piersanti’s scores. There are so many composers I love but I didn’t think about influences…I really love the classical Russian composers and for movies’ composers if I must mention names, maybe Barry, Desplat, Coulais, Williams, Legrand, Silvestri, Bernstein, Magne, Mancini, Kilar, Delerue, Rota…and many others.
Gloomy Eyes is a favourite of mine, it’s a beautiful score for a movie that is I suppose essentially a dark love story, a kind of Romeo and Juliet storyline. Which has some beautifully affecting music including fragile nuances that are delicate and haunting. This is another animated short, is it difficult to establish a core sound for a particular character or a foundation to a score in such a short space of time?
You suppose right… This is exactly the theme, a love story between a little zombie boy and human girl. For me in this format we must be very efficient, we must define a set and keep it, but also play with it…In Gloomy Eyes there is this little riff like a little girl playing with her dog, whistling in a simple melody. Then I played with this idea and developed it on the whole movie.
What was the musical line up on Gloomy Eyes, as in live performances and synth elements and where did you record the score?
Gloomy Eyes is so special to me. It was the first time in animation where I could be more an artist than a technician. Nothing pejorative, but directors, Jorge Tereso and Fernando Maldonado did not want a typical decorative score. I wrote maybe half of the score in an orchestral way. They heard it and told me “We don’t like it…This is not Gloomy. Forget everything you know about animation music and explore”. Instead of making me give up, I felt free. I kept the themes and moods I had already created but I then used analogic sounds with a cello and a piano. The next day they asked for a zoom session, I was a little bit worried, and they said “Goosebumps”. Which I had to put into Google translate to understand the meaning. So after this we pushed further on in this way and it became very interesting because I can play between the illustrative parts and music which extend the narrator’s vision and feelings. I had the opportunity to get Colin Farrell’s voice over very early on in the process, so I wrote in the proper way to get something very connected. So, everything was done in my own studio, which for me was very comfortable, and I hope to meet again Gloomy in the future…
Is there a difference between scoring animation and live action for you, and do you score projects in the order they happen in the film as in from opening theme through to end titles, or do you establish a central theme initially and build the rest of the music around this?
Yes..maybe unconsciously. I think I am sober in live action scores. In animation we can play more with this candid exaggeration in the feelings. Most of time I’m searching the melody/harmony in the visuals: Colours, Depth, and Rhythm are all very important to me, so it can be everywhere in the movie. When I find it, I start scoring from the beginning and draw the music from this giving some clues of what will be the music in the climax. I love movie scores where the music “Knows” everything but stays subtle and graceful both in the form and content.
What are your earliest memories of any kind of music, was writing music for film something that you always had in your sights to do as a career and what musical education did you have?
I started the piano at 9 and always improvised, composing some little melodies. I listened to many movie scores at that time, Morricone, Williams, Goldsmith, and many others but it wasn’t realistic to think I can become a music composer. So, I spent time playing Jazz in bands like a pastime or hobby. I studied orchestration and harmony at the University, improved my composing style, wrote songs in a Pop/Rock band…but I couldn’t find my way, so I gave up. I stopped playing piano, making music and I started working as a sound editor. Maybe it was fate I got the chance to work for some French composers which was a great experience, I learned a lot of their works and it helps me to reconnect to the little boy’s dreams. So why not? And I decided to stop that job and put all my energy into composing. It’s always a good idea to listen to the little voice we have inside 😉
What is next for you?
Next…some great VR films with delicate subjects, a live performing art’ score and my first personal album which will be very cinematic.