The French film industry in the past ten or twelve years has somewhat improved its output in horror movies and there have been several examples that can, I think be deemed as mini classics. Several the more prominent examples have focused upon the guts, gore and gratuitous violence and sadistic aspects of the horror genre, maybe mirroring the Hollywood productions that have been presented to cinema goers in recent years hoping to attract audiences. LIVIDE however, concentrates more upon the traditional jumps and starts of the horror film and it is the atmosphere created by lighting, camera, actors and storyline that make the watching audience uneasy and uncomfortable rather than any full-blown violence or grotesque acts of bloodletting. Its storyline begins with three young people who decide it might be a good idea to break into an old mansion after they hear that there is a great treasure hidden there, after all what could possibly go wrong, well for starters its Halloween and the house is inhabited by an old woman, who was a ballet teacher and is in a permanent comatose state, but other than that it will be fine. The trio of would be thieves, however, come across a lot more than they had bargained for. As soon as they enter the house a night of uncanny and unsettling events begin to unfold. The movie is a combination of sub genres that we associate with the Horror movie, it is in theory a haunted house movie, filled with all the uncertain dark passages and the creaks and noises that are unexplained etc. There is also a certain aura of the Fantastic mixed into the plot, but again this is certainly not a fantasy film. As I have already stated LIVIDE relies on the atmosphere created by its suitably dusty and eerie sets, the dark and unwelcoming house watching the horrific and frightening events as they unfold. Released in 2011 and directed by Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, who together brought to the screen the disturbing and harrowing horror’s, INSIDE (2007) and AMONG THE LIVING (2014), which were both successful at the box office. Composer Raphael Gesqua has written a wonderfully atmospheric and chilling score for LIVIDE, his music is more than supporting to the scenario unfolding upon the screen, in fact I would say that the score is responsible for making the movie so effective and disconcerting in places.
It is Gesqua’s music that punctuates and underlines every move that the three intruders make and it also stabs and jumps as they head into a more uncertain and dangerous situation. The composers score is at times like a soundscape of effects that for me became the voice of the house, an ominous and breathy sound being utilised and underlined with dark sounding percussive elements and combined with a sombre and somewhat sinewy sounding violin which is highly effective when combined with a spidery and deliciously fragmented piano. It is a score that at one moment is slightly melancholy and subdued, then in an instant it erupts and screams at you. It is dark and brooding, tinged with a virulent persona and contains an urgency that at times is filled with dread. The combination of the photography, acting, storyline and music is literally startling.
I spoke to the composer about his music and also about LIVIDE and other projects.
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. Thus, it should be considered 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 marveled fortunately their children, and finally, today, these same children pay tribute to the music of yester year 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 must 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 the same as in cinema.
You scored LIVIDE in 2011 for Alexandre Bustillo and Julien Maury, how did you become involved with the movie?
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. A friend of mine then told me about a guy in videogames business who had gone to movies business, and he also knew and liked 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 “The ABCs of Death 2” (“X” segment) still with the 2 directors. Now we are real friends, which turns it even more fantastic to work with each other.
What size orchestra, ensemble or selection of synthetics did you use for LIVIDE?
No orchestra was used on Livide. Only hard work with computers, with the only great real instrument, the sweet voice of Florence Martin Giovannelli, for the “Soul Sisters – Final Lullaby” ending theme.
Did the directors/writers Bustillo/Maury have any specific ideas or instructions for you regarding the way in which the movie should be scored?
Yes, at the beginning, they asked me to put some “classical melancholy” to their film, as the main musical direction.
How much time were you given to score LIVIDE ?
I think I worked for about 2 months on the film.
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 do like better music adding information than only underlining it…and sometimes, silence is better.
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 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 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 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 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 class 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.