John Mansell: You were born in Geneva Switzerland; did you come from a family that was musical?
Vincent Gillioz: No one is playing any instruments in my family, but my father has a very similar profession, he is a creative. He is in the advertisement business, he conceptualizes, draws, paints, designs, structures an ad, a campaign, a product, or a poster following the directions/intent of the client and within a certain budget. And he also has to think about what will be the effect on the audience – all that is very similar to what film composers do. All those professions based on the appreciation are very similar in the way we all think it out; they are all about “composing”, in other words, making decisions on how/what/where/when to place an element with another to communicate an idea.
John Mansell: Did you know right from the start of your interest in music that you would write for film?
Vincent Gillioz: No. It is when I was studying the guitar at Berlkee College of Music in Boston that I discovered that my interest was not so much in performing, but in writing music, so I did a dual major in performance and film scoring. Film scoring because I love movies and because I’ve always been amazed by the atmosphere that the music was bringing you in when you are seating in a theater and watching a movie, it’s absorbing.
John Mansell: Over the past few years you have been very busy indeed. I think I am right when I say you have worked on over 30 projects; that is certainly a big workload. How do you maintain a schedule such as this. You must be very organised and disciplined?
Vincent Gillioz: Yes, it can be very draining to compose constantly for deadlines. In order to reach them, it is crucial to be well organized. With times I’ve got accustomed to it, and manage much better the pressure, and the way to get the “creativity” flowing.
John Mansell: You were given guidance by Christopher Young, what was he like to work with?
Vincent Gillioz: I met Chris a few months after I arrived in LA, at the Society of Composers and Lyricists Christmas Dinner where I volunteered. I went to Chris and just wanted to thank him for the great music he has been giving us for so many years. I know all his scores and the most obscure ones too. And he was amazing; he asked if I had his phone number and said that we should get together. Woooow, I didn’t expect anything like that. Then, he listened to my demo CD and told me I should go to the Sundance Composers Lab, I was the only one he recommended this year, so I was very touched and honored. Since then he has always been inquiring how I was doing, and if he could anything to help me. Once he lent me his studio to record. Chris Young is very supportive of aspiring composers, he is a magnanimous person, he started the ‘The Tilden House Residency’. The Tilden House Residency is a unique residency program offering low cost housing in Los Angeles, California in order to help aspiring film composers and musicians establish themselves in Hollywood.
John Mansell: What made you decide to re-locate to the United States?
Vincent Gillioz: Many different reasons convinced me to move to the US. First and foremost as a Swiss citizen, there is no way I could make a living as a film composer in Switzerland; the market is too small for us to have an industry. Then, I studied in Boston; I discovered the USA and loved the mentality here, very optimistic and making things happen rather than talking. Also, regarding film music, there is no better place to be than Los Angeles. The multitude and variety of projects being made is amazing. It is so exciting also to meet all those talented and motivated filmmakers who have the same focus that you have. Out of the pollution, Los Angeles is a great city to live in, the art, the food, the beach, the mountain, the desert, the music, the architecture, the opera house the weather, the symphony orchestra, the museums, etc. The quality of the resources is amazing.
John Mansell: How do recording facilities differ in the States and Switzerland?
Vincent Gillioz: The experience is key. Here in the US they are so used to record film music, it’s a daily job, in Switzerland it’s an event.
John Mansell: How many times do you like to see a project before you commence the actual scoring process?
Vincent Gillioz: That’s a great question. I tried different ways, I tried to see a project so many times that you know it by heart, and then started to score it. The problem to me is that you lose perspective on it, you start to miss the emotional shape of the movie, because you know what is going to happen next, you don’t react anymore as intensely as you should. So I prefer to watch it as little as I can before I start scoring it. But it is very important for me to know where I want to go and how is shaped the whole movie, so that I know how I will structure the music on the overall. Like a story, the music needs to go somewhere. I don’t like to read script though. If I read the script, I become the director, and it is useless and misleading. Also, the way a movie is edited, photographed, the way a story is told, acted, directed will influence my writing, all those things are not found in a script.
John Mansell: What film music composers would you say have influenced you in the way you score films etc?
Vincent Gillioz: I love so many film composers. To me John Williams is the master of all; whatever he does fits the movie and at the same time is inventive, original and great to listen to. He is the ultimate embodiment of a film composer’s goal. I love all the following composers because they have their own voice: Elliot Goldenthal, Marco Beltrami, Christopher Young, John Corigliano, Howard Shore, Thomas Newman, Bronislau Kaper, Jerry Goldsmith, Ennio Morricone, Sergei Prokofiev, Danny Elfman, James Horner, Bernard Herrmann, Alan Silvestri, Asche and Spencer, Philip Glass, Tomandandy, Toru Takemitsu… What influences me a lot is why, when and how the music is used. Sometimes, the music in itself might not be “interesting” or might not stand a listening by itself, but works perfectly for the movie. Also, the way some directors uses music in a very original way is just amazing, among others, I can think of Stanley Kubrick, Paul Thomas Anderson, Jean-Luc Godard, Wong Kar Waï…
John Mansell: What musical education did you receive?
Vincent Gillioz: I started to play the guitar with a private instructor; I was playing in a metal band at the time. My first academic studies were at Berklee College of Music in Boston, where I did a dual major in Performance and Film Scoring. Then I went to Conservatory of Music of Geneva in Switzerland to study classical orchestration and composition.
John Mansell: You started out playing guitar in a heavy metal band, when did you decide to switch to being a composer?
Vincent Gillioz: I went to Berklee in Boston to study the guitar. When I played in bands, we always composed the music that we played. It’s only when I was studying and practicing so much that I became aware that what I liked was not how well I could play, but which note to put one after the other, which instrument will play it, how, what and when, in other words, composing. I have always loved the atmosphere that the music creates when I was sitting in a theater, and I always had a very strong love for movies. To write music for movies, you need to understand movies very well, it is first about the movie, not about the music.
John Mansell: Most of your scores that are released on CD are on your own label Spheris Records – are these promos only?
Vincent Gillioz: Those are commercial releases that are available for sale on the usual soundtrack stores like Screen Archives Entertainment, and Intrada in the USA, Au Paradoxe Perdu, Chris Soundtrack Corner and Rosebud Cinema Shop in Europe, and Ark Soundtrack Square in Japan. The scores are also available in MP3 format on CD Baby, iTunes, Rhapsody, Napster, and many other online stores.
John Mansell: What would you identify as being the purpose of music in film?
Vincent Gillioz: That is the first question that I ask the filmmaker at the beginning of each project. He or she will be the one determining the role of the music in the movie. Music can be used in so many different ways. When filmmakers are not aware of all the different kind of use of music in movies, I explain it to them, so that they become aware of the powerful support that it can provide to the storytelling. To experience a complete list of the different uses of music in a movie, I would recommend watching Jean-Luc Godard’s PIERROT LE FOU; you’ll find also the craziest use of music one can ever imagine.
John Mansell: Have you ever declined to work on any project, and was there any particular reason for this?
Vincent Gillioz: I don’t decline to work on a project unless I cannot make it fit my schedule. I have become addicted to being constantly working and I developed the phobia of having no project to score after I finish one.
John Mansell: Edward Shearmur and George S Clinton are another two well known composers that you have worked with; in what capacity did you have contact with them?
Vincent Gillioz: I met them, Mark Isham, Rolfe Kent and Thomas Newman at the 2002 Sundance Composers Lab. They were visiting us, we had group discussions and one on one visits with them. It was very nice and laid-back.
John Mansell: Do you value the use of a temp track on a project you have been asked to score, does a temp track give you a better idea of what the filmmaker requires for his movie, or does it get in the way of your creative flow?
Vincent Gillioz: Just this morning the director of my next movie, Verso (dir. Xaver Ruiz), asked me how I felt about receiving the movie with a temp track, because they are editing the movie with a temp track to help. I said that it doesn’t bother me. It would bother me only if I am asked to copy the temp track; it is something nobody would like to have to do. The temp track helps me understand the filmmaker better than words would. So I watch the movie once with the temp track, then discuss with the director what he or she wants the music to do in the movie, what he or she likes about the temp, if it is a certain instrument, atmosphere, structure, etc. Then, I start scoring and never listen to the temp track again, I completely forget about it.
John Mansell: What is the largest orchestra that you have utilised on a score for film?
Vincent Gillioz: It was a 60 piece orchestra on QUELQUES JOURS AVANT LA NUIT if I remember well.
John Mansell: Do you conduct all of the music you compose for film, or do you at times have a conductor?
Vincent Gillioz: I prefer having a conductor, because I have only one brain cell, so I would not be able to listen to the whole or sometimes a specific instrument, think about what should be changed for a better result, take notes, and conduct at the same time.
John Mansell: Do you think that orchestration is an important part of the composing process?
Vincent Gillioz: Speaking about the real job of an orchestrator, that is to decide which instrument will play the lines, and not the Hollywood orchestrating job that is a copyist job. Personally I cannot conceive composing without knowing which instrument is playing the line that I am creating. It doesn’t make any sense, you don’t write the same if it is a flute, where you can hold a note or a piano, where the note disappear once hit. The timbre, the technique, the spectrum of the instrument will determine the line you are creating; this is nonsense to me to compose without knowing which instrument is playing. And I am much too egocentered to let someone else take a decision on my music.
John Mansell: Your score for THE IRISH VAMPIRE GOES WEST(aka AN IRISH VAMPIRE IN HOLLYWOOD0 has just been issued onto CD, again on your own label. Do you select all the music that goes onto the finished CD, and how long does it take you from start to finish to produce a soundtrack CD?
Vincent Gillioz: I decide of everything regarding the production of my CD, the tracks, the order, the titles, etc. But I let the design of my covers to my great and talented friend of mine, Luis M Roja from Argentina, check out his website for other covers of his www4.webng.com/soundtracklist/index.htm. Since I am doing everything else myself, it takes me much too long to do it, because I am also pressing the CD’s one by one myself, I cut the covers for each CD, and I’ve bought a laminator to laminate each CD, I take care of the packaging and shipping too. Each CD has my “sweat” on it.
John Mansell: Away from film music, what are your musical influences?
Vincent Gillioz: I love classical music, mostly 20th (21st) century music, the Russian composers, Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Mussorgsky, Schostakovitch, I also love Ligeti, Corigliano, Bartok, Penderecki, Murail, Hosokawa, Takemitsu… I don’t follow so much the newest stuff in other styles, so I am stuck with my classics, like early Metallica, Paco de Lucia, John Coltrane, U2, early Megadeth, The Police, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Slayer, Miles Davis, Bill Frisell, Charlie Haden, Shakti, early Iron Maiden, Egberto Gismonti…
John Mansell: You have also written for the concert hall. What were these compositions, and did you conduct any of them in concert at all?
Vincent Gillioz: I’ve never conducted the concert hall compositions, I wish I had actually. The concert hall music is a whole different beast. I like to do it, because I can use a different “language”. Also the music and the instrumentation can be much more daring, because there is no one who has to green light the piece, and who could be afraid that it might be too out of the ordinary and take the whole attention. Those pieces also allow me to know the limits of the instruments because I can push the envelope and develop without any restrictions.
John Mansell: Out of all the projects that you have worked on, do you have a particular favourite?
Vincent Gillioz: I will dodge that question. They are all my babies, so I have to like them evenly. Seriously, they all have a particular history, representing a specific moment in my evolution as a writer. When I hear them, they bring me back to the moment when I was writing them. They are my Proust’s Madeleines.
John Mansell: When writing music for a project do you work out your musical ideas with piano, or do you utilise a computer or synth etc?
Vincent Gillioz: I mostly use the sound that I am writing for, because it influences the creation. Mostly I imagine the lines first in my head, and then use the keyboard to give life to it. But sometimes I put a piano sound and fool around with it. If the music gets very complicated, I need to write it down, to see everything that is happening at once. It is also very nice to full around with the computer to experiment, for example to apply a different instrument than thought at first to a line, say you wrote a line for a horn, and then you give it to a marimba, or you can mess up with the tempo, keys, applying effects to the line etc.
John Mansell: You scored the thriller LAST BREATH which I enjoyed very much, how long did you have to work n the picture and how many players did you use for the soundtrack?
Vincent Gillioz: Thanks John for your comments on Last Breath, it is very kind of you. I had maybe 2 months to score Last Breath. There was actually no orchestra recorded, but only a few live players, all thVe woodwinds, a violin and a cello.
John Mansell: As a collector of soundtracks now for shall we say a long time, I for one am concerned that the theme or the main title is being faded out, and some composers are making more frequent use of the droning sound or noise on a score, which I think is just filling space, what is your opinion of this practise and do you think its just a trend or something more permanent?
Vincent Gillioz: .It seems that drones/textures are getting more present, and that counterpoint is disappearing at the same time. The music language gets poorer, as a result there is less and less ambiguity in the emotions conveyed. However the variety of sounds/colour is richer than ever. It is due to the technological development, we can sculpt new sound very easily. This technological development is leading to a democratisation of the profession. Today it is possible to produce a score for pretty cheap, and without needing as much music knowledge as it used to be necessary. Libraries of ready made loops allow to make up for this lack. I believe it is a paradigm that must be happening in many professions. Also the fact that selling music doesn’t pay much anymore because of the low streaming rate, more and more musicians turn to film music to make a living.
John Mansell:Whats next for you?
Vincent Gillioz: I’ve just finished scoring a trailer and I am scoring a logo for a distribution company, then I will be preparing for an orchestral recording of music that I arranged/orchestrated for a composer.