The four concerts in the “Brahms and the Art of Film” week are the opportunity for the OSM to present four new creations: three works for orchestra, commissioned to three different composers – Blair Thomson, Zosha Di Castri and Régis Campo –, and a film created by the young filmmaker Mathias Arroyo-Bégin. The musicologist Gabriel Paquin-Buki conducted interviews with each of the creators.
Gabriel Paquin-Buki’s interview with the composer Zosha Di Castri, joined in Paris, January 21 2019.
You had to choose between several NFB short films and you chose Hunger, a 1973 movie by Peter Foldès. Why?
The film Hunger appealed to me because of its distinctive visual style and strong social commentary. The surreal, morphing quality of the early computer animation really caught my attention, and I immediately began imagining how I could embody this kind of warping and dissolving with the orchestra. The message of the movie also struck me as particularly relevant to our time. Here, I see Foldès revealing the grotesqueness of excess, self-indulgence, entitlement, over-consumption, and greed. I was also interested in how the objectification of women is depicted in this film, particularly in the wake of the recent #MeToo movement. For me, this movie is disturbing in a good way. It forces us to reckon with dark issues, but at the same time it is interspersed with surprisingly comical, even beautiful moments. Last, despite its experimental nature, I was drawn to the film’s clarity of form. The transparent delineation of the boldly colored backdrops and the use of repetition struck me as being a useful structure on which to build a musical composition.
In this project, the OSM wanted to explore the relationship between two art forms that are frequently in dialogue, but rarely require rewriting the music to a decades-old film. Describe your creative process.
I began my work by first analyzing the film closely, watching it many, many times. I made formal diagrams and spreadsheets to better understand the narrative arc and divided the movie into “scenes” which I named in the score. I then began to outline the form of the music and took note of key moments where I felt the music should punctuate or tightly correspond with the image. I then started to tackle the music, writing scene-by-scene but not necessarily in chronological order. I usually begin with whatever part is most clear to me, in this case, the beginning and the “falling” sequence, and work from there. I adapted the form of the music freely as I worked, but used my basic roadmap to guide the compositional process.
I spent some time studying Ravel’s Bolero when working on this piece, as a model for how to control and gradually build towards the tutti moments. Ravel is such a masterful orchestrator, using simplicity and variation to great effect, while really holding back the “big guns” so that his climaxes feel absolutely epic.
Early on in the process, I was feeling slightly constricted by writing to click track and felt the music was missing an important element. It was at this point that I began toying with the idea of having an improvised drumset part added to the orchestra. I cut and edited drum improvisations around the film, and began composing orchestral textures around these. The movie really started coming to life and I was excited about the tension created between a fully notated orchestral part and a drum part with guided improvisations. This voice became an essential thread throughout the work, connecting us to the character of the hungry man and also to the urban-retro aesthetics of the film itself.
What techniques did you use for the synchronization between the orchestra and the film? What are the tools at the conductor’s disposal, and will he have a certain liberty of interpretation?
In the score, I suggest that the piece be synchronized to the film via click track (in one ear only to enable the conductor to listen to the orchestra). Although it does limit the freedom of the tempi somewhat, I think it is important for the music to lock in with the movie so the points of connection are not lost. There definitely are passages where the coordination can be a bit looser, and even sections where the music seems to go against the image, however the click enables the more punctuated points to stay on track.
Could your work have a life outside of the short film that inspired it, or are the two intrinsically connected?
I imagine the piece could have a life outside of the short film, however since it was designed so tightly with the image in mind, I do think that viewing the movie with the music enhances the experience.
In closing, is there anything you would like to add?
I would just add that this project has definitely given me a greater appreciation for the work of film composers. It has been a challenging but interesting process to work on Hunger, and I am glad to have chosen a film that has only grown deeper every time I’ve watched it. Even after hundreds of viewings, I find it to be an inspiring work of art. I’d like to thank the National Film Board of Canada, particularly Diane Hétu, for being such a willing partner, and for allowing me to bring new sounds to one of the gems of their collection.