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Camilla Uboldi Professor Laura Karpman (Charest) Culminating Experience/Internship and Thesis FS-695 4 July 2013

In this paper Im going to give an example of an experimental score over an animation movie and the relation between both through the study of Les triplettes de Belleville Les triplettes de Belleville: From Bach to Concrete Music 1. Introduction When I saw this movie, almost 10 years ago, I thought that I would like to create something that integrates pictures and music. Im a composer and also an illustrator and I have always been fascinating by animation and, of course, by the relationship it has with music. I have grown up with old Disneys cartoons and I still love them. If I decided to be a composer for animations, its partly because of those movies. In my opinion, Triplettes is a direct relative of these movies. It is modern but has the same flavor, and it is a particular case in which both arts have inspired each others development. Music and images are creative and unexpected at the same level. The main goal of this research is to discover how this relationship happened and to discover some secrets about the making off of the soundtrack. In order to achieve that objective I will structure this paper as follows. First, some information about the composer and the directors background; second a brief synopsis of the movie; finally an overview of the general aesthetic behind the work and more specific description of the music.

! 2. Composer and directors background


The Director Sylvain Chomet, was born in Maisons-Laffitte, Yvelines, near Paris. He published in 1986 his first graphic novel Le secret des libellules. He graduated in 1987 in animation at European School of Visual Arts Angoulme and moved to London in 1988 to work as an animator at the Richard Purdum studio. In September of that year, he established a freelance practice. In the same year he started to work on his first short animated movie, La vieille dame et les pigeons, released in 1996. The 25 minutes short film was nominated for the Academy Awards as Best short animated movie, in 1996. The film lost to a Pixar production titled Geris Game however, as a result of the movies notoriety, Chomet was invited to join the staff of Disney Animation Studios Toronto location. The experience at Disney only furthered his belief that he should be working independently(Nusair). After his departure from Disney, Sylvain was given the go-ahead to begin work on his feature-length debut, Les Triplettes de Belleville, released in 2003. The films unique visual earned many positive reviews, and established Sylvain as a new voice in the world of animation. Chomet was determined to employ a two-dimensional, hand-drawn animation style, and he almost entirely achieve this goal, although he finally had to use a bit of 3D animation in animating bicycles and cars. 1960s vintage Disney is my absolute favorite animation period, CGI is good for robots and toys, less for humans. I want to see the work of an artist on the screen not a machine whose visuals are too neat, shiny and clean. (Nusair). Les Triplettes De Belleville was nominated for an Oscar for Best Animated Film, although it lost to Pixars Finding Nemo. The composer Benoit Charest was born in Montral in 1964. At the age of 13, Benoit developed a passion for the guitar and began to play songs of the Beatles and Led Zeppelin. He

!"#$%&' )' ! studied Jazz with Berklee graduate Neil Smolar and he have played with the best jazzmen of Montreal. In 1991, he wrote the score for the NFBs documentary Montreal Retro. Since then, Benoit has composed several soundtracks. "I like many different type of music he says, I started to listen to music when I was very young and I listened to everything. Teenager, I spent entire days with my friends, listening to any kind of musical genre, from The Beatles, to Frank Zappa and Igor Stravinsky. I also like experimental electronic music as Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, Squarepusher. When my career started, I sometimes felt that as a problem, because it has been hard to define what I would like to be as a composer, or which was my style. I'm easily impressionable by music and if it is well done, I like it. I liked to work on Triplets because it gave me the possibility to explore different styles and to be very creative". He continues: "I would like to have a very unique voice but on the other hand I wouldnt, because each time you have the possibility to invent yourself and you have the freedom to try different musical ways and different projects. What was really interesting and really satisfying with Triplets was that the crew told that they had been inspired from my own music, and working with a so peculiar music gave them more ideas. This is very flattering for a composer, and for an artist in general". (Charest) By turns sweet and sinister, insouciant and grotesque, invitingly funny and forbiddingly dark. New York Times There is merely the lingua franca of noise the clatter of trains, the rap of repeated gunfire, or the snouty wheeze of a dog. New Yorker

! 1. Synopsis Adopted by his grandmother, Madame Souza, Champion is a lonely little boy. Noticing that the nephew is never happier than on a bicycle, Madame Souza puts him through a


rigorous training process. Years go by and Champion is ready to enter the world-famous cycling race, the Tour de France. During this cycling contest two mysterious men in black kidnap Champion. Madame Souza and her faithful dog Bruno set out to rescue him. Their quest takes them across the ocean to a giant megalopolis called Belleville where they encounter the renowned Triplets of Belleville, three eccentric female music-hall stars from the 30s who decide to take Madame Souza and Bruno under their wing. Thanks to Bruno's brilliant sense of smell, the brave duo are soon on to Champion's trail. "The movie was five years in development" says Chomet in the triplets press kit, "I thought about using triplet sisters and dividing the film in three part. The first lady would be the Old Lady with the Pigeons, the main character of my first animated short movie. The second part was called The Old Lady and the Bicycles and the third The Old Lady and the Ouaouarons, which is Quebec dialect for a kind of frog. When I started to develop the second section, I realized I had enough material to make a whole picture. So I went ahead and developed my story, using the frog idea from what had been going to be the third part. Then, it turned out I had to change the design of Champions grandmother from the original Old Lady when the Canadian co-producer of my short asked for an astronomical amount of money in exchange for letting us re-use the character. And so Madame Souza was born, a Portuguese lady with a clubfoot. She brought us a great deal more than the original Old Lady would have done" (Sony presskit) Speaking about the music, Chomet adds: "I met Benoit Charest, the composer, in

!"#$%&' *' ! Montreal and I loved his work as soon as I heard his demo. He is unbelievably precise and at the same time crazy enough to write a solo for a vacuum cleaner. Since working on the movie, he's given his vacuum cleaner a name it's called Mouf-Mouf and is thinking about recording a compilation of Luc Plamandon songs with it". (Sony presskit)

2. The Aesthetic: Les Triplettes De Belleville is a tribute to old Disney's animations and to music in general. Sylvain says: "My main influences in animation: 101 Dalmatians, The Aristocats, The Jungle Book... The Golden age of Disney. Also Betty Boop for the surrealistic kind of animation, and finally Winsor MacKay for his beautiful animations, done a century ago but yet so modern, also Jacques Tati of course, but also by all those silent movie stars, Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton Timing is crucial too. (Sony presskit) The interiors are humble but welcoming, they are reminiscent of France in the 1950s and 1960s. The exteriors are evocative of Paris. Sylvain says: "I come from a humble background not a smart one. I remember going to see an old lady who lived next door to one of my aunts and finding her in a small flat that smelled of polish where every object, however insignificant, was shown at its best. I could never direct a story set in a world of rich people. My inspiration comes from my own experience. My maternal grandmother, as described to me by my parents, was more of an inspiration for the Triplets with their joie de vivre. Major American stars often appear in American cartoons, but French stars of the period never appeared in French cartoons because there was no cartoon industry in France. I wanted my film to be a fake, a film we should have been able to see at the time but never did. I also wanted to pay my respects to Dubout, whose wonderful work fascinated me when I was a child. His style is so perfect for animation, I wish he

! had been able to make cartoons of his own". (Sony presskit)


3. The music I dont know how to read music, says Chomet. Ive learned music by myself. At school they teach just rubbish! You have to play the recorder and most of the time you have depressing teachers, its just horrible! When I was 14 years old I bought an acoustic guitar and I started to play with friends. I joined a band but since I wasnt a really good guitarist I decided to play the bass. When I was 19 I started to travel and I left the band. I took the guitar with me but I started to play the piano as well. Music is always has been an important part of my life. When you work in animation you spent a lot of time drawings. When I am at the desk I love to listen to music and I love a lot of different kind of music: French composers like Debussy and Ravel, Georges Brassens and other French singers, jazz and rock music. It depends on the period. When I was drawing La vieille dame et les pigeons, I was listening only to The Rolling Stones. When I started to do animation I wasnt thinking about music. But then I started to see my drawings moving and come to life. I added sound effects. When you see your characters moving and making noise is even better. But when the film was finished, I immediately realized that there was something missing, there was really something missing. And that was the music. I called a French accordion player that wrote music for Jaques Brel, which did an amazing job. From that moment I realized that music was essential for my aesthetic. When I started to work on Triplettes, I wanted my character to be musicians. I really wanted them to be strongly connected to music. They would sing and dance. And I wanted the music as real as possible. They are actually make music for real, with noises, sound effects, eating a frog or plucking a fridge, in the exact moment this is happening on the screen. The approach of Triplets was like it was live

!"#$%&' +' ! music. (Chomet) Benoit Charest declared that the director wanted this to be a retro movie in a certain aspect, but he wanted it to be a retro movie as if it was the past that wasnt really that was kind of different, like going back to the roots, but if a different reality had happened, which would be his, or our version. He would do this by keeping the essence of the era, throughout the music, but having a different twist to it. Following this idea, all the score fluctuates in between an historical representation of the time period in which the story is taking place, the Josephine Baker and Fred Banana Dance and Fred Astaires period; and a more timeless vision, conveyed by Mozart and Bachs music. Belleville is a nearly silent movie, and since there are just few dialogues, its very rich in sound and the music takes on this additional responsibility. When a journalist asked Benoit how he felt having such a responsibility, he answered: I felt totally at ease with it, it was fun. But at the same time, I didnt feel so alone, because the acting is so strong, the details, the look, all the scenes, they help so much. Sylvain is a fascinating person. It is what I call a bossy that has really clear ideas. I admire this kind of people. They are creatively stimulant. They fight against everything in order to achieve what they have in mind. This way, Sylvain was able to gather people and to get out the best from everybody. Just few people have the same strength. He also has really good musical ideas. We co-wrote together the song Attila Marcel. He wrote the main melody and I worked on the harmony. He also has an interesting way of collaborating. His philosophy is the idea belongs to the one that has the tenancy to develop it and make it real, until then, belongs to everybody. (Charest) It took 5 years to finish the movie, and Benoit was involved pretty soon in the process, which is quite unusual in the modern production era.

! Benoit says: The project was pretty demanding but Sylvain never lost confidence. It's not easy at all to create an animation movie, especially using that particular technique, above all with a


small amount of money. I had been working on the project for at least 3 years, of course on and off, and still we ran out of time and money by the end! But it has been really interesting because I become a really important part of the creation, which is not that usual nowadays, especially in big productions that tent to follow a pre-established schedule, each time almost identical to the previous one. Triplettes is an art product more that a receipt for an animation. Everybody had to slightly change is way of working because the project didn't follow a straight path. Interestingly, Benoit say that he discovered similar music after the movie was released. It happened for instance with Raymond Scott, that was an early electronic music pioneer and adventurous sound engineer. During the 1930s and 1940s, many of his band's recording sessions found the bandleader in the control room, monitoring and adjusting the acoustics, often by revolutionary means. As Gert-Jan Blom & Jeff Winner wrote, Scott sought to master all aspects of sound capture and manipulation. His special interest in the technical aspects of recording, combined with the state-of-the-art facilities at his disposal, provided him with enormous handson experience as an engineer. In 1943 Scott sold his music publishing to Warner Bros and although he never scored cartoon soundtracks, his music is familiar to millions because of its adaptation by Carl Stalling in over 120 classic Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Daffy Duck and other Warner Bros Looney Tunes and Merrie Melodies animated shorts. Also, after he wrote for the French Mafia theme, Benoit discover a similitude with the sound of Eric Dolphys Out to lunch, but by the time he was writing this part he wasnt aware of this Album.

!"#$%&' ,' ! 3.1 Bachs Prelude The Bach Prelude No.2 in C minor, specifically played by Glenn Gould early in the movie, will become a sort of leitmotiv in during the all journey.

Ex. 1 Bach. The Well-Temperade Clavier book I, BWV 846. Prelude in C Minor

I was in Quebec, says Sylvian and one of my friends was a physicist. Hes a fanatic of Glenn Gould and I started to listen to a lot of Bach during that period, I found in Bachs Prelude No.2 in C minor something mechanical that reminded me the motion of the bicycle wheels. If I close my eyes I can see the cyclists climbing a mountain. My friend is also a really good piano player so music and math are strongly connected in his life. He told me that read a mathematic formula is pretty much the same as read a piece of music, and when you learn how to do it, you can find the beauty. You can hear the music exactly as you can imagine something beautiful in your head when you discover something new just being able to translate numbers. And both in math and music you can find something that is not beautiful, but for what concern mathematic, if you can imagine something beautiful, even though is not confirmed yet, it has to be right. For this reason I put Einsteins field equation friend and his beautiful view of arts. (Chomet) It was an homage to my


Fig. 1 Les Triplettes De Belleville, Opening Scene

Bachs Prelude becomes a leitmotiv in the movie. We decided together to put it in different scenes, with a different musical vest. In fact, Madame Souza plays it with a bicycle wheel under the bridge and a piano player (actually Mathiew Herkowitz ) will play a jazz version of it in the cabaret. A reminiscence of the Prelude is also recognizable in the guitar arpeggio that accompany the slow melody that represent Bruno the dog and in general the loneliness of the city and of Champion.

Ex. 2 Them Bruno guitar Arpeggio

3.2 Main Titles Benoit, regarding the main title, says: "I have been influenced by Duke Ellington clearly noticeable in the sharp sound of the muted trumpet that remind to Ellingtons jungle sound, by French singers of the fifties and sixties, Neapolitan music and many other things. Django Reinhardt , also recognizable in the picture, and French swing bands, playing during the war in order to make people dance, music. Otherwise the images themselves, the characters, Sylvain's

!"#$%&' ((' ! instructions, a few stylistic touches that relate to the periods the film covers. (Weidenbaum)

Fig. 2 Les Triplettes de Belleville, Main Title scene

However, the primary suggestion of the track is another. Benoit, in the same interview, revealed that the song was initially written for another movie. He wrote it having in mind the American army song Sounf off. The track was basically rejected because the director considered it too ironic for her documentary. Benoit thought it was still a good idea. He decided to mock it a little bit more and he put in on a his Demo. "I knew the director through common friend, says Benoit. Sylvain came to many concerts and saw me play a lot in clubs. He wanted a musician for this gig, and he heard some of the music I did for another movie, Matroni et moi, and really liked it, and called me up to listen to the tune, and he said, This is the tune. (Weidenbaum) From this first rough version, many things have changed. Together with a retro sound and despite its jazzy feel, there's an electric pulse and a modern approach to the musical phrases, especially in the brass counterpoint, that makes the track more than a mere style exercise. It had a vintage sound, a wanted retro vinyl quality, but because of the looped drum it had a contemporary liveliness, which distinguished it from being something retro for retros sake. "Thats exactly the twist that we wanted to achieve with the music", says the composer, "for it to


be retro, but to have that twist, that this could have been a parallel reality to what happened". The Triplets crew aspired, under the direction of Sylvain Chomet, for a kind of retro-futurism. Its the comics world, which is not the reality says Benoit, And its interesting because it gives you the freedom to revisit the past and make my version of it. Also, in the 30 40, there was an extreme modernism, they took many risks in art. I discover Max Fleischer and Betty Boops cartoons, I found it very avant-garde and I learnt a lot from those. (Charest) 3.4 Mozart and Tour the France All the soundtrack, except for the amazing scene in the sea with majestic Mozart's mass, rely on a small and peculiar ensemble and very much on what is actually shown in the picture. We filmed the storyboard to get an Animatic assembly, lasting about three minutes, says Chomet, At around the same time I bought a prize-winning record, Mozart's C-Minor Mass conducted by Elliott Gardiner. As soon as I heard the overture, I realized it would make a perfect accompaniment to this sequence. When I laid the music over the pictures, all the effects seems perfectly synchronized to fit. It was an incredible piece of luck. When was time to license it we had trouble because this version was quite expensive. We try to put other version but it was very bizarre, because no one was really working! I dont know How to explain why it was working so much better, maybe the feeling, or just the speed of it. Anyway, at the end the production gave up and we were able to have the Gardiner version of the mass. The Tour De France theme, another important leitmotiv in the movie, is played by Roberte Rivette the accordionist who plays her instrument atop a truck while following the cyclists, which represents Yvette Horner, a once highly popular artist who not so long ago still played her accordion to large crowds in France. She always has been caricatured with her broad ever-lasting smile that shows big teeth. Horner recently described her own experiences as very

!"#$%&' ()' ! similar to those of Roberte Rivette in Les Triplettes de Belleville: she continued playing her accordion along the Tour de France route with a big smile as insects ceaselessly were caught in her teeth. Benoit, regarding this particular tune, says: Sylvain asked me to write an annoying tune, the one that stack in your brain and you cant help but whistle it for the all day, so I did. We used this tunes many times as well, for instance in the Under the bridge scene, in which Madame Souza makes a sort of improvisation on that. (Charest) 3.5 Musique concrte The sound design becomes active part of the music. Actually, the role is so important that the score can be considered an example of concrete music applied to a score for animation. Musique concrte is a form of electroacoustic music that is made in part from acousmatic sound, the one perceived without seeing an originating cause. In addition to sounds derived from musical instruments or voices, it may use other sources of sound such as electronic synthesizers or sounds recorded from nature. (Wikipedia, 2013) The theoretical basis of the style was developed by Pierre Schaeffer, beginning in the early 1940s. It quickly attracted many who either were or were later to become notable composers, including Olivier Messiaen, Pierre Boulez, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Edgard Varse, Iannis Xenakis, Michel Philippot, and Arthur Honegger. The relationship between music and sound effects is observable throughout the all score, from Fred Astaire percussive tip-tap in the main title, to the bicycle wind chimes in the Triplettes de belleville rendez vous. But especially in two scenes sound effects and non conventional instruments, become the most important ingredient of the score: Under The Bridge and Cabaret Aspirateur, as is explained further below.


Clearly, the bicycle was there because of Champion. The other object that the triplets use in their show to make music, were influenced by the band Stomp, a percussion group, originating in Brighton, UK, that uses the body and ordinary objects to create a physical theatre performance. I was in Montreal and I saw this amazing band, says Sylvain it was really amazing because they were actually able to create fantastic rhythms just with a plastic bag. So I decided to put that in Triplets and going a bit further adding some kind of melody. (Chomet) The music for the scene under the bridge, in which the influence of the band start to be evident, came before the animation was finished, as many others in the movie did. Chomet and Benoit started to work on a rough idea of it. The composer got a storyboard a duration and metronome that he had to follow, clearly for animation purposes, and some indications and drawings about the scene. In Animation is not possible make attempts, says Benoit you have to have pretty clear ideas because you need an entire day to draw maybe few second of animation, The process is not easy and in this particular scene I had to edit the music after in order to avoid synchronization problems. Sylvain, regarding this topic, says: Timing is crucial, most of the time animators are also musician because you need to be musical when you animate. Images have to have a tempo, ritardando e accelerando. Honestly, each director should be a musician. I feel that the best soundtracks are the ones born from a long collaborations between composers and director, as Nino Rota and Federico Fellini, Ennio Morricone and Sergio Leone and Steven Spielberg and John Williams. (Chomet) Speaking about under the bridge, Benoit says: I tried to follow as much as possible the nature of the pictures and the feelings we wanted to describe. The voices used are actually old women voices "I had old women", says Benoit, "I felt like a third age pimp there, had all these old ladies come into the studio, bringing them back home, helping them up the stairs. It was actually

!"#$%&' (*' ! fun. The ladies that sang the later song were old ladies, and the younger ones were younger ones. Also, my grandmother, shes like 94 or something, she did some voices, and one guy, a bass player friend of mine, who does voices. (Weidenbaum) The instruments arent really instruments, and their voices are tarnished with age. They appear to go together well. It is also part of Sylvain aesthetic. "One of Sylvains worst nightmares Benoit continues, is to try and do that cute -everything becomes sweet- kind of thing. Like, when Elvis picks up his guitar, and you hear a full orchestra and the band is playing on the beach Too arranged" (Weidenbaum). The scene is full of imagination but with a strict sense of realism. The music is made basically with just the instruments we can see on the screen: a bike wheel and the old-but-still-full-of-life bodies of the three sisters, the famous Triplettes of Belleville. Benoit Charest says: When Sylvain Chomet said that he wanted music with a vacuum cleaner or a fridge, I dont think he had in mind me using an actual vacuum cleaner to make the sound. I had to experiment with object in order to find a way to use them in the score. So,I had a vacuum cleaner in the studio. I tried everything. I tried to turn the tube around, to see if it would make a horn noise, and chuck it around, or whatever. But I just turned it on and put my hand in front of it and it was like woop. I started controlling the input of air. I had it between my fingers, and I took my other hand, and controlled the fingers, and started to do tremolos and was like, Hey this is great. (Weidenbaum) Benoit continues, I made several improvisation with the vacuum cleaner, and I recorded different takes, like as you do in a each recording session. I kept the long sequences and pasted them together. I'm actually playing the vacuum cleaner live in the concert we are playing all around Canada for the Belleville's 10 years anniversary. It's pretty accurate the intonation, I have

! almost an octave an a half, I can play Feelings if I want to! (Charest)


Speaking about the fridge, Benoit says: I was in Sylvain house, having a dinner with the crew of Triplets. I took something from the fridge and I made an interesting noise with the grill. I realized that it was perfect for the movie and I took it to my studio. I put it on a bass drum to in order to have more resonance. Then I sampled the different plucked sounds and I created the loop I used for the Cabaret Scene. I used the same technique for the Bicycle wheel sound. I blended together two different samples, one with a more define pitch and the other one more percussive, in order to have more defined attack. At that time I didnt have time and money enough to invent and build an actual playable instrument, but I would like to try to do it for the live performance we are preparing for the anniversary. Actually we are about to inaugurate a MIDI bicycle wheel. The newspaper is real newspaper, but I had to blend in a plastic bag, to get it crisper, I have a couple of different loops for the newspaper (Charest)

4. Conclusions Belleville is a very peculiar project in the world of animation. Its a microcosm with a very personal approach and one of the most significant examples of how animations and music are strongly connected. Either part can work alone, but if you actually see four old women playing a fridge, a bicycle wheel, a newspaper and a vacuum cleaner, everything gains a different meaning, and the fiction almost becomes reality. Les triplettes the belleville is the proof that it has to be the combination of a good collaboration, good communication between parts and extra-musical suggestions. It also means that art needs time, which mostly, in big productions is the first things that goes missing. Its also the demonstration that a good collaboration is possible if both parts try to understand each other and strive to speak the same language.

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INTERVIEWS Chomet, Sylvain. Personal Interview. 3 July 2013 Charest, Benoit. Personal Interview. 1 July 2013 Marc Weidenbaum. The Maestro of Belleville. Disquiet ambient/electronica, December 9, 2003.

WEBS The Triplets of Belleville press Kit Sony Pictures Classic. Pierre Floquet. What is (not) so French in Les Triplettes de Belleville.Animation Studies Online Journal, December 28, 2006. Sylvain Chomet Bio David Nusair. Behind the Scenes of the Illusionist David Nusair. (Nusair) Raymond Scott, Wikipedia. Musique concrete, Wikipedia.