Les États généraux du film documentaire 2014 Sacem Day

Sacem Day

With renewed pleasure, the Sacem (French Society of Authors, Composers and Music Publishers) is participating in the twenty-sixth edition of the États généraux du film documentaire alongside all those who work with talent for documentary film. By its continued presence, our society reaffirms the important role played by the audiovisual arts and cinema at the heart of its activities. Indeed, we count among our members almost three thousand author-directors as well as numerous composers of music for the image.

Few documentaries, films or creative audiovisual productions are not adorned with original music, the fruit of beautiful and harmonious collaboration between authors, composers and directors. Music and image go together to transmit emotion.

Among its less well-known missions, the Sacem offers constant support, through its cultural action, to young composers of music for the image, but also to the writers and directors of musical documentaries. And it is on the basis of this strong commitment that we propose at the États généraux du film documentaire a complete day dedicated to musical audiovisual production and the creation of original music.

During this day, Martin Wheeler, composer and sound designer, Sacem member and winner of the 2014 César for best original music for the film Michael Kohlhaas by Arnaud des Pallières, will lead a workshop around his sculptural approach to sound. As a final note, the public will be invited to attend the screening and award of the Sacem Prize for the year's best creative musical documentary.

And to all of you, have a great festival!

Laurent Petitgirard
Chairman of the Sacem's Board of Directors

A day in two parts

The morning and afternoon sessions will consist of an encounter with Martin Wheeler, organised as a workshop divided in two parts (morning and afternoon). An English composer, Wheeler has worked a lot in French film with directors like Hélène Angel (Peau d'homme, cœur de bête), Christophe Blanc (Une femme d'extérieur), Robin Campillo (Les Revenants), Claire Simon (Ça brûle) or Myriam Aziza (La Robe du soir). Showing several films and using excerpts from films or soundtracks which highlight different writing styles or artistic inspirations, he will offer the audience an immersion into his sound universe with an exploration of the computer tools he uses in his creation. This workshop will also be a privileged moment for dialogue with the audience. During the evening session, the Sacem will award its Best Musical Documentary Prize to Jacqueline Caux for her film If I Keep You in My Hair... whose original score was composed by Hadda Akki, Amina Szarfi, Waed Bouhassoun and Kamilya Jubran. The director will be awarded a medal by Gréco Casadesus. The ceremony will be followed by a screening of the film.

Martin Wheeler's Workshop

As an introduction to the discussion and meeting with Martin Wheeler, a few questions...

Looking at your training and career, how did you get interested in sound and in the composition of music for film?
In terms of formal musical training, I have none. I did not go to the conservatory and have no training in musical computing or as a sound engineer, but I've been interested in music and sound, and in a pretty obsessive way, since my childhood. Then, when I was sixteen or seventeen, I also became pretty obsessed with a certain kind of cinema, and I remember thinking that creating film music must be really exciting. At the same time, it seemed to me completely out of reach, given that I knew no musical theory, that I had no access to a recording studio, and even if I played plenty of instruments “my way”, I didn't play any of them “properly”. And then the world changed, and thanks to musical computers, I started to play at things that wound up interesting some filmmakers, and there we are...

What does the work on a soundtrack or composing the music for a film imply for you?
To answer honestly would take up too much space here, and in any case I wouldn't have anything left to talk about at the workshop. Let's just say that, first of all, I try above all to feel the particularity of the film, while at the same time sensing what the director expects the soundtrack to bring to his work. Afterwards, there is continual reflection that feeds into a strange kind of triangle between the material and specific universe of the film, the filmmaker's desires and my own intuitions linked to what I'm going to try to bring to the soundtrack. After that, you've got to work.

Do you sometimes get involved just on the basis of reading a scenario?
Yes, very often, and in general it seems to me that the earlier you begin to think about it, the better. That doesn't necessarily mean that the concrete work on the music is going to start that soon; even though, especially in fiction, there are some pieces of on-screen music that have to be finished before the shoot but, more generally, for certain films and certain filmmakers, it's clearly useful to have at least a vague idea of what the soundtrack and/or the music might sound like during the shoot. But there's no rule, and often people call me only when the editing has started to take form. There are also films — often documentaries — where the structure is so fluid that it's only toward the end of the editing that the director feels capable of saying anything on the subject of music. And finally, in a film like L'Instinct de conservation by Pauline Horovitz (which we'll show during the workshop), it seems to me that the music responds to the images and the text, it exists a little like an overhanging commentary, and therefore cannot be composed until the edit of the image and text is finalised.

You compose the soundtrack or music for documentaries, fiction films, film essays without limiting yourself to any particular genre. How do you choose to work on a film?
If the film interests me and I have the impression that I can have a constructive and hopefully agreeable dialogue with the director, that my participation can be interesting for myself and for the film, then I'll do everything to make it happen. I have the enormous luck of working a lot with people for whom I have artistic esteem, that I like as human beings, on films that I like as well, making the music I love to make, and as a matter of fact it's quite rare that I choose not to get involved with a film. Of course, sometimes I'm forced to say that I simply don't have the time because I'm on another project, but when that happens, it's almost always with great regret.

What captivates you about this job? What does this practice bring you?
I am very sincerely fascinated by what happens when you put a noise, a sound object, a bit of music in relation with an image. It's very haphazard and very gamelike and after dozens of films and years engaged in this strange practice, honestly, I continue to find it all extremely mysterious. Normally, I'm not someone who talks a lot about magic; but when I've spent days trying to find the “thing”, and I wind up coming across something that I think “works” and the director thinks so too, whereas we're both incapable of analysing exactly why, it's a bit magical even so. Afterwards, what I get out of it (aside from a bit of money to buy yet more toys to compose the next music and a bit of wine to drink while I'm doing it) is the possibility to make extremely different kinds of music, to go from one film where I bang away at the percussion to another where I create a computer device based on hijacked bits of software, to yet another where I compose an orchestration of computerised instruments or simply play the guitar to the image... I love this diversity of form and practice. Generally, musicians who try to play many different styles of music have trouble building a career — it's even looked down on sometimes — whereas, at least for me, working for the cinema has been a great “plus”.

Can we say that you “manufacture” your music rather than compose it?
Perhaps rather say that I compose it while manufacturing it. In any case for me, there is very rarely that “classical” division between the time of composition and arrangement followed by a performance, an execution of the score. I compose rather by improvising (and it doesn't matter if it's with a traditional instrument, an electronic system or an assembly of computer elements) and then, as soon as something seems to “emerge” from the improvisation, I work on it by playing it again, reorganising it, transforming it then adding other elements in a more or less organic way. Of course, a tune found on the piano can be played by the guitar and vice-versa, but for me I'm not laying down notes on a sheet of music paper. The process of composition almost always implies manipulating the material, even if that material can sometimes be electricity, or zeros and ones...

Workshop led by Adrien Faucheux.
In the presence of Martin Wheeler.