When composing involves an alien and lots of snow…

Last weekend, I wrote the music for “Storm, please” an award-winning animation short. It was a project for the Pixel Challenge, Canada’s biggest digital creation competition. Time was limited: only 48 hours for the teams to produce their films from concept to finished product. Want to see the video? Read On 🙂

Composition countdown

15 days left: Jean-François, a friend and former boss back when I was studying in QuĂ©bec, writes me. He asks if I felt like joining his team in the Pixel Challenge, Canada’s biggest digital creation competition.

31’53” left: After having got the theme for the short film, Jean-François sends me the script and tells me that he needs a loop of 20 seconds of « kitsch elevator music » and 50 seconds of « quiz show music ». My first association for « elevator music » is the famous elevator scene in Blues Brothers (great movie by the way!). The tune is A.C. Jobims Girl from Ipanema. I like the idea of having a bossa nova where the melody is played by a flute for that purpose and keep that in mind.

Another composer that I think of is the king of easy listening, Bert Kaempfert (if you don’t know him, you probably have heard his song « Strangers in the night »)

The quiz show music seems a bit tougher, but I imagine it being the style of the intro to this song (which, as it later turns out, isn’t at all what Jean-François had in mind)

28’31” left: I am improvising at the piano in order to find some ideas. The elevator groove comes pretty quickly. As we want something repetitive, almost boring, there’s no need for a complicated chord progression. I chosse only two chords, a little bluesy and add one small harmonic twist to them (I call it the «Wild West cadence » because it is often featured in western movie soundtracks). I write and program bass, drums and rhodes. After that, I hum small bits of melody until the final one pops up in my head. It is a very simple and tiny call and response melody where the response phrase differs only by one note from the call.

23’45” left: Jean-François sends me a video of Asterix’ « ĂŽle de la joie »-Samba as an example for what he called « quiz show music ». When I listen to it, I am glad that I have not begun working on it yet. I didn’t really have a samba in mind but something that sounds more like a broadway show tune.

22’36” left: I send the first sketch of the elevator theme.

22’35” left: The work on the samba starts. While listening to the Asterix tune, I note the big sounding orchestra with strings, choir, lots of percussion and a melody on top. Although I like the chord progression very much, I don’t want to copy it exactly. The mood needs to be somewhat dreamy, aerial, slightly melancholic but not sad. I thought of some classic bossa novas and sought to reproduce the same feeling by finding something ambiguous, neither completely major nor minor. Sitting down at the piano, I experimented a little until I found a progression that I liked and that worked musically.

21’25” left: I send Jean-François a first draft for the samba, only containing groove, melody & chords.

7’02” left: I do further work especially on the samba. I write an intro and an outro, fill in blanks with some strings and add the harp in the beginning.

3’27” left: Time’s almost up. Final work on editing and mixing needs to be done. Of cours, more time would have given better results, especially in regard to the sound quality. However, I like the idea to focus on the essential things and just ship it, for the best or the worst. After all, that’s what this competition is all about.

1’01” left: I send the final versions to Jean-François. He is happy with what I sent and so my job is done. Have a listen to the complete “Samba extraterrestre”:

Boom! Saturday, April 6, 4pm (GMT+1) – Deadline for me sending the music

8’02” later: After having finished the work on the video, Jean-François tries to send me the video (as by now, I haven’t seen a single image). Strangely, Canada’s biggest digital creation competition doesn’t seem to have a good broadband connection.

16’16” later: First thing in the morning, I watch the movie for the first time. Although, the team had to cut on the scenario, « Storm, please » wins a

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