The Sound Architect speaks to excellent composer Luc St. Pierre.
Born in Ottawa, Canada, Luc St. Pierre studied piano for many years while performing in a variety of musical ensembles before entering the Université de Montréal to pursue his interests in orchestral and electroacoustic composition with Alan Belkin and Marcelles Deschesnes. He subsequently worked in both the U.K. and Belgium collaborating with several world-renowned producers to develop his eclectic and highly original style. Nominated three times for a prestigious Gémeaux Award in the category of Best Music For Drama, Luc St. Pierre’s work can also be heard in the Academy Award and Director’s Guild of America nominated documentary feature, “PRISONER OF PARADISE”.
His recent scores include the film “THE LADY IN NUMBER 6”, winner for Best Documentary Short at the 86th Academy Awards, and the action-stealth video game “THIEF” for Eidos-Montréal and Square Enix. Prior to his film composing career, Luc St. Pierre wrote and produced music with the alternative techno/rock bands ANGELS AND QUARKS co-produced by Gilles Martin with remixes by Gareth Jones (Depeche Mode), and CHIWAWA, recorded at Wayne Hussey’s (The Mission) personal studio and mixed by Steve Whitfield (The Cure). Luc St. Pierre’s work continues to draw on an eclectic range of musical influences, allowing him to create masterful compositions in genres as diverse as trip-hop and electronic soundscapes, to classical orchestral scores of great sophistication and beauty.
Read the full interview below:
Thank you very much for speaking with The Sound Architect, we’re very excited to have you!
Thanks, the pleasure is mine.
Tell us a bit about yourself, how did your career in composition begin?
Since I was a teenager I’ve been playing music in numerous bands as well as writing music on my own. Later on, in parallel to being hired as a sound engineer in a studio, I started my college studies in classical music then went to university. While working in the studio the idea of working as a composer was always present and I started doing little jobs for corporative video and publicity jingles.
From there it was a question of waiting for the opportunity to submit my work for more film oriented projects and it all started with a TV series that was very successful here in Canada on the French network.
What has been your proudest project so far?
My favourite projects all had one thing in common – I had freedom to create and everybody in the team knew their roles. It doesn’t have to be the biggest or most prestigious project to be fun to work on. If you are given freedom of creativity, it will sound like it and you are likely to fall in love with the project.
Is there one that has been your most challenging?
Without a doubt, Thief has been the most challenging project since it was my very first video game. Bridging from film to video game required a lot of adjustment, not only in terms of musical structure but also how the workflow is organized and how to approach emotion in one way or another. In film you tiptoe around dialogue not to disturb, whereas in video games, you have to create the emotion that CGI cannot portray.
What would be your dream project be to work on?
As I mentioned earlier, the most interesting project, beside the subject matter, is when you are hired for what you can do best and are given a lot of creative freedom.
But if I was going to commit myself, I would say my preferences would lean toward anything with a futuristic setting. Nobody has ever heard the music of the future yet, it’s ours to create it and try to imagine what it could be.
How do you usually approach a score?
Oddly enough, it’s by doing absolutely no writing for many days, but just thinking and thinking about it. Then there is that very first note, that first bar to sort of break the ice…break this whole silence and moment when there was never ever a sound or melody that existed for that particular project. As a director friend of mine once said to me, the moment he had his opening theme, it sort of became the cornerstone of his movie. All of a sudden, everything started to make sense, which is why it’s important to put down the right note at the beginning of a project.
What software/hardware do you use?
I use Logic 9 with all the usual software like Komplete, Vienna, Symphobia, LA Strings and a lot of Heavyocity sound banks. I also love creating my very own sounds and musical gestures with Alchemy from Camel Sound. On the more hardware side of things, my beloved Jupiter-6 combined with a Moog Explorer, Clavia Nord Wave and G2 complete the dance.
All those sources are being mixed in three different summing systems which have their very own sound signature, a SSL MX4 mixing system, Phoenix Audio and Tonelux Console, with the help of Euphonix System 5 converter.
I have stacks of outboard processing from API, AnaMod, Empirical Lap etc. I mix in Adam SX3-V with Audient surround monitoring controller. Then the whole mix is printed on SSL Soundscape through Apogee Converter.
How does the process usually work from start to finish on a project?
I believe in my case it’s a bit different from one project to another. For one of my current films, a director is asking me to write a lot of music within some pre-established parameters, without even seeing anything. He will then work on placing as much music as he can within his timeline, and afterwards we’ll see the results together and keep filling the blanks or replacing as need be. On another project I will start working with the picture locked. I believe this is where at some level video games differ from scoring film. For the in-game music, you create atmosphere that has a certain musicality without being able to see what the player will see because of the randomness of the whole process.
What was your first step in creating the score for The Lady in Number 6?
I knew that the music for The Lady in Number 6 would be very classical, not only because of the subject matter but also the tastes of the director. Watching a 108 year old lady play the piano commanded something very authentic, delicate and timeless.
For these reasons it was pretty obvious what was needed for, what I call, the Alice theme that we hear in the opening sequence – a slow classical, somewhat melancholic piano melody with the most simple accompaniment.
Was there anything in particular that you tried differently with this score?
Scoring a movie about a classical musician involves using many excerpts from the classical repertoire. So the challenge of the score was to create music that would sometimes lead into a pre-existing music cue, or to compose something to bridge over and/or play after a pre-existing musical cue. Composing music as if it was the intro of a Chopin Etude commanded a lot of humility.
How was it working on Thief as your first interactive music score?
Six months after finishing the game’s score I’m still processing the experience, in a good way, as if someone would recall his or her first parachute jump. What a fun and exciting ride it was to learn a new way of writing music and having to work with a fiction that has no boundaries.
What were the key differences in your thought processes compared to a project like The Lady in Number 6?
There is quite an emotional gap between Alice and Garrett. I wrote The Lady in Number 6 score as I was working on Thief, so it took me a couple of days to switch my mindset but it was a nice breath of fresh air, going from the darkness and resurfacing into the light for a very short moment.
How did your workflow differ to working with linear media?
I cannot say the workflow was all that different in the sense that I always have the same working sequence… I might get the machine in motion by creating a sound palette for the actual project, then do some experimentation and see if anything comes out of it. It
can also be a piano improvisation session out of which I will draw motive, melody, musical gestures or both at the same time. Regardless of whether I’m working on a film or video game, the process of writing music is pretty much the same in my case.
What was your biggest challenge?
My biggest challenge with Thief was to find the right formula and stick to it until the end. At some point, the sound started to change and evolve for the better and I was very tempted to revisit some sections of the score but lack of time prevented me from doing so. It’s not like there was a huge difference between the music written in October 2012 and the music written in December 2013, just a slightly different way of layering tracks.
What advice would you give aspiring composers?
Be a master at what you do (I’m still working on it) and keep pushing yourself. If one day you think you are good, that you are it, you may be in trouble.
Any Major DOs or DON’TS?
Do make sure you master key elements of writing music by attending music classes, it won’t show you how to compose, but it will develop the way you hear music and will help you make the right decisions…writing music = making decisions.
Don’t think you own the project that you work on, you are at the service of the image and nothing else, hopefully the director or the audio director will also think that way.
What lies in the future for you now?
After my current film projects, hopefully I will have time to resume my Master’s degree in Composition. During these years of writing music, I’ve found there to be so many more things to learn. Then I will write more music and try to be better than yesterday, while being less good than tomorrow.
Keep up to date with Luc St. Pierre at his official website: www.lucstpierremusic.com/
Hope you enjoyed and learnt from another great insight into the world of game music composition!
The Sound Architect
Interview by Sam Hughes