Cannes 2010: Interview Vivek Maddala, compositeur de KABOOM

Benoit Basirico
Cinezik Magazine, May 2010

Cinezik: Comment s'est passˇe votre collaboration avec Gregg Araki, quelles ˇtaient ses intentions musicales?

Vivek Maddala: Gregg was one of my advisors at the Sundance Composers Lab when I received the Sundance Institute Fellowship for film scoring in 2008, but I never expected to write music for his films (although I had always admired his talent). In late 2009 I found out that my friend Pavlina Hatoupis had served as line producer on Gregg's new film KABOOM and she suggested I submit my reel for consideration. After a few months, Gregg and Andrea Sperling (producer) contacted me about composing score music to supplement some music they already had. As I began writing the music, the scope of my contribution grew -- and every couple of days they asked me to write more and more music. By the end, I was fortunate to find myself collaborating not just with the director, Gregg Araki, but in essence with the various artists whose songs appear in the film (though I was never in the same room at the same time with these other artists). In some cases Gregg tasked me with writing music on top of existing music (both songs and score elements other composers), to heighten the drama or to give it more propulsion. It was quite an exciting experience and I'm grateful to have had the opportunity to work with such amazing artists.

Gregg has exceptional dramatic instincts and he knows precisely what he wants in every element of the film making process. While not a musician himself, I found that Gregg has a visceral understanding of how music functions with film and how it affects the audience's experience of the story and the characters. So whenever I composed a piece of music and showed it to him, he immediately understood whether or not the music served the film the way he wanted based on his dramatic instincts. And to my delight, he was always right. I had a very short time to compose my portion of the score. I think it was two weeks for 24 minutes of music, fully recorded and produced. So Gregg's ability to assess quickly and accurately the effectiveness of my music, and my ability to make fast adjustments and to devise efficient musical solutions to complex dramatic problems, was essential to our successful collaboration.

Cinezik: Comment dˇcririez-vous la musique (le choix instrumental) et quel est son r™le pour vous dans l'histoire et les personnages?

VM: The aesthetics of KABOOM are very modern and youthful, yet the dramatic story line develops into a classic, almost gothic tale. So the film itself combines a playful silliness with seriousness and gravity. I made instrumental and compositional choices to mirror this dichotomy. I played a lot of electric guitar, for ambient textures as well as heavy rock flavors, and I played live drums and percussion in order for the score to blend well with the pop songs in the movie. However, for the more dramatic moments, I created an fusion of these rock-band instruments with orchestra (full string, brass, and woodwind sections) -- and even a choir for one of the key dramatic scenes. Gregg indicated that for the first really dramatic moment of the film, the scene in which the movie changes direction and becomes very dark, he wanted an almost operatic quality to the music -- so I went over the top with menacing guitars, pounding drums, ostinato strings with brass stabs, and a soaring choir conveying a Wagner-like quality.

I like creating leitmotifs, so long as they're subtle and suggestive but not too obvious. Lorelei's theme is a good example. As the audience learns about her dark powers and disposition, we introduce a piano motif that delicately captures this quality of her character. And I sprinkled variations of the theme in scenes where she may not be physically present but her powers are affecting other characters. The idea was to create an elusive yet clear signal to the audience to augment the director's dramatic intentions. As Lorelei's character devolves into chaos and destruction, the piano theme does the same to support and add subtle dimension. So the leitmotifs are not static -- they change as necessary to advance the story.

Cinezik: Que reprˇsente ce film pour vous dans votre carri¸re en tant que musicien?

VM: I have written music scores for over 25 films, TV series, and live shows -- but KABOOM is definitely a highlight for me. The opportunity to work with such visionary film makers (the entire team -- Gregg Araki, Andrea Sperling, Beau Genot, et al.) has been a wonderful experience for me. Furthermore, Gregg is an iconoclast director/writer who sometimes breaks traditions and sometimes celebrates them to realize his unique artistic vision... and observing that has allowed me to grow as an artist myself. The unusual method of collaboration I described earlier was also marvelous for me because composing music typically is a solitary experience; collaborating with others' musical ideas (albeit in a different time and space) is something I hope to explore further in my career and I'm glad to have had that opportunity here. I think independent cinema represents a prodigious canvas for a composer to paint musical pictures and to make meaningful musical statements, and to grow as an artist. I'm looking forward to more collaborations with film makers who have something meaningful to say.

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