Sometimes it only takes one musical theme to change everything. The one composed by Briton Mica Levi, 33 years old today, for Under the Skin by Jonathan Glazer (2013) brought it out forever from the underground where it had hitherto radically created, and generated one of the most delightful upheavals in film music in recent memory – recent works by Colin Stetson (Heredity) to those of Hildur Gudnadóttir (Oscar winner for Joker) or even by Hans Zimmer (Dunkirk), everyone owes something to this icy hybrid partition that seems to have reshuffled the cards of an art in full revolution, for better or for worse. Composed late, the score by Monos by Alejandro Landes is infinitely minimalist and inspired, and plays a huge role in its effects. Mica Levi answered our questions by email.
Read also “Monos”, free electrons from the jungle
How advanced was the film when you started working?
Almost finished. The editing has changed slightly since then. To be honest, I liked the movie without music.
Is there a guiding idea behind the soundtrack of Monos ?
I’m not sure we can talk about a particular idea. Once the materials are gathered, I feel that they “belong” to the film and that I decide to use them to guide me on how to integrate them into the soundtrack. My goal is always to look for things that I feel are really part of the movie. So many ideas end up not working … For me, music is good when it allows me to get into the film better, as 3D can do.
Why this choice of arrangements so minimalist and sorry?
My hope is that it is a reflection of history. The characters are excluded from a normal environment, they live on three times nothing, they do not have enough clothes, they have weapons but are very disorganized. Alejandro [Landes, ndrl] you would explain it better than me, but I understood that the film tells about a less clean war, a very long conflict whose front lines are fragmented, and which little by little disconnected from its original stakes. Resources have shrunk, advanced technologies have become inseparable from archaic technologies, metal, plastic, organic. I hope it can be heard in sounds, plastic, metal, wood, synthetic or glass. There is also this electronic sound which “goes up” [l’effet riser], that you can often hear in commercial electronic music but which carries adrenaline even out of context. When we see them partying, these children “cut off” from society, from security, from their families, from wealth dance without music.
Did you get any ideas about the “survivalist” aspect of the film?
The resources, or rather their absence, inspired me literally. The character of Rambo uses his hands to whistle … Also, this is a small film in terms of budget, a symphony orchestra would have been impossible.
Many directors tend to take little interest in sound in their films. Why ?
Music is a powerful tool. It all depends on what we are trying to do.
What role does your own interpretation of a film play in the music you compose to accompany it?
A huge role. I offer my interpretation to the director and if I realize that I am near the plate, I try to open up as much as possible. I trust the director to direct me. We talk a lot. Then sometimes we have epiphanies.
MusicUnder the Skin has placed you at the center of a new generation of composers. Do you think it changed things for film music in general?
I appreciate that great films are made, and by proxy great film scores. I like those of Daniel Lopatin [for[pourGood time and Uncut Gems of the Safdie brothers] or Fatima Al Qadiri [for[pour Atlantic by Mati Diop]. And I like the idea that more and more people who compose for the cinema come from music, where we make albums, and from art. But I’m not quite sure I belong to a generation. I feel fortunate to have been able to work with Jonathan Glazer on Under the Skin. He took a risk and took me to a world that was then new to me.
What about the music of Hans Zimmer which, like yours, increasingly calls upon “Sound design” and electronic sounds?
I appreciate their prowess, I respect them, I have nothing to complain about. I like a good harmony, I like the sound design, I like the skill of orchestration, which tends to impress me. I also like that when I play video games.
Do you feel close to other composers, your generation or previous ones?
I love Bernard Herrmann, Lopatin and Al Qadiri, I have a lot of respect for them and I am thrilled to work at the same time as these, an era when the spirit of those who make the films is a little more close to those who make art and music. The lines get more and more blurred.
Can you name a film that would have particularly marked you for its music?
Cold sweat from Hitchcock.
Why do you like glissandos so much?