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'The screen is our second music sheet'

Setting quirky films to music is a speciality of Le Philharmonique de la Roquette. Members of this French band — Laurent Bernard, Lilian Bencini and Julien Kamoun — talk about the technique behind this audio-visual experience and their maiden visit to India

Imagine watching a short, burlesque silent movie. Now, imagine keyboards, electric bass, drums and piano playing in the backdrop and heightening the tone of the animation feature. It would be an audio-visual experience like no other. The French band, Le Philharmonique de la Roquette, comprising band members Laurent Bernard, Lilian Bencini and Julien Kamoun, along with sound engineer Nicolas Gounin, will soon be in India to perform the Le P’tit Ciné-Concert 2 — where the group will play live music against the backdrop of 11 short burlesque movies. The films include Nicolas and Guillemette, Tim Tom, Bave Circus, Goodbye Canine, Oktapodi, Miam and La Migration Bigoudenn. The band, which is on its maiden India visit, is excited about playing for the audience. Excerpts from an email interview with Laurent Bernard:


Laurent Bernard, Lilian Bencini and Julien Kamoun from Le Philharmonique de la Roquette

Q. When was the band formed and what was the aim behind forming it?
A. The band was formed in 1996. Initially, the purpose of forming the band was to compose music for theatre. Then, the idea of creating music for silent movies came about in 1997, when the band composed music for the famous Buster Keaton starrer The General. The band went on to compose for many other silent movies including The Cameraman and other short silent films.

Then the band created a cine-concert called Le P’tit Ciné Concert 2 with 11 short animated silent movies. We also released two original movies for the show — Bob Le Mouton (Bob The Ship) and Le Chef D’orchestre (The Director). During the making of these films, there was an exchange of ideas between the directors and the band.

Q. How did you hit upon the idea of a cine-concert? Was it something that came out of your experience of composing music for silent movies? Also, what is the process of composing music for a cine-concert?
A. The band really enjoyed the experience of composing music for The General and we decided to attempt cine-concert shows. We generally choose an interesting silent movie for which we can compose live music. Then we compose music that fits with the images. It is a process similar to composing music for a film. We discuss the sounds we can play as well as the arrangements. And finally, we keep rehearsing till we’re happy with it. We try to find out where the music has to be written, or where it has to be improvised. Or both.

The band performs at a cine-concert. Pics Courtesy/Le Philharmonique de la Roquette

Q. What do you have to keep in mind while composing music for an audio-visual exprience such as this?
A. The idea of a ciné-concert is not really far from music for films. The point is that the music is performed live, which gives musicians the opportunity to follow the film’s action very closely, as they can improvise if the image needs it. Following this, the music is sometimes written and sometimes improvised. The audience will not feel that our music is like the one played in the silent films of the 1920s. It is more actual, as there are classic instruments such as a double bass, drums, and piano but also synthesisers, computer, electric bass and more.
We have to keep in mind that even if we have the sheet music on our music stand, we have to follow what's happening on the screen in the meantime, as it is also a kind of second sheet music we must read.

Q. Are you excited about playing for an Indian audience?
A. Yes, this is our very first visit to India. And we are, of course, very happy!

The Le Philharmonique de la Roquette will perform the Le P’tit Ciné-Concert 2 at blueFrog, Worli on 
October 9 at 8.30 pm

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