Three SOCAN members were honoured during the Soirée des artisans et du documentaire (Creators and Documentary Gala) of the 35th Gémeaux Awards on Sept. 17, 2020. Alexandra Stréliski, Michel Corriveau, and FM Le Sieur each (virtually) walked away with one of the 63 trophies that were awarded live on Facebook. And even though each of them was comfortably at home, this virtual accolade was welcomed with sincere joy, in the current context where music and television activities have almost ground to a halt.
“This was my 13th nomination. I was starting to think I’m some kind of Québécois Spielberg! I never won,” says Michel Corriveau with a laugh, after receiving the Best Original Music for a TV Series, with Les pays d’en haut.
“Right from the first season, I knew it would be quite a challenge,” says Corriveau, before adding that he’d never seen a single episode of the original version of Les pays d’en haut. “I was just a tad too young at the time. Someone told me they wanted something that would be like a ‘Québécois Western.’ I worked with guitars a lot, but not always in a classic way. I also banged on them, among other things. Then I used the lap steel as a violin, for more dramatic scenes. The directing is there to carry the vision of the writers and I, with the music, become the subtext.”
Also widely lauded was Alexandra Stréliski’s work for the not-to-be-missed series Faire œuvre utile, a project led by journalist Émilie Perreault, for which the musician won the Best Original Score for a Documentary award.
“Once art is out of the artist, it doesn’t belong to them anymore. Using art to do good in the world is something that speaks to me a lot,” says Stréliski. Faire œuvre utile takes us on a journey where, during each episode, we discover the precious link between an artist and an art consumer whose life was changed by that artist. “It seems ironic, but the trophy I won for the musical theme was the episode where I was featured to talk about my work. I swear, I didn’t compose that theme by looking in the mirror,” she giggles.
As for FM Le Sieur, he won his trophy for the Musical Theme, All Categories, with the TV series Ruptures. “The world of lawyers is very rational,” says the composer. “Mélissa Dséormeaux-Poulin, who plays the main character, has a very emotional side, and she plays it really well. I really like the duality between the power struggles, the shenanigans, and her emotional side, when she goes home and lets it re-surface.”
All three composers are very aware of the incredible liberty they were granted while working on their respective projects. “I found it important, initially, to stay close to the director so that I could find my sound palette,” says Le Sieur. “Now, after five seasons, I’m more confident of where I’m going, but that link with the crew is precious, because when you work on American series, for example, you’ll never meet the director.”
Various elements of the screenplay influence the tone of the music that will end up in each episode. For Les pays d’en haut, Season Five involved an epidemic. “It becomes one more interesting playground. Something dangerous. I’m not re-inventing the wheel, but I try to do my best. When you have a complex story, music becomes one of the beacons. I’m like the Google Maps of the storyline,” says Corriveau with amusement.
Stréliski is also very familiar with screen composing. “It’s totally different than what I do on my albums, because even when you have carte blanche, you must work within certain limits. I really love that. In this case, I had to make sure the music worked just as well in a joyous context as in a more dramatic, so I had to cover a lot of ground,” she explains.
Music: The Extra Character
Although everything we see on TV is articulated around screenplays and powerful images, music is always there to set the tone. “The challenge is to constantly tread the line between what you notice and what you don’t notice,” says Le Sieur. “There might be a scene without any dialogue, and suddenly, what we can’t see is illustrated with music. A character gazing into the void can be interpreted as a bunch of different things – and their opposites. Meaning often comes when the character’s emotions become clearer, whether they’re crying out of joy or sadness. We add something that’s not on-screen.”
“Original music is important,” says Corriveau, “because that’s what activates emotions. I heard somewhere that, contrary to what we see as images, music is wave-based, and therefore it’s more like it touches you. It’s the only element in screen productions that has a direct, physical contact with the person watching.”
He, too, believes that a character’s state of mind, or train of thought, without saying a single word, can be expressed through music. “We wield a lot f power with an original score,” he says with a laugh.
“Not all projects need a musical accent,” says Stréliski. “But a narrative that’s difficult to express through words can easily be channelled that way. It can reinforce the intention of the film or TV production. Music is there to make things clearer. It’s almost like adding a character, sometimes. It’s like salt on a steak – and I love cooking.”
Admittedly very happy to have been honoured by this trophy, she says she doesn’t depend on them, and finds them “a little awkward” in the current situation. “I was off to the loo when I won my JUNO on YouTube,” she laughs. “This is not the time to win trophies, even though they’re always great to receive. We can’t emphasize the glamorous side of it; plus we can’t meet in person. Here’s to going back to normal soon.”