Interview: french composer Nicolas Martin


When I was reseaerching for my latest blog post about Oscar nominees in Short Animated Movies category, I didn’t really expect to find new composer which I would like instantly. But it happened – I learned about french composer Nicolas Martin (official website) who had composed soundtrack for the movie Mémorable. I was trying to find out more about Nicolas, but with no luck – no interviews, no biography (just short annotation on his official website).

It crossed my mind that I could interview Mr. Martin (which is something I’ve never done before), and I contacted him on Soundcloud where I listened to his movie soundtracks. I asked him for short interview and I’m glad he agreed – he seemed he’s as happy as I am about the interview.

Mémorable movie, to which you have composed soundtrack, has been nominated for an Oscar. Would you say this is your biggest achievement in the music industry yet, as your music is an integral part of the movie?

I’m not sure I can say this is my biggest achievement in the music industry, as the nomination concerns the entire film and a whole team that worked very hard on it. (The team consisted of more than 40 people, and the director Bruno Collet had the main role in it. Music is only a small part of the film’s success, so I can’t take it (the nomination) too personally. But obviously, it’s great to see the film we’ve worked on to be nominated for an Oscar!

Two movies of the five nominated are believed to be main contenders for the Prize: Mémorable by Bruno Collet, and Daughter, Czech nominee by Daria Kashcheeva. Have you seen Daughter, or any other nominees? Do you think Mémorable has biggest chance to take the price?

Yes, I have seen the other nominated films and I must say that aside from Mémorable, Daughter is my favourite. It’s a fantastic film which is, like Memorable, in stop-motion. There is a kind of magic in this technique, which always inspires me. In Daughter, the hand-held camera effect is quite impressive. Indeed, these 2 films are my favourite, but they are both produced by small companies and are in a competition with films made by large studios, like Pixar and Sony. It might be very difficult to win.

Memoráble is an emotional piece where in a very short amount of time, a lot is said. Do you consider this format to be hard to work with when composing? Does composing for short movies differ from composing for full-length movies?

Indeed, it is more difficult for me to compose for short formats, as I prefer to have a time to install, develop, mix and distort my themes. With a short film, there is a certain immediacy, you have to go to the basics, but it is important not to put music on in every scene. Silence is essential, even in a short film.

Did director Bruno Collet have specific requirements about music, or were you absolutely free about what you could compose for the movie?

Nicolas Martin
Nicolas Martin

Bruno gave me total freedom, and that’s why it was a real pleasure to work with him. I had the first meeting with him in the early stage of the film, well before the shooting. Bruno told me about the film, showed me the puppets, sketches, and the film set design. We talked about the musical textures and it quickly appeared that he wanted to work with string instruments. From there, back in my studio, I started to compose some demos and he immediately accepted the themes that I sent him. It was great! The opening music is pretty much like the demo I had sent out before the shoot. This is why I like to be involved in the first stages of the film. Especially in stop-motion — I like the idea that the director already has the music while he animates. A few years ago, I had a chance to compose the music for another stop-motion master: Barry J.C Purves, and his film ‘Plume.’ It was a musical film, a kind of opera ballet in five acts. I composed and recorded the music before the shooting and Barry animated and choreographed directly to the music. It was unbelievable to see…

In Mémorable, it was not as much choreographed, but I think that having the music before shooting helps to find a certain cohesion between images and music. After making the demos, I came to the set to see the whole team working. It was essential to be in contact with the puppets and soaking up the atmosphere of the film. I worked with Bruno on the animatic and as the scenes progressed, I reworked my tracks. Once everything was validated, we recorded the soundtrack with a String Quartet in my studio

What is the most challenging aspect about composing music? Do you ever find yourself in a state when you can’t compose? What helps you get back on track?

In general, when I work in audio-visual, I do not have time not to be inspired because the deadlines are always very tight. On the other hand, this pressure helps a lot when it comes to composing. For the documentary „Gauguin, I am a Savage“, which is 52 minutes long, I had to compose and record all the music with a String Quartet in 10 days. I don’t think I could have done better with more time.

But definitely, the most challenging aspect is when I have to compose in a style that is not mine and whose codes I do not master. And that often happens when composing for films. For example, integrating world music accents into a soundtrack. For Mémorable, I had to compose a song, a „hit“ from the 60s / 70s that Louis – the main character – listens to on a vinyl record player. I spent more time composing and writing the lyrics for this song than composing the entire soundtrack, because it’s a style I don’t usually compose. I worked with a soul singer Clarence Stanley Finck, and I am finally quite satisfied with the result. There is a scene in the bathroom that I particularly like, where we hear this song deforming as the disease evolves, and then integrating with the String Quartet Soundtrack.

Would you say you have some ‚signature‘ in your work? Something that anyone can recognize you for?

I hope so! But I really can’t get an opinion on my own music. Once my tracks are mixed and finished, I find it extremely difficult to listen to them again.

Can you name some of your favourite composers, musicians or bands? Would you like to collaborate with some of them on some future project?

To me, the most interesting composer of the last 20 years is without any doubt Damon Albarn. He’s incredibly prolific, and everything he does is so classy, whether it is with Blur, Gorillaz, The Good The Bad and The Queen, or in his solo work. In contemporary classic, my favourites are the masters Philip Glass and Michael Nyman. Ten years ago, I participated in one of his Masterclass in Germany and it was so impressive to see him working. Another artist I really like is Pascal Comelade, his work is just amazing. When it comes to other styles, Calexico is one of my favourite rock bands. Working with one of these names would be unbelievable!

How does your ideal day look like?

My days depend on the amount of work I have. I often work on several projects at the same time and since I have my studio in my house, I don’t go out much…

I record all of my music here, and recording musicians is one of my favourite steps. Listening to my music being played by real musicians is magical. Several years ago, I have found the Miniature Ensemble Orchestra, a small sized chamber orchestra, to record my soundtracks. Recording sessions with the musicians are always so special and make my day good!

You say you are self-taught — can you describe your way of becoming composer?

I did not follow the classical musical curriculum, I never took music classes, I never went to the conservatory, I just learned music by myself on an old detuned piano that there was in my parents‘ house in France. As a teenager, I was a member of different rock bands as a guitarist, and it was at the university (where I was studying cinema) where I composed my first music for a short film. From there I knew that’s what I wanted to do in my life…

I make composing a full-time living for almost 10 years now — composing for cinema, documentaries, and commercials.

What brought you to Mallorca – have you ever dreamt of living here, or is it just coincidence? Can you imagine spending rest of your life here?

It is a total coincidence. I came to Mallorca when I was a student to work during the holidays and to learn Spanish. I met my wife (which is not Mallorcan) here and we finally decided to settle here. So, it was not planned at all and it had nothing to do with music. However, I realized later that it was an ideal place for my work. Indeed, due to its condition as a tourist site, there are flights to the main European capitals. There are daily flights to Paris, London, Madrid, Barcelona and even weekly flights to Rennes where the studios of Vivement Lundi (producers of Mémorable) are located!. This allows me to move quickly to meet the directors while living in a fantastic location. In fact, apart from certain places of mass tourism, Mallorca is such an inspiring sunny island.

Another aspect is that there are a lot of European musicians who live here. I am very fortunate to have in my Ensemble internationally renowned musicians like the French cellist Emmanuel Bleuse, Austrian violinist Nina Heidenreich or Russian Violist Sonia Krasnova.

I don’t know if I will spend the rest of my life here but right now, Mallorca is the perfect place for and living here with kids is so cool.

You have released your newest studio album Sourdine in January. Can you tell us something about it?

Sourdine is a piano album which has just been released on the 35mm Records label. It is a very personal and intimate project which differs from my previous albums which were more audio-visually oriented. It is an organic album about sensations, nature, memories, nostalgia…

I have been working on this album over 2 years between various audio-visual projects.

The cover is from the exquisite photographer Freddy Rapin.

Last question: can you tell us what are you working on at the moment?

I have just finished composing music for a film about Pauline Dubuisson, directed by Vincent Maillard for a French television channel France 2. It is a magnificent film about a judicial chronicle in France in the 1950s which mixes animation, archive footage and real shots. We’ve recorded 40 minutes of music with my String Quartet “Miniature Ensemble Orchestra” and France Télévisions does us the honour to soon release the Soundtrack Album.
Trailer for All is true movie

Right now I am working on two new albums for String Quartet. The first is an album shared with other composers with String Quartet songs in a very contemporary style which will be released by Universal Production music. The second is Inner String Quartet Vol2 for the French label Superpitch. The first volume was an unexpected success. The piece Atlas has been found in an infinite number of projects and Kenneth Branagh used the song Icons for the trailer for his movie All is true. I am also working on several film projects but I prefer not to mention them until they are finished…

Many thanks to Mr. Nicolas Martin for his time. You can listen to his music on Spotify, Google Music or Soundcloud. More informations on his official website. You can watch Mémorable and Daughter online – I wrote blog post about where to watch them (in Czech language).

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