Ben Charest: How music can set you free

For the entire film, music provides the thread as it is a universal connection. It creates the relationship between Avril, Jacob and Arthur,between love and sensuality, between Earth and Mars, between the past and present, and most importantly between the film and its audience. Mars et Avril doesn’t take itself too seriously while tackling some pretty weighty themes, like the nature of inspiration, the obstacles to desire and the notion of how music can set you free.

“Sound design and score (are) huge plusses… nicely complementing the film’s ideas about music and its relation to time and love” Boyd van Hoeij, Variety

“Oh, yeah – and there’s a brilliant score from Triplettes de Belleville composer Benoît Charest, the go-to guy when you’re looking for someone to pen music that has to be pure genius.” Brendan Kelly, The Gazette

In 2013, Benoît Charest was nominated at the Canadian Screen Awards and at the Jutra Awards for his work on Mars et Avril, and won the Félix in the category Album of the year – original soundtrack at the ADISQ Gala. For the occasion, a limited edition of 300 vinyl records of the soundtrack was released, as a nod to the retro-futuristic look of the film.

The soundtrack is now available under the Simone Records labels:

Cover of the vinyl record special edition – Courtesy of Mars et Avril inc. © 2013

BENOÎT CHAREST – Biography

At the age of 13, Benoît Charest became fascinated by the guitar, and learned by ear the songs of the Beatles and Led Zepplin. He soon discovered jazz and decided at 17 to undertake private lessons. During his college studies, Benoît earned a living playing with the best jazzmen in Montreal. In 1991, he signed his first score for Montréal rétro, a documentary of the National Film Board of Canada, for which he composed, arranged and conducted the musical framework. Since then, he has composed some fifteen motion picture soundtracks, among them that of The Triplets of Belleville, which earned him a Cesar and an Oscar nomination for best music in 2004. Benoît has also composed music for television, theatre, and more than sixty commercials.

Benoît Charest’s promo picture for “The Triplets of Belleville” 10th Anniversary Concert in 2013 – Courtesy of Benoît Charest © 2013

THE INSTRUMENTS

Even before production began, TED2013 speaker Martin Villeneuve envisioned the instruments that play a central role in the aesthetic and plot of Mars et Avril. The problem was how to afford construction of these elaborate designs based on the female form. So Martin approached Guy Laliberté, Cirque de Soleil CEO. Guy was intrigued, and purchased the instruments before they were ever built, to be delivered to his own private art warehouse after filming was completed. The artist, Dominique Engel, created the instruments over the course of a year as a part-time job. The instruments weren’t functional – a bunch of pieces were welded together and the sounds and music were added later in post-production.

In order to bring these invented instruments to life, the composer says he’s been inspired by retro-futuristic music that he translates as being a music from the future with a realm of the 40’s and 50’s imagination. “In those times, people had a very optimistic outlook into the future; they thought everything was going to be great, different and funky” says Charest. To be reflective of his inspiration, he chose well-known acoustic instruments – modulated, oscillated and mixed their sounds to create the fictional “gravophone” and “soupirotique”.

Dominique Engel’s workshop – Photos by Yanick Macdonald – Courtesy of Mars et Avril inc. © 2008
Concept sketches of the “Marsophone” by Guy Lessard – Courtesy of Mars et Avril inc. © 2008
Conceptual sketch of the “Marsophone” by Guy Lessard – Courtesy of Mars et Avril inc. © 2002
Conceptual sketch of the “Gravophone” by Guy Lessard – Courtesy of Mars et Avril inc. © 2008

MARSOPHONE

The physical model of the MARSOPHONE, as it appears in the film – Courtesy of Mars et Avril inc. © 2009

The symbol of Jacob and Arthur’s love for Avril… which resonates through Mars!

Listen to the MARSOPHONE on SoundCloud!

GRAVOPHONE

The physical model of the GRAVOPHONE, as it appears in the film – Courtesy of Mars et Avril inc. © 2009

Its generous curves are reminiscent of an obese woman. The creator welded the breech, but the valve is still gaping. He made sure to lift the pallets to lower the pressure in the sound box. However, he must have hit a heartstring, as the instrument emits a very deep sound.

Listen to the GRAVOPHONE on SoundCloud!

PLEINEMUSE

The physical model of the PLEINEMUSE, as it appears in the film – Courtesy of Mars et Avril inc. © 2009

A type of bagpipes with a keyboard and a huge bag. The model for the resonance chamber is a pregnant woman, so the musician playing it must be very delicate with the blow pipe. Same goes for the mouthpiece and buttons – sensitive areas. The instrument has two mouth pieces, one to give voice to the mother, the other for the baby.  For the baby, the creator took it up an octave, so it would sound more high-pitched.

Listen to the PLEINEMUSE on SoundCloud!

CONTRE-BAISE

The physical model of the CONTRE-BAISE, as it appears in the film – Courtesy of Mars et Avril inc. © 2009

A large string instrument that allows the creator to heal the wounds left behind by a tumultuous past relationship. Work and love do not always live in harmony…

Listen to the CONTRE-BAISE on SoundCloud!

ORGUE-ASME

The physical model of the ORGUE-ASME, as it appears in the film – Courtesy of Mars et Avril inc. © 2009

A cross between a large organ and a wind instrument: a huge horn coming out of a keyboard. It is a very imposing structure and the sound it emits is quite powerful.

Listen to the ORGUE-ASME on SoundCloud!

SOUPIROTIQUE

The physical model of the SOUPIROTIQUE, as it appears in the film – Courtesy of Mars et Avril inc. © 2009

This instrument takes the shape of a beautiful dancer who’s incapable of standing still. The creator fused together various parts from different instruments, resulting in a cross between a wind instrument and a string instrument. The sound it emits is airy and pleasant.

Listen to the SOUPIROTIQUE on SoundCloud!

PERCUSSENSUELLES

The physical model of the PERCUSSENSUELLES, as it appears in the film – Courtesy of Mars et Avril inc. © 2009

A type of drums, with parts shaped like breasts, stomach, buttocks, etc.

Listen to the PERCUSSENSUELLES on SoundCloud!

Martin Villeneuve