Renaud Garcia-Fons - superbassist's new soundtrack to a classic


Renaud Garcia-Fons sounds very relaxed for a man who is following in the footsteps of Mozart. In 2011, the great French double bass master was commissioned by the Kurt Weill Festival in Dessau, Germany to compose a new soundtrack to The Adventures of Prince Achmed, an animated film by German director Lotte Reiniger.


A pioneer of silhouette animation – or Chinese shadow, as Garcia-Fons has it in his French to English translation – Reiniger was almost an exact contemporary of Kurt Weill and a similarly daring artist who some say was ahead of Walt Disney in terms of animated film and whose extensive canon included an animation of The Magic Flute that featured Mozart’s music.


Garcia-Fons didn’t take his illustrious forerunner into consideration, however, when he sat down to watch The Adventures of Prince Achmed for the first time. He was too busy being entranced by what he saw.


“I didn’t know the movie at all until the organisers of the festival sent me a DVD,” he says. “They had heard some influences from Arabian music and the Orient in my work and obviously thought I was the man for the job. So I watched it and fell in love with it. It’s an absolutely beautiful story and I realised that I couldn’t compose some music just for the sake of accepting the commission. I had to serve the movie and that’s what I set out to do.”


The bassist, who is known as “The Fons” by followers who have become besotted with his remarkable articulation and brilliantly expressive use of bowing techniques both conventional and otherwise, has some history in film music, although it’s more often been a case of his recordings being adopted by film-makers rather than directors beating a path to his door, much as they’d be welcome. His album Fuera, recorded with long-time associate, accordionist Jean-Louis Matinier, is an especially good example of music apparently being written with visuals and a perhaps deliciously creepy storyline in mind.


Not long after his new soundtrack for The Adventures of Prince Achmed’s premiered Garcia-Fons was commissioned to write the music for a TV movie that subsequently won him a prize in France. He has another TV soundtrack on the stocks as we speak and ballet companies have been after his services lately as well. On top of this, for proof of his virtuosity as a musician, you only have to look at the reception he has enjoyed at the Flamenco Biennial in Seville, where he was the first double bass player to win the highly prestigious Giraldillo do Oro.


All the same, when he and his sextet sit down to accompany The Adventures of Prince Achmed in the Old Fruitmarket in Glasgow, it will be, he says, “a new gamble.” As well as reading the very detailed score, the musicians will have small monitor screens at their feet so they can see the action while the audience watches a large screen behind the band. Resourceful musician though he is (his solo DVD, The Marcevol Concert gives ample proof of this), Garcia-Fons just has to rely on the technology not leaving him literally in the dark and improvising.


“We’ve toured with the film in Germany and Switzerland, so we must have played it fifteen times or more and every time it’s a challenge,” he says. “There have been some new soundtracks to old films by jazz musicians that have left room for improvisation – and I’m not saying that was wrong – but in putting music together that responds to every subtlety and nuance in the film, I wanted every note to be written. The difficulty comes with capturing the exact tempo from the beginning because you can’t be even a split-second out. The music has to be completely in sync with the action.”


His instrumental palette for the soundtrack includes marimba, lute, bansuri (Indian flute) and tablas, with his signature five-string double bass acting as a musical bridge between Orient and Occident .


“My goal was to mix influences to reflect the onscreen action and really support the story,” he says. “So there are elements of the European classical tradition linked with sounds from Eastern Asia in the shape of the reeds, wind and percussion instruments. I’ve always been fascinated by music from across the whole Mediterranean area and into India and I’ve always loved film, so in many ways it’s the ideal project for me.”


Renaud Garcia-Fons plays The Adventures of Prince Achmed at the Old Fruitmarket on Sunday, March 1.


From The Herald, February 25, 2015.


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