Jean-Baptiste de Laubier
On the ‘Girlhood’ Soundtrack
The DVD release of the hit drama ‘Girlhood’ centred on the dispossessed of modern-day Paris features soundtrack music put together by our subject – aka Para One. We called Jean-Baptiste in France, for the lowdown on the project …….
JLTT: Now, you’ve worked on the music for this film which is now coming out on DVD called ‘Girlhood’.
Yes, that’s correct
Could you tell me first Jean about ‘Para One’, what is ‘Para One’?
(Laughs) ‘Para One’ is myself. It’s my musical alter-ego you could say. It is my alias for making music.
It comes from the word paradox and also from a particular activity when I was a teenager
Alright. Tell me what instruments you play yourself
I’m a very bad piano player but I can play some. I use the keyboard to compose my music and then drums sometimes. That’s the only instruments that I use
OK..so do you not use guitars or strings?
I use guitars when other people play them for me but I can’t play the guitar myself. I never compose on the guitar and I think it’s a different approach to composing on guitar
Yeah. I’m a guitar player mainly and I’ve just been working out an acoustic set for a festival over here. So who might be your composing influences? I mean, there are names that spring to mind, that you may have heard in your younger days. Maybe Vangelis?…and who’s the guy who did ‘Oxygene’?
(Laughs ) Yeah!! Jean Michel Jarre!
Were you ever influenced by them? Their music at the time was atmospheric wasn’t it?
Yeah. But also it was very formalised, Jarre was very much a true composer. It is true that it is also at times very ambient stuff but also structured. Any musical French kid in the Eighties was definitely influenced by Jean Michel Jarre, anyway. Every year in school or college we would have Jarre soundtracks to these really stupid shows and performances . So we know them all by heart!
(Laughs) You can bet every German guy your age knows Kraftwerk! Tell us about ‘Girlhood’ then
On that soundtrack, the clear influences were more like Terry Reilly..or Cage perhaps..to complete the pieces I recorded the guitarists, strings and a violin player
I heard Terry Reilly’s ‘Rainbow in C’ years ago.. Do you remember that?
At the same time, a friend of mine was working with some Americans – electronics boffins Tonto’s Expanding Headband. They were working with Stevie Wonder and The Isley Brothers so I’ve always been hooked into soundtrack music. There are many soundtracks I really love. When you’re approaching this you usually have visuals to work with when you are doing a film soundtrack don’t you?
Yes absolutely. I compose from the screen, in fact…that motivates whatever I want to use to create the right sounds for the screen action..any particular scene
So therefore, you can take one of two roads here Jean – you can say ‘I will match or synch the music with the action’ or ‘I will go for a paradox or counterpoint’ which was used a lot in say, ‘A Clockwork Orange’
Well, it depends on each case. In one of the situations here, it’s supposed to be like the beginning of a chapter, so there is this main theme that appears in many different variations throughout the film, throughout the story. It is supposed to be the main theme that always comes back and you kind of recognise it and it is meant to be like a loop, to convey what is almost like an obsession.
But also there is purely atmospheric stuff in this work, there are many occasions where it is just floating around and that is really not the same way of working, at all. More an ambient inclusion
I understand. I mean, one of the themes of this film (I have to admit I have not seen the film but I know about it) it’s female leads going their own way, if you really want to boil it down
Yes, that’s very much what the film involves
In a way on this theme , are you familiar with a film called ‘Baise Moi’?
(Emphatically) Yeah, of course!
Well hold on a minute, I don’t know what you know and what you don’t know!
(Laughs) It was fairly big in France…
‘Baise Moi’ was two girls on an absolute rampage, asserting themselves. A very violent film but my goodness it stayed in your mind. Were you impressed by that film or not?
(Ponders) Not really. I’m very much influenced by Sciamma…I like her writing and her books. I was not really influenced by her film. But it’s true that I focused on the main character, there is technically one main character, one of the girls
I’ve written down here ‘It demands some changes because the character goes through changes in arriving at here she wants to be by a not too obvious route.’ Slant Magazine said ‘Girlhood is so keyed into the minutiae of its teenage protagonists that it’s as if the film can’t stop behaving like they do.’ In other words, maybe they are thinking at some points the film puts style over content which does happen. Maybe though it’s not a bad thing, it gives a film character.
Yeah I think so. I mean, I know the film was inspired by actual events in real life. I think if the story is based on people’s real lives and experiences….that’s a good thing
Absolutely. Now I was thrown out really because I’m familiar with the family of Ali Faka Toure. I thought maybe she – the lead actress Karidja Toure – might be related, like a niece or something but I don’t think they are connected. I mean this girl, her parents are from the Ivory Coast and Toure is from Mali. I think this lady has parents from the Ivory Coast but she grew up in Paris
That’s the case, I believe – it’s funny because my niece is also called Toure
Oh really? How closely did you work with Céline Sciamma here because she did ‘Waterlilies’ and ‘Tomboy’. Did you sit down with her and say ‘What are we going for here? What impact do we want the music to have?’
Well she always comes up with a very strong ID, which is a very good thing because some composers I guess like to have their total but there again I have my freedom when I compose my music for myself. So I am really happy in this instance to be a slave to someone else who has an idea! Especially when it is a good idea and it is someone who knows what they want and they are always on point. She would come up a few words that will push me towards the right path, I think. It is really fast. There is a sit down chat, yes – but it’s a short one!
Right. It is a good thing as when you are doing a job to order, which is what you’re saying, I think it is really good for you because your focus is to say ‘Well, let’s cement this other person’s vision.’
Exactly. That’s exactly what I think about making music for films and that’s why I love it so much. It is like a relief actually!
What it does…. I help other groups if a guitarist is ill or something I will step in and help them. The way I look at that is I am putting a frame on someone else’s picture
Yes, exactly. Working to a brief
Putting that in terms of concrete art, I am contributing to a sound that someone else has created but here I am being what’s necessary. But it’s not a hardship. It is still being creative isn’t?
Absolutely – it is very much creative. From the other point of view, I think when you work in a team and people follow your orders or your project and they accept that, everyone’s actions are going to be part of the creation. Some people don’t get that and they just want to be the person in charge and the only author. I think that’s very childish….
I think you’re absolutely right because you don’t know what’s lurking in somebody’s head that’s going to put some fairy dust on the project
One thing Slant Magazine did mention was that there are some very deft tracking shots and one that they mention specifically is where she is going from a crowd situation to the character solo. Did you score that?
You mean the opening shot? No, the opening shot is not my composition. There were two to three songs in the movie that were not my compositions. I think that is one of them
Ok. Overall, how’s the film been received in France?
In France, it has been very well received and popular….but some criticised the way it plays, the story
Asking is it true life or is it an exaggeration, I suppose?
Yeah – people were questioning her ability to talk about that specific group of people I think because of the colour of her own skin or something….that was really depressing that debate because I think Celine knows a lot about being in the suburbs, about being a girl and growing up as a woman. Everything she talks about in the movie she really knows what she’s talking about. (Sighs) That was a small debate, these things happen…
The DVD of ‘Girlhood’ is out now on Studio Canal