How Composer Walter Mair Turned 800 Bars of ‘Musical Nonsense’ into ‘Liaison’s Score and Theme Tune03/09/2023
For Apple TV+’s first French-English, multi-language, adventure series “Liaison,” creator-writer Virginie Brac and Emmy-winning (“24”) director Stephen Hopkins chose evocative composer Walter Mair – known for commercials, video games and compositional elements and arrangements for Netflix’s “Squid Games” – to bring a mix of electronic and live instrumentation to its war-torn, lovelorn storyline.
Creating a tensely menacing and intricate score for an emotional tale starring Vincent Cassel (who also serves as executive producer) and Eva Green gives the six-episode thriller an epic, yet intimate sweep. Mair’s textural feel for frenetic movement and incendiary intrigue found the composer utilizing writing and orchestrating skills familiar from his battle work on violent video games such as Rockstar’s “Grand Theft Auto” series, Sony’s sci-fi franchise “Killzone,” and “Tom Clancy’s Splinter Cell: Conviction.”
“It is all about finding the voice,” said the Austrian-born composer regarding the difference between video game shootouts and the up-close-and-personal violence endemic to “Liaison.” “In video games, you look at things such as how close the protagonist is to the antagonist in a fight sequence. You build musical layers upon layers while questioning who is entering and re-entering the fight… everything is being scored frame-by-frame.”
Finding “the voice,” quite literally within “Liaison,” meant having romantic partners, avenging angels and assassins traveling hurriedly from Paris to London to Damascus to Turkey to Brussels. With that, Mair had to symphonically connect suspense-strewn storylines and personal interactions involving French secret service agents and Syrian families in flight from harm.
Is making music for a diversity of accented voices the same as moving from bassoon to saxophone as to flute for a composer used to working with full orchestras, percussionists and vintage synths?
“That indeed was a discussion that I and the filmmakers had because there are so many voices, and how literal the music should be in reflecting the characters and their geographic area,” said Mair. “We decided that our music had a particular modality, the feel of emotion, of different instruments, organic and synthetic, coming together. When we are on the Turkish border, for example, horrible things happen – there are German shepherds attacking. There is a family who believes they are in their safe zone until the outside world creeps in. There are thrills and there is tragedy. It was interesting how we could manipulate sound and music to introduce the outside world to the world inside of refugees fleeing Syria for France.”
Whether it was characters being chased or those such as mercenary Cassels and agent Green in a romantic embrace, Mair built subtle, lush musical themes and noise-filled ambiance that could turn on a dime in accordance with whatever tragedy or violence might befall them.
“If something goes wrong, how is that reflected in their themes,” queried Mair, creating his own heightened sense of cinematic intrigue as he spoke. “We added more brass, but pitched it down an octave. Suddenly the brass wasn’t shiny – it has this moving subtone layer to it. If you bring this all in very subtly, and add, say, a guitar layer, it could sound a bit haunted and grimmer. I experimented with subtle shifts in melody and mood during the ‘Liaison’ score. You’re bringing back the same melody, but it is off-kilter at times – and that grabs you.”
What grabbed Mair about the process of making “Liaison” – along with the thrill of merging the cacophony of street sounds into his plush orchestration, “a weird ethereal base, recorded with strings onto which I had prepared about 800 bars of musical nonsense” – was how the composer fashioned one of its most subdued lines of melody into the Apple TV+ series’ theme song.
Mair re-arranged his main theme and recorded this original track, “You are the One,” with lyricists Jack Beech and Josey Milner-Day, and vocalist Plumm.
“I already had the hook – ‘Liaison’’s main theme – but needed a verse to build up its entire song structure,” said the composer. “I love collaborators as such. We had a rough sketch of the song, Plumm came in, performed it, and it was so in the moment. Within one day, the song was produced and finished, and our main theme to ‘Liaison’ was turned into a proper song.”
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