Abel Korzeniowski / Interview
Last Friday I interviewed composer Abel Korzeniowski for Hunger Magazine. It was a wonderful and insightful conversation that is now available on HungerTV
Read it on Hunger Magazine
Abel Korzeniowski is a translator of emotions into music. Or at least that’s what he should write on his CV. The Polish composer is known the scores of Tom Ford’s A Single Man and Madonna’s directorial debut W.E., both nominated for Best Original Score at the Golden Globe Awards. We talk to the philosophical soul about working with Madonna, pop music and that little thing called the meaning of life.
COMPOSING MUSIC MUST BE A VERY INTIMATE AND PERSONAL EXPERIENCE. HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOURSELF AS A COMPOSER AND TO WHAT EXTENT ARE YOU INSPIRED BY YOURSELF AS A PERSON?
This is a very difficult question. I try to tell stories with my music and it is very important to me that it has and additional depth rather than making just a functional and necessary score for a film. I like to fill it with details that become only apparent after listening a couple of times. The process of writing is also very personal to me and the beginning of it is almost like a religious ritual. This is something I have learned through popular music and that I have discussed with Madonna. A good pop song has an immediate appeal, it does not take ten minutes to begin and evolve. I used to have a much more classical approach but I discovered we can get rid of all this preliminary and go straight into a very deep stream of emotions. There has got to be something unique to my music, I start from a little different point, from the middle.
MADONNA IS AN ICON OF POP MUSIC, WHAT ARE YOUR THOUGHTS ON THE GENRE?
My view of popular music is that it can be as precious and valuable as the so called serious music, like classical music for example. I don’t really make a distinction, a piece just connects or does not with the audience. The description is like a language, or a different aesthetic. It is like saying “Bauhaus is much better than Art Deco”, when they are just different elements of the language. Nevertheless, if you write music just for money and without paying attention it would result in emptiness. The main question is what is in popular music that makes it so popular? What is the cause of so many people resonating with certain songs and not with others? This has always been a great question to me and my position right now is that if you compare a pop or rock song to the most famous pieces of classical music, they have the same level of appeal that you can recognise, it is just channeled in a different way.
HOW DOES LIVING IN LA INSPIRE YOU?
This city allows me to relax and that is very important. When I write, I don’t go out or meet with people so it helps when I can see a sunny day outside. It is also important that the city outside is fighting insecurities, doubt, and that anything can happen to you if you are fighting for what you are trying to do. It can be frustrating sometimes but I wouldn’t live anywhere else.
KAAS CHANTE PIAF IS YOUR LATEST PROJECT TOGETHER WITH FRENCH SINGER PATRICIA KAAS TO COMMEMORATE THE 50 YEAR ANNIVERSARY OF EDIF PIAF’S DEATH. HOW DID THIS PROJECT START?
I was really surprised that she thought of me to work with because when I think of Edith Piaf I imagine a French composer doing new arrangements so I was really thrilled that she thought my music would be appropriate. We wanted to make them in a more cinematic style, in the way I write my music as well. It was a big challenge because most of those songs are written in a simple stream of thoughts like something you would hear in a bar with a piano or a cafe. What made those songs really interesting was how Edith Piaf elevated them, how charismatic she was within this simple form creating a new emotional level while singing them with her stage presence.
IT IS SAID THAT EDITH PIAF’S LAST WORDS BEFORE HER DEATH WERE, ‘EVERY DAMN FOOL THING YOU DO IN THIS LIFE, YOU PAY FOR’, WHAT IS YOUR MEANING OF LIFE?
I try to look at life as an optimist and I try to concentrate on the beauty and on the good. One of the main tasks of art in our life is to help us make sense of the world that surrounds us and to put us back into balance in a way. Some unpleasant things in life throw us off balance and when we have a sense of chaos around us we feel despair and shattered into pieces. What I try to do with my music is to put someone back in balance.
GEORGE, THE CHARACTER PLAYED BY COLIN FIRTH IN A SINGLE MAN SAYS IN THE FILM ‘DEATH IS THE FUTURE’. BUT YOUR TRACK ‘THE STILLNESS OF MIND’ GIVES HOPE AND A SENSE OF EPIPHANY. HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THAT?
This was a really beautiful moment in the film because for an instant, he regains his appreciation for life and he wants to keep on living. This is a moment of victory, fulfillment and he couldn’t be happier. He overcomes a great tragedy and in this way it is a perfect ending. He dies from a natural reason, in a sudden moment, but he really dies happy, achieving his nirvana in a way. It is such a high point in life I wish everybody would achieve.
WAS TRANSLATING EMOTIONS INTO MUSIC FOR THESE FILMS A WAY FOR YOU TO FACE YOUR OWN EMOTION?
Absolutely. What I love about films and how stories are told is that in a few minutes you can tell a much more complex story than in a book of 200 pages for example. In one minute on the screen, if you add the acting, set designing, music, and proper cinematography you can combines all the elements that we have at our disposal in art and we no longer restrict everything to words. This is how I see the world around us and what I love on the screen as well.
DO YOU HAVE ANY FAVOURITE CHARACTERS FROM ANY FILM THAT YOU HAVE COMPOSED FOR?
When I write music for a specific scene I watch it a thousand of times and I know every detail and little movements of every muscle on the face of the actors. It becomes very intimate for me and visual elements are what inspires me, what I see on the screen, how they act, what they show with their faces, their emotions, this is what I translate. There is a very intimate relationship between acting and what I write. We talked about this many times with Colin Firth because even though we hadn’t met during the shooting, he had this unexplainable feeling after watching the film that music was his counterpart, something completing his character. I watched him many times so every note was born through this process.
‘EVGENI’S WALTZ’ WAS COMPOSED FORW.E. AND CURRENTLY FEATURES IN MADONNA’S NEW LIVE ARRANGEMENT OF ‘LIKE A VIRGIN’. HOW WAS IT COMPOSED?
This is an interesting story as I came to the project after the movie was shot and the actor was playing on the piano in this scene. Madonna asked me to replace the piece she filmed with my own and it was difficult as we could see the actor playing on screen with his fingers clearly visible. It had to be a piece that would have something original and real and its own personality and fit what we see on the screen. “Evgeni’s Waltz” means a lot to her, it is her favorite part of the show and it seemed impossible at first to apply it to “Like A Virgin”. Surprisingly the meaning of the song has changed despite maintaining the same words. It manages to be valid right now and carries a very different and more mature meaning.
ARE YOU ALREADY WORKING ON YOUR NEXT PROJECT?
Yesterday I received news that “Escape From Tomorrow”, a small independent film I made with a friend of mine, qualified for the Sundance Film Festival and it will be presented there for the first time. We are thrilled as it is very difficult to get there.
WHAT ARE YOU HUNGRY FOR?
I am hungry for dialogue, for communication. What we do through art is what we really want to do in life and just speaking words is not enough. We need the visual and oral elements, music and sounds. We live in a world that has all those elements in balance so I think that we are happy.