Benjamin Chee first collaborated with Vincent Gillioz on the "Last Breath" soundtrack in 2012, and they have since worked together on all of Gillioz's soundtrack albums. "No Marriage" is their most recent release.
Jeremy [Six Strings]: Tell us more about this about this album, "No Marriage".
Benjamin Chee: This is an album of many firsts. It's the first soundtrack, of course, which Vincent has scored for a Chinese film. It's the first album in which the liner notes, credits and track titles are bilingual, in Chinese and English. It's also the first soundtrack we've done which contains not just instrumental tracks, but also songs, as in vocals.
Jeremy [Six Strings]: What else makes this different from his previous work?
Benjamin Chee: "No Marriage" is an excellent showcase for Vincent, who up until now has been mainly known for writing music for zombies, aliens and mad killers. As I was listening to "No Marriage", what struck me was his seemingly inexhaustible talent for melody and developing them through various expositions, and it kind of confirmed my long-time suspicion that given the right opportunity, he has a far broader and deeper scope of compositional ability than what we've seen so far. He captures the emotional beats and the comedy beats in a way that is just spot on. In a blind Pepsi challenge, this music could pass for any Hollywood rom-com.
Jeremy [Six Strings]: How did you start working together?
Benjamin Chee: It began in 2011, when when Wall Crumpler of Howlin' Wolf Records mentioned in passing if I knew of this composer named Vincent Gillioz, who had already been talking with him about doing an album. In fact, I'd already met Vincent in person the previous year when I was in Los Angeles, and I knew his music very well. So it was quite serendipitous that we came together to work on his album, which turned out to be "Last Breath". I should also add that the fabulous art design on our albums has all been designed by Luis Miguel Rojas, and he has been the creative linchpin in all our releases to date.
Jeremy [Six Strings]: Can you describe your collaborative process with Vincent?
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Benjamin Chee: We really hit it off on the first one, and we enjoyed each other's ideas so much, we just had such a blast with it. So when the time came to do another album, of course we said okay. At the point we started working together, I already had everything of Vincent's music that was commercially available, so I was more familiar with his music than most, and I just loved the way his musical ideas worked. In one of our early conversations, I remember I described his music to him as "klangbeschreibung", which is one of those lovely but also unfortunate German compound words which perfectly means what it says, but has no equivalent translation in English, literally "sound description", which captures the same meaning.
Jeremy [Six Strings]: Can you elaborate about what that means?
Benjamin Chee: Vincent has a very good sense of musical architecture and design, similar to how symphonies are put together, for instance. In his previous soundtracks, which has been dominated by atonal, even dissonant, themes, there has always been an underlying structure in how he creates, develops and evolves these motifs that unify the entire work. The music of "No Marriage" revolves around two motifs, the girl's and the boy's, and everything is built up from these two themes, and delivered in a plethora of diverse styles: retro pop, cartoony comedy, frenzied chase scenes, romantic ballads, and so on.
Jeremy [Six Strings]: What was your experience like, working on this album?
Benjamin Chee: As a first-language Chinese speaker, it definitely was easier to make this album bilingual, along with the help of the director Wang Zhan, so as to reach English- and Chinese-speaking markets. Writing the liner notes was quite straightforward. We had a smaller word count, and it was written fairly quickly, compared to earlier releases. What makes this bilingualism really interesting is because there are certain phrases and idioms in the respective languages, which cannot be literally translated, so we had to retain the essence of what the sentence was trying to say, and express it in the other language. What this means is, you'd need to be able to read in both languages, if you want to get the full essence of the puns and wordplay in both versions.
Jeremy [Six Strings]: Can you tell us more about the film?
Benjamin Chee: The movie was produced by a consortium which included some Chinese and Hollywood heavyweights, like Tencent Productions and Fox Studios International, as part of a series of movies exclusive to the iQiyi streaming-on-demand platform. The movie itself is a live-action adapation of a manga, so a good portion of the target audience are the readers. The Chinese market shouldn't be underestimated: I remember checking the iQiyi website, and it had already scored 1.96 million views just 4 days after it was premiered.
Jeremy [Six Strings]: It is unusual to find a Hollywood-based composer writing music for a Chinese film.
Benjamin Chee: There have been some precedents - as early as 2002, Basil Poledouris scored "The Touch", and Klaus Badelt did "The Promise" a few years later in 2005, and there was "Lust, Caution" by Alexandre Desplat in 2007. But generally, there is such a wealth of local musical talent, in terms of both composers and musicians, that Chinese filmmakers don't often have to look abroad for their music. On the other hand, I suppose there will also be other opportunities, given that filmmaking these days is such an internationally collaborative process, especially with Chinese production studios taking a bigger stake in Hollywood films.