London, UK but working Worldwide.
I am Mathieu Karsenti and I am a music composer for film, TV and media.
Did you ever imagine you would be where you are today? How are your perceptions and expectations different now than from the beginning?
Growing up in South of France, I had no idea I would end up being a composer for film and TV. My first passion was painting and drawing and after studying Applied Arts I was all set to become a designer of some sort. At the same time, I picked up a guitar at age 15 and became more and more interested in music. In London, I performed live with my band and wrote songs but never felt at ease with the stage. Later on I also discovered I could produce music for others after I studied music production. From producing music on TV shows, I ended up composing. I realized there was a connection between designing and composing and my approach to solving a creative problem is actually the same one! So it took me years to think of myself as a composer (this was a job for classically trained guys after all!). When I realized that's what I was, I also understood that all my creative experiences led me to this and that I had a 'voice' that could bring something new to pictures.
When were you introduced to music for the first time? Do you descend from a family of musicians and composers?
My parents were into Soul music but no-one except my grandfather (whom I've never met) were musicians. I guess music was always around though because my brother ended up learning the saxophone and he is now a drummer as well as a DJ. Him collecting vinyls and having strong ideas about what he liked also influenced me and opened my mind up to a variety of genres. At the same time, my best friend was learning piano at the conservatoire; I was fascinated that she could read and play a beautiful piece of classical music. Her dad was also influential to me: he would jam on his guitar with my father on vocals. He definitely encouraged me to do the same and to learn songs by The Beatles, Simon & Garfunkel etc...
What are you listening to right now?
A variety of things! I'm always studying theory for my work by listening to challenging work by composers such as Stravinsky, Ravel or Debussy but I'm also a big fan of American composers such as Philip Glass, John Adams, Indian and Arabic music, and I still listen to 60s/70s Soul music!
The greatest lesson I learned this year is stick to your guns and recognize what makes sense to you no matter where life takes you.
Music is a key element to any video content, it aligns the energy, mood and feeling of the visual story. How do you capture these elements in your compositions?
When composing, I'm always wondering what the picture is telling me. Whether it's colour, composition, meaning, intention or dialogue, the film seems to have a Soul, an essence, and it's my job to find it with the help of the director.
Choosing the right sound palette, themes and arrangements is key to finding that identity. I also think music should say something else, it should comment on what we are seeing as well as accompanying the emotion. If the music just duplicates the action, it's not adding another dimension that lets you penetrate that world. Music in film is like an actor in the scene, it sometimes engages you or sits back and supports, it has multiple jobs to do.
What is Art Music?
On my website, I decided to include a section called Art Music that's all about music exploration illustrated with my own abstract watercolor paintings inspired by sound vibrations. When I'm not composing to picture, I'm always working on something, exploring different theoretical concepts or playing around with sound. For instance, I wanted to try composing for four cellos a while back, so I did four pieces for a cello quartet. Another project was to explore using synthesizers instead of real instruments and how I can make these sound different. So it's my outlet for more creative things that feed back into what I do professionally! It's my way of throwing challenges at myself: how would I compose a piece with such and such restrictions, this instrument or that scale? What does it mean to be me as a composer?
Which Art Music project was your favorite? Why and where did this take place?
The Cello quartet was my favourite because it's all about the instrument. I wanted to find out about the different tones and colours of the cello. I recorded these short pieces with cellist Tristan Horne at my studio and for me it's always a joy to work with musicians; that's when it all comes alive!
Sophistication is multileveled creativity communicated in a direct, genuine way.