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Martin Matalon - "Metropolis rebooted"

Martin Matalon’s catalogue contains a large number of musical works and covers a wide range of different genres: musical theatre, mixed music, musical tales, film concerts, vocal music, installations, music and poetry, choreographed works, and opera.

In 1993, the IRCAM commissioned him to compose a new score for the newly-restored version of Fritz Lang's film Metropolis. Martin Matalon then explored the world of Luis Buñuel by writing consecutively three new scores for the Spanish director’s three surrealist films, An Andalusian Dog, The Golden Age and Land without bread.

For the Argentinian composer, writing for a film concert requires certain important factors: unlike opera, for example, the film concert is a new form of musical composition with almost no previous references. It thus offers a certain freedom with regards to composition and method compared to more traditional forms. At the same time, this form forces the composer to take into consideration the other, the screen, by finding solutions that would not necessarily have come to mind for an autonomous work of music.

Strongly attached to short forms, especially during the writing of the first version of Metropolis, as the best vehicle for bringing the imaginary to life and approaching a larger form, Matalon was now faced with a two-and-a-half-hour long film. He therefore worked on the form by cutting the film into twenty-one scenes while matching the frantic and dynamic rhythm of the editing. Each section is an aural evocation of the forms. The play of shadow and light, the composition of the shots, the rhythm of the editing, and the content of the visual sequences have a direct impact on the construction of the musical material. For Luis Buñuel, who discovered his calling as a filmmaker when he saw Fritz Lang's film, Metropolis is first and foremost a visual poem, a marvel of the plastic arts, capable, according to the Spanish master, of “fulfilling all expectations". Such a perspective on the work has deeply influenced the musical work of Matalon, who weaves a counterpoint between the image and the music with an ever-present desire to renew the listening experience, without exhausting on the one hand the public’s auditory attention nor, on the other, falling into a mechanical style of writing.

In the version for 16 instruments, Matalon adds to the orchestra's instruments timbres and performance styles from other genres such as jazz – muted trumpets, double-bass pizzicato, saxophone, electric guitar or fretless bass -, instruments from extra-European cultures: Afro-Cuban congas and timbaletas, Caribbean steel drums, Indian tablas, the African Udu… Through a musical game of trompe-l'oeil, electronic instruments become entangled with the acoustic realm, thereby multiplying and widening the instrumental possibilities. Finally, the spatialisation of sound opens up a new dimension by offering the composer a formal parameter with countless possibilities.

Far from being a simple accompaniment to the film, Martin Matalon's Metropolis is a work in its own right and reveals a new dimension of the latter. The image gains momentum and each scene builds a balance between tension and distension, density and lightness, complementarity and divergence, multiplicity and uniqueness… until the silences which, through a fusion with the image, are expressed with different nuances, until they become deafening...

In 2011, previously unseen footage from the film was found (in Buenos Aires), allowing the film to be screened in its entirety, with an additional 20 minutes. Martin Matalon returned to his score to add these new scenes, calling upon the evolution of his writing and techniques, especially with regard to electronics. The composer's latest project is to create a symphonic version of Metropolis, one of the most important works in his catalogue, for two reasons. Firstly, the desire to rewrite a score for this film twenty-five years later, particularly in a world increasingly influenced by images. But it is also a desire to widen the sound of the ensemble to symphonic proportions, without in any way considering an orchestration of the work but rather a new construction of the sound, obviously taking into consideration existing musical material. Writing for a symphonic orchestra opens the work to a wider and more diverse audience and thus exposes it to new challenges and spaces.

The composer answered some of our questions regarding his new work:

Your work from 1995 written for ensemble and electronics, based on the restored version of Fritz Lang's film Metropolis, has toured the world. Do you know how many times it has been performed?

This work has been performed probably around 70 or 80 times.

The world premiere of the work’s symphonic version will be presented this spring at the Philharmonie de Paris. Is this an orchestral arrangement or a stand-alone work in its own right? Is this the work’s "original version", the one you always wanted to compose, or an idea that came to you later, after the ensemble work? What are the key differences? What consequences are you anticipating on the film’s perception by the audience?

For me Metropolis rebooted is not a "stand-alone" version (I would never wish to inflict 2.5 hours of music on an audience) but it certainly goes well beyond the notion of an arrangement.

At first, I took this opportunity to recompose certain passages with which I was not fully satisfied in the original version. Going from sixteen musicians to nearly eighty forced me to recalibrate, rebalance, and fill without necessarily having to densify or saturate the sound space ... I had to compose many new sections in order to use all the instruments of the orchestra (many of which were not present in the original version). One of the emblematic characteristics of my style of writing is always to shine a light on the individual within the group. In order to get the maximum colour and variety in the orchestra, I continued what I had initially done in the ensemble version, namely zooming in on the soloists (most of the time with electronics). The most important issue from an orchestral standpoint was the use of violins (this instrument was not present in the first version for sixteen musicians). I had to write music to include this ever-present and crowded group of instruments, the orchestral core in a sense. This was without a doubt the main problem I had to face in this new version. Secondly, working with such a large number of instruments and with such a wide sound palette allowed me to create more interesting materials, more sculpted shapes, more vivid colours, wider spaces, and more power; in short it allowed me to go much further musically than in the original version.

Whereas in the first version the main problem was to balance the sound and to find a constant renewal of the timbre and the material, in this orchestral version, since the general form was more or less already in place, my major concern was to use the orchestra in its entirety without saturating the sound space, which can be detrimental to the form given the duration of the work. My attention will be laser-focused on this point in particular during the premiere. Only then will I know if my ideas and assumptions were correct...

The desire to write an orchestral version came to me only very recently, three or four years ago. I wrote the music for Metropolis at the very beginning of my career, and the work remained very present in my mind: firstly because of the different versions and reconstructions (2001 and 2010 in particular) for which I had to compose new scenes and cut others (25 unpublished minutes), but also because it is a work that I often conduct.

Your career quickly followed an "interdisciplinary" path, at the Chartreuse, followed by several major achievements in the field of visually-inspired music. This seems to have been less the case for the past two decades; how do you explain this? Does this new "Metropolis" herald a new wave of visual-inspired projects in your catalogue of works?

Interdisciplinarity has in fact been very present throughout my career (particularly during the last two decades). For film concerts but also, more recently, for the Opéra, musical tales, musical theatre, musical poetry, circus arts...

Working with different forms is a necessary path that fully nourishes my musical language. When we work with the other, we are confronted with their challenges, and not only do we appropriate this new form, it becomes our own, we are often faced with situations that we could not have imagined and we are forced to find musical solutions that take us well beyond our comfort zone. It is because of this that one’s language develops and multiplies. I often tell my students "when making music + something else, you have to make the music first".

Interdisciplinarity is enriching and interesting as long as the first part of the equation is made with the same quality, with the same formal care, with the same way of managing tension and energy than when writing “pure” concert music.

Martin Matalon - Metropolis rebooted "musique pour le film de Fritz Lang"
for orchestra & electronic device

World premiere: 8 and 9 May 2021 - Broadcasted only
Philharmonie de Paris

Orchestre de Paris
Thomas Goepfer, computer music production Ircam
Kazushi Ōno, conductor
More information...

Watch the video made with the composer about the work:

 

Consult the score in two volumes on ISSUU

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