The extraordinarily persistent anime series and franchise Sound! Euphonium gained a new entry, in the form of a cinematic spin-off Liz and the Blue Bird by director Naoko Yamada, hot off the heels of her high-profile A Silent Voice manga adaptation.
Also marking the second time they’ve worked together, Yamada enlisted Kensuke Ushio as the film’s composer, evidently the beginnings of a thriving professional relationship between two young and already prominent practitioners of their respective art forms.
The following is a translation of the interview with the composer, published at lisani.
Interviewer: Following on from A Silent Voice, this will be your second time making music for a film by director Naoko Yamada. Did you decide to work together again because you felt your work with A Silent Voice went particularly well?
Ushio: There is that, but also, during the wrap party we talked about how nice it would be to work together again. Whilst watching the finished film, we’d both thought of new things we wanted to do, so we got really excited talking about how we wanted to do this and that. As such, I felt very honoured when Yamada asked me to work on her new film and I very much looked forward to experimenting together, following on from A Silent Voice.
Interviewer: The production of A Silent Voice proceeded without a music order menu. Was this also the case with Liz and the Blue Bird?
Ushio: In the end, there also was no menu this time either. So, as with A Silent Voice, we had a meeting at a point where we had a script and some storyboards, after which I came up with some conceptual pieces. From there I made audio sketches, and then made sure it fit in with the film’s identity. I’d make more music if anything was lacking.
(Translator’s note: A music order menu is a collection of songs and tracks requested from the composer, usually with titles like ‘battle music’ or ‘everyday 1, 2, 3’ etc.)
Interviewer: Compared to A Silent Voice, were there any differences when working on this film?
Ushio: The work we are adapting is, of course, different. But also, I ended up joining production a bit later, so with the storyboards from Yamada already completed, I was able to have a clearer view of the film. Usually Yamada and I work by making images or something abstract that will act as the spine of the film and build off these. Also, in the opening and ending, there are points where the sounds of Mizore and Nozomi’s footsteps and movements turn into music. This was something we talked about in detail before and whilst making these scenes.
Interviewer: Let’s see… Did you receive any keywords from Yamada in relation to production of this film?
Ushio: I think there’s something a bit inappropriate about putting the concept of the film into words, but if I were to give one, Yamada talked about ‘decalcomania’. This word describes a technique akin to that used in the psychological test known as the ‘Rorschach Test’. Whilst the left and right side of the shape made using decalcomania look similar, they are slightly different. My guess is that this is the concept that connects Mizore and Nozomi. So I expressed this visually using something like Morton Feldman’s graphic notation to score the music, thus forming the basis of the music for the film. However if we were to create the music just through this process, we’d get something quite messy. So we weaved into it things like the conceptual pieces and the parts of the story that felt more private and personal. There were, of course, also some musical pieces I composed in a more conventional manner.
(Translator’s note: ‘Decalcomania‘ is a process where paint is pressed between two surfaces to create a mirror image.)
‘The music mirrors the girls themselves’
Interviewer: That must be why the music sounds post-classical, or modern.
Ushio: Also when I read the script, I thought this was a very personal story; a story that should remain hidden from everyone else. If such adolescent feelings, so very delicate like glass, were to be known to others, I think that those girls would truly become unable to build connections with others later in life. So I wanted the music to be like holding your breath, secretly watching. There’s also the fantastic brass band music that Matsuda composed. I thought this music was what you should find yourself humming after watching the film, so I tried to make sure I didn’t bring the melody out too much in the film music. That’s why I decided to go with this unconventional method of composition.
(Editor’s note: Akito Matsuda is the composer for the two TV seasons of Sound! Euphonium. He also composed all the original concert band music heard in the series [i.e. Winds of Provence’, ‘Crescent Moon Dance’], as well as a 20-minute long band piece for Liz and the Blue Bird. Sections of it can be heard in various released PVs, fittingly featuring solo flute and oboe.)
Interviewer: How did you express the idea of ‘holding your breath, secretly watching’ in the music?
Ushio: When looking at the photos Yamada took when location scouting, or her storyboards, you notice that the camera is looking at the two characters from the viewpoint of the corridor window, or the equipment in the music room, or the beakers of the biology room, and so on and so forth. They watch over the girls, with the story being told from their perspective. So I went to the school in Kyoto that KitaUji is modelled on, and created a sample library of sounds, by doing things like hitting a music stand with a stick or bowing a beaker. When you listen to the soundtrack in a cinema, these sounds are small and lie deep within, but it’s because of this that the music takes this same perspective, watching over the girls. The music, weaving this in, becomes the single notes of the decalcomania score. The music mirrors the girls themselves.
Interviewer: I see.
Ushio: Sound director Yota Tsuruoka looked at the score and said that the beakers and window glass are probably the central line, putting them in a position to watch over their left and right. I thought that this was a nice way of thinking about it. The music carries the perspective of the two characters, and we stick to this sort of concept throughout the parts of the film set in their world (t/n: as in, not the world of the story ‘Liz and the Bluebird’).
Interviewer: By recording at a school, I guess it adds a certain sense of realism to the film’s world.
Ushio: This is something I thought about when working on A Silent Voice as well, but there’s a sense that anything not written into the background of an anime doesn’t exist, right? But when you look at the storyboards, although it’s not drawn in, you can, for example, sense the space around the corner of the corridor. When I went to the school I noticed that, with the corridor’s linoleum flooring and the building being comprised of concrete, sound resonated greatly within the corridors. I could really feel a sense of depth. Although only two voices resonate within this space, the reverberation of these voices can make the school seem like a bird cage. By having this reverberation, I thought we could make it so that their personal and private days together just barely rises above the surface. So as you can see, I put some thought into how I could express the feeling that no one is watching.
Interviewer: It’s really interesting how your ideas about composing extend towards the avant-garde.
Ushio: It’s in this area that Yamada and I really understand each other, so it’s always fun working together. What’s cool about her is she doesn’t sneer at these things. She’d be like “OMG, that’s amazing!”
Interviewer: Did you do anything special during the recording?
Ushio: Unlike A Silent Voice where I recorded a piano, this time it’s mostly step recorded. So I’d say what was most important this time was the aforementioned recording at the school. I was using a high sensitivity microphone to pick up those sounds, since they were so small….. but when an old man like me is recording whilst tapping a school chair, it looks really weird you know? At the time, I was with Yamada as she was location scouting, and when she saw me like this, recording, she couldn’t stop laughing. I was there thinking “Shut up!” (laughs).
Interviewer: The mic would have picked that up as well, huh? (laughs)
Ushio: Yup, her laughter rings out when I listen to the recording. So I did think of using it for the film as well (laughs).
(The interview continues in the next page. You can find the page numbers below the ‘related articles’ section.)