news, updates, and conversations from Volcano Theatre

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Composer extraordinaire Njo Kong Kie and virtuoso violinist Andréa Tyniec reflect on creating and performing the music for Infinity

The Dora award-winning play Infinity returns to the Tarragon's Extraspace (Jan 4-29) by popular demand. Infinity features an original score by world class composer Njo Kong Kie which is performed by the virtuosic violinist Andréa Tyniec. Both artists share with us their experience of creating the score and performing it.

Njo Kong Kie composed the music for Infinity

Q: Kong Kie can you tell us a little about how you first came to be involved in the making of Infinity

A: Quite a few years ago, before Ross even knew me, I gave him a CD of mine, Picnic in the Cemetery, but thought no more of it as I didn't hear back from him for at least a couple of years.

During that time we did run into each other regularly in industry events and during one of these he told me he was going to be in Montreal so I invited him to attend a dance piece I scored for Anne Plamondon in the city at that time. I think that jogged his memory about the CD I gave him because shortly after, he invited me to come on board with Infinity. He thought the music in the album had the feel appropriate for the play and there was a particular tune from the album, Formula 1, which he asked me to incorporate into the soundtrack.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your creative process and how you went about designing the score.

A: Before the scoring could begin, we first had to figure out what the instrumentation would be. We went from having one string instruments representing each of the characters to just a solo violin. Since touring the show was always the plan, it makes sense to reduce the size of the orchestra, both numerically and physically, but it also allows us to give a voice to Carmen, to highlight and reflect her character a little fuller through music. Something that was not explicitly told to the audience, but nonetheless informed my design of the score was that the music we hear in the show is her composition - early works that she let Elliott listen to. As it turns out, he really liked them and in fact listened to them often which was something that surprised her.

Once we decided on the instrumentation, I set off writing a piece based on Formula 1. At the time Ross said that he liked the fact that the musical structure of the work while quite precise is nonetheless rather lopsided so I kept that in the new work I created. And the motif of this piece recurs quite a few times throughout the play, so it may be something to watch for.

At the same time, I wrote a short contrasting piece so that we had something different to work with. I was away at the time, so I just emailed Ross and Andréa the score and they went with it during rehearsal. I was happy to hear via email that the pieces worked well.

There were a few more workshops along the way and each time I would write a little more, and test the music out with the whole team. All design decisions were made gradually over time, as we explored Hannah's text and as she made revisions based on discoveries which took place during the workshops and rehearsals adjustments were made to reflect that in the music. We just kept refining the work as we went along. There were some negotiations somewhere in terms of how the music could be used, or where, or some editing challenges, but the process was very organic and never felt forced. We just developed the work a little bit at a time and fit the various pieces of the puzzle together.

Q: What were you trying to evoke with your music?

Kong Kie & Andréa during the 2014 workshop

As mentioned, the music is supposed to be Carmen's compositions. I imagined these to be early works, perhaps improvisations she made on the violin while she was practising and so I was trying to imagine what she would be like in her early days as a composer, and what her music would be like if she was just doodling. These short pieces are meant to have a kind of impromptu character to them. I am not sure if she ever reworked them, some yes others perhaps not, I don't think she would have laboured over them too much, even though I did in order to make them sound like she didn't!

On a theatrical level, the music also needs to underline the dramatic situation of each scene, so I kept that in mind as I worked on the music.

Another design element is that the entire score is based on a few musical motifs; and that there is a piece whose construction is based on a mathematical number.
For the audience member who enjoys playing listening games, see if you can notice these elements.

Furthermore, since both Carmen and Sarah Jean are virtuoso players, the score needed to put some demand on the player. We are lucky to have Andréa in the show, it is an absolute treat to work with her and for the audience to listen to. It is an absolute treat. Andréa is such a fantastic player and collaborator. She helped me so much in terms of finding the right technical approach to achieve the kind of sound we needed.

I also feel lucky to have a director like Ross who cares deeply about the integrity of the musical score, he really tried to use each work I proposed in its entirety as much as possible. Of course, I tried not to give him music that lasts 10 min at a time because there would be no dramaturgical reason for it in this context, but we managed to put in a few pieces that last two, or three minutes. During this process I was able to write a substantial amount of music for the show and that is very satisfying for me and I hope for the audience as well.

Q: Andréa, how does it feel playing Kong Kie’s composition?

Andréa Tyniec performs in Infinity

I met Kong Kie in 2010 and played some of his works during a residency we both did at the Banff Centre. Back then, I had no idea that we'd be working together in this way and it's been really interesting to see his compositions take shape during rehearsals for Infinity. I feel they evoke the bigger themes in the play, most of all Time, and because they were created in such close connection to the characters and their journey, it's always a powerful experience for me to perform in Infinity

Infinity runs Jan 4-29 at Tarragon's Extraspace. For details and tickets click here.

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