Composer and sound designer Chris Warner talks about the inspiration behind his piano based score for East Riding Theatre’s production of Yasmina Reza’s Art, directed by Martin Hutson.

Art has to speak to us. That’s the beauty of the play ‘Art’ - it does!”
— Martin Hutson, Director

Whereas previous productions of Yasmina Reza’s comic masterpiece have opted for a jazz infused musical score, this 2018 revival, directed by Martin Hutson, achieves a more nuanced, intimate and French aesthetic, which was ultimately reflected in the beautiful design and the final musical score. In early discussions about scoring this production, Martin explained to me how he wished to explore underscoring the monologues that occur at key moments throughout this 90-minute drama, ‘bookended’ with a set piece Prologue and Epilogue at the beginning and ending of the play. We started with a palette of musical references which included classic scores by composers such as Yann Tiersen and Thomas Newman. A piano based sound world was an important starting point for us both and armed with these initial thoughts and markers I set about creating a ‘mood board’ for the production. What we ended up with for the play’s opening Prologue was in fact very close in design to my first mood board, and here it is in its entirety:

Chris Warner’s music creates the Parisian mood – anyone for Erik Satie?
— reviewshub

Musically the concept is simple: three layers or musical themes intertwine, sometimes ‘in phase’, sometimes ‘out of phase’, sometimes consonant, other times dissonant and jarring. A musical characterisation of the play’s three protagonists Marc, Serge and Yvan and their relationship with each other as the narrative begins. In order for each of these musical elements to have their own autonomy, whilst all being played on piano, I opted for three different types of piano in the recording. What you hear is an instrumentation that combines various upright and grand piano models. Martin was also excited by the sound achieved when you place soft material in front of a piano’s hammers and you can hear this ‘felted’ effect two thirds of the way through My Friend Serge. I enhanced this further with various production techniques which gave us an additional underwater sound world. This submerged sound world became an important palette when it came to underscoring the play’s monologues as it generates dramatic intensity whilst remaining unobtrusive.

Counterpointed by Chris Warner’s moody music, the ‘painting’ – as we stare at it - has become a visual and external representation of our own psyche. Or am I just being pretentious? Highly recommended.
— Yorkshire Times

Under the white clouds snow is falling. You can't see the white clouds or the snow.
Or the cold, or the white glow of the earth.
A solitary man glides downhill on his skis.
The snow is falling.
It falls until the man disappears back into the landscape.
My friend Serge, who's one of my oldest friends, has bought a painting. It's a canvas about five foot by four.
It represents a man who moves across a space and disappears.

(MARC’s final speech)

From the outset we planned to underscore the final monologues of the play as a set piece. These concluding direct address moments bring us a much needed, and in Martin’s production, emotionally touching resolution to the (inevitable?) conflict that erupted a few moments before. In The Skier (see above), an edited version of the final cue sequence, you can hear our favourite felted piano sound world giving way slowly to a gentle haze of noise, a musical portrait of the ‘White Canvas’, the fourth, silent and inanimate protagonist of this dark but comic masterpiece, which nevertheless nearly causes the catastrophic collapse of three life long friendships.

Malcolm Tomlinson (as SERGE) and Richard Avery (as MARC)

Malcolm Tomlinson (as SERGE) and Richard Avery (as MARC)

The very final cue of the production (New Beginning) is a musical transformation of everything that has preceded. Again we have three layers, three protagonists, but the source material has been re-drawn. There is more hope, uplift and energy as the music drives us to an optimistic vision of the future. Perhaps most importantly the three characters are now co-existing better together, though each is still decidedly different in nature.

Clive Kneller (as YVAN) and Richard Avery (as MARC)

Clive Kneller (as YVAN) and Richard Avery (as MARC)

Production Dates: 27th September - 20th October 2018, East Riding Theatre
Director: Martin Hutson, Designer: Ed Ullyar, Composer: Chris Warner
Cast: Malcolm Tomlinson, Richard Avery, Clive Knelle