’25’ – The Ultimate Cirque Mixtape?

What songs would you put in a Cirque du Soleil mixtape, one you would give to a friend as an introduction to the world of Cirque musique? Would you pick just one track from each of Cirque’s creations to serve as an introduction and a history, and if so what would you pick? We all have our favorite pieces. Different moments of Cirque music have their home in our hearts, and are able to move simply by hearing their first few bars. When I’ve had the opportunity to come up with two “Cirque Samplers” (the last in 2003), here’s what I included:

“Jeux D’Eau” from O – a moving, evocative start
“Ouverture” from the first Cirque du Soleil album
“Eclipse” from Nouvelle Experience
“Saltimbanco” from Saltimbanco
“Alegría” from Alegría
“Let Love Live” from Alegría Le Film
“Quidam” from Quidam
“Kamande” from Dralion
“Journey of Man” from Journey of Man
“Kalimondo” from Mystère
“Svecounia” from O
“Jardin Chinois” from La Nouba
“Vocea” from Varekai
“O” from O – the perfect quiet ending

Cirque itself took on this challenge when for it’s 20th Anniversary it produced what it called “Le Best of Cirque du Soleil”. The down-tempo (Cirque might call it “Poetique”) playlist included:

“Egypte” from Mystère
“Alegría” from Alegría
“Pokinoi” from Saltimbanco
“Querer” from Alegría
“Kumbalawe” from Saltimbanco
“Ombra” from Dralion
“Reveil” from Quidam
“Nostalgie” from O
“Vocea” from Varekai
“Stella Errans” from Dralion
“Gamelan” from O
“Liama” from La Nouba

The trend to this set was slower songs from then-current creations. I don’t know that I agree with the moniker “Best of,” but as a replacement for the prior “Collection” compilation CD (and including nearly half of that disks songs) it was a marked improvement.

Now, for their 25th Anniversary Cirque has again taken on the challenge, expanding their scope and timeline from their beginnings to their just debuted productions. And this just-released set proves not only a better statement of their musical history, but also a much better introduction into their musical world than any compilation before it. The set is “Cirque du Soleil 25” (Cirque du Soleil Musique CDSMCD-10030-2, 2009)

The creative team includes:
Executive Producer: Jacques Méthé
Associate Producer: Mathieu-Gilles Lanciault
Musical Director: Alain Vinet
Mastered by Harris Newman at Harris Graymarket Mastering in Montréal
Art Direction: Pierre Desmarais
Graphic Design: Michel Dalpé
Production Coordinators: Eric Y. Lapointe, Lise Dubois

In keeping with their corporate mantra of recycling, the CD comes in a recycled paper CD case. Even the plastic wrapper is made of recycled material! (Fortunately, no plastic CD trays are included that might become detached from the packaging.) The front cover is die cut with the numbers “25” which allows the yellow of the interior booklet to shine through. Opening the three-panel package reveals booklet storage and a message from Guy Laliberté on the left panel, the storage packet for the Poetique disk (which is open at the top causing Disk 1 to fall out often – an annoyance) in the blue-hued center panel, and the Dynamique disk in the red-hued right panel. Cirque characters are present throughout. In an interesting turn the complete interior of each of the pockets has graphics covering every square inch, completely covering the interior as well as the exterior of the pockets – in most other sets using this packaging the design only extends part way into the pocket.

The text is in French and English, meaning half as much space for text than if one language was used. The message from Laliberté talks about how music must “provide the same rich and moving experience as what unfolds on stage.” The booklet, which carries on the character-heavy artwork of the CD package, includes the standard list of song information along with a message from Alain Vinet, Cirque’s “Musical Director.” Nowhere on the cover or in the booklet are songs lengths noted, an oversight in my opinion. The booklet also includes a chronology of Cirque focusing on the music. I would have preferred a more detailed text, which, while chronological, could have also commented on what acts a song, accompanies and perhaps some quotes from the composers. But I suppose when you have to accommodate two languages space is at a premium.

One show – The Beatles LOVE – is missing from this collection, likely due to musical rights reasons. This makes little difference here; the inclusion of any Beatles tune would have interrupted the musical flow, and the music of the mop tops isn’t really Cirque music. There are also no remixes from the Solarium/Delirium set or the “Journey of Man” soundtrack. The current Mystère disk (“Live in Las Vegas”) is not represented here; the creators have chosen a track from the first studio release instead (noted below). The disks are sequenced in roughly chronological order allowing one to hear the evolution of the music. There are five songs that have not been previously released on CD: The first vinyl 45 from La Fanfafonie, “Le Cirque du Soleil” and “La Funambule”, as well as selections from Believe, ZED, and OVO whose soundtracks have not been released yet. Care has been taken to keep the songs “whole” as some of the endings which on the official disks are overlapped are clear here.

What might the criterion for creating such a set be? It seems one prerequisite was to not repeat any tunes from the “Le Best of” CD, which has its positives and negatives (see below). Another seems to be to keep the tempos and moods more separate, with “Poetique” being slow and moody and “Dynamique” possessing energy. There is also the question of which piece of music might be the best choice to express a show’s overall mood. Selecting a slow tune for an otherwise fast and up-tempo show may not be the best choice, for example. But that doesn’t seem to be a consideration here; rather the emphasis has been on sequencing and flow, creating a mood within the disks theme that flows easily from beginning to end.

Below are descriptions of each disk and their contents, with comments on their technical presentation included. We noted that as can sometimes be the case with compilations, there are no differences in pitch between these selections and their original disks. We do note a slight loss of high end and boosting of the lows for all tracks up to and including Quidam. This was likely done to bring the sounds of these pre-digital tracks to be more like later Cirque tracks.

DISK ONE – Poetique – total time 55:19

The first sounds on the disk are the sounds of children playing. This, along with the first: 20 of music are bathed in spacey echo. This represents the idea of “going to the circus” and venturing into the tent as the first notes of music are heard.

1. “Ouverature” (1:42) – representing the Cirque Réinventé show – Actually the first track from the very first self-distributed Cirque du Soleil CD. One could consider this track “unreleased” since the LP and CD were never distributed beyond limited quantities available in Canada.

A slight scratching sound, like the end of a side of a vinyl record takes us back in time to…

2. “Le Funambule” (3:37) – La Magie Continue – For the first time, the B-side of the first La Fanfafonie Cirque-produced 45 appears officially on CD! This slow saxophone piece is the first piece of music heard in the “Le Magie Continue” show (and DVD). High-end equalization is applied to this track subduing the drums a bit. There is also some top-end distortion particularly evident in the last: 30, which may be why this track is cut off :04 from it’s total time.

3. “Meandres” (6:54) – representing the Fascination! Show – This track is actually from the “Nouvelle Experience” CD.

4. “Have Vahlia” (4:39) – Nouvelle Experience – This cute accordion-dominated piece accompanies the chair-stacking act from Nouvelle and comes complete with tempo changes and vocal exclamations at its conclusion.

5. “Vai Verdrai” (4:32) – Alegría – Here is an interesting choice. While a quite appropriate tune to present the overall mood of Alegría, the shows’ “Greatest Hit” is arguably the title song. However, later on in the play list it is included, in a departure from the normal chronological order, which we shall discuss further down. Note that the channels continue to be reversed from the original RCA Victor issue.

6. “A Tale” (4:19) – La Nouba – The rap that makes up part of this track (which is not part of the show) remains here for this taste of La Nouba. Here is a nice groove piece, with a fine improvisational-sounding vocal by Dessy DiLauro. The overlap from the next track on the La Nouba CD, Porte, has been removed here. Following very closely on is the next track…

7. “Piece of Heaven” (4:58) – Zumanity – From the “inspired by” soundtrack era this track, while keeping with the Poetique theme, could really have been abandoned in favor of something actually included in the show. It is, however, representative of the flavor of the CD. Again, the overlap from the next track on the Zumanity disk, Zum Astra, has been removed here.

8. “Volo Volando” (4:30) – Corteo – From the chandelier act in Act I. A beautiful waltz with an Italian flavor.

9. “Beyond the Clouds” (3:26) – Wintuk – A laid back track from this seasonal New York show. Since I haven’t had the opportunity to see the show, I don’t know where it fits or if it is representative of the show’s feel.

10. “Sexy Pet” (2:48) – Criss Angel BeLIEve – Another show I haven’t seen so can’t judge its feel. Unreleased to this point, the track reaches for sensuality with a bit of a Nine Inch Nails distortion-tinged sound mixed with hip-hop sensibility. This track wouldn’t be out of place on the Zumanity CD. It is credited as being “performed” by composer Eric Serra, though there is a female vocal I don’t think he’s responsible for.

11. “The World’s Meet” (6:35) – ZED – Having seen the show during CirqueCon 2008: Tokyo! my wife and I were very anxious to hear a full version of this song, one of the most beautiful from the wonderful Dupéré score. And we were not disappointed! Starting much the same as the Singer Audition Kit version we had already heard, this version adds both vocalists a longer middle and haunting final choruses. With instruments slowing building throughout the song, after almost five minutes of beauty come breathtaking final choruses that left my wife teary. It truly evokes the moment in the show when, as the hand-to-hand act reaches it’s crescendo, most of the artist descend from the rafters or appear from the winds singing the chorus. We can’t wait to hear the rest of this soundtrack; this first taste is very promising.

12. “Banquette” (2:47) – OVO – Latin rhythms! Almost deserving a place on the Dynamique disk. If this finale song is representative of the show (I haven’t seen it, but have been told there is more techno-pop influence to the rest of the music) it moves away from the cultural blender of most Cirque music and lands it squarely in Brazil.

13. “Alegría” (4:20) – Alegría Le Film – With the stricture to not repeat any song from “Le Best of” Cirque has chosen to include this down tempo version of Alegría from the Franco Dragone-directed film inspired by the show. This version isn’t really representative of the show or song to me. And not of the movie either, as none of the “pop” songs on the CD appear in the film. It also doesn’t help that although Alegría is a currently touring show the film soundtrack has been deleted and is no longer available, so that even if you were interested in further exploring the mood suggested by this song you would be unable.

DISK TWO – Dynamique – total time 54:50

1. “Le Cirque du Soleil” (3:21) – Cirque du Soleil – With a flourish the second disk starts off with the A-side of the La Fanfafonie vinyl 45. Of all the songs on this disk it could be said this is the one most musically “out of place;” its brass-band marching style harking back to the roots of circus music that Cirque eschewed early on. As with the prior La Fanfonfonie track the highs have been rolled off).

2. “Les Pingouins” (3:25) – Cirque du Soleil – A fun track for the Korean plank act but interesting in that it seems to be the second track from the original show “Cirque du Soleil.” These must represent the first two summers of touring. (NOTE: Erstwhile Editor Ricky comments this was used in Cirque Réinventé.)

3. “Barock” (3:59) – Saltimbanco – Not from the original CD but from the re-recorded and re-mixed “Take 2” of Saltimbanco (and not victim to the treble roll-off and bass boost of other early tracks). A nice chugging tune, well representative of the show and the Russian Swing act that opens Act II.

A whooshing noise, not part of this or the next track, takes us to…

4. “Rivage” (4:09) – Quidam – A fun rocking vocal by Mathieu Lavoie. The last 1:15 of the original track has been removed, an ehru solo that is out of place with the rest of the track.

5. “Birimbau” (6:09) – Mystère – Here is a strange selection, which is not from the currently available “Live In Las Vegas” soundtrack for Mystère. Not only that, but this track is one of three on the now-deleted studio version of the soundtrack to not make it onto the currently available disk. The song did play a major role in the early part of “Midnight Sun” the street celebration organized for Cirque’s 20th Anniversary, which might explain its inclusion. Has a fun scat from Luis Perez.

6. “Svecounia” (5:00) – “O” – My personal favorite Cirque music track and one I never expected to appear on an “official” Cirque compilation. The first 40 seconds, which have little to do musically with the rest of the track, have been excised here so the track begins with the singers call for celebration. There is nearly double the low-bass introduction time, created by repeating the tone in mono – you can hear the edit as it goes from mono to stereo.

7. “Ravendhi” (4:38) – Dralion – An Indian-influenced track featuring Eric Karol on countertenor vocals.

8. “Lubia Dobarstan” (4:28) – Varekai – A vocal intro from Mathieu Lavoie overlaps with the end of Ravendhi, but it isn’t from the beginning of this tune as it appears on the official CD. It is said to be an outtake form the recording sessions. This makes this version an interesting rarity.

9. “Pursuit” (5:52) – KA – A fast-paced chase scene from the most orchestral of all Cirque soundtracks. The last few seconds are cut off.

10. “One Love” (3:10) – Delirium – With a music track based upon the remixed version of “Pokinoi” from Saltimbanco (by Sasha), this track adds lyrics and is representative of Cirques first arena show. Remixer Sasha was also involved in the arena show version.

11. “Hum Jaisa Na Dekha” (3:44) – KOOZÅ – The shows sitar and horn section rock together. This track provides a great ending to the Koozå CD, but there is more yet to come on this compilation. Cuts off the last 8 seconds of the fadeout.

12. “Utinam” (6:46) – ZAIA – Similar sounding to the track from Dralion (not surprising since they both come from Violaine Corradi). An extra verse of the tinkling bells at the end of the track has been removed, shortening the track by: 20.

So what do I think? Splitting the collection into two “moods” was a good idea – you have your choice depending on your mood. Musically and as a retrospective it’s a great collection, better than the compilations that have come before it which haven’t been as all encompassing as this. You could feel confident when presenting this to an interested friend they would come away with a much better idea of the width and depth of Cirque music and the power of it’s beauty. Where I might criticize is on pickier technical issues and with some song choices.

Is it a value for your money? Retailing at USD $22.00 is a pretty good price for a 2-disk set. I have always felt, however, that compilation or “greatest hit” disks should always take full advantage of a CD’s 80-minute maximum playing time, so for me to speak highly of any disk as far as value goes both disks would have to clock in at between 70-80 minutes each. At 55 minutes per disk, these earn a “C” (average) from me. (It should be noted that limiting the collection to 25 tunes (one for each year of Cirque’s existence and for each of it’s 25 creations) is mostly the reason why the disks are only 55 minutes each.)

The concept of one song for each year and for each show is a nice idea, but one I would not have strictly followed. Cirque could have easily added to the number of tracks and filled out both disks to above 70 minutes each without treading too much on the over-representation of any one show. Music not released on the “official” albums could easily have been added for nearly every show, not to mention Saltimbanco, Alegría, Quidam, or Varekai, which has had “bonus tracks” added in prior re-releases. These could have been justified as additional “unreleased tracks.” Also one of the remixes from Solarium/Delirium could also have been added to the Dynamique disk easily. I also would have seriously considered the vocal title track from the IMAX Cirque film “Journey of Man,” a splendid song as well as an adaptation of a melody from “O” that hasn’t been otherwise available.

It is also unfortunate that what could be considered Cirque’s two “biggest” hits are not included here. You can make the argument that “Let Me Fall” from Quidam is well known to the public benefiting from a cover version and concert performances by Josh Groban, as well as its inclusion in the Delirium show. And the title track from Alegría, in its original Francesca Gagnon version is to me one of Cirque’s top tunes, and its replacement by the now-unavailable film version is a mystery.

This isn’t to say the set isn’t good. To their credit Cirque has reached back to their roots to present a holistic view of their entire musical history when it doesn’t really benefit them financially to do so (since their oldest show CDs are out-of-print). They could have continued with their philosophy of only making CD’s of shows currently in production but they resisted that temptation here. This plunge into their musical past is most welcome.

The music flows nicely from selection to selection. Occasional overlapping of tunes shows care in the mastering. The packaging reflects the Cirque ethos. Overall it would be a perfect gift to give someone who deserves to be enlightened to the variety and wonder of the music of Cirque du Soleil.

Thanks to Lise Dubois for help with this article.