Benoit Jutras – Composer
“Making Time Stop”

Due to our desire to carry physical CD’s when we travel rather than pack an iPod, two disks always make their way into our CD case. One is the René Dupéré-composed Holiday on Ice show “Exotica” (1998, Netza 1751). The other is always the Benoit Jutras-composed Cirque du Soleil “O” soundtrack (1998, Cirque du Soleil Musique CDSMC-10013). Invariably, both disks get a listen at least once during any trip we take. The beauty of them both transport us.

You might remember we had a lengthy conversation with Mr. Dupéré back in 2006 (and you can read that here < http://www.cirquefascination.com/?p=32 > ). But we’ve not had the opportunity to talk with Mr. Jutras – until now!

Any Cirque fan with more than a few soundtrack CDs in their collection knows Benoit Jutras’ (BEN-wah JHUUT-ruh) name and have appreciated his music. His sound, with its strong lyrical line and powerful connection to the stage image took Cirque music to new heights. His soundtracks for the Cirque rank among fans favorites. As we have said in this context before, it is the music of Cirque du Soleil that, through the ears, prepares the mind for the wonders about to unfold before the eyes.

Returning to the Cirque du Soleil fold again to write new music for the high bar act in Mystère to celebrate its 8000th performance, his career has been quite a ride. Holding a Masters Degree in Composition from the Conservatoire de Musique de Montréal, he first became involved with the Cirque by joining the circus band in 1987. Writing many pieces of music for early Cirque shows (and being named Best Circus Composer at the Monte Carlo Circus Festival in 1996), then sharing composing duties on Mystère with Mr. Dupéré, he was finally presented his own show to compose, Quidam, in 1995. He went on to also score “Alegria Le Film”, “O”, “La Nouba” and the “Journey of Man” film before moving on from Cirque to other endeavors. Those included film soundtracks, television productions, the “Glow in the Park” parade for the Six Flags parks in 2008, and two more shows in collaboration with Franco Dragone, “Le Rêve” in 2005 and the recently opened “The House of Dancing Water” at the Wynn Macao.

His website, aptly named www.benoitjutras.com has samples from several of these projects as well as others. On the front page of that website is some interesting calligraphy – a scribble that works out to the words, “Music in All Its Senses.” Where did this come from, we wondered as we began our conversation? “My friend, who was doing my website at the time, came up with it and I thought it was a really good idea. It’s written in another way than just the normal way. You’re the first person to find what’s written so you’re quite good, nobody sees it.”

One More New Thing

We started our questions for the Montréal-born 47-year old Mr. Jutras, who now calls Barbados home by asking how he came to write new music for the high bar act in Mystère? “Sandy Croft, who was the Artistic Director [for Mystère] at the time, told me that she felt the show needed just one more new thing.”

The request didn’t come from show director Franco Dragone? “No, Franco hasn’t asked me for anything regarding the Cirque since we were in Orlando [for La Nouba] in 1999; we haven’t talked about Cirque since then. It was just an idea [that came about] one evening when I was talking with Sandy, but [later she] called me and said that it would be nice to actually do it. She felt the high bar music was too dark for the way the high bar people felt. And I knew that the high bar people always felt it was a bit too dark and serious for them. So I said I’d have a look.”

“At the time I was in the middle of my rush in Macao (Ed. working on The House of Dancing Water) so I had to wait nearly a month to have the time. It wasn’t an emergency for them, they had music already. I did the first draft really fast, during two weeks that I had a little less to do. I was in China when I did the final draft. I would say [it took] two or three months. I decided to have fun with the music, and Sandy liked it and (Cirque Senior Vice-President of Creative Content) Gilles Ste-Croix liked it.”

“It has been a long time since I [have done] something new for the Cirque. I don’t remember when the last time was, but it has been a while. I just thought I had the time and it would be nice for the show, [it’s] been running for so long it deserved one more new piece.”

Though Mr. Jutras & Mr. Dupéré are now listed as co-composers on the show it didn’t start out that way: Mystère was initially credited to Dupéré alone. But as Mr. Jutras pointed out, “When [Mystère] opened (in Dec of 1994) at least 30% of the music in the show [was mine]. René was the official composer at the beginning, and the original soundtrack was only René’s music. I was not supposed to be a core composer; it just ended up [like that]. It was the same thing with Cirque Réinventé (1987-1990); the last few years I had maybe 60% of the music and more music than René, but René was the [only] official composer [up to Alegria].” (Ed. This is reflected in the second version of the “Cirque du Soleil” CD (1990, Cirque du Soleil Musique CDSMC-10001) where four of the twelve cuts were composed by Mr. Jutras.)

“By the time Quidam arrived I had written a lot of music for Cirque Réinventé and Mystère and for the show in Switzerland [Ed. that Cirque did in conjunction with Circus Knie in 1992] and all that. In ‘95 René decided to take a break, he felt a bit of pressure to match Alegria since it was such a huge success in Canada. Guy Laliberté thought of me since I did so much music before that, and I was really happy to finally have my own show. It was quite easy.”

The writing for the show begat what is probably the best known piece of music in the Cirque canon, “Let Me Fall,” made famous by its inclusion on singer Josh Groban’s self-titled first album (2001, 143/Reprise 48154-2). Mr. Jutras had a story about meeting Groban, “I worked with Josh Groban two years later [Ed. That would be around 2004], we were in Vegas for three days, a working session to see if we could come up with something else. I played piano for him, and he signed [a CD of] “Let Me Fall” for me.” But he was not aware of how Groban would perform the song in concert, using projections to “walk” up a grand staircase off of which he fell into the “void” at the end of the song (see the performance here < http://redux.com/stream/item/1069934/Josh-Groban-Let-Me-Fall > ). “Really?! I should try to find the DVD.”

“O” and La Nouba Take Flight

His next assignment was for the water-based “O” creating the soundtrack that has graced the speakers of many rental cars we have used in our travels through the years. The first time my wife and I were enraptured by the beauty of “O” one of the instruments that stuck in our minds was a haunting stringed instrument that we later found was called the erhu, sometimes called the Chinese Fiddle. What about the “O” music led him to use it? “It’s such a beautiful instrument. I knew I wanted a bit of a world-beat feeling for “O”. And a month or two before I had heard [show musician] erhu player Lei Qiang play in the park in Montréal. And there were some Asian acrobats [in the show], so I thought there could be a certain link there. So it was a question of timing, the erhu was suddenly in my life at the time and I thought it would be a good idea.”

Fans are intrigued about the changes, sometimes subtle, made to a shows music over the years. One fan, in an old topic posted on Cirque Tribune, wondered why in 2004 the woodwind position was eliminated from the band and the parts rewritten and some of the songs received a key change. “I didn’t even remember that we changed the key,” Mr. Jutras commented, “It’s probably to fit the act, the acts are always moving a little bit.”

“The woodwind player was playing [several] ancient instruments. And because of the nature of the theater, with the humidity and all that, it was simply hell to keep the instruments tuned. I knew when we started the show that [would be] part of the game and the instruments would be a little out of tune sometimes. It wasn’t because she was a bad player, she was a really good player but it was just too hard [to keep the instruments in tune]. So we got a second woodwind player and it was even harder. After the second one we [knew] we had to readjust.”

It was a short two months after the premiere of “O” in 1998 that previews began for “La Nouba” in Walt Disney World. In interviews Franco Dragone has said opening two major productions back-to-back exhausted him. Mr. Jutras agrees, “Thank God I was ten years younger so I was able to survive! It took me months to recover.”

“In a funny way, “O” was a really easy show for me to do and La Nouba was extremely difficult. The main reason was that Guy Laliberté wanted more of a modern soundtrack [for La Nouba] and Franco doesn’t really do modern. He hated electronic music at the time. Now he’s listening more to modern stuff, but at the time he didn’t really listen to modern music. So it was really hard to find music that would please both. I had to struggle a lot, and at some point you get tired of being in a rush for 8-9 months straight, working 7 days a week with no break. At some point you just get slower, so I suppose I got a little bit slower.”

Following chanteuse Dessy Di Lauro as singer in La Nouba was Sisaundra Lewis. Another fan wondered what it was like to hear her sing the score for the first time? “She was simply amazing; I was smiling the whole time. It’s a gift when you [hear] a performer, mainly a singer, singing your score and suddenly the score takes flight. It’s just a blessing and you feel so lucky. It was the same thing in Quidam, André [Boileau] sang it for a long time (Ed. for three different stretches from 2005-2009) and for me he was the perfect voice. Every time I saw Quidam during the years he was singing it was like, “Ahh, thank you, this is just perfect.” It had the right emotion; there’s so much emotion that comes through the voice.”

Though he is not currently writing music for Cirque Mr. Jutras keeps in touch with his shows, though not as much as he used to. “I’m trying to do as much as I can. In the first years I was going to every show at least two times per year. Now Cirque policy has changed, the shows have been running so long and depending on the show they are so stable they don’t really ask anymore. But if there’s a big change [I try to go]. I’m trying to go at least one time per year, even if it’s only to talk to the musicians and have contact. And there are always notes; I’m quite hands-on with my projects.’

Before expanding beyond Cirque one more project awaited Mr. Jutras, composing the soundtrack for the 3-D IMAX Cirque film, “Journey of Man.” Though the CD (2000, Sony/Legacy SK-89097) contained all the films music, it also contained a song not featured in the film, “Trip Hop.” Where did it come from? “It was because the soundtrack was way too short. It’s not out of the blue completely, there was definitely a link with the movie, maybe not in the arrangement but in the [feeling] that the movie [had]. We needed to add something [to make] it a longer CD and it felt like a little bonus.”

It would be years later that Mr. Jutras would be called back to Cirque to begin work on the show that would become KÀ. He would work on it almost a year before leaving the project in a mutual parting of the ways. Was any of the music composed for that show used in other venues? “Yes, actually. I did reuse a few pieces for Le Rêve and The House of Dancing Water. The main theme for The House of Dancing Water was originally created for KÀ. And there were two other pieces but [I only used] the ribs [of them]. I’m writing so close to the image most of the time that it becomes difficult to reuse the music. If I can I just reuse a few bars or the main theme. René has more of a tendency to write songs so it’s easier to move. My structures are shorter and so close to the action that when you take out the action it just doesn’t make sense anymore.”

Mr. Jutras’ next show project would be his 8th collaboration with Franco Dragone, the show Le Rêve at the Wynn Las Vegas (www.wynnlasvegas.com/shows/le-reve). Mr. Jutras has been the only creator that has stayed with the show through its evolving incarnations, ensuring that the only musical voice you hear is his. In fact, as we were talking that late January morning, Mr. Jutras was, “…working on Le Rêve. I’m calling from my room at the Wynn, I’ve got my studio here and we’re writing two new pieces. It’s always a continuing project; it just never stops, never ever.”

Neither does his creative collaborations with Dragone, which is fine with Mr. Jutras. “I have a meeting with Franco a little later [today]. [He] just called me this morning; he’s in town and wants to talk about another project.”

Through the years they’ve developed a working relationship that suits them both. “The fact that we’ve been working together for so long means that we don’t need to talk that much. There’s a trust between us that’s nice. It’s actually really rare that Franco will tell me, “I’d like you to go there, I’d like you to do that.” He trusts me. It’s probably quite well known that Franco can sometimes be a hard man to work with because he has quite a big temper. But it’s like second nature working with him. For each project we worked nearly a year, so [that’s] eight years of my life where [we’ve worked] really really close. Franco changes his mind a lot. Of all the directors I’ve worked with that is maybe the biggest challenge of working with Franco. But at the same time he never asks for any specific thing so I feel completely free, I feel like I can do nearly whatever I want.”

His most recent project is another water-based show, The House of Dancing Water(.com) at the Wynn Macao(.com). How is this shows music different from Le Rêve? “The House of Dancing Water is definitely a story-driven show, so in that sense it’s more of a movie soundtrack than any other show. [There are] themes that [recur], themes that are associated with characters. It’s still show music, it’s different than if I was to do music for a movie, but it’s still closer to that than anything I’ve done before. And it’s probably the most orchestral of the shows I’ve done. Not as much as “Journey of Man” but definitely the most for a show.”

In composing music for the Chinese market, were there certain Chinese elements he tried to make sure were included in the music? “Yes, but at the same time not too much. I didn’t want to [go that direction] and I made that clear from the beginning. I’m not a Chinese composer; I’m a North American composer. I didn’t want to make a Chinese score because that would just be faking it, there would be an essence to it that I would miss, it would sound like it but the essence wouldn’t be there. So it was clear from the beginning that it wouldn’t be a Chinese soundtrack. But at the same time erhu is one of my favorite instruments and I knew that there would be an erhu player in the show. And there are certain sonorities that I really like. I really like the pipa [Ed. A four-stringed instrument sometimes called the Chinese lute] so I put a lot of pipa in the show. I tried to put [Chinese influences] here and there, but I did it the same way as I would put [Chinese] inspiration in [any other show].”

Finding the Link

In encouraging news for fans of Mr. Jutras’ music, he informed us that Dragone Productions (www.dragone.be) had just signed with EMI music(.com), with plans to release both Le Rêve and The House of Dancing Water on CD worldwide! “I actually finished the [House of Dancing Water] CD a week ago. But because of the Chinese process of censoring and all that it can take up to two months once the CD is finished to get final approval from the Chinese government. It’s not going to be out before April.”

Fans have also wondered whether the more recent music composed for Le Rêve (including the ballroom dancing numbers) would find their way to a re-vamped soundtrack for the show. “Yes, we’ve been talking about that, at some point there should be, I think it would be nice and respectful to have another soundtrack.”

But there is one sad piece of news on the soundtrack CD front, concerning Mr. Jutras’ score for the Six Flags(.com) parks “Glow in the Park Parade.” “There was supposed to be [a CD]. The CD is done, but just as we were going to distribute it Six Flags got themselves into really big financial trouble. So they decided to hold it and I don’t think they’re going to release it now. Which is sad because it was a fun little project, it’s really different.”

Though his website mentions the possibility of two compilation CD’s (which were supposed to come out in 2009), Mr. Jutras informed us that that was in error, but not completely. “I’ve been asked to do a compilation which I will probably do this year. I just started looking at that about a month ago after I finished The House of Dancing Water. We thought that maybe now would be a nice time.”

What songs might populate it? “It changes; often the latest project becomes the most interesting to me because I haven’t heard it over and over. I suppose there are a few pieces that I prefer. If we’re talking about a CD, [some] pieces make more sense on CD than others, it’s the way [a song] sounds by itself. Like I said René has more of a song approach. Usually when he writes he writes a bunch of songs before the project and [then] adapts them to the show.”

“I write specifically for the acts but often the songs don’t stand up as well outside of the show. [For example] if I’m talking about Quidam the banquine music is not even on the CD, there was never any talk to put it on the CD. Yet for me the Banquine act is one of the tightest and nicest music/act [combinations] that I did because I feel there is a union, a link that is strong.” (We did remind him that the banquine music did make it into the soundtrack for the “Journey of Man” film (since the act does appear there). He was unaware, however, of the music’s appearance as a bonus track on the Canadian “expanded edition” of the Quidam Soundtrack (2002, BMG Canada 91493).)

How would he define “Benoit Jutras” music? “It’s really funny. When I left university in ‘87 I started working with Cirque, and Cirque-related projects were the main things I did. And when [I’m asked] to do music people have often said that’s what they have in mind. I’m not sure actually, I will definitely think about it. I should be able to answer that, this is something I should have thought of. It’s a big question, it’s an important question, but I have a hard time [coming up with an answer].”

All of his show CD’s to date have taken care to include the creation musicians, which Mr. Jutras considers, “very important, enormously important. For me it’s really important that with every CD I produce that I use the musicians from the show. Even for The House of Dancing Water, [which] was quite complicated. We couldn’t do the CD while I was in Macao because I had to come back to Montréal for personal reasons. But I didn’t want to use other musicians. Luckily they agreed to come to Montréal during their break to be in the studio. But if not I would have flown back to Macao to record them.”

“I feel it’s respectful to the musicians that helped create the show, because they give a bit of themselves in [the creation of] the show. Even though, like I said, I’m really hands-on in my scores – I’m writing quite detailed arrangements most of the time – so it’s not like they’re rewriting a major part of the show. But at the same time they always bring something in the way they play that makes it what it is. And because they play that certain way you [go in] that direction. So it’s quite important, they add a really important contribution.”

Another vital part of the mix is producing partner and engineer Rob Heaney who has been involved in all of Mr. Jutras’ CDs from Mystère onward. “He’s a genius, I respect him so much. We worked together for the first time on the Mystère Live CD, and later on the Quidam CD. I wasn’t producing those CDs but I had contact with him and we started to connect. After the last sessions for the Quidam album I asked if he wanted to try and create a producing team with me. At first he said no, it took him a year to say yes. And since ’97 I haven’t produced anything without him. We have a definite connection. I’m not that well versed in sound and studio producing, and he’s amazing at driving musicians, particularly rhythm sections. My part is more the details of the arrangements. The two of us together are more complete than by ourselves.”

Making Sense of the Future

In addition to upcoming CD releases (and that possible future collaboration with Franco Dragone), there are other exciting plans on the horizon. “I’m in negotiations to do a musical. [It’s] a big-scale Broadway musical-type show. It would be really nice [to do]. It’s a project that I’ve had in mind for a long time and Warner Brothers seems quite interested, so we’ll see. I’m flying to San Francisco in a month to have meetings for that. I would love to have a musical either on the West End or on Broadway.”

“At [one] point it seemed [like it was going] to be difficult because of rights that were owned by two different groups, and negotiations for musicals [can] stretch for years and years. But finally everything came together. They asked me to keep it a bit of a secret; I’m not allowed to speak too much about it.”

His website also mentions a project called “S-Trip” “‘S-Trip’ is a small personal multimedia project I’ve been working on for a while now that I should finish this year. It’s going to be quite underground, a production with a live band and one dancer, an erotic project. I’m working with a friend of mine who’s doing video production, and we’re working with a dancer. Technically it should be done this year, but there are always new projects arriving that push personal projects to the side. But hopefully I’m going to have the time to finish that one.”

What music does he himself enjoy? “When I’m composing, when I’m on a project I nearly never listen to music. I finished The House of Dancing Water two and a half months ago and then went right to working on the CD, so I didn’t listen to a lot of music. My personal tastes in music are often more edgy than when I’m writing. I love Ray LaMontagne, I love Arcade Fire, I love Radiohead, that type of music. I’m also trying to listen to a bit of classical. At one point in my life I was listening only to classical music, [later] I became a bit less serious.”

We also were interested in how he commits his compositions to written form. “It’s a synthesizer with a computer. I have a degree in music, and when I started in ‘87 it was by [sitting at a] piano and writing by hand. But it’s been so long I don’t know if I can even write music by hand anymore. If I [have to] write in more detail, if there’s a string quartet part or something like that, then I would pick up the pen and paper. But you don’t write the same way with pen and paper [as you do] with computers. But I would say that 90-95% of the time it’s simply with my synthesizer and computer.”

It’s that time spent sitting at a keyboard and composing that provides him his greatest satisfaction. “[I love] that moment where, at some point after the first hour or two hours where you struggle to find a way to get in contact, at some point you just get lost in the process of composing where time stops. Without being too corny, it’s where everything actually makes sense. It’s exactly like making love, the same type of energy, where suddenly you feel connected to the universe and everything makes sense. So for me it’s the creation, when I’m sitting at the keyboard and composing. That’s definitely what brings me the most pleasure.”

And, as our interview was drawing to a close, we asked him for words of inspiration to aspiring artists. “To persevere no matter what. And to follow your passion – if the passion is there anyway. Everything after that comes naturally. Even if it’s hard – I remember until I was 27 I had a hard time eating three meals a day. But there was one thing for sure, when I was sitting at my piano I was happy and there was no way I would do anything else.”

My sincere thanks go to:
Mr. Jutras for so graciously spending time with us,
Chantal Côte, Corporate PR Manager,
And my wife LouAnna for putting up with my sometimes obsessive hobby.

(Another great interview with Mr. Jutras can be found at < http://www.soundtrack.net/features/article/?id=154 >.)