Alain Vinet – Musical Director
“Facilitating the Journey”

At the conclusion of our interview with the Amaluna CD composing/production team of Bob & Bill (Guy Dubuk and Marc Lessard), (which appeared last month in Fascination!, available here: http://www.cirquefascination.com/?p=2370 ) they suggested a conversation with Cirque du Soleil Musical Director Alain Vinet would shed more light on the production of the Amaluna CD, since he co-produced with the team. What a great idea! So in December, 2012, we contacted him and talked again (our prior interview with Mr. Vinet can be found here: http://www.cirquefascination.com/?p=1597 ) What started as a conversation about the Amaluna CD and the recent compilation, “Le Best of 2,” that he also produced, also delved into many other topics in a wide-ranging discussion.

Devoted Cirque music fans might have noticed that the Amaluna CD, as well as the CD for Totem, appeared for sale very quickly, a span of about 7 months from premiere date. This is a change from previous Cirque CD’s, which have appeared approximately a year after premiere. The thinking behind this was that shows had to go through the “fixation” process during the first few months of its life – where music might change, some pieces might be discarded or new pieces written – before the CD could properly reflect the music of the show going forward. But the speed with which the team worked and satisfaction with the music meant this didn’t apply to Amaluna. “I credit that to Bob and Bill, they work really, really fast,” explained Mr. Vinet. “For Amaluna they only had 4 1/2 months to compose the whole show. And by [premiere] the band was already playing everything; the numbers, the transitions, everything. So they work incredibly fast. In this case we were able to get a “GO” to record the CD early on because Guy was so happy with the music. That’s why we got it out in a little under a year.”

Only 4 1/2 months to compose the show, why so short a time? “Originally it was a woman composer, but at one point she was not getting where Guy wanted her to be. And we only had 4 1/2 months to go and we knew Mark and Guy could make the deadline. And to start [over] with somebody that doesn’t know us four months before premiere, it would not have worked.”

That there was originally a female composer for Amaluna was previously unknown to us, though it makes sense since it is a female-centric show and a female composer would be a natural choice. But it isn’t the first time a composer has been replaced during creation, especially late in the process. Cirque fans might be aware that long-time Cirque composer Benoit Jutras (who discussed his replacement in our interview here: http://www.cirquefascination.com/?p=2417 ) was replaced during the creation process for KÀ by another long-time Cirque composer René Dupéré (who discussed his assignment on KÀ in our interview here: http://www.cirquefascination.com/?p=32 ). When we commented to Mr. Vinet that Amaluna faced a similar situation he laughed and said, “Yes, definitely!”

Creation of any CD starts not in the recording studio but in an Executive Producers office, in this case the offices of Executive Producers Jacque Methe and Francois Bergeron. “They are basically [in charge] of the production of CDs. They are the ones that “produce” it in the typical sense of the word, which means they control the money so we can produce the CD. In French “produceur” means exactly that, the person that handles the budget and all that. Stephan is Jacque’s assistant, his right-hand man. If Jacque’s too busy on too many projects Stephan takes over and gives him an account.”

“In the case of the Amaluna CD I’m not only Cirque’s Musical Director but I’m also a Co-Producer.” And his role included deep involvement in the arrangement of the music on the CD. “In the show there are some themes that are recurrent. What I decided to do was combine those themes together so that we could have the same scene but go through different moods, kind of like a progressive rock album. [So] you can have a song that first starts in a certain tempo and goes up and goes down, like a journey.”

Though the three work together as a team, was it mostly Bob & Bill handling the recording and Alain Vinet handling the mixing? “Kind of,” replies Mr. Vinet. “Because they took a break in early July. That’s when I took over, [when] we were mixing. But I did spend quite a few sessions with them combining the songs and doing the editing work. And sitting down with them and discussing – okay, this goes here, that goes there. And once they did the re-work I [would come] back and listen and chop a couple of bars here and there just to make it more coherent, because in some cases they were big pieces. We were joining two or three pieces together from different parts of the show that each last 5-6-8 minutes apiece. So we had to make something shorter [that] still made sense.”

“So I spent quite a bit of time with Mark and Guy (Bob and Bill) [early on]. Then when they left I spent two weeks with Rob Heaney, our mixing engineer in the mixing studio. And then I left and they came back and put the finishing touches on. And I was able to give comments on the mixes. We did the mastering and then had to go back and make some corrections to the mix. But we had a short time to produce it, because we wanted to get the CD ready for the Vancouver premiere which was in late November, 2012. So I spent a lot of time and put a lot of myself into production of the record.”

The production had to be quick to meet the deadline of having the CD available for sale when Amaluna opened in Vancouver, BC on November 22nd. “Since they saw that we could actually do it and pull it off, they said let’s do it for Vancouver. So right after the show premiered Mark and Guy started work on the album, doing all the recordings while the band was in Montréal, so we saved a lot of money right there. It was fresh in their minds and we just basically recorded the same structure as the show. And then we edited [based on] that.”

Bob & Bills’ previous production of the Totem CD involved recording themselves as well as the show musicians and then choosing which version or track worked best. That wasn’t the case this time. “Guy (Laliberté) had insisted that the musicians be part of the CD. Because you know how Mark is a drummer and Guy plays the keyboards, they had a lot of stuff recorded that we could have used. But since Guy insisted that he really wanted to have the feel of the band, we recorded the band all together so we could get that feel of everyone in the same room playing – a band feeling – and did overdubs over that. The takes are amazing, the basic tracks already sounded good after recording.”

And the CD really rocks, with a musical landscape far different from the one the same composers created for Totem. But this was by design. “It was Guy’s wish for Totem to have more of a world feel, but for Amaluna he wanted something that rocked. The fact that it’s an all-girl band, I really wanted to get the raunchiness out of the band. We were lucky because the band, all the girls, were seasoned musicians. They knew their stuff right away. We could have asked them to wait and let them digest the show a little bit more but the groove was already there so we just went for it.”

Recording the show band early in the show’s run, in Montréal, saved money as well as time. But with them also committed to the show (and its 7-to-10-shows-a-week schedule), was it difficult to schedule them for recording? “It’s not hard to get them; it’s difficult to work around their schedules. More and more when they have dark days they want to take a break. So [we recorded for] one or two sessions on days when they only had one show. When they have to play two or three shows it’s tough to get them into sessions, so in that sense it’s a little bit harder. But we have somebody that schedules it and in the end it all works.”

One of the nice touches to the CD are the cameo appearances by Cirque show artists on the tracks that feature their acts music. But it’s not surprising. “If you look at our track record, especially with Mark and Guy, remember they produced the Kooza CD and had one of the clowns come in and do some bits. We can’t do it with everybody, but (for example, juggler) Victor (Kee) being such a prominent character in the show and one of us for a while, it was fun to have him do the “Ouch!” thing (on “Mutation”) – it was funny.”

The CD also features four songs sung in English, including the lead-off track, “All Come Together,” which appears in a shortened Cirquish-language version as “Magic Ceremony 1” on the Le Best of 2 CD. “The idea behind that was that Guy [wanted] a couple of singles since Amaluna is a rock-influenced soundtrack. He asked [if we could] do a couple of songs in English so we did that. But since I had to produce the Le Best of 2 CD before we had the English vocal takes (for “All Come Together”), we used the Cirquish. And it’s not the same arrangement as the album – the intro is shorter. I would call it the “radio edit.” The Cirquish version is the version used in all the ads, because the show is in Cirquish.”

What are his favorites from the Amaluna CD? “”Enchanted Reunion” is one I like a lot because it goes through so many different phases but keeps the same theme. The title song, “All Come Together,” has always been one of my favorites; I like both the English and the Cirquish versions. I [also] really like “Hope,” it’s [sung by] the actual artist that does the Cerceaux act (Marie-Michelle Faber).”

We had heard rumors that Amaluna was videotaped for DVD, which Mr. Vinet confirmed. “We are producing it right now. What happened, especially with Ovo, [was] the Cirque 3-D movie (“World’s Away”), [which] is an attempt to expand the marketplace. That whole deal happened at about the same time as Ovo was going to be filmed. Everybody was really excited with the 3-D aspect of it. So we wanted to do a test, [and that] became “World’s Away.”

“There was an attempt to look into filming both Ovo and Totem. But one of them had conflicts with the amount of space needed to put in the mobile recording equipment, and then it became difficult to schedule. So we don’t know what the future of that will be because there has been a lot of structural change [going on] at Cirque right now. We’re facing a new economic reality like everyone else, although we are doing it a few years late. At this point I couldn’t tell you what’s going to happen with Totem and Ovo. All I know is right now we have finally decided to make [the DVD of] Amaluna. Then we are going to see if they decide to go back and do Totem and Ovo.”

(ED. Note: To bring us up to date, we asked friend of Fascination!, Chantal Côte, Cirque Corporate PR Manager, about the current state of the Amaluna video. “The Amaluna DVD is not intended for home distribution yet. It is a TV special (one-hour show) that is starting to air on some networks in Canada, South America and Europe but not in the USA since we are still touring there. Eventually (no date yet) this TV special will be available on DVD under the big top only.” So we will be seeing the show on DVD at some point, but only in a truncated one-hour version. We had hoped it would be a record of the entirety of this beautiful show, but it sounds like that is not to be.)

However, the flirtation with 3-D does not carry over to the Amaluna DVD. “Yes, a standard DVD production – it’s really a budget consideration. A DVD, the way we used to make them, can cost about $1 million to produce. But then we sell them for $25. (ED: At that price point a Cirque DVD would require sales of more than 40,000 copies to recoup its budget). A CD may be budgeted at between $100,000-$200,000 and we will sell them for $15. (ED: At that price point a CD would only need sales of a bit more than 13,300 copies to recoup its budget). Even with the $10 difference [in purchase price] between those two products there is 5 to 10 times the expense. For me as a music guy it’s cool because we only have the CD available for both (Ovo and Totem), so they sell well because we don’t have competition from the DVD. And in both cases they are very representative of the shows. We tried to stay as close as possible to the shows.”

MORE OF THE BEST

The “Le Best of 2” compilation of Cirque music assembled by Mr. Vinet, is his second Cirque-music compilation after the “25” 2-CD set celebrating 25 years of Cirque du Soleil. We commented that it’s programmed almost like a waltz; a quick song followed by two slow songs, then a quick one followed by two more slow songs, etc. “When you produce a compilation like that you have to have some sort of trip, going up and down and up and down. My first idea for the CD was to follow in the footsteps of what had been done with the first one, keeping it more poetic. But then I got constrained because of the fan contest to pick one of the tracks, so we ended up with the KÀ song (“Pageant”) which was really intense. So I just couldn’t use all poetic songs while also having this one song that was very dynamic. So I remodeled it, trying to have at least one song per show. The first CD was not made with that in mind, and I thought that we missed out on some songs that should have been there that didn’t make the cut. So I tried to spread it out but keep the poetic feeling of the first one in mind. But 10 years later it’s a different product. The circumstances and the shows are different than what we had when we did the first one. I arrived [at] the Cirque organization around that time, [though] I’d been affiliated with them longer if you look at the parties (where he DJ’d) and all of that. So I [watched] it happen but I didn’t know as much about Cirque music as I know today.”

“I did maybe three passes at it. Because the first idea was trying to make it more of a chill poetic CD. And then they came to me with the contest idea so I had to change it. But this one I did pretty much on my own. It’s more of a compilation than a product that reflected a benchmark. “25” was about 25 years of Cirque so obviously I had to consult more with Guy and Gilles. On this one I just proposed a couple of things and was pretty much left on my own. The idea behind it [was] that you could press play and listen to the whole thing and it takes you on a journey.”

The “contest” Mr. Vinet refers to involved having fans vote on one song that would be included in the “Le Best of 2” CD. After all the votes were counted, the top five vote getters were as follows – note they were all “dynamic” selections except for “Pearl”:

  • “Omé Yo Kanoubé” from Totem – 187 votes – 3.6%
  • “Pearl” from Kooza – 287 votes – 6.1%
  • “Banquete” from Ovo – 886 votes – 18.8%
  • “Omé Kayo” from Totem – 1,354 votes – 28.8%
  • WINNER: “Pageant” from KÀ – 1,975 votes – 42.1%

Total votes 4,689 for the top five entries.

With KÀ’s “Pageant,” a faster, energetic, “dynamic” song needing to appear on the CD, that meant Mr. Vinet had to change his original plan to make it more of a “poetic” CD in the vein of “Le Best of 1.” “It was give and take. The rest of the compilation I was pretty much able to do what I wanted. Regardless that I wasn’t able to just do a strictly poetic CD, I still picked tracks that were melodic even if they were a little bit more dynamic than I originally intended, so there’s a nice balance. I’ve been a DJ all my life, and I’m a strong believer in flow – peaks and valleys. And if you listen to a CD from one end to the other you [can feel] those peaks and those rests.”

Two tracks here also appeared on the “25” compilation, “Piece of Heaven” from Zumanity and “Beyond the Clouds” from Wintuk. Other than that there are no repeats between “25” and Le Best of 1 or 2. The usage of the same songs, he explains, was out of necessity. “[With] Zumanity it’s hard to pick a track because they either have screaming women or it’s talking and not really a song. There are only so many nice melodies on the CD. Wintuk is the same thing; the songs were created to go with the action. I was trying to find something that suited the groove that I had already, so I landed on the same two songs.”

We also noticed, in addition to the “radio edit” of “All Come Together” from Amaluna (appearing as “Magic Ceremony 1”) that the Zaia track, “Noi,” has a different intro than on the original CD. “That was because I wanted to eliminate the guy talking on the album [intro]. And I fixed the fade in, because if you listen to the album version the piano just fades in. So I used a piece of the piano that appeared on the original demo and pasted it in so that I have it as the intro.”

Four songs, nearly a third of the album, are from shows that are now closed: Zaia, Zed, Wintuk and Iris. But this didn’t enter into his thinking. “When I look at the way I did this, it’s not necessarily promo material for shows; this is more like a musical look into the world of our shows. Because even though the shows don’t exist anymore those songs still exist. And I use them for special events and other stuff. And it is a recap of what has been done since the first Le Best Of 1, so I didn’t concern myself too much with the shows that were stopping. Plus I couldn’t put anything from The Beatles Love or Viva Elvis or Michael Jackson Immortal on there since this was really a Cirque[-focused] thing. And since Zed and Zaia both have so many beautiful melodies it made sense to have songs from those shows on this CD.”

Fortunately, while the closed shows physical CD’s may go out of print, they may well live on forever on ITunes and other digital platforms. “I would believe so, because I don’t believe Cirque would say no to money. Because we’ve paid for the show’s production and that’s another way we can recoup our money, because the show only lasted for three years instead of 15. So I imagine they would keep them up there.”

OTHER WORLDS

While we had him on the line, we had to ask about other possible Cirque CD projects. Our first question was whether the film, “World’s Away,” might see a CD release? “No I don’t think so; it’s not in the plans. I suggested it, but it’s so much money to do it [properly]. Cirque has to do things [properly], so every time we create a new master we have to pay everybody, which in this case is an orchestra. So 80 musicians would have to be paid. So it would cost an arm and a leg to produce that record.”

The music to the film, as those who have seen it can attest, is beautifully arranged full-orchestra versions of several songs from the Cirque canon, as well as some original connecting material composed by Benoit Jutras. This is more than just using CD versions. “We went a little bit further actually. We used the old cues but with a full orchestra to replace the plastic strings. [Those] sounded really bad because they were made in the 90’s. And all the KÀ stuff is full orchestra.”

And what about Zarkana, which recently found its new permanent home at Aria in Las Vegas? “The album will be in Cirquish. Maybe some songs will be in English because that’s how they were originally created. Nick Littlemore, the composer, is producing the album right now. That CD should be out sometime in the spring.” (ED Note: The current plan is to release the CD towards the end of July.)

Zarkana has an interesting musical history, from the music produced to promote it to the language it was sung in. “When Zarkana started in New York we produced one [song as a] single (“Whenever”). We even did remixes that kind of got lost. First [the show] was in English, now that it’s in Las Vegas it’s in Cirquish. Right after it left New York the first year we changed it, bringing it back to more of a Cirque show and not a Broadway show. Because it first played at Radio City Music Hall on Broadway, that’s why we first did it in English. When it left New York we changed it to Cirquish.”

Cirque also released the Eric Serra-composed music to Criss Angel Believe, albeit with a red warning band on the cover specifying the music was from September 2008 through September 2009 (the “Believe 1.0” production). With the significant revamping Believe has undergone, essentially creating “Believe 2.0,” is any of the music on that CD in the show now? “Believe is a tricky one. Criss Angel is quite a peculiar character. From the beginning Criss wanted to work with his team, his music team and all that. Cirque came in with a composer, Eric Serra, who is the guy that does all the Luc Bessan movies, more of a cinema-oriented composer. And [initially] the show was more of a cinematic show, but Criss wanted to do his TV show on stage. The new version works better for him, but it isn’t a Cirque show. Right now what I believe is happening is that he changed whatever music he wanted but [according to his contract] Eric Serra still gets paid for the music that he composed. Eric worked on it for a long time, to tell you the truth. But I know who Criss worked with on the new music, because Criss wanted to work with them in the first place. That’s pretty much what happened. The label that was on the CD – normally I don’t really touch that – was at Criss’s request, so people don’t mistake the music that’s on the CD, which is all Eric Serra’s compositions, with what’s in the show. He didn’t want to confuse people that see the show.”

The current trend of a quicker release of a CD show soundtrack was also followed by Epic for their release of Michael Jackson Immortal, and by RCA for their release of Viva Elvis. “Those I didn’t really handle. With Viva Elvis I was a little bit involved. But for Michael Jackson Immortal I didn’t touch anything; Sony has the rights to everything so it was easy to get it out quickly, because basically they were using the arrangements that Michael Antunes did for the show. All they had to do was a final mix and that was it. It’s not like they re-recorded all the musicians; everything was already there. I was surprised actually; it’s a cool CD but like I said I didn’t touch it at all.”

“With Viva Elvis I was at least involved in the process, but then again the arrangements were already done. There was a little bit of editing as far as the length of some of the songs were concerned; since we don’t have the images we don’t need 8 min. songs.”

FACING REALITY

The current economic climate, especially the deep recession of 2008, has finally been felt by Cirque du Soleil and has brought about several changes to Cirque’s operations. Las Vegas was hit especially hard though some touring shows were able to weather the downturn better than others. We’ve heard about layoffs, shortening of shows by cutting acts, and other steps the company has taken to reduce costs. In addition, the closing of 6 shows during that period were keenly felt. When we talked back in December, Mr. Vinet discussed what was on the horizon for Cirque. “We will be [restructuring] a little bit starting in January. Since the middle of last year there’s been a real hold on budgets. Because shows closed, we had a rough year. The last two or three years have been pretty rough. The higher you are the farther you fall.”

“We wanted to see how hard we were going to get hit,” explains Mr. Vinet when asked about Cirque’s slow reaction to new economic realities. “And that’s why we’re a little bit late compared to everybody else. The rest of the company was able to swing it and we didn’t want to rush. But then with six shows closing, all for different reasons – that’s the worst. And now we are also closing Saltimbanco on December 30, and that’s one less income coming in.”

But Cirque continues to create and innovate, even in an atmosphere of belt-tightening. “You will see some announcements soon that Cirque is looking at other aspects, other media as well because we have such a big bank of creations and creators. And we’re limited by the number of shows we can produce, especially with the world economy the way it is right now.”

And Mr. Vinet himself continues to create and innovate, moving into greater job responsibilities within the Cirque organization. “[I have] kept on progressing as far as being involved in new and bigger projects for the core of the company. Rather than just special events we do production etc. So now I’m moving with one foot in each – one foot in special events, production, artistic direction, etc., and the other foot in everything else, new shows, new ventures. We’re opening up a nightclub in Las Vegas (“Light” at Mandalay Bay) with some partners, and some other stuff that is not a Cirque show that will be announced later on.” This allows him to express himself creatively at the company in new and different ways. “It has to be like that. Because otherwise it would get boring, it would get stale. And for an artist you can’t do machine-like things for too long.”

A SHORT EGO-BOOSTING EPILOGUE

While we here at Fascination! produce our ‘zine out of our interest and respect for Cirque du Soleil, it is always nice to get feedback, both complimentary and constructive. It is rare that we get feedback of either kind, so to be recognized in a positive way is always a pleasant surprise. It is in that vein, then, that in a wholesale example of rampant ego-boosting, we present this quote from Mr. Vinet. “Your interviews are always really in-depth, you know your subject, obviously you spend time studying it. It’s cool for me because I know that at least one person did the exercise.”

Okay, enough ego-boo. Time to get back on the Nautilus.

Cirque CD’s mentioned in this article: Amaluna (2012, CDS Musique CDSMCD-10046), Le Best of Volume Two (2012, CDS Musique CDSMCD-10045), Iris (2011, CDS Musique CDSMCD-10042), Michael Jackson Immortal (2011, Epic 88697-93394), Viva Elvis (2010, RCA 88697-77582), Totem (2010, CDS Musique CDSMC-10034), Zed (2009, CDS Musique CDSMCD-10031), “25” (2009, CDS Musique CDSMCD-10030), Zaia (2009, CDS Musique CDSMCD-10029), Kooza (2008, CDS Musique CDSMCD-10028), Wintuk (2007, CDS Musique CDSMCD-10027), The Beatles LOVE (2006, Capitol 09463-79808), Zumanity (2004, CDS Musique CDSMCD-10023), Le Best Of Volume One (2004, CDS Musique CDSMCD-10022)

My sincere thanks go to: Mr. Vinet for so graciously spending time with us, Marie-Noëlle Caron – Cirque Publicist,
Chantal Côte, Corporate PR Manager, And my wife LouAnna for putting up with my sometimes obsessive hobby.