Ferguson & Allaire – Album Producers
“Making Unexpected Magic Timeless”

When the soundtrack CD of the Tokyo, Japan resident show ZED (Cirque du Soleil Musique, CDSMCD-10031, 2009) was released reaction was enthusiastic, yet fans wondered about some of the decisions made in the albums production. So we at Fascination went right to the source, the albums production team of Martin Lord-Ferguson and Ella Louise Allaire (EL-uh Lou-EEZ Uh-LAIR).

Working on the soundtrack in conjunction with veteran Cirque composer René Dupéré, they both come with extensive histories. Ms. Allaire has a Master’s degree in composition from the University of Montréal, and has previously released two CD’s, “Heretique” (1999) and “Mon Or” (LaChapelle LACHAPCD-9184, 2004).

Mr. Ferguson has been involved in over 30 albums in his career. “I’ve done a lot of French singers. Mitsou Gélinas and Ginette Reno are known French Canadian singers, but I don’t know if you’d find them in the USA. The most successful thing I did outside of Cirque and outside of “Energia” would be a TV series I did as a composer called “Fortier (FAH-tee-ay).” It was huge throughout all of Canada. It was an “Alias”-type series that I did about nine years ago.” (10 episodes of the series aired on French-Canadian television in 2001.)

It was around that time that he met René Dupéré, first recording and co-producing the Dupéré, Élise Velle and Boris Bergman album “La Belle Est Dans Ton Camp” (Netza NET2-1441, 1991). They continued that arrangement for the Saltimbanco re-recording and re-release (Cirque du Soleil Musique MDSMCJ-10005, 2004). In addition to co-producing and
recording the soundtrack to KÀ (Cirque du Soleil Musique CDSMCJ-10024, 2005), he also provided vocals for “Forest.” It was here Ms. Allaire became part of the team, writing choir arrangements as well as singing on the songs “Koudamare” and “Threat.”

After KÀ they were involved in several non-Cirque projects, including music for the Conservatory at Bellagio in 2005 and the soundtrack for the TV movie “Journey to the Center of the Earth” in 2008 (not the 3-D Brendon Frasier version, this one starred Rick Schroder and Peter Fonda). They also composed two volumes of film score “cue” music for APM Music (www.apmmusic.com – more on that later). And just before becoming involved in production of the ZED Soundtrack, they co-composed with Mr. Dupéré the soundtrack for the Holiday on Ice(.com) show, “Energia” (BUMA/STEMRA DPCD-1101, 2008)

Being Mr. Dupéré’s associates over several projects (Mr. Ferguson for 10 years, Ms. Allaire for 6 years) has brought a smooth working process to the trio. This helped with their first big project, KÀ.

ELLA LOUISE ALLAIRE (ELA): “[ZED] was a pretty smooth process, [compared to] KÀ [where you could have long delays caused by] the gantry stopping at some point in the show. There were a lot of technical issues with KÀ.”

MARTIN LORD-FERGUSON (MLF): “KÀ was also the first time we were using the Giga with the Symphonia system.” (This system allows individual pre-recorded instrument tracks to be played back in sync with live music, including recalling specific sections of musical cues. It is especially helpful when a musician or singer is unable to perform.) “We were using 32 tracks of playback and there were lots of technical issues. [We then used the same system with] Saltimbanco live arena. [ZED] was the third time we were using the same system. Technically [the creation of ZED] went very well.”

“All the shows can be stressful, but we [had] to adapt more for [KÀ]. And we were called in later in the process; KÀ was [just] three or four months. For ZED we had two and a half years so there was a natural process; we really had more time to ponder [each] decision. For us the soundtrack of ZED is the result of those two and a half years.”

ELA: “It was a long process. We’d do a bit, then another bit, then another bit, [starting] in 2007. For ZED Martin and I were involved from day one, from the first mock-up to the last final note. What’s on the album is a large palette of everything in the show, which we had to reduce to a certain length.”

For ZED, Martin Lord-Ferguson is listed as Musical Director and Co-Arranger, while Ella Louise Allaire handled Orchestrations and Arrangement for the Chorale, with Mr. Dupéré handling Composing and Arranging. But the three work together during the process.

ELA: “When René comes to our studio we listen to what he’s written and make suggestions. Then we make a mock-up, which we take to the band or to the director or to the choreographer, and we make adjustments when asked. It’s very easy going. The first thing is to present the music with all of its characteristics – the tempo, the drive – to the [creative team]. Then if the choreographer says, ‘We’re missing this’ or ‘It’s not fast enough’ or something then we
re-work it. And the director has his own opinion. We sort of jumble around with the music until there’s a consensus that the number is good.”

MLF: “If there are parts or structures missing we re-do it with René. We add the band as a flavor and we also add [prerecorded tracks] as a flavor.”

Being brought in at the beginning of creation also presented the opportunity to be part of the process of incorporating and auditioning musicians. This included luring bandleader and keyboard player Michel Cyr, a musician with deep familiarity of jazz, away from the Franco Dragone production, Le Rêve, at Wynn Las Vegas, to be bandleader for the new Cirque production.

MLF: “We first did an interview with [him] in Las Vegas. And then we were at all the meetings with him and all the auditions.”

ELA: “[During Creation] the director, François Girard, would often use the band to play and jam just for the feel. Over the months that process created a sound for the band. There’s a piece in the middle of the show where they jam as well – during the intermission and at the beginning of the [second] act.”

This “band sound” was then mixed with the music to create a complete musical whole, which is described in the CD liner notes as, “juxtaposing musical elements that initially might have appeared from different genres.”

ELA: “For instance, the last piece, “Hymn of the Two Worlds,” has a classical flavor, “Vaneyou Mi Le” has much more of a world feel. And the live band is much more funky. [We had] classically trained string players and a classical chorus, [with] a more world voice [in some songs]. Because [show character] Noit’s voice has a more Scandinavian type of ornamentation. And [you have] the band that is very jazzy funky.”

MLF: “One of the best examples of a juxtaposition on the CD is, “Reaching Up.” You have the jazzy feel from the band, Johanna (Lillvik)’s voice very ethereal on top, and you have some world flavors added.”

Blending The Elements

Recording for the CD actually began way before the show premiered.

MLF: “The [orchestra and choir] recordings for [both] the show and soundtrack were done about a year before the opening of the show. We [traveled] to Slovakia to do the recordings for the orchestra. For the choir the decision was made to do the recordings in Montréal because we were in the staging process at Cirque at the time.”

ELA: “[The chorus] was recorded at the Schulich School of Music of McGill University with a chorus of about 50 singers.”

It was always planned that of Mr. Ferguson and Ms. Allaire would be producing the soundtrack CD and not assigning it to an outside producer. But Mr. Dupéré was never far from the process.

MLF: “[Most] of the creative process [for] the songs was done in the months [before] and right after the premiere. After that René would come and [observe] the different steps of the process all the way up to when we finished the soundtrack in June.”

ELA: “At first we said, ‘Let’s listen to the live show and see what elements we can take and incorporate into the tracks, and how we can make this blend together and make sense.'”

The desire to incorporate the creation musicians whenever possible led to an interesting ‘hybrid’ approach to recording.

MLF: “For ZED it was definitely important [to use the creation musicians]. When we had our first meetings three years ago we knew that we wanted to do a more live performance-oriented show than KÀ. So we knew right from the start that we wanted to use the musicians [for the soundtrack CD].”

ELA: “It’s not a challenge to convince [the musicians] since obviously they want to be part of the soundtrack. The challenge is to fit [recording into] their schedule of 10 shows a week, which is very demanding. [With] two shows a day it’s difficult to put recording before or after that. And they really need their days off. So it’s challenging to [find] a timeframe. That’s why, in the case of ZED, the live tracks that we put on the album were very much appreciated. We had a few additional [recording] sessions but not like a complete album from [beginning to end].”

MLF: “[The band recordings] were done after the show debut. We recorded some live shows in February 2009, and from that we used [much] of the material. We had done special planning with the sound crew at the show and we knew how they were going to record on those special days. We also took two months to do the extra sessions with the live musicians to fine tune what we needed, because we wanted to [record] them on days where they only had one show instead of two. [On a one-show day, when] they would do a matinee they would finish around six o’clock and would record from seven o’clock on.”

“For the Tokyo [sessions] we set up a small recording studio in the Tokyo theater, but we [Mr. Ferguson and Ms. Allaire] weren’t physically there. We arranged a camera setup via Skype so we could see and hear them while they were recording. We had an engineer recording [the session] and we would watch and comment.”

ELA: “We could give them direction, [such as] how to interpret pronunciation. It was quite challenging because of the time [difference]. But also because of the scheduling of the musicians. [If, on a one-show day] they had a matinee they could record after that, but it would be very early in the morning for us [in Montréal]. So it was pretty tricky to schedule.” (When it was 7pm in Tokyo it would be 5am in Montréal.)

So were most of the tracks live recordings, or were most of them recorded later?

MLF: “It depends on the musician. Most of the percussion, drums and bass are from the live recordings. Keyboards as well, but there are [extra] layers of programming that are in the show and on the soundtrack that were added. With the soloists [such as] violin, bassoon, and duduk sometimes they are live and sometimes [they were] done afterwards. Of course the vocalists were done afterwards because we used a better mic and they were in a quiet environment and [we
were] able to do multiple takes.”

While the other songs on the CD feature some combination of “live” and “studio” recordings, “Blue Silk” (used in the aerial silk performance) is a totally live performance, with the vocals recorded separately.

Difficult Choices

Once the live recordings were done, the next task was made more challenging by a request from Cirque’s Musical Director, Alain Vinet (see our interview with him in Fascination! #67 – August, 2009).

ELA: “Cirque wanted us to produce an album of about 50 minutes [length]. And we were allowed a certain budget as well. 50 minutes [of music] needs a certain type of budget that we had to respect. So obviously, since the show was an hour and a half we had to make difficult choices about what would go on the album and what wouldn’t.”

The first job was to trim the live recordings from their longer performance-based length to a more reasonable three to five minute pacing for CD’s. However, in order to make the 50-minute length requested by Cirque, some songs had to be cut. This included the music for the Lasso act, the instrumental played at the end of intermission and, initially, “Kernoon’s Fire.”

ELA: “[With regards to] Lasso, originally the piece was [composed in the key of] G. And the strings we recorded were in G. [But] later on the number was sped up and we couldn’t use those [string] tracks anymore, because the song was now in A. For some [time] the Lasso music was in question – should it be different, should it be [in the new key]? (Eventually it was decided to keep it in A, the key it is in now). Because of that we put it aside since we had to eliminate [songs] to make it a 50-minute album.”

MLF: “The live [version of the] song changed often during staging to fit with the number. [Since] the staging and speed changed around technically it was a more difficult song for us to do.”

“It’s the same reason with the intermission music. It’s not that the song isn’t good; it’s a very good song. It was actually the first version of, “Reaching Up,” and of course during staging that number changed so the music also changed. The band really loved that song; they were disappointed when we had to [cut it]. So we said, ‘If you’re willing to play it at intermission…’ So we actually moved [the original song] to the intermission. But again, because of the 50-minute [limit] requested for the CD that was one of the songs that was cut.”

When viewing the show in Tokyo, we really loved “Mirror of the Two Worlds” (the baton act) in the show, but felt is was too short. The song is essentially the same length on the CD, and we wondered if there was ever a consideration to lengthen the song?

MLF: “The first draft [of the song] wasn’t exactly like it is now. The number was longer and was actually bigger musically [with] more orchestra and choir, it was a very big number. In staging it was reduced and compressed and the staging was changed. For the soundtrack we also wanted to put “Mirror” (the song that plays at the start of the show) onto it. So that’s why we wanted to keep that particular [song at the length it is in the show].”

A fan has noted that the beginning of “Birth of the Sky” has some talking and singing in the show (after Johanna Lillvik’s initial vocal solo) that is missing on the CD.

MLF: “During the live show she’s actually talking to the bungee people around her; she is basically doing an improvisation, [saying] something different every night. We didn’t feel that was necessary for the soundtrack.”

ELA: “[Johanna’s talking] wasn’t written for the soundtrack by René. The way you hear it on the album is the original writing. We [realize] that the show lasts many years and over those years you can have new [singer] interpretations coming into the show; everybody adds a bit of [themselves]. But we are the guardians of the original ideas. And that was the way it was written and intended, so that’s why it’s the way it is [on the CD] now.”

Another fan has noted there is a drumbeat throughout “First Incantation” that has a rhythm exactly like drums at the beginning of “O Makunde” from the KÀ CD. How did this drum rhythm and sound get into both scores?

MLF: “This is the first time I’ve heard about that. Ella, René and I programmed both of the soundtracks so sometimes there can be some [similar] elements and flavors that we use. To be honest I don’t think it’s the same; it might be a rhythm that’s close but I’d have to listen to it.”

Mr. Ferguson says in the liner notes for KÀ, “This disk has its origins in the show but is both a reflection and an extension of the show.” How do soundtracks “extend” a show?

MLF: “One of the things about Cirque is that these shows last for a very long time. Longer than most Broadway or other shows; like Holiday on Ice is maybe three or four years, but not fifteen. So in the soundtrack process we want to make it timeless. I remember for KÀ that since it’s a permanent show in Vegas we wanted the soundtrack to be as timeless as possible. That’s why we went to record the strings at Paramount [Studios]. That’s why it’s an extension of the show, because we used more programming for the live version and live strings
for the soundtrack.”

Ms. Allaire and Mr. Ferguson sang on the demo mock-ups of the music used in the creation process. In fact, Ms. Allaire’s voice can be heard on pre-recorded tracks that are played back during the live show! Though creation singers Johanna Lillvik and Kevin Faraci sing throughout the live show and the majority of the soundtrack album, there are three exceptions. In the case of “Vaneyou Mi Le” Ms. Allaire handles the vocal.

ELA: “”Vaneyou Mi Le” is [actually] an Abraka (AH-bruh-kuh) number. In the story of ZED you have the people from the sky and the people from the Earth. The people from the sky have these ethereal, very high voices. And [the people] from the earth have a more guttural [sound]. The voice I use to sing on “Vaneyou Mi Le” is more of someone from the Earth or from the deep world; more related to Abraka’s world, not the sky world.”

After recording, mixing, and editing the CD to a running time of 51 and a half minutes it was presented to Cirque. The feedback from Alain Vinet was – interesting.

ELA: “When the album was finished he really enjoyed it, most of his comments were extremely positive. The only thing he asked was maybe an extra song.”

MLF: “We had submitted the album and Alain asked us to [go back and] put “Kernoon’s Fire” on. So we discussed it with René. In the show Kernoon is a separate character.”

ELA: “Originally Kernoon was supposed to be sung by a third singer because it’s a different character. For instance Kevin plays Abraka. Kernoon (kur-NOON) is a creature of the deep Earth. And Noit (nu-WEET) is a creature of the sky. When Alain asked us [for the song] the album and all the recording sessions with the Tokyo crew were finished. So we needed a solution for a vocal, respecting our budget and timeframe. And for many years Martin has been singing René’s pieces because René is very fond of Martin’s voice. I think Martin has a great voice. Since it was last minute and we were very close to the deadline [it was] a natural decision. [Especially] since [Kernoon is] a different character. So we didn’t feel it would soften the score or the story of the show.”

Other Endeavors

The trio of Dupéré, Ferguson and Allaire work together under the banner Creations Netza. (www.creationsnetza.com). (“Netza” is the name of one of the three male “Sephiroth” or emanations through which
God reveals himself, from the teachings of Kaballah.)

MLF: “It was a suggestion from René’s wife (Élise Velle) who was studying the Kabal at the time. Not the religion, she was just interested in the Kabal. We wanted to have an original name, and naturally we went to Netza.”

Their work includes a number of projects outside Cirque. One of the more intriguing is something called “Sonic Elixer,” of which they have released two volumes on AMP Music.

MLF: “Ella and I do film work more and more now. The APM collection is a collection of [musical] cues that are used in film, television and commercials. We’re actually releasing three new CD’s that are going to be part of the Composer Collection. It’s more and more an integral part of what’s happening on the LA/Hollywood scene, to have film cues that are different.”

ELA: “It’s more of a Hollywood guideline type of music – big scores, big production. It’s not [available to] the public; it’s only open for the industry to license for their purposes.”

Another outside project of which they are particularly proud is the soundtrack for the Holiday on Ice show, “Energia” (touring Germany through March, 2010). Ms. Allaire composed five tracks for the show, Mr. Dupéré four and Mr. Ferguson three. The recording of the soundtrack was a career highlight.

ELA: “The recording of 100+ musicians at Air Studio that we did for “Energia” [was such a highlight]. Working with (Chief Sound Engineer) Geoff Foster, hearing your music being played by such a large orchestra was such a blast it was indescribable.”

MLF: “That was something we did last year. Usually orchestras and choirs are [recorded] separately and layered on. For “Energia” we had 140 people [playing at one time]. We did some layerings but most of it was done in one day. That was certainly one of the great climaxes of our career.”

Their next Cirque du Soleil project is already in the works, a resident show in Dubai. When can we expect to hear that music?

ELA: “That’s a good question that we don’t have an answer to at the moment. There is some delay because of the world economic situation. We know that in December [2009] they’re either supposed to fix a date or get more [information] on when [it will debut]. We don’t have an answer unfortunately but it’s definitely on.”

MLF: “We are working on it together with René. We did about a half-hour mock-up that was presented and everybody’s happy. It’s a bit like ZED because since we are involved much earlier in the process we have the time to make it work. It was scheduled to open in 2011 but I believe it will be sometime in 2012.”

ELA: “The music is a totally different world, but we won’t say too much. It’s going to be a great show!”

When we interviewed René Dupéré (See Fascination issues #46 and #47) he said of Mr. Ferguson: “He’s a fantastic mixer; he’s been working with Pro Tools since he was a kid. He makes the sound bigger than I would have been able to.” How does he make things sound bigger?

MLF: “I’ve been doing mixing and producing for more than 20 years. And I’ve always had a natural feel for doing bigger productions. There are different aspects to it. There’s what we call layering that we use a lot; we add different layers of sound and textures. And there are lots of mixing tricks.”

ELA: “He can’t tell you them all, it’s part of the secret recipe! (Laughs) The show [ZED] was amazing and huge, so it needed an amazing soundtrack.”

Finally, as our time was once again winding down we asked, as we always do when we talk to Cirque creatives, what words of wisdom do they have for young artists?

MLF: “I think one of the magical things about Cirque [music] is that it has a whole bunch of styles. It’s not [confined] to just pop or rock or classical, it’s a bridge to multiple types of music. For us it’s always been very natural to be open to all genres, from rap to classical to country to film music to pop to rock. So we encourage writers and composers to always be open to other genres. There’s some good stuff in country music even if you’re a dance composer.”

ELA: “Magic often happens with unexpected elements. For example someone may not have any music training but [may] have a natural feel for it. Or you might have someone who’s classically trained but needs to loosen up some of their habits sometimes. Or world musicians – we had a fantastic ehru player on the Energia show who had totally different notation. All these things make you learn more about music. I talk about that a lot; we learn more every day about music and how to use [different] elements to make it more expressive, and to meet the directors’ view.”

“Every decision we make in our process we try to make with all the honesty and creativity and emotion that we think the work is going to bring to the people. We always keep that as a guideline, to always to do as good as we can.”

“Put your prejudices aside. Be as creative as you can. Go for your passion and find your personal sound.”

My sincere thanks go to: Mr. Ferguson and Ms. Allaire, for so
graciously spending time with us; Lise Dubois, Corporate Alliances
Coordinator; Marie-Noëlle Caron – Public Relations Information Agent;
and my wife LouAnna for putting up with my sometimes obsessive hobby.