Alain Vinet – Musical Director
“Moving Cirque”

We often talk in these pages about Cirque music, its influence, popularity and the high esteem (and high expectations) it has amongst fans. Many have praised its unique sound and style while at the same time wondering about (and sometimes even questioning) decisions made by soundtrack CD producers.

These popular sellers are not taken lightly within Cirque’s Montréal headquarters. In fact CDs are fourth in popularity for show-specific souvenirs after programs, apparel and DVDs. And why not – they’re affordable, long lasting triggers of memory that don’t fade or shrink in the wash. The music and discs can be found everywhere, distributed in Canada by Justin Time (a division of EMI), in the US by Red (a division of Sony) and worldwide by Universal, as well as on iTunes and in Boutiques in tents and theaters throughout the world.

A major part of Cirque’s 25th anniversary celebration has been the June release of “25” a two-CD musical retrospective (reviewed in July’s issue of Fascination!). Its eclectic selection made us curious as to how it was created and the thought process involved. So we went to the source!

Last month we had a chance to talk with the very kind Alain Vinet (Al-ahn VEE-nay), Cirque du Soleil’s Musical Director, about his role in the creation of “25” as well as the show soundtracks so close to the hearts of many devoted fans. He started his DJ career in 1978 becoming famous in the Montréal club scene for his sets at (((Stereo))) and later at Circus. His show ‘brand name’ “Mouvement” was also the title of his 2-CD compilation set for Cirque du Soleil Musique (CDSMN10002-2, 2005).

We started by asking how he became Cirque’s Musical Director. “That’s a long story! I had been a DJ for 20 years and in Montréal I was everywhere. Guy Laliberté heard about me and in 1999 hired me for some private events. That led to DJ’ing for some of the premieres of Cirque shows, my first being Quidam in London in November 2001, and after that some other private events. And then the world premiers of Zumanity, KA, Love and BeLIEve. Throughout those years I became good friends with Guy.”

He was then asked to contribute a dance music track to the “Solarium/Delirium” 2-CD dance compilation (Cirque du Soleil Musique CDSMCD 10021-2, 2004) released as part of the 20th anniversary celebration, remixing “Africa” (from “O”). “I worked on it with a friend, [Sam from] a production company called Quicksound. [He picked it] and I went along with it. I did the vocal and choral arrangements and a bit of the percussion. He did the didgeridoo when we decided to put that in. I have to share the credit because he really worked hard.”

“[Then] I was a consultant for Delirium [arena show] because it was more of an electronica venture and I come from an electronica background. Following that Cirque [wanted] to produce new musical artists for the [CDS Musique] record label and I was signed as an artist. I was the only one [whose 2-CD set “Mouvement” was released in 2005], because after that the company decided to regroup into what they know best, which is Cirque shows. So after they released my compilation I proposed to Guy to come and help the label because I have many contacts in the electronica world. He welcomed that and asked me to be hired. And that’s what led to my first contract as a director at Cirque, where I was mostly taking care of music for special events and artistically directing the albums of the shows. About a year later they added me as more of a consultant as far as the new shows are concerned, which is what I do now.”

The creation of “25” started, as many things at Cirque do, with a brainstorming meeting. “Two years ago we started talking about things that would surround the 25th [anniversary]. There were a lot of ideas brought to the table but unfortunately we couldn’t do all of them. (Laughs) [But] the CD was retained because it’s such a well-sold item. It’s something people tend to buy to have a piece of our shows. Most of our sales come from Boutiques in the big top or theaters. We [also] had good success with “Solarium/Delirium” for the 20th [anniversary]. But going back to more of the core business it was decided [to use] existing masters and [create] a compilation that reflects 25 years of Cirque.”

Chantal Côte, Corporate PR Manager, elaborated, “Music is also a very strong element of Cirque’s brand and one of the main creative components of a Cirque show. It’s made us distinctive over the years; Cirque music has a specific sound to it. So if we are to remember the past 25 years music should be part of that.”

“Music is [also] a great passion of Guys,” Mr. Vinet added. “Second to the whole [process of] creation he’s a person that enjoys a whole lot of different music and buys a lot of different music. I’d say music touches him in a way, a little bit above all the rest.”

In 2004 as part of its 20th anniversary Cirque released “Le Best of” (Cirque du Soleil Musique CDSMC10022-2, 2004) featuring a set of slower chilled-out tunes from then-current productions. How are this and “25” different? “Le Best of was an attempt to launch the record label. The idea behind it was to have a product that reflected some of the best Cirque music to make a punch. When it came to the 25th anniversary I wanted to stay away from [songs on the] Le Best of CD [so that] our customers [wouldn’t be] getting selections [they already had].”

“The purpose wasn’t to create another “best of,” but rather to create a general spirit of the last 25 years. But also to not go for the more obvious songs because most people already have those songs anyway. My goal was to have people discover a song that maybe they would have passed [over].”

Speaking of songs buyers might already have, we noted that two songs that might be considered “greatest hits” – the title track from Alegria and “Let Me Fall” from Quidam (the latter coming into public consciousness thanks to Josh Groban’s cover and use of the song in his concert DVD where he makes a set piece out of climbing a set of invisible stairs until he falls into a black abyss) – are missing from “25”. The original version of “Alegria” was on “Le Best of” so a slower version from Alegria Le Film was used on “25.” Was “Let Me Fall” considered?

“For Saltimbanco Gilles suggested I use “Barock” which is kind of a rock-ish sounding song. And to keep the continuity in the vibe of the “Dynamique” CD I decided to use “Rivage” (from Quidam) which is [similar] sounding to “Barock” to make an evolution in the compilation.”

Mr. Vinet then explained how and why songs were selected. “I asked a lot of questions of Gilles Ste. Croix and people that were here since the beginning to get a sense of their best souvenirs from that era. So some of the songs were picked by Gilles and a lot were picks that I made. For about a year I kept sending advance copies to both Guy and Gilles to get their feedback. But last year having been such a busy year for Cirque I was pretty much on my own.”

“After a while of not really getting any feedback I went on my own and really went through a process of flow. Guy always insisted that we would have one CD that is more like chill, down tempo, and one that would be more dynamic. So starting with that I took pieces from all the shows, listening to how they [worked] together when one finishes and the [next] one starts. It was really quite a painstaking process.”

“I also wanted to have songs that are not part of our regular show CD’s that are available in the marketplace. For example the Wintuk CD was never put out commercially; it is only sold at Madison Square Garden.” (Our readers should note that the songs from the first and second versions of the first “Cirque du Soleil” album as well as “Nouvelle Experience” and the “Journey of Man” soundtrack, though unavailable on physical CD are available as ITunes downloads. Alegria Le Film and the studio version of “Mystère” (both of which have one track each on the “25” set) sadly are not.)

“I was also able to get advance [tracks] from ZED, ZAIA, BeLIEve and OVO. On top of that I got two songs from [the very first Cirque du Soleil vinyl 45 from] La Fanfonfonie. They were René Dupéré’s band even before Cirque was created, in the very very beginning.”

That rarity proved a challenge. “[We used a vinyl 45] because it wasn’t possible to actually grab master [tapes] from that era. [But] there was a copy of the 45 [in the Archive] that [we put] through a whole mastering and clean-up process. And I was surprised because I thought the sound wouldn’t be good because it was made so long ago. But since I took it from vinyl it actually sounds louder than our later productions.”

But the special effort was worth it. “I insisted on having those two songs [from the 45]. One of them, “Cirque du Soleil,” was very important for me to be in there. The other one, “Le Funambule,” was a suggestion from Gilles Ste. Croix. Apparently this was the opening song of the very first show.”

Indeed, when we asked composer René Dupéré to list his favorite Cirque tracks (see our two-part interview in Fascination! issues #46-Oct 2005 and #47-Jan/Feb/Mar 2006) he commented, [“Funambule” is] one of my favorite melodies. I wouldn’t say it’s the best one, but it’s one of my favorites because it reminds me of souvenirs and remembrances and nice things that happened [in the early days].”

These two rare songs are a perfect fit for the CDs concept of a musical retrospective spanning all 25 years of Cirque’s existence. In addition to chronologically following the evolution of Cirque music throughout the years while separated into the two Laliberté-mandated “mood disks,” Mr. Vinet took special care with the links between tracks such as the sound of children at the beginning of the “Poétique” disk. “In the intro to the first song you can hear children in the background, sounding like the old street performances in Baie St. Paul. I wanted to add that little bit of flavor, [as though] we’re coming in [to the tent] and can hear the orchestra getting in tune and [the music] starting. These are little pieces that I added just to make kind of a link.” Other small bits have been added as well, such as a fragment from the original vocal sessions of “Lubia Doberstan” (from Varekai) tagged on as an intro to the song. “It’s from the original sessions; a little piece you don’t really hear but is there at some point. I added this piece for linking purposes as well.”

His work also extended to “cleaning up” tracks that appear on their original albums overlapped by other tracks. The acapella “amen” ending of “A Tale” (from La Nouba) in this set is free of the overlap from the next selection on the soundtrack CD, “Porte.” “I had to work on it a little bit. I did use the master but [at the end] I used a piece from the original session to make an ending, so that it would finish less abruptly and you don’t hear the next song coming in.”

The creation of “25” wasn’t the only project keeping him busy in Cirque’s 25th year. “All my creative power is now used at Cirque especially during the spring when we have a lot of special events. Because I build all the music [for them]. And this year particularly with the 25th Anniversary there’s a lot of talk about it in the media so everybody wants Cirque. So that makes me doubly busy. Everything that pertains to the 25th anniversary has music in it, and I do mean everything. So a lot has come through my desk.”

Did this include the music for the special Cirque du Soleil/Concept Fiatlux fireworks display as part of the Montréal International Fireworks Competition ( and occurring Saturday, August 15, 2009 at La Ronde Park in Montrèal? “Very much so; I built and chose the [musical] contents. The show itself should be around 35 minutes. I wish I could see it but I’m leaving Montréal a few days before that, and I’m going to miss it unfortunately.”

His duties as Musical Director during the almost five years he’s been at the company have always involved input into the creation of the show soundtrack CD’s. “[Initially] I would come in after the creation is done and pick a producer and give comments on what I wanted to hear on the CD as far as a general sound is concerned. And then I got more and more involved in the process of creation of the album. I really do take quite a bit of time with the producer in the studio, sometimes participating in the arrangements and the general flavor. Sometimes picking instruments that may not be in the show but add a color. For example Kooza has a very Bollywood kind of feel and in the show we have a couple of pieces using synthetic sitar, but for the album we decided to have a real sitar.”

Being in such an influential position we had to ask to what extent he felt a shows CD should reflect a shows musical sound. “I have mixed feelings about that. Of course I always want to try to keep as close to the show as possible. I read the blogs once in a while so I see pretty much what has happened in the past. And I take [those loyal fans comments] into consideration. I always say we have to add some audio imagery [to make up] for the lack of [visual] imagery so it stands alone. [While] always trying to stay as close to the show as possible. I want to make it so [the fans] are not alienated by what we added. [I want to] keep it faithful.”

“But that being said I was brought in to make these CDs stand alone, so that you can listen from one end to the other and even if you don’t have all the visuals it still sounds right. That’s mainly what I do. Sometimes I will add on to what the show music sounds like. Guy put me here specifically for that, to make sure we have a stand-alone sound.”

“And it was decided a long time ago to stay away from [live albums] as much as possible. Because it doesn’t sound right without the visuals. You [can hear] the difference in sound quality between the produced album and the live recordings. As a live bonus it’s OK but as a piece that represents the show on the regular CD the quality of the sound is not acceptable.”

“[Also] the arrangement is very important. When you do a show sometimes a piece will be 8 minutes long, on an album I don’t need more than five. And normally I will ask my producers to redo the arrangements to have a proper beginning and end to each [song]; I’m not crazy about fade-outs. Although on the ZAIA album there are quite a few. But we were running late!” (Laughs)

How does he judge what makes a good soundtrack album, or really any album? “The trip it takes you on from beginning to end. I was born in the 60’s so I come from the days of listening to albums, like Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” where you listen from one end to the other and it’s like a story being told.”

“And that’s what I try to do with the [soundtrack] albums, trying to keep the order of the show but sometimes playing with one or two songs. For example “Kooza Dance” (from Kooza) happens right after intermission yet is such a thematic song. During creation you would always hear the creators talking about the “Kooza Dance”. And it’s such a nice, crooner-like song I said, ‘Let’s open the CD with that.’”

We noted the new ZAIA CD clocks in at a hefty 70+ minutes and wondered if the amount of music on a CD was ever a consideration. “In ZAIAs case the CD was produced by [ZAIA composer] Violaine Corradi at her demand. And at my demand too. Guy wasn’t too hot on the idea at the beginning but the result speaks for itself and he really loved the album. We have so much material since our shows last for 90 minutes and it’s hard to pick [what to] leave out, that’s why ZAIA has such a high minute count.”

The creation musicians, he acknowledged, also play an important role in the development of a new shows music. “For the sound of the show they are very very important. When it comes to the albums I always try to keep the voices from the show. And any peculiar instruments like folkloric instruments [where] it’s hard to find a good player we’ll insist on the show musician.”

“It’s hard to get [show] musicians to do studio sessions. But we still want to keep them involved because they are one of the big reasons of the success of the music. But on other occasions, like Kooza, we did all the production in Montréal except for maybe a couple of lead solos and the vocals because of a time constraint.”

It’s also part of Cirque’s normal process to not record a shows CD immediately after premiere. “We have a six-month process where we leave a show and let it go and find its place with an audience,” Ms.Côte explained. “Then the creators are all invited to come back with a new perspective and look at it. We call it fixation [FEEX-ah-shon]. It doesn’t mean the show won’t change over the course of the years but the main skeleton, the main creative elements will be settled for years to come.”

Mr. Vinet elaborated, “I cannot start working on a CD until fixation is complete. That means everybody’s happy with it and we can proceed. Until that is done we can’t do the soundtrack because the music can still vary. Sometimes a number might change or another piece of music is added. We want [the CD] to have, as closely as possible, the final music of the show.”

“Even then the show is going to change sometimes – an artist leaves, another one comes in or different music is created. That’s why you have songs in shows that are not on the album, because throughout the years numbers have changed and music has been added. Since I have been here the average is about a year after the show opens.”

With the tantalizing tastes of tracks from ZED, BeLIEve and OVO included keeping “25” up-to-the-minute, we asked Mr. Vinet to run down the production and release status of these new creations CDs.

ZED – “I got the masters about a month ago. In the US I don’t know exactly when the release date is, another department [makes that decision]. But in Canada both ZAIA and ZED will come out on August 25. ZAIA is already out in the US; it came out there first.” [Update: Since this interview we have learned that the release of ZED
and ZAIA in Canada has been delayed and will occur in September or later.]

BeLIEve – “I was aiming for the first anniversary of the World Premiere which is Halloween, 2009. It’s the date I asked Eric [Serra, composer] to make, so [we could] throw a little launch party with the first year anniversary of the show in Vegas. But we couldn’t work on it because Eric is really busy on a movie with Luc Besson [the sequels to the computer-animated “Arthur and the Invisibles” titled “Arthur and the Revenge of Maltazard” (2009) and “Arthur and the Two Worlds War” (2010)]. I have to take him when he’s available since it’s in his contract that he has to produce the CD. Sometimes we have to delay a little bit but then again it’s not any longer than any album normally takes since it takes about a year for a CD to hit the shelves.”

OVO – “We probably won’t have a CD until next spring, which is about average.”

With ardent worldwide fans of Cirques musical output hungry for Cirque music in all its forms we wondered if Cirque had ever considered smaller-run limited second editions of some of the rarer pieces of Cirques musical legacy, such as the live recordings of Saltimbanco and Alegria that were issued as Christmas presents years ago. “There are no plans for that that I’m aware of. I’m sure we still have [them] in the Archive somewhere. Maybe the masters still exist but [they would need to be located].”

To which Ms. Côte added, “It’s a good suggestion though.” (A hopeful sign?)

His connection with Cirque and Laliberté has allowed Mr. Vinet to be a vital creative part of events Cirque fans would give almost anything to attend – show world premiers and the parties thrown at Lalibertés residence in Montréal. “It’s always incredibly fun; people are there to have fun so it always makes for a really cool evening. Plus we always have performances and décor which you don’t necessarily find in clubs. With all the added value it’s really nice to meet and work with performers, it adds so much layering to the evening.”

“For me it’s like my old life, but also putting a little bit of “water in my wine” to accommodate less electronica-savvy people [so as not to] make them feel too alienated. But at the same time keeping my sound. Because as a DJ if I’m not allowed to play the way I play I’m just not going to play, that’s a decision I made 15-20 years ago.”

Being a re-mixer of note we wondered if he had attempted remixes of Cirque songs other than “Africa.” “At the time [of “Solarium / Delirium”] I did an attempt at “Oscillium” (from Varekai) but the vocal and [organ] were glued together. It was a voice and instrument together [on the same track]. So it was really hard for me to split everything for a proper mix.”

“I did remix “Let Me Fall” for one of the parties but nothing good enough to put out. It was done too long ago. But I have a lot of newer remixes – when I do a world premiere or a premiere of a show I make a remix of one of the show songs. And I’ve done quite a few [of those].”

“For the LOVE premiere I did a little mash-up of “Love You To” by George Harrison mixed with the beats from a Cirque song and some vocals from another Cirque song. Kind of a mash up of the three. And I did a mash-up of “Because” using the acapella [version] with the beats of “Alegria.” Just to signify the wedding of Apple Corps and Cirque du Soleil. Which was my way of expressing that.”

“I asked Guy last year when we were in Tokyo for permission to [release some of those remixes]. I have to iron out the details. But the beauty of it is they are all done already.”

His house music compilation set “Mouvement” demonstrated his skills as re-mixer and DJ, skills honed over many years. “I’ve been a club DJ in Montréal for 31 years, more in the underground than in the mainstream scene; that was where I grew up as a DJ and producer. When [house music] came out in 1985 it was such a fresh approach. It was taking some of the classic music and adding beats to it. It [was now within] the reach of anyone to produce that kind of music, you didn’t need to have a million dollar studio. It was the beginning of self-producing and computers and all that. That really appealed to me. And on top of that I’m a huge fan of electronic music, always have been since the days of Kraftwerk and even further back Pink Floyd.”

Having such a long history as a DJ means quite a collection of music. In addition to “a ton” of CD’s he has close to 14,000 vinyl recordings. His catalog numbers about 50,000 songs. “[When I DJ] I always carry enough music to play for 2 weeks. When I use turntables or CD I always use 3. [One reason is so] that I can prepare in advance a little bit more. Instead of just waiting until the song ends I can prepare the next one so I can keep my flow going. ‘Cause when you DJ you have an overall vision of what the night is going to be, its peaks and valleys. By adding a third player I can prepare in advance so I can have better continuity. And the other reason is sometimes on that 3rd CD I might put an acapella track that I will sample over whatever’s going on. Or a loop or all of the above. It just helps you be more [prepared], especially with CDs. With vinyl you had sleeves; it was very visual. With CDs, especially burned CDs, it’s [just] a line of text. That’s it, there’s no visual cue. So sometimes I need the extra time to do research in my books.”

What does he consider a good remix? “I know by listening to it. If it gets me, if the groove is good and, speaking specifically about remixes, if it respects the original then to me it’s a good remix. But sometimes you will have something more ‘dub-ey’ where not the whole vocal is there but pieces [of it], and if the groove is good that is also a good remix.”

“[What’s] important to me is what the song says instead of how it’s sung or spoken. I’m a big fan of spoken word. When I find songs that have something like that, automatically I will listen a bit more closely to what it says.”

He is especially attracted to “eclectic” music. “In my book eclectic means “not mainstream.” Something you would not necessarily expect, that broadens your horizons. “Eclectic” is my middle name. Even in my DJ’ing I went away from the mainstream 20 years ago. I like to provoke people, [make them] work for it, not give them everything tailor-made, ready-to-eat, ready-to-serve. No, you have to work a little bit for it. You have to be open minded to really appreciate the typical state of mind in the club environment.”

And it’s the open-mindedness of the people he has met (or, rather, one specific person) which has had a powerful effect on his life. “Meeting Guy Laliberté was really a turning point as far as the direction my career has taken, definitely. He’s really open and has broadened my spectrum by inviting me on trips, making me see the world and going to premieres and stuff like that. [I’ve met] so many amazing creative people. I have to say that was a big turning point for me.”

In a company so well known for its creative decisions it’s important to realize there are business decisions as well. “I’ve been here close to five years now and I can tell you it’s always a struggle between business and creation. Of course creators at Cirque are always super well treated. But there has to be a voice of reason at some point. It’s really hard to keep a perfect balance. [Sometimes business] will be going well and the creative [side rules], but like now with the economy we tend to stop spending where we don’t need to. Which is just a common sense compromise.”

His workload at Cirque doesn’t leave much time for other things. “[It’s a challenge] finding some time to work on my own music, that’s for sure! (Laughs) The 9 to 5 in general [is hard]. I’ve always been more of a night person. So I try to arrange my schedule so I do all my business [during the day] and then I might stay at the studio until midnight and just work away. When the feelings good and it’s working well I just stay at it until I fall asleep.”

But he finds the job inspiring. “Everybody that creates music inspires me in one way or another. Our composers inspire me incredibly, the music is so beautiful. [And it’s unexpected], you listen to a Cirque song and think it’s going to go from F to G but it doesn’t, it goes some other way. That’s what I love about Cirque music. That gives me a lot of inspiration. That’s actually what’s keeping me artistically alive, in the midst of business and all that.”

What gives him his greatest satisfaction? “At Cirque – Making sure that I always go beyond what is asked of me into areas where people would not have thought of sometimes. And I believe that’s what makes me successful at Cirque. Because every curve ball they threw at me in the past four years I always hit home runs. That makes me really happy. Personally – Having a great DJ set. Producing a good song and playing it and people go wild. This is my greatest reward.”

What does he say to young artists? “Don’t mind the challenges, just go for it. If you believe it enough it’s gonna happen. Perseverance and discipline. Maybe I was lucky but that’s how I made it. I spent 10 years in the studio not making music for money but learning my craft. I never went to [DJ] school, everything I know I learned on my own.”

“Just play with it, have fun with it, because that’s going to reflect in the end product. And if you don’t have fun that too reflects in the final product; when you get blasé about it you can feel it. And you can note that throughout musical history. [You see] bands that do maybe one or two good albums [and then] get spoiled by the riches and the jet set. You have to keep a cool head about those things, because what life brings you one day she can take from you the next.”

“But you can’t stop just because of that; you go back and start something else. There are always possibilities, the world is my oyster!” (Laughs)

My sincere thanks go to: Mr. Alain Vinet, for so graciously spending time with us, Lise Dubois, Corporate Alliances Coordinator (for arranging the details), Chantal Côte, Corporate PR Manager, And my wife LouAnna for putting up with my sometimes obsessive hobby.