Born in the south of France in 1988, pianist Dominique Charpentier plays with a sophistication well beyond his three decades. His second solo album landed earlier this month. He and I traded emails yesterday.
Did you intend for each of these pieces to be recorded so quickly?
Yes, it was intended. Each track was composed in less than two hours, in order to force myself to create something very spontaneous and simple. That and the idea of creating tracks inspired by cities or places I have visited, constituted the basic creative concept of the album. Actually, some of the tracks were composed in a very short time, like “Rue des Acacias,” which is a total improvisation I made in a piano shop in Paris, while choosing my new piano. But for all the other tracks I “composed” them, not improvised them, even if it was in a very short time. I think this is a fun challenge and it forces me to make quick choices on how to structure the piece, how to find a good chord progression and melody, etc. That helps me to get to the point immediately.
What are the advantages of starting to play an instrument as young as eight? Are there disadvantages?
I see no disadvantages, I think it is only positive to start at a young age. Music should be as natural as walking. It is good for the body, excellent for the mind, so it should be taught to everybody during childhood. Now that all the benefits of music have been demonstrated by science, I know that having started piano playing at eight developed my brain in a particular way, it opened my mind to new and more effective ways of thinking. This good influence that the practice of a musical instrument has on your brain can also be gained as an adult, but it will be too late for some of the benefits. And of course, it is easier to learn how to play an instrument at an early age. You learn much faster and you don’t have a very structured brain, so it is easier to be influenced by a “musical way of thinking.”
Do you approach soundtrack compositions differently than others?
Yes! The big difference obviously is that the music assists another form of art. So, for a film for example, the story and the pictures inspire the music, not the other way around. When composing for a movie I can’t do everything I want, I also have to take into account the director’s vision. I usually start by talking a lot with the director about his/her movie: the story, characters and atmosphere. I want to be sure I understand the meaning of the film and then only I will ask him/her what music he/she wants. Sometimes the director has no ideas, so I will suggest mine. Then I would start improvising a piece for a particular scene, with the moving pictures in front of me, or just the idea of them in my mind. After that, there is a lot of back and forth between the director and I, until we agree on a final version.
The reference to video games in your website bio, what is that about?
It is there because I actually started scoring video games before composing for films. I scored my first video game back in 2013, it was for a small indie studio based in Paris. I wanted to work as a film composer since 2009, but I hadn’t found any opportunities at the time so I decided to expand my horizons. I scored around 10 indie video games from 2013 to 2016. It was fun and interesting, but then a movie score opportunity finally came so I focused on it. I prefer to compose for movies but I remain open to any offer from the video games world.
You also describe yourself as a minimalist.
When I say “minimalism” I mean minimalism in music, not in life in general. And what I actually call minimalism are the works of Yann Tiersen and Ludovico Einaudi. I discovered their music when I was a teenager (13) and this had a huge impact on my musical taste and on the future composer I would become. What fascinated me was their ability to create such interesting and beautiful pieces with very simple tools. They create simple but true, deep, emotional melodies that move the listener immediately. And of course, being a piano lover and player since an early age, the impact was even greater. Music is not about thinking, but feeling. I listened to a lot of music during my life (and I still do) and the music I always preferred was the one that moved me immediately, that causes a direct emotional response. I always try to compose music that can achieve that.