Bruno Louchouarn’s compositions range from the cantina music heard in the film Total Recall, to works for orchestra, ballet, theatre and multimedia performance pieces. After graduate studies in Paris, he earned a Ph.D. in music composition at UCLA. Currently, Louchouarn teaches music, multimedia, and cognitive science at Occidental College. His work has been widely performed, including at Redcat in Los Angeles’ Walt Disney Concert Hall, UCLA’s Royce Hall, Zipper Hall, the Getty Villa, the Getty Center, the Pasadena Playhouse, the San Diego Rep, Boston Court Theatre in Pasadena, La MaMa in New York City, and the Hawaii Performing Arts Festival, as well as many university venues. He also created the musical score for Herbert Siguenza’s A Weekend with Pablo Picasso and talked with PROLOGUE about that experience.
PROLOGUE: First, how do you pronounce your last name?
Bruno Louchouarn: Loo-SHWARN. It’s an old Celtic family name from Brittany—my heritage is both Breton and Mexican.
P: Can you tell me how you approached your musical score for A Weekend with Pablo Picasso?
BL: The story follows the 78-year-old Picasso over the period of three days in 1957 when he’s rushing to start—and finish—a commission for six paintings and two vases on deadline. It’s both a memory play and a performance piece. The play celebrates Picasso’s incredible energy, humor, joie de vivre and creative genius as he plows through this incredible weekend. So the score had to be very buoyant, animated, colorful, descriptive and add just the right soundscape for this amazing artist.
P: Sounds like a dream assignment. Did you start with the period, the art or the music of that time?
BL: It was a tall order. I needed to be familiar with the European art of the early to middle 20th century—which I already was, to a certain extent. I had studied in Paris for a few years and had spent lots of time in the Louvre, one of the world’s great art museums. From that background, I created a theme for this show that changes shape during the performance, much like Picasso’s paintings transform throughout the process of creation.
P: Had you researched the music of the period and place?
BL: Oh, yes. I explored the popular and folk musical styles of France and Spain during this period. Classical music of this period was also incredibly innovative. My score uses clarinet, double bass, guitar, percussion, accordion and piano to underscore and color Picasso’s journey in creating these six paintings. The instruments I chose are so versatile—I can get endless colors and feelings by combining and recombining them.
P: Would you classify the music as pastiche—trying to exactly re-create the musical styles of the 1950s in Europe?
BL: No, not at all, although I try to suggest the musical flavors of the period—the French post-war popular music, as well as Picasso’s Spanish roots, and memory music of Picasso’s early years. A lot of the score, though, is more about emotion, mood, action, and in that way it is more like a movie soundtrack: musical flavor, musical commentary, musical exploration. [It] intertwines four themes: Picasso’s Spanish identity, his self-exile to France, Modernism, and the politics of an era clouded by war and Fascism.
P: Tell me more about your musical choices, for instance in creating a soundscape to underscore the concept of Cubism.
BL: Well, for one thing, I used what we call a “prepared piano”—I put thumb tacks, paper clips and other kinds of hardware onto the hammers of the piano, to get a kind of angular, edgy, metallic sound. I also crawled under the lid of the piano and played the strings with drumsticks, kind of like a zither or hammered dulcimer. I also encouraged my musicians to experiment with unexpected sounds and textures. Think of 20th Century composers like Conlon Nancarrow or Harry Partch who not only composed but invented musical instruments to suit their needs.
P: How do you work with your musicians while rehearsing and recording?
BL: I like to involve the musicians in creating a piece. I enjoy more the rehearsal process than the finished product. Rehearsal for me is pure joy. One of those joys is response and feedback from the musicians. Part of the learning experience is humility, you know. Master musicians can teach you more than a thing or two. You learn what works, what doesn’t, and it becomes part of your language.
P: Can you tell me about working with Herbert Siguenza, the author and performer of Picasso, in creating this piece?
BL: We worked together right from the beginning. Herbert knew my music from my concerts and performances in Los Angeles and approached me when his project was still in the infant stages. We sat together and watched film of Picasso actually painting; we discussed his career, his unique personality, his approach to painting and art, his impact on modern art—and Herbert’s theatrical style, developed in part through his work with L.A.’s Culture Clash.
I started creating musical themes, and sketching the musical score, bringing in musicians, often one at a time, to rehearse and record. At the same time, Herbert was working on drafts and workshops of his script. I built the musical underscoring so it could be flexible enough to stretch or shrink, as required by how the play developed.
P: Did you also contribute to the sound design of the show?
BL: I did. In addition to a sort of café orchestra feel, I also used modern instrumental effects such as sirens and explosions to create an aural context for Picasso’s Guernica, his iconic work on the bombing of the town in Spain’s Basque region during the Spanish Civil War. That era teemed with orchestral invention. I’ve always been fascinated with the Modernist movement in 20th-century music.
P: I understand that Herbert’s play gets into not only Picasso’s art and creative process, but also the political realities of the periods he lived through—and his reactions to them.
BL: Keeping in mind Picasso’s own statement, “Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life,” Herbert tackles the role of this legendary artist as he actually paints on stage—and also how he reacts to the horrors of the Spanish Civil War. Picasso clearly had patriotic feelings for Spain, but he was always absorbed first and foremost by his art. Many think that Guernica, commissioned for the 1937 Paris Exhibition, was his crowning achievement.
P: Herbert features a lot of Picasso’s quotable quotes in the show, along with an almost Cirque du Soleil exuberance, full of movement, painting and color. Creating music and sounds for this show must have been thrilling.
BL: This is such rich material for a composer. There’s so much going on. Herbert showcases Picasso’s proclamations about children, war, ambition, God, love, hate, beauty, friendship, patriotism, eternity—and art as an agent of social change.
P: He plays Picasso and actually paints on stage during the show. The work of the musical score must in part be to reinforce and lift Herbert’s dynamic performance as Picasso the painter.
BL: Yes. Music can do so much to expand the emotional life of a performance. My goal was to musically echo the childlike joy—and hard work—of creation, and also the sense of the clock ticking both as Picasso rushes to finish these six paintings (and two vases) over three days on France’s south coast—and as the man confronts his advancing age. The audience is always delighted and rapt. I hope the music supports and buoys the spirit of the scenes.