Composer Josh Kopecek on the scoring of “Vibrant Highland, Commercial Love”

[two_col][/two_col][two_col_last][blockquote author=”Josh Kopeček”]The film as a whole is a unique look at culture in Northern Vietnam, centering around the love market and the legend, but also telling a number of other related and divergent stories which only begin to scrape the surface of a hidden world of intrigue. In this sense, the film is a must-see.[/blockquote][/two_col_last]

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What first attracted you to the project?

[dropcap]I was first attracted to Vibrant Highland, Commercial Love because of the uniqueness of its subject matter.  It’s not just an interesting subject matter for me, it’s the whole ecology of music in the North of Vietnam that attracts me.  Vietnam is a complex place in terms of music traditions, virtually every province has its own unique musical style.[/dropcap]

What were the influences for the music?  Where did the ideas come from?

[dropcap]For this project there were various influences – the music of Vietnam as a whole, including contemporary pop music as well as other indigenous folk music and traditional music.  All my music is, of course, original. I didn’t use any particular folk melodies, although each melody does draw from the folk canon.  I also drew inspiration from the various threads and themes in the film.  While it’s hard to actually tell the story through music, my intention was to reinforce the various emotions that were evoked while watching each scene.  I was only too aware of the principle problem faced by composers when working on documentary films: not trying to sway the emotions of the viewer too much, creating a soundscape that is too dramatic and thus jarring.[/dropcap]

Did you face any challenges and how did you overcome them?

[two_col][dropcap]A major challenge for me was learning the khèn, a traditional instrument played by ethnic minorities in a large region of South-East Asia.  The technique and repertoire are different in Vietnam, but the physical layout of the instrument remains the same.  I composed all of the motifs in the film using the khèn.  The tuning of the khèn is quite a way off western standard tuning and it can’t be adjusted, so I had to fit everything else around it. The khèn in the soundtrack is often at the base of what’s going on.  It’s not normally an ensemble instrument, but it fits this role extremely well and connects many parts of the work.  Sometimes it takes a more melodic role, especially to represent the more traditional and basic story threads.

I also used another instrument, more commonly known in Vietnam – the đàn tranh, played by Nguyễn Thùy Dung – on a number of parts of the soundtrack.  Writing for this instrument is a lot easier than the khèn, but still requires knowledge about its mechanics, tuning, layout, and techniques.  I worked closely with Dung to make sure the parts she was playing were comfortable and followed standard conventions for the instrument while still being original.  I studied archetypes of melodies for the đàn tranh and developed my ideas around this.  Even though the melody is only used a few times in the film I feel it occurs at climactic moments, and brings together the many elements of the film.[/dropcap][/two_col][two_col_last][image_float url=”” width=”300″ height=”490″ type=”right” title=”Khen Playing” lightbox=”true”]Composer Josh Kopeček learning to play the khen, a traditional Hmong instrument, as part of the VHCL scoring process.[/image_float][/two_col_last]

Was there any scene that you were particularly excited to write music for?

[dropcap]I worked particularly hard on the opening music, going through several major changes in ideas.  I wanted it to evoke the general mood of the film, the development of the plot, a feeling of moving forward through the mountains towards the love market.  The melody echoes the various parts of the film that come later – the ‘seed’ is sown for later developments and orchestrations.  There are two elements in the music – new and old.  The old, traditional, mainly represented by the khèn draws together the past and historical elements of the story.  The new, digital instruments and guitar reflect the new and modern aspects of the story.  They work together and against each other throughout the film.[/dropcap]


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[pretty_image url=”” width=”700″ height=”177″ gallery=”slug” title=”Vibrant Highland, Commercial Love” crop=”c”]Vibrant Highland, Commercial Love[/pretty_image]

What is the film about to you and what is important about it?

[dropcap]The film as a whole is a unique look at culture in Northern Vietnam, centering around the love market and the legend, but also telling a number of other related and divergent stories which only begin to scrape the surface of a hidden world of intrigue.  In this sense, the film is a must-see.  The story stands on its own as a self-contained narrative without needing any prior knowledge of culture in Vietnam, any viewer can dip into it without feeling intimidated by the subject matter.[/dropcap]

[one_third][/one_third][two_third_last]Any other projects you’re working on at the moment?

[dropcap]At the moment I’m working on another big project which centres around sound in Vietnam – the Soundwalk Project.  We’re commissioning two composers to create Soundwalks which will feature audio from Vietnam’s past and present, perhaps even future.[/dropcap]




To learn more about the project, visit the Vibrant Highland, Commercial Love” movie page.  The film is currently in late post production stages with completion expected in September 2014.

Josh Kopeček is an award-winning, British composer based in Hanoi. He regularly collaborates with Etherium Sky as a composer and musician. [/two_third_last]