Score ‘TÁR’: Interview with Hildur Gudnadottir

The Oscar-winning ‘Joker’ actor told IndieWire that he wrote real music for Cate Blanchett’s fictional ‘TÁR’ composer.

It’s been a banner year for Oscar-winning Icelandic composer Hildur Guðnadóttir (“Joker”), who could go down in history as the first woman to be nominated twice in the same season for Best Picture “TÁR” contenders ( Focus Features) and “Woman Talking” (UA). Both films focus on difficult subjects like power, abuse and identity, and take the composer in various musical directions. Her lyrical, guitar-driven score for “Women Talking” serves its purpose well by channeling a sense of hope for the traumatized Mennonite women at the center of Sarah Polley’s film, while her meta score for Todd Field’s psychological drama on the world of classical music represents Guðnadóttir’s most personal work to date.

In “TÁR”, famed conductor Lydia Tàr (Cate Blanchett) is forced to confront her personal demons (including accusations of sexual abuse) while rehearsing Gustav Mahler’s monumental Symphony No. -Edward Elgar’s esteemed Cello Concerto in E minor with the Berlin Philharmonic. As Grammy-winning cellist Yo-Yo Ma told IndieWire, the film “demands that we wrestle with two of the toughest questions in art: what gives art its power and what role does power play in art?”

“Todd Field had a very nice analogy for the music of ‘TÁR’: ‘If the movie was a car, the music is the engine,'” Guðnadóttir told IndieWire. “I was the second person to join the project after Cate, so my dialogue with [her and Field] started at the very beginning of production. What I did was threefold: first, since the film is about the process of creating and rehearsing music, I worked closely with Todd and Cate to set the tone for the musical landscape and the inner tempos of the characters. main. This included writing an article that showed how fast Lydia walks, set at 120 rapid beats per minute; it and other Guðnadóttir compositions were channeled into headphones worn by Blanchett and Field during filming.

“Audiences never hear that in the movie, but Cate hears it as she acts, so it informs her character and we feel that through her behavior,” Guðnadóttir said. “Similar to how as an artist in a writing process, what you work on tends to color how you go about your day. As a musician, you’ll hear it on repeat in your head. And I really wanted to convey that, in a subtle and real way.

Guðnadóttir also wrote the composition Lydia works on throughout the film, “For Petra”, named the protagonist’s (Mila Bogojevic) adopted Syrian daughter. Rather, it’s a neo-classical work in the vein of Charles Ives, and it forms the centerpiece of the new soundtrack album “TÁR (MUSIC FROM AND INSPIRED BY THE MOTION PICTURE)”. “Since this movie is about the music writing process, we never hear a final version of the music in the movie itself,” Guðnadóttir said. “But in this parallel universe, that’s our reality.”

“TÁR” reveals that Lydia’s true passion is composition, stemming from a modest ethnographic study in the Amazon (a “field recording” that serves as the soundtrack’s coda) before her career as a conductor only takes off and eclipses everything else. Guðnadóttir found this relevant. “I thought that was the point of her creative misalignment that caused a lot of her frustration and how she ended up treating people,” she said. “Because what she wants to write is more in the world of experimental music, which is much more open, but where she ends up going as a great conductor is reaching more power than what that she wants. We feel there’s a certain amount of exploration that’s been her driving force from the start that doesn’t really translate until almost what she does on the catwalk.

Courtesy of Focus Features

The third part of Guðnadóttir’s “TÁR” journey consisted of composing the score, which lives very much in its electro-acoustic domain, enhanced by the cello and processed vocals. Given that it depicts Lydia’s confused state of mind – a blur of memories, dreams and imagination – the score was mixed and works almost subliminally. “Since the everyday reality of the characters takes part in orchestral rehearsals, it was clear that the score had to be from a different world,” Guðnadóttir said. “There are a lot of elements in the film that are slightly strange and otherworldly. You feel a slight unease, not being able to put your finger on what exactly it is.

“TÁR” meets the criteria to enter this year’s race for Best Original Score, but it remains to be seen how the musical branch of the Academy responds to the subtlety of Guðnadóttir’s compositions. “The score works in a way that you barely notice it’s there,” she said. “You’ll probably walk out of the movie thinking there was no score, but in reality there’s a score underneath a lot of the movie and that’s probably one of the main things that gives you the feeling that something isn’t as it seems, it’s lying there like an invisible layer – like a ghost in the room, which you can’t see, but can feel.

An example occurs when Lydia chases someone or something in a house above Guðnadóttir while singing the melody of “For Petra”. “We found this approach important because Lydia is the kind of person who experiences sounds very strongly,” Guðnadóttir said. “So when she writes, for example, she’s not always sure whether what she’s hearing is a sound coming from inside or outside. And what was so interesting to me is that it’s so musical how it happens.