INTERVIEW: Composer Thomas Roussel On Making The Music For Jumbo

Jumbo made its cinematic debut at Sundance in January from director Zoé Wittock (Red 2) and centers around a love story of sorts at an amusement park. Composer Thomas Roussel (Les aventures de Bill Billard, Rick et du troisième compagnon) weaves a melodic score into the fabric of Jumbo’s vibrant setting.

Noémie Merlant (Portrait of a Lady on Fire)plays Jeanne Tantois, the janitor of an amusement park. At the heart of this sea of lights and candy is Jumbo, a Ferris wheel. Jeanne and Jumbo start to form a bond that strengthens as the film plays out. From there, things get interesting, including oil slicks with deeper meanings. While it all might sound a little surreal, there’s no doubt the film was inspired by real-life people who fell in love with non-living things.

PopAxiom spoke with Thomas Roussel about his road to making music for film and television, coming to terms with the music that inspires him, and making Jumbo.

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Violin, Piano, And Techno

Born in France, Thomas started learning about music from an early age: “… three years old.” It started thanks to “… my father, who taught me music.” Later, Thomas “… studied the violin and piano.”

Not too long after the lessons began, Thomas started “… to compose … around eight years old.”

Thomas’ musical cues blend several styles. “During the 90s, I grew up with the birth of techno music, and it’s very natural for me now to mix my different influences …”

jumbo-interview-thomas roussel

About Jumbo

Thomas and Zoé Wittock have been friends for nearly a decade. “She told me about her first movie eight years ago when we met on a train during Cannes. Since then, we’ve been good friends, and she knew I’d be there for her movie.”

Thomas explains the journey to making the score for Jumbo. “You have a lot of different emotions in this story: love, hate, dreams, arguments, moments of strong discomfort. So, we wanted to illustrate all of this in the music. For me, it was exciting to compose because there are so many different kinds of emotions.”

Thomas proposed a “… unique sound … strong and deep analog sounds for Jumbo’s character and soft, delicate strings with metallic sounds … for Jeanne’s character.” To take Jeanne’s themes into unique places, Thomas “… recorded a Cristal Baschet and an aluphone.”

The process of making a Ferris wheel feel through score wasn’t easy, but that’s part of the fun of being a composer. “… we tried different options, but I finally decided to be on the edge of sound design and music. Jumbo is very deep in the basses, with analog keyboards. Then the sound designer did a great job too to make him ‘speak!’”

Making Music

Connecting to a story is a vital part of the creative process for Thomas. “I try to say yes to a project only when I know that I’ll be able to be sincere.”

Additionally, Thomas loves to explore sounds. “I also try to keep a very good loop of production, with good musicians, orchestras, new instruments.”

What do you think is the ratio of “rough draft” music that doesn’t get used to the final score?

Composers typically create a lot of music for a film or television series. How much is generally left over? Thomas explains, “… the director has the final cut, it’s his/her movie. I would say that twenty percent is unused in the end.”

The essential nature of connecting to a story is no better stated than when Thomas, a composer, says, “… sometimes, silence is better than music for a scene.”

Wrapping Up

Thomas’ musical influences blend classic and techno. What inspires the composer and makes up his creative DNA? “… it’s very generational. I grew up with all the fantastic John Williams soundtracks and studied classical composition/orchestration. So when I started to compose 20 years ago, it was trying to sound like him.”

Time and experience breed wisdom. “But today I’ve accepted that I was also a kid from the 90s, with all the techno music, Daft Punk, Jeff Mills, and now, also with my solo project Prequell.

Blending such distinct styles wasn’t easy, but Thomas says, “I am more at peace with my two worlds — orchestral and electronic music — living together.”

In the age of remakes, what would Thomas love to be a part of? “It’s not totally a remake, but since I was a child, my dream is to compose for a James Bond film!”

What’s coming next from Thomas? A new Prequell album. I’ll record with the LSO soon at Abbey Road studio.”

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Ruben Diaz
Ruben Diaz
Writer, film-fanatic, geek, gamer, info junkie & consummate Devil's advocate who has been fascinated by Earth since 1976. Classically trained in the ways of the future.