"Music is such a major part of a film": Interview with Rose Reibl

With the rise of live musical performances at cinema screenings, we chat to pianist and composer Rose Reibl about what audiences can expect from her accompaniment to Sleep Has Her House, and how her music will complement the dream-like state of this stunning slow cinema film at EFFA 2018.

From your classical training at the Australian National Academy of Music (ANAM) and performances at the Melbourne Recital Centre, to gypsy travel and working at a circus, how does your diverse background feed into your music today?

I’m interested in storytelling, and evoking images through composition and performance.  I wouldn’t have any stories to tell if I hadn’t spent years exploring, and I wouldn’t be able to play if I hadn’t had the pretty rigorous training from an early age. For a while the paths looked like they couldn’t possibly overlap – one quite rigid and the other wayward – but I think I’ve managed to find a way to live both, and also express both in the music that I write.  

Your live performance at last year’s Melbourne Fringe Festival – Night Song, which was awarded Best Music Show – encouraged the audience to take a moment for introspection, silence and rest. Are there any synergies between that performance and your composition for your performance at EFFA? 

Yes, definitely. For my Night Song performance, the audience laid back on beds, looking at a screen above. I was interested in feelings of introspection and vulnerability – that you’re potentially more aware of being in a space, alone and absorbing sound, when you’re lying down. But I was also interested in the idea of rest – a break from the madness of the world outside. Instead of watching me as the performer, I wanted the audience to look at the screen, taking in the sounds without staring straight at their source. In that sense, the format of my EFFA performance will have some overlaps, and I think Sleep Has Her House exists in a similar liminal, dream-like place. You’re looking, but you’re not bombarded with images, you’re not being fed a narrative. Instead you’re lulled into a sleepy state and perhaps false sense of calm. The magic of a cinema theatre was one of the inspirations for my original show, and I like that for this performance, music can emerge without being the major feature – sort of like echoes out of the dark.

What inspired you to partner with EFFA?

I think EFFA is such an important festival, with thought-provoking, meaningful and also beautiful content. I’m really looking forward to presenting a performance that will be a small part of this much bigger conversation around the environment. I have a deep attachment to nature, the environment, the elements; they’ve inspired a vast portion of my music. When I write I often think about places I’ve been… The Northern Lights which I once saw in Iceland. Small, abandoned, nameless cities I’ve passed. Snow falling on black sand. And a storm that fell one afternoon; when the storm finished, the sun broke out of the sky, and the waves suddenly turned blue and stopped crashing.  

Sleep Has Her House has moments of peace paired with moments of haunting, yet evocative darkness and ambiguity. How will this influence your performance, and what can people expect to experience at this screening / live performance?

I’m pretty comfortable in the spaces between peace and haunting darkness – a lot of my music comes from a similar place, so the film and live score will complement each other well. The major influence on how I write for this performance will be the stillness – reigning in the more dramatic parts of my compositions and exploring the still, quiet sounds of sleep and midnight forest worlds. I’m interested in the space between art and sleep, so an audience can expect to enter a sort of dream-scape, with atmospheric images accompanied by a quiet, underwater siren song.

There has been a recent trend to couple live performances with films screening at festivals, including hugely popular performances by Hear My Eyes at the Melbourne International Film Festival (MIFF) this year. What do you think is the appeal of adding live music to cinema experiences?

These type of performances are great! Music is such a major part of a film, allowing you to deep-dive into the experience of a character, film’s story arc and state of being. Sometimes, like with Drive, or some of Morricone’s scores, I think the music can be as impactful as the film itself. I wonder about the ways seeing a score performed live puts a modern spin on the days when that was always the case (a score being performed in real-time by an organist or orchestra), and whether including this human element allows us to see the film in a new way. I think we love it because it celebrates how great the music is in so many of these films; it provides a kind of authorship, and we can see something unfold in front of us, which is potentially lost behind the screen.    

What do you want people to take away from this?

In the reviews I’ve read about Sleep Has Her House, they say that the film makes us think about an environment in which humans don’t exist. I hope the music which I’m performing for this screening contributes a sense of being at one with the natural world depicted in the film, but also around us.  I like that the film encourages us to remember that humans are just one part the ecosystem, and that we need to respect that. I hope that peaceful soundscapes allow an audience to step out of the ‘scene’ and enjoy more of a dream space.

Where can people see more of your work?

I’m lucky to have worked with some very talented filmmakers and have recently released a couple of moody, beautifully-shot music videos, working closely with Chunky Move dancers and wonderful local directors. My EP Indigo Atlas is available on iTunes and Spotify. I’m also currently recording an album which I’m excited to release later this year.

Rose Reibl will perform her live accompaniment to Sleep Has Her House at 8pm on Saturday 13 October at ACMI, Federation Square. Book now via the ACMI website.