Animated Views has an excellent interview with French Celtic singer Cecile Corbel, who wrote the music for The Borrower Arrietty. As it turns out, she is a devoted fan of Studio Ghibli, and quickly opened a dialog with Toshio Suzuki after sending a copy of her latest CD, Songbook Volume 2.
The interview is short but to the point, and it's an enlightening read. Here's the obligatory blog clip:
AV: How do you explain their coming back to you?
CB: Everything happened pretty quickly. Less than ten days after I had sent the CD, I received an email about it. A series of coincidences led to the fact that Ghibli producer Suzuki-san received that envelope and opened. He later told me that it was because it was hand-written, which is really rare. Another thing he rarely does is put the CD into the player, since he’s used to receiving dozen of CDs. Anyway, he did it at a time when the production of Arrietty was at its very beginning and he was wondering about the score.
He knew he wanted something with a Celtic flavor since the original story by Mary Norton is slightly connected to that culture, but he had no more idea about it. He said he was seduced from the very first notes at the harp and by the sound of my voice. Then, he showed it to the director, then to their partners such as Yamaha, which is always involved in their soundtracks. So, I received an email ten days later, and one month after that I was receiving the first elements of the movie. It went pretty quickly, that was so amazing. I wasn’t even expecting a feedback!
AV: What kind of elements did you receive?
CB: That was the early steps of the production. I just received Miyazaki-san’s script, Mary Norton’s original book and early concept art regarding the characters and the settings.
AV: Then, what did you write first?
CB: At first, my only assignment was writing the main title, Arrietty’s Song. Yonebayashi-san, the director had sent me some poems he had written and that were translated for me in English to help me find inspiration. That song had to focus on the character of Arrietty and introduce her in a way. Then, I sent my demo with a certain anxiety via internet, and they asked for a second one, then a third one and up to ten songs! And by 2009, I was on for composing the whole score of the movie!
AV: How did you approach that score?
CB: It was very thematic. One theme can be devoted to one character, but also one environment like the garden (which is very important in the film) or the house. All these themes were derived from the songs I wrote first.
AV: That’s an interesting way of creating a score!
CB: Studio Ghibli always proceeds that way. They always start with songs. With those songs, they produce what they call an “image album” that is released months before the film’s released and that is used as inspiration for the artists working on the film. For Arrietty, I wrote many songs, and we kept 14 of them. And the instrumental themes are derived from them. Anyway, there are quite many songs in that film!
AV: That’s quite unusual for a Studio Ghibli film!
CB: We thought a lot about that aspect. The fact is that the film is no musical comedy like the Disney animated films. No character is actually singing. But as they made some tests with my songs, they realized it was interesting to use my voice as an instrument like any other, the lyrics being secondary.
AV: The color of your voice leads us through the film, just like the harp, I guess.
CB: Yes, the harp is the main color of the score. It represents the sparkling and magical aspect of the film, and is strongly connected to the character of Arrietty.