I'm always excited by the work of the Palme D'or winning film score composer, Cassis B. Staudt. Our paths crossed inadvertently, by chance, of course, when Cassis got in touch to let me know about that I'd mis-captioned an image featuring her working with Swans' Michael Gira. So archetypally OUTSIDELEFT! And now here we are still. Cassis latest film is the award winning German documentary Searching For Fritz Kann (more info here). Marcel Kolvenbach's documentary Searching For Fritz Kann, which traces the footsteps of his grandmother's first husband: the German Jew Fritz Kann who was murdered in the holocaust. Cassis' non-diegetic music absolutely lends a profound weight and lightness all at once to the screen, otherwise unfelt. Cassis appears onscreen herself briefly too with her trusty accordion. You'll see. It's a film I can't recommend highly enough. It is certainly a difficult but beautiful film. Sensitive, full of yearning for the truth and with revelatory details too. Ahead of a hometown screening in Berlin, Cassis talked to us via email about her work on the film.
OUTSIDELEFT: The music seems quite experimental. What was your approach?
CASSIS B. STAUDT: Marcel Kolvenbach, the director, asked me early on to write music for his film which was very personal. It was important to him to give his three collaborators – all women – as much liberty as possible. In my case I got the following notes:
Akkordeon als zentrales Instrument und Basis fu?r die verschiedenen Sound-Ebenen:
- Akkordeon - atmen, spa?risch experimentell, auch scary und verzweifelt, du?ster, haltende to?ne, die verhauchen
- Akkordeon Klezma / Zigeuner Style / on the road, fahrig, unpra?zise, skizzenhaft in sta?ndiger Bewegung?- Akkordeon Tango zum Abschluss, ein Schimmer Hoffnung in der neuen Welt
Accordion as the central instrument and the basis for the different layers of sound:
- Accordion - breathing, sparsely experimental, also scary and desperate, gloomy, holding sounds that fade away
- Accordion Klezmer / gypsy style / on the road, erratic, imprecise, sketchy in constant motion
- Accordion Tango to finish, a glimmer of hope in the new world
In addition we talked about the accordion representing three cultures:
Schlager (I wrote a song – 40s style – that I interpreted in a reenactment)
Klezmer (I had written the main Klezmer/Gypsy Tune called ‘Chico’ already in the 90s. Oddly enough I wrote the song inspired by poems that Marcel had written. The instrumental version of the song I had already recorded in the year 2000. Miraculously it fit like a glove)
Argentinian Tango (My mission was to infuse the tango with elements of Klezmer)
OL: The music was nominated for an award in 2022: The Deutscher Dokumentarfilm-Musikpreis. Why do you think that happened?
CASSIS: What is unusual about the music is that it uses voices in an experimental kind of way and that is imbedded in my artistic sound design. Not only did I record my own voice whispering, sighing, uttering sounds of fear – I also recorded the voices of my choir Electric Choir. They sang long lasting notes (which we recorded under Corona restrictions with physical distance in the hallway of our building) and also put themselves in the shoes of the thousands of Jewish people that had to wait in the deportation hall for several days, thinking they would go on vacation but ultimately leaving for an unknown location which we know today was a concentration camp. The choir interpreted the situation and we recorded vocal noises and sounds of worry.
On top of that I recorded the director and his children, both are featured in the amazing scenes choreographed by Reut Shemesh. Alicia’s innocent young voice is leading into the main credit of the film. Marcel’s voice is barely noticeable but really special: an endless hum that marks the background atmosphere of his father’s studio. The studio was built on set and shot with a feature film look by great DP Katja Rivas Pinzon. The hum is an integral part of my artistic sound design that I custom created for the film to produce an immersive atmosphere.
OL: How much music did you come up with? Did you hire other musicians?
CASSIS: The entire score is close to 60 min. which is a lot for a 90 min. documentary. I recorded and played it all myself except the recordings with the choir and the tune ‘Chico’ which I had recorded with my band in the 90s.
Thank God we had the great sound designer Wolfram Burgtorf with whom I worked closely. His sound design and my artistic sound design were intertwined. He was open to the sounds I brought in and made musical: for example fluttering bird wings and disruptive hits on wood that added to the feelings of being trapped. This gave it a sense of never knowing what would come next resulting in a sense of fear and claustrophobia.
OL: We asked the director Marcel Kolvenbach to say something about your collaboration, I'll add it here...
"I knew the soundtrack was an essential part of the storytelling and the accordion as instrument was key to connect the Klezmer universe with the Tango elements as well as the German narrative of the 40s. Knowing Cassis’ work as an artist and she knowing me and this project for many years, I wanted to invite Cassis to find her artistic expression as musician to my search. The rest of the process was like a dance, like a Tango. I feel deep gratitude for Cassis’ amazing contribution."
OL: Where can we see Searching for Fritz Kann?
CASSIS: The film won the Lüdia of the Kinofest Lünen in November 2022. Therefore it will be screened during this years Berlinale on Monday, February 20th at 7.30 pm at Hackesche Höfe Kino in Berlin Mitte (OmU). Tickets are available here⇒ or here⇒
OL: We know you are always up to something! What is next for you?
CASSIS: After ‘Searching for Fritz Kann’ I was able to write another close to 60 min. score for the great documentary ‘Adam and Ida’ that also addresses the Holocaust. The film is still available until September 26th, 2023) to watch at ARD Mediathek (only available in Germany). The director Jan Tenhaven starts the film with my choir giving voice to the many that died. View here⇒ (available outside Germany).
Currently I am finishing a feature film for prime time German TV ARD: an 8.15 pm Friday night film which will also feature my choir.
Via the EU grant mindchangers and thanks to The Bear Storytelling Group I am bringing my experimental plant music to Buenos Aires in March...
We'll be bringing more news about Argentinian Plant Music very soon, stay tuned!
Cassis B. Staudt's website is here⇒
A Bunch of Five at Outsideleft is here⇒
Cassis B Staudt Week in Outsideleft is here⇒
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