The Parisian film score composer, director, and music producer Christophe Chassol is on the brink of something big–but it’s been a long time coming. In 1980, at the age of four, he was admitted to a French conservatory and stayed their studying music for sixteen years. Between then and the release of his 2012 debut LP, X-Pianos, Chassol worked making music for television and advertising, eventually finding his way to artists like Sébastien Tellier and Phoenix. Three years and just as many albums later, Chassol spent time at London’s Abbey Road studio with Frank Ocean collaborating on his much anticipated follow-up to 2012’s Channel Orange, breathing new life into his extraordinary, multimedia vision of music.
As a score composer, Chassol recognized that music in film often serves a singular purpose: to express, convey, or illustrate a feeling that the film itself cannot. With this is mind, he invented the “Ultrascore,” what he defines as a “visual and sound object made from pieces of reality.” These Ultrascores play out as feature-length films, directed by Chassol, which provide a visual counterpart to his albums. He treats the footage, and its accompanying sounds, as instruments in their own right, looping and elongating and bending them at his will to create striking interplays of music. The phenomenal 2013 LP Indiamore was Chassol’s first of such attempts.
Chassol‘s Ultrascore concept was instigated by the advent of YouTube. When the video sharing website first launched, he immediately recognized its limitless potential as a database for visuals and sounds he never would have had access to otherwise. On his first full-length release, the X-Pianos double LP, he sourced footage and sounds from miscellaneous YouTube clips, like “Indiankidz” and “Russian Kidz,” interpolating them into his densely arranged piano compositions to extract the inherent musicality of images chosen. Chassol is especially concerned with the human speaking voice, how to sculpt musical soundscapes around a simple phrase or word or speech. These vocal harmonization compositions, which quickly became a signature of Chassol’s sonic style, aren’t immediately satisfying but they instill within you a growing fascination for the possibilities that this music can achieve. Like this unreleased track that flips and loops a brief clip of Obama singing the first line of Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together.”
Chassol‘s most recent LP, Big Sun, is visually the most striking of his projects so far. The album picks up with a few vocal harmonization sketches, most in his native tongue of French, some even mimicking the high octave melodies of birds. But the entire record seems to revolve upon Big Sun‘s lead single “Reich & Darwin,” a swirling six-minute piano romp that builds as an alluring, hype-worthy neo-soul instrumental. Most of his records operate similarly, as if they’re consciously building towards these climactic tracks nestled toward the end of the track list. In this way, the narrative arc of his albums, even when removed from their Ultrascores, seem more like films.
In a live setting, Chassol sits behind his piano and screens segments from his various Ultrascores project on stage. He often performs alone, using pre-recorded music from the Ultrascore as a loose blueprint to extrapolate upon, so the live performance is yet another expansion of sound. Watching him perform, sharing the aural workings of his brain, you get the sense that he’s trying to unveil a new vision of life with his audience, how truly remarkable music can be derived from the most ordinary sounds, the most conventional of sources.