BY: LAURA ROJAS
With a sound reminiscent of a lonely prom night, Hilotrons’ music manages to carry feeling and experience that’s hard to find in a musical landscape of bass drops and swag rap.
Based out of Ottawa, the band has roughly over a decade’s worth of EPs and LPs under their belt. Each release has successfully demonstrated their wide range of interests – everything from experimental synthesizers to mellow acoustic strums, and they have blanketed a wide range of musical genres.
This November, Hilotrons will be touring Ontario and Quebec, providing a live score to screenings of Canadian WWI film Carry On, Sergeant!
The idea of live scoring takes the symbolic expression of film and combines it with the raw energy and emotion of live music. Not only does it create a synesthetic experience for the viewer, but it also emphasizes a very important mandate of the film itself – to create an atmosphere of imagined reality that allows the viewer to fully absorb a foreign perspective. Anyone who has ever been to a show before can tell you the realness of each musical moment unfolding in front of you is something that can’t be captured on a record. There’s something about a movie from 1928 being interpreted by a band from the 2000s that just feels so right.
I got a chance to interview Hilotrons front man Mike Dubue, a guy who has been involved in the creation of music for so long that you can hear experience in the grit of his voice.
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PZ: Well first of all, what made you want to take your music in such an unconventional direction? From listening to your past albums, I definitely admire how well you guys do the mixed-genre thing, but film scoring seems like a category all on its own. Where did the inspiration for this direction come?
MD: Well, it’s not anything new to me, actually. Since I was a kid I’ve been scoring plays, six feature films, a lot of shorts. That’s kind of part of my musical background. I’ve been scoring silent films since about 2009. The first one I did was Metropolis. I’ve done scores of all the classics; everything from The Adventures of Prince Achmed, to The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari.
Maybe about two years ago I started working exclusively with Canadian content, emphasizing a lot of short films, because we only have a handful of features left in the archives. This is the first time I’ve decided not to score it from scratch and use existing music instead. It’s always been kind of a plan to do that, that’s kind of how it was done in the early days – the performer would take already-existing music and improvise. That’s the direction this is taking.
PZ: Why did you choose Carry on, Sergeant! in the first place? What was it about the film that connected?
MD: Well, this is the centennial of the 1st World War, and this is a WWI film, so we wanted to do something with that. On top of that, I also workshopped the film a few years ago.
The other thing I love about this film is that it asks the question of “why was Canada involved in this war in the first place?”. It almost has an anti-war sentiment to it, although not an anti-soldier one. I gravitate towards that. I have a lot of personal views about Canada’s involvement with war in general.
PZ: Since Hilotrons has fluctuated throughout the years, what members does your current touring lineup consist of?
MD: The band members have fluctuated in the past, but the current ones are a pretty solid structure. The touring lineup will consists of all of us – Adam Saikaley on keyboards, Alex Moxon on guitar, Philippe Charbonneau on bass, and Pascal Delaquis on drums.
PZ: What is the creative process like for film scoring? Do you find it different than when you’re writing other kinds of music?
MD: Music is music to me. I’m self-taught, but I also do have a little bit of a classical background when it comes to theory and history and orchestration. Whatever works for the job, you know? I’m a full time musician, so I score and play in many different styles of music all the time. I don’t really tend to think genre specific. For me, bouncing back and forth is nothing.
PZ: Which direction have you chosen to take the score in? What can we expect at your Toronto show?
MD: Well, as far as the music is concerned, it’s all Ennio Morricone. He’s a film composer and is without a doubt one of the greats. He’s scored more than 500 films. I know this composer extremely well, so I went through my catalogue of his own music and kind of selected what would work with the film and in which scene.
We also have an improvisational approach that is sort of rooted in a band that he was part of in the late ’60s and ’70s called Gruppo di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza. They were like a 20th century minimalist free-improv ensemble made up of a bunch of composers in Italy, Ennio being one of them. They also did film scores under his direction. We’ve tried to model this performance after that.
PZ: Are there any film soundtracks the band finds particularly inspiring?
MD: I tend to exclusively listen to a lot of soundtracks, a lot of classical and jazz, mostly instrumental music. I’m not really a fan of most modern music. Not to completely generalize— there are obviously some exceptions— but for the most part I’m just not into it. Soundtracks in particular generally inspire me. One of my all time faves is Henry Mancini’s Experiment In Terror. I’m also a giant Quincey Jones fan- I love his scores. I love all the classics, really and all the classic composers. I’m a huge Baroque fan.
I’m not really too sure how they inspire me, though. It all just kind of sinks right into me.
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Curious to experience what the live scoring of a Canadian war film feels like?
10/28 Montreal, QC – La Vitriola (Carry On, Sergeant!)
10/29 Kingston, ON – The Screening Room (Carry On, Sergeant!)
10/30 Forest, ON – Kiwanis Kineto Theatre (Carry On, Sergeant!)
11/04 Halifax, NS – Company House
11/05 Quebec, QC – L’Agitee
11/06 Montreal, QC – Cabaret Playhouse *
11/07 Wakefield, QC – Blacksheep Inn
11/08 Toronto, ON – Bloor Hot Docs Cinema (Carry On, Sergeant!)
11/09 Hamilton, ON – The Zoetic Cinema (Carry On, Sergeant!)
11/10 Picton, ON – The Regent Theatre (Carry On, Sergeant!)
11/11 Ottawa, ON – Bytowne Cinema (Carry On, Sergeant!)
11/12 Renfrew, ON – The O’brien Theatre (Carry On, Sergeant!)
11/14 Collingwood, ON – The Gayety Theatre (Carry On, Sergeant!)
11/21 Guelph, ON – Ebar
11/27 Toronto, ON – The Piston
11/28 Windsor, ON – The Phog Lounge
11/29 Sarnia, ON – House Concert
11/30 Hamilton, ON – The Casbah
See more and keep up to date on their website (hilotrons.com)