Alexandra Stréliski has HBO to thank for the kind of advertising campaign any musician would kill for. At the time of our interview, the U.S.-based channel had just broadcast the final episode of Sharp Objects, Jean-Marc Vallée’s most recent mini-series, in which some recent Stréliski compositions are featured. In the season finale, viewers can catch a glimpse of the cover of Inscape, Alexandra’s yet-to-be released album, on the iPod screen of Camille Preaker, the character played by Amy Adams. “What’s worse,” she says, “is that, except for the scenes I scored, I have yet to watch the series myself! I’m waiting for a break so I can view the whole series in one sitting. I did this for Big Little Lies, which I watched after everyone else had.”
As you might surmise, Vallée, the mini-series’ director, is an early fan of Alexandra Stréliski, having used tracks from Pianoscope (2010), her first, self-released album, in the major Hollywood motion pictures Dallas Buyers Club and Demolition. Nothing unusual there, for this film music specialist, who spent many years working in advertising. Although she’d found fulfillment in that profession for a long time, she eventually hit the wall of professional burnout, and was forced to ask herself what she really wanted out of life. Her introspective album title, Inscape, describes her descent into her inner landscape. And the fact that this album contains a piece called “Burnout Fugue” is no accident either… “In a fugue, you find multiple melodic voices, and this is exactly what happens with a burnout, when you find yourself confronted with all kinds of sentences that play inside your head, non-stop,” says Stréliski, adding that she wrote that piece in a distressed state.
In spite of the inner storm on which she was feeding, the resulting music – underpinned by solo piano – has an enveloping, soothing effect. For lack of a better word, that music style is called “neoclassical,” a term that appeared some hundred years ago, and that’s now been dusted off to apply to an instrumental music genre appreciated by lovers of all music genres. The musicians associated with that genre today are almost exclusively pianists such as Jean-Michel Blais and Chilly Gonzales in Canada, and Olafur Arnalds in Iceland, a handsome coterie inside which Alexandra finds herself most comfortable. “This label doesn’t bother me in the least – I’d even say I’m claiming it for myself!” she says emphatically. “When I met Jean-Michel Blais, it was as if I had come face to face with my cosmic twin. We all have – and I certainly include Gonzales in this group – common points: we all studied music and rejected the strict side of academe.”
That explains why this music is more emotional than intellectual. It attempts to arouse emotion in audiences, rather than seducing elitist listeners with an avant-garde approach. The reasons why this accessible, evocative, and graphic music is such an inspiration for a filmmaker are no mystery. Stréliski is the first one to say that there’s nothing groundbreaking in her melodic approach, and she’s delighted to be reaching such a wide audience. “I think that the use of the piano has a lot to do with it,” she says. “It’s a magical instrument that touches people to the core.”
With the release of Inscape, Stréliski is poised to step into the light by performing a show she describes as “intimate, poetic and immersive.” And while she’s busy creating her own universe, she fully intends to keep creating musical pieces to fit other people’s images. “Eventually, I’d like to create a project with live singers, but my goal is to keep working in film above all else,” she says. “I love people who have a very strong visual signature, people like Michel Gondry, or Wes Anderson. But I would also just love working with Denis Villeneuve!” Something tells us her phone will be ringing for some time to come.