Without even knowing it, you hear Laurent Guardo’s music everyday. Perusing the long list of theme music he created for TV and radio shows, one realizes he’s the man responsible for such well-known themes as Desautels, La Facture, Musicographie, and many, many more for broadcasters and channels such as Radio-Canada, RDI, MusiquePlus, Musimax, LCN, Canal D and Canal Vie, to name but a few.
Throughout his decades-spanning career, the composer, wordsmith and producer has built a solid reputation for himself that has earned him several SOCAN Awards in the TV Music category. Yet, it was a split-second decision he made when deciding what to study in cegep that saw him on his path to a career in music: “I wanted to take up science, but for some reason, at the very last second, I chose to study music instead! I studied classical percussion at the Conservatory and then a bachelor’s un Music at Université de Montréal. One of my teachers, Massimo Rossi, encouraged me to explore writing. He told me a completely lacked any technique but that I had great ideas… One thing led to another and I started composing, and then things really started to take off about eight years ago when I won a competitive bidding to be in charge of the musical themes for the news programming of Radio-Canada and RDI. That kept me very busy for four years!”
“Up to now, I’ve been quite lucky and the people who hired me pretty much gave me carte blanche.
It’s not hard to imagine that creating the musical theme for radio and TV shows is a very constraining process and that there probably are quite a few people who have their say in the final result. But despite all that, Laurent Guardo has constantly managed to preserve his distinctive signature: modern and dynamic, yet warm with a subtle tinge of world beat. “Up to now, I’ve been quite lucky and the people who hired me pretty much gave me carte blanche. Beyond the actual content of the program or its time-slot, I base my work mostly on the emotions that the creators wish to communicate. The result is that, sometimes, even though I’ve been asked for something quite techno, I’ll come back with something that’s played solely on acoustic guitar. Despite that, since the intended emotion is communicated through the music, the client is satisfied. The goal of the music is more important than the style of music or instrumentation, ultimately.”
As a matter of fact, Laurent prides himself in using mainly real instruments – including a few traditional Balinese ones he found during his musical peregrinations – instead of the widespread use of sampling and sound banks. “Some sampling can be wisely used, and I do use it myself every now and then The danger with samples is that there comes a point when everyone is using the same few sounds. Everything ends up sounding the same. When I use samples, it’s mostly sounds that I sampled myself from my own instruments which I then transform into something those instruments can’t produce. I use samples to give those sounds a twist, a colour or a shape that would not be possible otherwise. But if I use a sampled cello instead of my real cello, it’s obvious that the real cello will always sound a thousand times better. I think it’s a bit silly to use sample, especially if it’s only to avoid having to hire a musician and save a few hundred bucks…”
Laurent Guardo’s last few months, however, have seen him moving from command music between a second and a half to 45 seconds to complete creative freedom on tracks reaching nearly 10 minutes for his first album, Songs of Experience. For this trip hop and lounge influenced album – entirely self-produced, it must be said – he called upon some of the best collaborators one can dream of, such as Paul Brochu, Ranee Lee, Éric Auclair and Mary Lou Gauthier. The result is a sensuous and ethereal music that becomes the lush aural tapestry to pre-romantic poet William Blake’s (1757-1827) writing.
“The themes Blake wrote about in his poems are timeless and universal, says Guardo. They were very relevant themes at the end of the 1800s and they still are to this day. Childhood innocence destroyed by adults, the intolerance of religious fanaticism, the forces of nature, life going by, love… But beyond that, his writing has an intrinsic rhythm that I’m attuned to, to me it’s almost like the music is already in the words. Each track on Songs of Experience is like a a sound movie that tells the story and emotions that I perceive in his poems.”
In addition to that album’s follow-up, entitled Songs of Innocence – an album where, the artists says, his world music influences will be even more present and that he wishes to release within a year – he is also collaborating with Daniel Lavoie on an album of Renaissance music for which he composed all the music and wrote all the lyrics with the exception of two poems by Rimbaud. That one will be titled La Licorne captive. “It’s a long haul project and, about 18 months ago, Daniel Lavoie agreed to sing all the tracks that were inspired by old legends. There are all kinds of ethnic percussions and a mix of modern and ancient instruments such as viol and archlute. It’s almost done and I hope to release it soon. It is, however, the type of project that requires patience…”
Laurent Guardo is undoubtedly a craftsman and a composer whose body of work – beyond the jingles we all know and hum – deserves to be explored.