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How Cate Blanchett Immersed Herself In Music For Her Transformative Performance In 'TÁR'

Photo: Steven Chee

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How Cate Blanchett Immersed Herself In Music For Her Transformative Performance In 'TÁR'

"I was unprepared for how much it would shift me off my axis," Cate Blanchett says of the new musical language and world she inhabited for her starring role in 'TÁR.'

GRAMMYs/Nov 14, 2022 - 02:19 pm

"I was unprepared for how much it would shift me off my axis in a wonderful and deep way," Cate Blanchett says of her work on the sublime new film TÁR. The Todd Field-helmed film centers on the actor’s performance as the titular conductor, a woman navigating conflicted power dynamics and personal struggles while also attempting to write an orchestral masterwork.

As the film delves deeper into her psyche, that dreamlike music seems to consistently ring out just past the edges of her hearing. Paired with a score from Hildur Guðnadóttir (in her first film since her Oscar-winning composition for Joker), Blanchett’s performance allows TÁR to stretch and mold across revelatory levels of realism and tumultuous emotion. 

A big part of building to that point came in Blanchett’s quest to submerge herself not only in orchestral music, but in the language of music — an experience which has changed her entire world. "Since completing production, I have felt an enormous orchestral-shaped hole in my daily life," she tells GRAMMY.com. 

Where other "music films" relish the big performances, the epic expression, TÁR presents unique look at the other side of musical creativity. As Lydia Tar, Blanchett gives the audience access to the innermost thoughts and feelings that occur in rehearsal rooms and practice spaces. With that unique vantage point, in a world where everything is inherently political, Blanchett and TÁR ask the audience whether they separate the art from the artist. The film, too, asks whether the artist can achieve that feat themselves.

Fresh off the national theatrical release of TÁR, the celebrated actor spoke with GRAMMY.com about how preparing for the film impacted her personal life, the unique communicative skill of the conductor, and the film’s complex study of power dynamics.

The phrase "losing yourself in the art" has almost become a cliche, without thinking about the emotional impact that that kind of commitment will have on an actor. Before you took on this role, did you think about what kind of impact it would have on your day-to-day life and your psyche?

I was ready and hungry for the opportunity to approach the ideas so dangerously alive in Todd Field’s screenplay, but I was unprepared for how much it would shift me off my axis in a wonderful and deep way. I have never had a static sense of identity — maybe that’s why I’m an actor. So I have never feared losing myself in anything.

However, this was such an immersive and electric project, I feel somehow newly minted by it. I’m still tingling from the intensity of it all. You are laid bare in ways through your work that you can’t fully comprehend, but that you should comprehend — and that is often deeply confronting.

What was your familiarity and interest in classical music coming into this project, and how has your understanding of it changed over time?

This was a deep dive for me. Prior to this project I was a classical music tourist. I fear I still very much am, but I needed to understand the map of the canon and the institutional wrestle to bring it into the contemporary listening experience in a way that was deep and authentic. Additionally, [I needed] to be able, as much as humanly possible, to understand the secret language of musicians and composers.

All I can say is, since completing production, I have felt an enormous orchestral-shaped hole in my daily life, so something has certainly shifted. To be honest, it’s hard to discuss as I’m still processing how to incorporate the deep aspects of the musical experience into my everyday life and work.

How did learning the intricacies in the language of music and composing differ from learning an accent or language for another project?

They are very similar processes. Technical and muscular at first, but then one has to throw away the homework and just converse. Music is a language after all, and as a conductor one gets to express umpteen lines simultaneously and bring them all together. What a powerful skill!

I loved the line in the beginning of the film where your character mentions that the only real discovery is in the rehearsal, never in performance. Does that sentiment resonate with you as an actor? 

When I was at drama school, I adored rehearsal and felt too exposed by turning it all out in the performance. Over many years on stage, I have learned to relish the performance — the ephemeral, truly temporal nature of it all. The danger. I love the cut and thrust of being part of an ensemble in dialogue with an audience [that] gets to go out each night to discover something fresh.

The role and the film have a lot to do with power structures, something we don't always keep in mind when we are listening to music or watching a film. Do you think the film would have the same reception or focus if it weren't for its timing in regard to public reviews of people in power?

Art transcends politics, it transcends the quotidian, yet it can work through and beyond these boundaries whilst still touching on both experiences. That is its power. It does, as you suggest, transport us.

The film is, amongst many other things, an examination of power which is much more ancient and urgent than a critique of zeitgeist-y subjects like "cancel culture." I find it very hard to define this film. In fact, I’m loath to. I’d much prefer others to see it open-heartedly and discuss it amongst themselves.

Read more: 'TÁR' Composer Hildur Guðnadóttir On Making Music For A Film About Making Music

Obviously, you worked with a lot of musicians in this role, but how did you interact with Hildur Guðnadóttir's score?

It was integral to my understanding of the character. Lydia Tár is a composer in the midst of a composition while she is more celebrated as a conductor, but passionate about finding her voice in this form. The fact that she dedicates this piece to her daughter — the primal relationship in the film — is an indication of how central the composition is to the understanding of her emotional core. Hildur was alive to this and innately understood the performer vs. composer push and pull.

Was that something that was utilized while you were on set at all, or only something you discovered later? 

We discussed what this composition should be at length in pre-production, as I wanted to fold its sound and ambition into my own preparation. I wanted to know what Lydia was reaching for. I also needed to know the piece as Todd had written several scenes where Lydia was returning to the piece, playing it, finessing it, obsessing over a misstep in the composition — finding herself in "pastiche."

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'TÁR' Composer Hildur Guðnadóttir On Making Music For A Film About Making Music
Icelandic composer Hildur Guðnadóttir attends the 'TÁR' red carpet event during the 60th New York Film Festival

Photo: Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for FLC

interview

'TÁR' Composer Hildur Guðnadóttir On Making Music For A Film About Making Music

"Every film is a universe," Hildur Guðnadóttir says of her composing work. For 'TÁR,' the new film starring Cate Blanchett as a difficult conductor with a tempestuous life, Guðnadóttir explored the process of rehearsal as much as the music itself.

GRAMMYs/Oct 31, 2022 - 06:13 pm

The drive for sublime communication and its breakdowns sits at the core of the dizzyingly immersive film TÁR. Written and directed by Todd Field, the film revels in its study of a high-profile classical composer attempting to write her own masterpiece while simultaneously fighting through noise and conflict — often of her own making. The always-magnificent Cate Blanchett turns in a tour de force as Lydia Tár, while the unparalleled sound design demonstrates how even the smallest intrusion can pick and pluck at any shred of calm she hasn’t already destroyed with her own choices.

In her first score since her Oscar-winning work for Joker, Hildur Guðnadóttir faced the unenviable task of writing music for a film about a music virtuoso. But rather than merely attempt to write the career-defining music at the story’s core, the Icelandic composer masterfully crafted a score about the act of rehearsing, making, and struggling to make music instead. 

"That's what I find so unbelievably interesting about music," Guðnadóttir says. "What you hear as the final version is just the very tip of the iceberg because, behind the music, are so many years of practicing, rehearsing, failed attempts."

The result is a score that haunts the film’s edges: the chatter of musicians, wordless vocals, and snippets of music as viable and important as any concerto or symphony. "It's almost like an invisible layer, as if there's a ghost in the room that you can feel, but you don't see," she explains. The music represents one layer of an intricately stratified sonic whole, roiling at all the right places and darting out of sight at others.

TÁR was released nationally on Oct. 28, alongside a concept album on the legendary classical label Deutsche Grammophon (a vinyl release, and international release of the film, will come early next year). The GRAMMY-winning composer spoke with GRAMMY.com about "tempo mapping" each character and scene before a second of the film was recorded, and the difficulty of representing a conductor’s role via music.

How does it feel to be finally sharing the finished product of all of your work?

Oh, it's feeling wonderful. It's amazing how the film seems to be speaking to people. When you finish a project, you never know what life it's gonna have beyond the finish of post-production. 

When you're writing music or recording or creating something, you're having this conversation either with yourself or with other people. In the process of making a film, you're obviously having a large conversation with quite a few people. When what you're working on actually reaches the audience that you're speaking to,as in any conversation, it always really feels lovely when you feel like you're being heard. 

It feels really lovely to feel that the conversation is actually continuing, like the audience is resonating with what you're saying, and continuing that conversation actually. 

And that's an absolute testament to the film and the work that you did. There are so few places in the music world where communication is as important as it is for the conductor. It was so striking listening to your score with that in mind and thinking about the communication breakdowns that run through the film. 

Music is just communication. It's a conversation that goes beyond words. A conductor can use words to express, like, "Okay, it should be in this tempo" or "imagine this when you're playing," but then what's actually being performed or rehearsed or what's being composed goes beyond that. And that's what I find so unbelievably interesting about music, especially about the process of making music. It's so much more than just what you end up hearing. 

What you hear as the final version is just the very tip of the iceberg because behind the music are so many years of practicing, rehearsing, failed attempts, having to re-record takes, all of this. And that's the part of music that I almost find more interesting than the actual track or record. As a performer, that's something that I've thought about a lot: How do you just connect to an audience without having to tell them how? How do you just reach that subconscious level of communicating without having to say anything about it? 

And I think that's what the film is dealing with in such a beautiful way. The frustrations that Lydia Tár is experiencing in the film [have] so much to do with the miscommunication and misalignment with her own musical drives, and what she actually wants to be doing. The music that she's writing…is from a completely different world from the music that she's conducting and that she's best known for. And that's bringing her to this tough place. 

That's probably why she subconsciously works so hard at tearing that down and coming back to the place that she genuinely wants to be working from, which is a place of softness and experimentation. In the very early stages of the script, this was one of the main ideas that formed her character: Where does her actual music that's not this frustrated, angry version of her — where does that actually lie?

Where does it lie for you? Having followed your music for a while, it's clear that it's a natural, living thing for you. How do you approach a project like TÁR that requires that kind of emotional connection and communication?

I try not to work on many projects simultaneously. That's why I basically haven't been working on that many films. I think most people were expecting me to do, like, 10 films a year with a big crew of assistants and all of this after the success of Joker. But that's just not really how I work. 

I really enjoy taking enough time for every single project that I work on to really be able to live in the universe that we're creating. Every film is a universe of a story that's being told. And for me to really fulfill my creative needs, basically, I need to have the time and the space to live in that world, in order to serve it best. That means that I can't really work with a whole bunch of assistants and a lot of people that I have to navigate. I have to be by myself a lot with a project to be able to really be honest to it. When I take on a project, it's important that I really feel like I can honestly bring something to the table that is of benefit to whatever's being told. If I'm just taking on a project to sprinkle some underscore, it doesn't fulfill my creative engine in the same way. 

Like with TÁR, when I can really work from the script on and I can really be a part of the strands of the DNA of the film, the character building and the temp mapping of the whole film, that's when it's really interesting to me. Music is just such a powerful part of the storytelling process. Having the music existing parallel to the making of the film and getting to grow with the making of the film is just so much more fun for me than running after an edit and post-production.

You live in Berlin, which is also where the film is set. The city has such a powerful musical lineage. Was there any particular inspiration or touchstone that inspired you there?

Yeah, absolutely. What was quite important was that the music and the film was European. From the geological aspect of the film being set in Berlin, it really felt like the music needed to be as European as the setting. 

Tell me a little bit about the concept album — which combines recordings of Gustav and Mahler, which Lydia conducts in the film, with your vision of the completed versions of her compositions. How did you initially conceive the project and how it would live alongside the film?

I thought it was incredibly important for this record to exist, because the film itself is all about the process of making music. We're really looking at what it is to write the music, what it is to rehearse the music, but we never actually really hear the music. We just hear snippets of it. 

That's what's so beautiful about the film: that's not the important part. The important part is the process. It's such a rare opportunity to be able to work in that way. But it felt like the music still needed to exist as it's finished form. In the film she's working on a release for Deutsche Grammophon, so we thought it was just very important that we did that in reality, in our parallel universe. I recorded the finished version [of the music in the film] and there are also pieces [from] the tempo mapping of the film that Todd and I did with the script before they started shooting. We started by tempo mapping each character and the scenes. And then also there's parts of Mahler that Cate is conducting. And there are also snippets of me talking to the orchestra during the recordings, telling them the emotional direction that I imagine would be helpful for the recordings. 

It was a rare and beautiful thing to get to do, this whole musical universe, all of the aspects of music that are so important and so necessary, but the parts that someone that's not a musician will probably never be privy to. There's a lot of score that you don't actually hear. So it's almost like an invisible layer, as if there's a ghost in the room that you can feel, but you don't see.

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Hildur Guðnadóttir Wins Best Original Score For 'Joker' At The 2020 Oscars

Hildur Guðnadóttir wins Best Original Score at the 2020 Oscars

Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images

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Hildur Guðnadóttir Wins Best Original Score For 'Joker' At The 2020 Oscars

She is the fourth woman in the Academy Awards' history to win the category

GRAMMYs/Feb 10, 2020 - 11:16 am

Icelandic musician and composer Hildur Guðnadóttir won Best Original Score for her score for the 2019 film Joker at the 2020 Oscars. She is the fourth woman in the Academy Awards' history to win the scoring category and the first to do so in more than 20 years; Anne Dudley, the last woman to win the category, notched the scoring Oscar in 1998 for her work on the 1997 British comedy The Full Monty.

In her acceptance speech, Guðnadóttir nodded to the lack of female representation in the scoring field. “To the girls, to the women, to the mothers, to the daughters who hear the music bubbling within: Please speak up,” she said, "we need to hear your voices."

Guðnadóttir has been making history this year for her scoring work. Earlier this year, she became the first solo female composer to win the Golden Globe Award for Best Original Score and the BAFTA Award for Best Original Music. Last month at the 62nd GRAMMY Awards, she also won a GRAMMY for Best Score Soundtrack For Visual Media for her work on the HBO drama "Chernobyl."

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All counting, Guðnadóttir has won a GRAMMY, an Emmy, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA Award and now an Oscar in the past five months, according to Deadline.

In addition to her scoring work, Guðnadóttir has performed and recorded with rock, experimental and electronic bands like Pan Sonic, Throbbing Gristle, Múm and Stórsveit Nix Noltes. She's also toured with experimental pop band Animal Collective and experimental metal group Sunn O))), in addition to her solo works.

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5 Takeaways From RM's New Solo Album 'Indigo'
RM performing at the 2022 GRAMMYs.

Photo: Rich Fury/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

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5 Takeaways From RM's New Solo Album 'Indigo'

BTS leader RM makes his official solo debut with his first studio album, 'Indigo,' which showcases a new level of artistry from the rapper.

GRAMMYs/Dec 5, 2022 - 08:03 pm

Like many of his BTS cohorts, RM has shown off his solo musical talents long before this year. His first mixtape RM came out in 2015, capturing the rapper's raw hip-hop roots. His second mixtape Mono was released to critical acclaim in 2018, when BTS were just scratching the surface of their worldwide domination. But this year took RM's solo efforts to the next level with his first-ever studio album, Indigo. 

Across 10 tracks, RM's official solo debut documents the multilingual rapper, producer and singer/songwriter's journey through his twenties. Meshing Korean and English, his reflections about life under the public eye weave through genres and moods organically. And with diverse collaborations — from R&B legend Erykah Badu to fellow South Korean star parkjiyoon — to boot, RM uses Indigo to bring fans deeper into his expansive musical universe.

Now that the highly anticipated project has finally arrived, take a look at five key takeaways from RM's debut studio album, Indigo.

It's Connected To The Art He Loves

RM is known for being a lover of nature and fine art, and that is reflected within Indigo. Promotional photos for the album featured Yun Hyong-Keun's painting "Blue"; RM is known to be a supporter of the late South Korean artist, so the rapper's inclusion of the work shows the intentionality behind his debut — musically and beyond. 

He isn't afraid to mesh artistic mediums, and the sonic and stylistic choices made reflect this. From then sampling Korean Hyong-Keun's reflection on Plato's humanity in the opening track "Yun" to even titling a song "Still Life," the inspiration is present. RM may have refined taste, but he makes it easily digestible through his music.

It's A Reflection Of His Life Up To Now

According to RM himself, Indigo serves as a diary of the last three years of his life. Even so, the album's messages can be a blueprint for anyone going through a transitional period in life, thanks to RM's honest, open-minded and unfiltered lyrics. 

On "Lonely," he candidly exudes his frustrations over a tropical beat. "I'm f—king lonely/ I'm alone on this island," he raps. He later sings, "So many memories are on the floor/ And now I hate the cities I don't belong/ Just wanna go back home." 

The contrast between the song's upbeat melody and longing lyrics provide a dichotomy that perfectly captures the highs and lows of fame. That's a theme that carries throughout the album, further showcasing why RM has become so admired by his fans and peers alike.

The Features Tell A Lot About His Artistry

Eight of the 10 tracks on Indigo are collaborations, all of which display RM's love of diverse genres and musical eras. They also reflect the caliber of artistry RM has reached — he got Erykah Badu! — as well as his ability to bridge the gap across borders. Along with Badu, he teamed up with two other R&B stars, Anderson .Paak and Mahalia, along with several Korean artists: Paul Blanco, Tablo, Kim Sawol, Colde, youjeen, and parkjiyoon. 

There's A Song For Everyone

Many praise RM for his ability to touch people with his leadership qualities and words, and this album may just be the strongest example of that. The project is noticeably more upbeat than Mono, but RM still takes time to break his emotions down lyrically. 

His first verse on the opening track "Yun" declares "F-k the trendsetter, I'ma turn back the time," setting the tone for how RM feels artistically. Then, the high-energy track "Still Life" with Anderson .Paak expresses joy and resilience, proving that one can still stand tall despite difficulty. As he says to .Paak on the track, "S— happens in life, but what happens is what happens."  

Overall, Indigo shows off RM's versatility in a much more impactful way than his previous mixtapes. This album is about the art of music, not breaking records or following trends. It feels like an exploratory culmination of various emotions, moods, and experiences, which helps each track feel relatable in a different way. 

There's A Lot To Look Forward To

RM displayed an immense maturity in his artistic expression through Indigo. He explores emotions both good and bad, but what remains throughout the entire project is a lingering feeling of hope for a better future. 

RM has always been a symbol of hope and grace as he has served as the spokesperson for his fellow members, both musically and in the public eye. But now, RM is getting to express himself for himself — and if Indigo is any indication, this is just the beginning of his journey inspiring the masses as a soloist.

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Herbal Tea & White Sofas: Juls' Must-Have Tour Item Is An African Instrument That Doubles As A Stress Reliever
Juls

Photo: Mahaneela Choudhury-Reid

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Herbal Tea & White Sofas: Juls' Must-Have Tour Item Is An African Instrument That Doubles As A Stress Reliever

The producer and DJ introduces fans to his kosh kash — a pocket-sized, egg-shaped instrument that is so versatile, he carries it with him everywhere when he's on the road.

GRAMMYs/Dec 5, 2022 - 06:59 pm

Juls — also known as Juls Baby, and born Julian Nicco-Annan — is perhaps known best for his work as a producer, helping create hits for acts like Burna Boy, Mr. Eazi and GoldLink. But the Ghanian-British producer and DJ is also a touring act who plays sets around the world — and he makes sure he has his trusty kosh kash with him.

In this episode of Herbal Tea & White Sofas, Juls introduces viewers to the egg-shaped African percussion instrument, which is also known as a Kashaka. The pocket-sized instrument is made up of two small gourds bound together by a string, and makes a rhythmic, rattling noise when shaken. It serves a lot of purposes, Juls explains.

"It's kind of like a shaker. It's kind of like a stress reliever when I'm preparing tours. It also helps me to make music," he says. "So any time I have an idea, I just record it on my phone in Voice Memos. I carry this everywhere I go when I travel."

Another mainstay of Juls' tour rider is "one of the best drinks in the world: Supermalt," the artist continues. "It's like a malt drink, made of wheat, with other things like added sugar and starch."

The non-alcoholic and caffeine-free malt beverage first originated in the early 1970s and served as a cheap energy source for the Nigerian Army. To this day, it's still an Afro-Caribbean staple — and now, a road necessity for Juls. "Definitely need to have that on the rider," he adds.

Press play on the video above to learn more about Juls' road essentials — plus how he prepares for his shows every night — and keep checking back to GRAMMY.com for more new episodes of Herbal Tea & White Sofas. 

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