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Belgium: The Vinyl Frontier

Alain Pierre - The Fearless Composer

A feature film normally uses about 750 fragments of music. For John The Fearless, Alain Pierre used 1238.

Interview Diederik Decroix
Photographs Tim Onderbeke (B&W) en Diederik Decroix

Yes, I managed to get the wrong Alain Pierre on the line for an interview. I was not far off though. Not only do they share the same name, the guy who picked up the phone was also a composer, be it a couple of years younger than the Alain I intended to call. When I told the ‘real’ Alain what happened, he said he knew the guy. Apparently, his parents attended one of his concerts in Verviers and were so impressed they named their son after him. “And he became damn fine guitar player by the way,” the ‘real’ Alain adds.

Playing the soundtrack for the very first Flemish full-length animation film John The Fearless (1984) brings up memories long forgotten. I immediately feel young again. That’s because the music, composed by Alain, really made that movie. To recognize and celebrate that feat, the soundtrack for John The Fearless was released on vinyl and Alain performed his music live at Filmfestival Gent 2016. We have Ziggy Devriendt of Stroom TV to thank for the release on vinyl. His brand new label, called Stroom, wants to highlight forgotten and unreleased Belgian heritage. The soundtrack for John The Fearless is the very first release, music worthy of the attention, even after all these years. 

Alain feels weird about all the attention. It flatters him, and he feels so proud about the fact the church bells of Ghent played his music throughout the city on the day he played in the most beautiful Vooruit at Filmfestival Gent 2016. On the other side, he thinks it’s kind of sad the film didn’t get more attention when it was released all those years ago. Alain put his heart and soul in that soundtrack, he really gave it his all. The numbers to prove it? A feature film normally uses about 750 fragments of music. Alain used 1238.

Weirdly enough, Alain wasn’t director Jef Cassiers’ first choice. Toots Thielemans was first, and even composed a few songs, but could not continue due to other obligations. Meanwhile, when rough drawings became moving images, Cassiers’ idea of the soundtrack had also changed. He wanted it darker, more exciting. Alain’s style of music was the perfect match. “It was a love story,” Cassiers said. “And Alain is a real romantic. An ideal match.” When Alain played him the main theme, Cassiers was over the moon. “That was it!” 

Alain composed, arranged, played and recorded all the music himself. Amazing! - Jef Cassiers

At that point, Alain had also recorded all of the sound effects and voice overs. He knew the film inside out. “Alain composed, arranged, played and recorded all the music himself. Amazing!”

But the influence of Alain reached further than the soundtrack alone. He lived next to the BRT building, and his studio was the BRT café. He knew everyone. That’s how he introduced Cassiers to Jan Decleir, Dora van der Groen, Nolle Versyp and Jef Burms. There was no money left, but everyone lent their voices as a favor to Alain.

On the cover of the record Alain also refers to all the devices he used while recording. There’s a little mistake though. A few days before a customer of Music Mania Record Shop pointed out that the sampler Emu EmaX hit the market in 1986, so it would have been impossible for Alain to have used it. When Ziggy talked to Alain about it, he could not believe it. After some research he concluded it had to be the Emulateur 2 instead.

The drums you hear in ‘Intro + Thema’ and ‘Het verhaal over Kludde’ are in fact an iron box. Only with those kind of attributes Alain could generate the right sounds. Computers with endless possibilities didn’t exist back then. He recorded 16 tracks of drums, and mixed them into one. Composing a soundtrack was hard work!

Alain thinks it’s a pity that during post-production the soundtrack was put in the background, but at the time he didn’t think too much of it. He was already knee-deep in another project. Typical of Alain, a passionate professional who’s always working on something. During his career he wrote the music for more than 500 feature films, short films, theatre and documentaries. In Belgium and abroad. You could call him the Belgian Ennio Morricone, but he won’t like that. He’s way too modest. Morricone is one of Alain’s idols by the way. He finds the way Morricone stays original within his own style most admirable. And that admiration goes both ways apparently, as he learned when they met at Morricone’s performance in Ghent some time ago.

Jean-Michel Jarre and I used to have the same booking agent, Francis Dreyfus. He called Jean-Michel ‘Le Dieu Noir’ and me ‘Le Diable Blond’. - Alain Pierre

John The Fearless became an international sensation and spoke to multiple generations. Even in 2016, as became clear at the screening during Filmfestival Ghent 2016. But most of all, Alain was looking forward to play live again. It had been 16 years. When he was attending the funeral of Edgar Froese, tons of people approached him about performing again. That’s what he liked best about making music. When composing he had to follow the directions of the director. When playing live, all was left to his imagination.

Live, Alain still uses his old equipment. Most of it, as there were growing mushrooms in some of them. Alain can still play them like before. He knows them inside out. Also, Alain’s best friend and right hand man Paul Martin built a synth especially for the performance in Ghent. That concert was an experimental eargasm. Alain really pushed his synths and machines to the limit, looking for the right effects and the most amazing sounds. He didn’t play the John The Fearless soundtrack, as it is too complex to be played by one man. He did however pay tribute to Jef Cassiers. “A good soundtrack is only possible with the right director. And Jef was the right man for the job.” After the show fans and friends jumped on stage to catch a glimpse of the marvelous pieces of musical machinery.

Alain always plays live. Sadly, nowadays dj’s mostly play pre-recorded tracks. But Alain predicts they will use more and more old school synths and machinery to perform live, something Armin Van Buuren is already working on for example. It’s the only way to put some emotion back in their sound. And that is what music is all about.

www.alainpierre.be
Bandcamp 

Jan Zonder Vrees (BE/NL)
John the Fearless - Entire VHS tape with commercials