Just recently I had the opportunity to speak with composer Karl Frid about his work on the movie Pleasure. Karl Frid studied classical music at the Royal College of Music in London with trombone as his main instrument, before making a musical U-turn. He went to study Afro-Cuban music at the CNSEA in Havana, Cuba before finishing his studies in Afro-American music at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm. Since then, he has worked as a full-time freelance musician, composer, arranger, and producer. His vast knowledge in music ranges from classical and jazz to Latin, hip-hop, and pop music.
Since 2011 Karl has been working closely with his brother, Pär Frid under the name Frid & Frid. They primarily write music for film and TV and have scored several features and TV series of different genres. In 2018 they were nominated in the Best Music category at the Swedish Film Institute “Guldbaggen” Awards for their score for the documentary Citizen Schein.
Karl’s latest work for film is the feature Pleasure, by Ninja Thyberg, which was in the official selection of the Cannes Film Festival 2020 and later premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2021, where it received outstanding reviews with special mentions of the score. At the Gothenburg Film Festival, the film was awarded the FIPRESCA Award by the international critic’s jury. The score is a mixture of sacred choral opera and hip-hop.
I hope you enjoy our conversation about the movie Pleasure!
- How did you get started as a film composer?
I’ve always had an interest in film and film music. During my last year of my studies at the Royal College of Music in Stockholm, I took some extracurricular classes in many different fields and one of them was scoring for film and games. I found it very fun, creative, and exciting to be able to create tension and different emotions to picture. But it wasn’t until a few years later when I teamed up with my brother Pär and started Frid & Frid that I really got started with scoring for film. At first, we did some commissions for children’s television and ads, and then we got to do more extensive and challenging projects.
- How did you get connected with working on this movie? What drew you to it once you saw it?
Pär and I were approached pretty late in the process, about a month from the intended final cut. We had worked with the producers Erik Hemmendorf, Eliza Jones, and Markus Waltå before and they asked us for a meeting with Ninja and sent us a rough cut of the film without any temp music. I remember I was just knocked out by the strength of the film and the fresh and raw look into this special universe. It was so liberating with this obvious and genius take on the female gaze. At the time, Pär was tied up in another project, working on commission for a symphony orchestra, but I was so taken by the film that we decided that I would do the score by myself.
- How did you come up with the idea to juxtapose sacred opera and hip-hop in the score for Pleasure, that’s not a genre pairing you usually encounter in a soundtrack. What’s the story behind this, I really like how it all turned out.
I had such a great collaboration with Ninja. It was a collective process of problematizing, analyzing, discussing and testing different angles and ideas. We had many long discussions about the patriarchal structures being displayed in the film, about female empowerment, and about our own preconceptions about the porn industry. The idea of mixing sacred choral opera with hip-hop beats came quite early in the process. We talked a lot about finding the inner voice of Bella, and about how she pictures herself, opposed to how the patriarchal society perceives her. This became the musical manifestation of the Harlot vs the Madonna. Heaven or hell. The hip-hop also represents the self-image of the female porn actresses as “bad ass,” with full control over themselves and their surroundings, and we found the clash between the hip-hop and the sacred opera very interesting.
The film has so many layers, and I was constantly reminded and enlightened by Ninja about all the different meanings and details. The film is also changing between many different storytelling techniques – social realism, dark comedy, and elevated scenes in slow motion almost seductive like a music video. We wanted to explore the sounds of the female body and the orgasm, and found this correlation between the fake orgasm and opera, as it’s not a ”normal” way of singing, rather a theatrical, constructed expression. There was also a reference to Hildegard von Bingen, a German nun in the 12th century who composed choral works for nuns. She was also pretty cool since she was pretty outspoken about female sexuality and actually is supposedly the first person to have written the first description of the female orgasm, with her text ”Causae et Curae.” She’s also been known to have had a positive and relaxed view of sex and often opposed to the church’s tendencies to demonize female sexuality.
- On a related note, are there any themes in the music for specific characters? Or does the music not go in a thematic direction?
Yes, there are. The ”Confutatis” theme, along with “Voca Me Cum Benedictus,” and ”Oro Supplex” are all Bella’s themes – symbolizing her journey in the porn industry and manifesting her innocence and self-image. “Fata Viam Invenient,” is the theme of her antagonist Ava, and “Una Gioia Sempre Viva,” is written as the friendship theme of Bella & Joy, and also works as Joy’s theme.
- Were you given any specific directions on what to include in the film’s soundtrack?
Not from the start. Ninja wanted an epic score and a unique and special sonic universe for the film. The music should be a statement and a character in itself. It was also very important that the score wasn’t generic or tried to push emotions or judgment on the characters. Music that shouldn’t always go with the emotions but rather be a juxtaposition on what we see on the screen.
- Were there any musical ideas you tried for the score but ultimately abandoned because they weren’t working out?
Oh yes. The first sketches I made, featuring cello, all turned out too generic. Haha, so I had to restart and find a different angle. But that was great. I think it’s often better to try something out and realize that it doesn’t work, to help you find what does. If you don’t eliminate different options, you’ll have a much harder time finding what you’re looking for.
- Did the pandemic affect the recording of the score at all?
Yes, but not necessarily in a bad way. For one, it gave me more time to work on the score. It also limited my resources, which I often find, from a creative perspective, can be really inspiring and force you to explore and push the limitations rather than if you had all the choices in the world. Since so many concerts and events were cancelled during this period, it also meant that Caroline had a lot of time and could be at my disposal in a way that would have been unlikely under normal circumstances as she is often very busy. Which was great for me and the score. It created space for us to go into this creative bubble. Of course, at the same time things were really rough for so many of my fellow colleagues and musicians and times were really uncertain.
- How much time did you have to work on the music?
At first, not that long, but because of the pandemic, with cancelled festivals etcetera, I got more time to work on the score. I would say that in total I was working on it for about four months.
- Excluding the voices, is any type of traditional orchestra used in this soundtrack or is it all synthesized?
No, for this score there are no traditional orchestral instruments involved. I basically created the score around the voices of Caroline Gentele and Sofia Kappel. Then, I used those recordings as samples from which I built different voice synthesizers and drums. Apart from that, I basically worked with different 808 samples and drums as well as the Moog Grandmother synthesizer which I find myself returning to for every new project I’ve done since I bought it.
- Do you have a favorite piece in the score?
I think my favorite piece is “Una Gioia Sempre Viva,” because of its warmth and meaning. But I also like the other pieces a lot. Then, of course, I LOVE the rap tracks I created together with Mapei and Ludvig Klint – “Una Gioia,” “Hard to the Core,” and ”Good Girl/Bad Girl.”
I wanted to say thank you to Karl Frid for taking the time to speak with me about his work on Pleasure. I hope you enjoyed this interview, and have a great rest of the day!
Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460
Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)
Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂