Figure Skating Music
14 February 2018
Putting Their Mark on Olympic Skaters’ Music
Behind the Music of 49 Olympic Figure Skaters in Pyeongchang.
They are the music origin for the boundary-breaking North Koreans skating to the distinct voice of Ginette Reno in Pyeongchang. Behind Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir’s World Record. Music designer, Hugo Chouinard, put his mark on the music of 49 Olympic skaters’ programs along with composer, Karl Hugo, who collaborated on most projects.
The adventure started 25 years ago. At first on their own, but destiny soon brought these men together. Hugo Chouinard, a St-Jean native, is at the helm of Studio Unisons a.k.a. Sk8mix where he creates about 2000 audio mixes annually for figure skaters and artistic swimmers.
His work consists of adapting a song reaching both Olympic and artistic direction demands. “I create the base,” explains Chouinard who was once a National Team figure skater himself. “The coaches and choreographers give me their ideas and concepts. Sometimes they have their music, other times they only have a theme and don’t know what music to choose.”
They develop a concept together then, conduct experiments alongside the coaches and choreographers playing with the set up and structure of the program. Chouinard explains that with the new judging system in figure skating, there’s a symbiosis between the music and the skater’s technical requirements. Plus it can bring higher scores.
“We organize our choices in such a way that music sections match the elements, spin, step sequence, etc.,” Chouinard explains. Interestingly, Hugo Chouinard often works with one of his own choreographers from his heyday, Julie Marcotte. “We then have to adjust the whole to the time length of each element…How long is the step sequence? It’s all counted to the nearest second. At the Olympic level. We play with seconds and half seconds.”
Many of the creations at Studio Unisons, need the intervention of composer, Karl Hugo. Starting out with the likes of Isabelle Brasseur and Lloyd Eisler in the 90’s, he can very well add some instrumental music, a rhythm, or modify beginnings and endings.
His work is done at three different levels whether it’s composition, adaptation, or adding orchestrations and arrangements. “Music should have distinguishable pulsing so the judges can count it,” explains the musician. “I often add choruses, symphonic orchestrations, for example, in an a capella song or add a punch to an ending. All this adds to the theatrics.”
For instance, Canadian pair team Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford chose Adele’s song ‘Hometown Glory.’ The crux of the piece was notably modified by adding two string orchestrations giving it a breath of fresh air.
There is obviously a tight frame of music for the athletes to work in. But priority is to adapt to their mentality and personality. “After that, it becomes mathematics. They’re music equations to fit within time limits, certain elements happen at certain places so the whole remains esthetic.”
There are rule constraints and from the athlete as well. He continues, citing the example of endurance varying at certain skating levels over the span of a career. Other times, restrictions can be about adjusting to the order of emotions that skater feels within the program.
In the case of the North Koreans, Hugo Chouinard proposed the work of Ginette Reno so as not to conflict with any regional values, morals or politics. The lyrics were inspected with a fine tooth comb by the athletes’ support system who were very happy with his choice.
Their clientele is worldwide. So much that Hugo Chouinard’s studio is adjacent to his home so he can meet the demands that can come at all hours of the day considering time differences and occasional tight deadlines.
“We are constantly in survival mode,” admits Karl Hugo who works independently from his own studio lab. “They can change everything one week before a big competition. I have to then modify or recompose quickly. We are at the service of the athletes.”
Especially during an Olympic year. Hugo Chouinard works with world class teams ever since he collaborated with Olympic medalist, Jeffrey Buttle in 2004.
The Musical Designer Hugo Chouinard and the composer Karl Hugo collaborate since 1993.
(Photo Le Canada Français, Kim Valiquette)
© 2018, Isabelle Laramée, Le Canada Français. All Rights Reserved.