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The Whimsical Genius of Yann Tiersen

Pianist and composer Yann Tiersen performing in Spain
Calendar June 22, 2016

Yann Tiersen is a French pianist and composer best known for his magical score for the 2001 film Amelie. But the 45-year-old composer is no one hit wonder.

Along with soundtrack work for Amelie and Goodbye, Lenin, Tiersen is a respected composer in his own right, with his most recent album Infinity (2014) receiving widespread critical acclaim and audience appreciation. Though popular in his homeland of France since the late 90s, Tiersen only emerged on the world stage after Amelie – since then he has been pushing his art forward in leaps and bounds, never content to rest on his laurels.

The Composer Who Isn’t a Composer

Despite being world-renowned as a composer, Tiersen himself hates the term and considers himself more a punk and D.I.Y. experimenter. Despite being classically trained in piano since the age of four, and violin since the age of six, Tiersen has been quoted as saying:

“I am more a product of post-punk than classical music . . . I like to have fun, to do what I was doing when I was 15 – the music is not the same, but the energy is more or less the same.”

Surprising Techniques

Hearing Tiersen’s ethereal, transporting music it is easy to believe it must be the product of other-worldly meditations or deep theoretical knowledge. But surprisingly, Tiersen’s creative process is more centred on what’s best described as ‘play’.

For example, when writing Infinity Tiersen went to a studio in Iceland with no solid musical ideas at all, just a collection of toy instruments and some electronic beats he’d created previously. The album emerged from experimenting with different sounds and instrument in front of his laptop and in the studio.

“I ended up with kind of a surprise each time,” Tiersen has said of the writing and recording process.

Staying Grounded

One reason that Tiersen’s music stays so vibrant and evolving is his constant touring. Never content to sit in a studio, cut off from humanity, Tiersen is constantly in front of audiences, gauging their response to his music and connecting with the people who make his livelihood possible.

Wild Frontiers

Yann Tiersen’s current work transcends everything that came before in its scope and vision. Several years ago, Tiersen was cycling through the wilderness of California with his fiancée when they were set upon and pursued by a mountain lion. They were chased for five hours before reaching safety.

“This event changed my perception of life and nature forever,” Tiersen writes on his website. “I realised that at that exact place and time we were nothing but food for a beautiful cat on his land and, by extension, that what we are is always relative to where and when we are.”

An Album like No Other

Out of this experience and the changes to perception it wrought, came the idea for the World Cycle album, to be written and recorded entirely outdoors in wild places. Part of the process is a world bicycle tour undertaken by Tiersen to find inspiration, places to write and record, and to perform at festivals, cafes, bars, and in the great outdoors along the way.

You can follow the progress of Tiersen’s bicycle tour and the recording on his website.