The Robbi Finkel Interview

A bit of history is in order before we start the interview.  I had made a post to the Unofficial Cybersix Message Board asking for advice on getting a music program capable of handling a certain musical idiom common in Renaissance music.  Now, just imagine getting an e-mail from Robbi Finkel, the composer responsible for the music of the Cybersix TMS animation, answering my question by telling me what program he uses in his daily work!  ("Sibelius", by the way).  I was positively floored!  I thanked him and asked him if he would be so kind as to submit to an Internet-style interview, similar to what Frundock did withBarry Whittaker, the Scenarist for the show.  He replied that, subject to his schedule, he would be happy to answer my questions and have them posted on the Internet.  I solicited questions from the board members, collated them, added some of my own, and sent them to Mr. Finkel.  It took a while, for a man of his talents is obviously in great demand, but he finally found the time to answer them.  I hope you will enjoy reading it (and at being surprised) as much as I did.  Ptah Aegyptus.

About Yourself

Q: What is your personal background, Mr. Finkel?

A I am from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and grew up there during the 50s and 60s.  It was an interesting place to live during those years because Philadelphia itself is quite a musical city and it was a time when social values were rapidly changing.  In my early teens, while studying classical music and piano, I played in a rhythm and blues group and  would also often go to the Academy of Music and watch the Philadelphia Orchestra, then conducted by Eugene Ormandy, perform.

I moved to Europe with my family when I was 16 and continued my musical studies there, at the Conservatoire de Lausanne.   My family later moved to Istanbul where I began university studies in philosophy.  I studied piano composition and orchestral direction with the then conductor of the Istanbul Symphony, Jemal Reshid Rey.  I continued my university studies at the Sorbonne in Paris and later at the London School of Economics.  London was a very exciting place at that time, a truly creative center of popular expression,  particularly in music.  By chance I met many up and coming musicians and soon thereafter started a career as a session pianist - my first session was recording a demo at the old Beatles Apple Records studios on Savile Row.  Later on I did projects for other English record labels as pianist.  I subsequently moved to Paris and was based there for over fifteen years and 'graduated' to musical director, arranger, orchestrator, composer, record producer etc. for records, film, television, and theater.

While pursuing my professional activities I also studied composition with Nadia Boulanger at the Ecole Normale Supérieure de la Musique and privately with Julien Falk. In the early 1990s,  I moved to Montréal, where I still live and where I've continued to pursue my musical activities.

Q: How did you get started writing music?  How early did you know that you had a talent like this?

A: Both my parents were pianists and I started playing piano when I was four years old.  Without wanting to sound pretentious, I can honestly say that as far back as I can remember music has always been part of me.  I have a great debt to Music.  It is a constant source of inspiration.  I consider myself to be very lucky in this regard.

As I believe is the case with many composers, my first incursion into composition was in improvising music. As mentioned above, I played in rhythm and blues and later jazz and rock and roll groups; improvisation is an integral aspect of these musical styles.  Also, arranging and orchestrating is itself a kind of compositional work.  The great arrangers of the past century such as Duke Ellington, Nelson Riddle, Billy May, et al. were also wonderful composers.    My first compositions per se were composing songs for the various artists for whom I was musical director and producer.  I also arranged and orchestrated under the same circumstances and later started composing music for film, theatre, TV etc.

Q: What did you do before you did Cybersix?

A: I suppose I've broadly answered this question above - just to say that I've worked on over 200 album recordings and singles, and have composed several film and theater scores.  If I ever find the time, I will try and get my website together.  At the moment, I have to say it's perhaps a serious contender for the world's worst website!  The reality is that I just never seem to have the time to do it, but I do hope that in the near future visitors will be able to download various bits of music I've done over the years.

The Music of Cybersix

Q: Before we talk about your work on Cybersix, I'd like firstly to convey the compliments of the majority of the members of the Unofficial Cybersix EZBoard community on the beauty of the music you composed for Cybersix.

So tell us, how did you get the job as the main composer for the show?

A: First, let me thank you for your kind compliments.  It is really rewarding for me to know that the music is appreciated by the Cybersix fans.

I was approached by the Canadian producers of Cybersix who had heard an album which I had produced, arranged and orchestrated for the Cirque du Soleil entitled 'Alègria' . The Japanese producers were also familiar with this record.  I had actually won a number of awards recently for my work on that.  I had also been nominated for a Grammy award for it.  Later, as is customary, I sent them a composite CD of various works of mine, and it was on that basis that I was hired for the job.

Q:  In polls conducted on the board, the opening theme song of the series was voted the most popular piece of the series, with the closing song the second most popular.  I believe it was you who wrote the music and Robert Olivier the lyrics.  How hard was it to come up with the lyrics and music?  What were the considerations that went into their composition?  What inspired you and Robert?  What was it like working together?

A: The background music for the series was developed prior to the composition of the actual opening and closing songs.  As regards the opening song, I used my composition of the Cybersix background theme as the basis for the song itself.  There was much discussion between TMS, NOA and  myself as regards the lyrical content of the songs before Bob became involved in the  writing process.  The producers and I ended up deciding that we wanted the opening song to be sung in the first person and that it should somehow immediately convey Cybersix's courage and sense of humanity, as well as provide an insight into her emotional dilemma, also broadly describe her perilous circumstances. It was felt that the closing song would reflect Cybersix's more intimate aspirations as a woman.

So actually, before I asked Bob to work on the lyrics, their basic parameters had already been established by the producers and myself,  i.e.what was eventually done reflected a great deal of prior discussion.  Bob and I then worked together giving poetic shape to these ideas.  Bob worked with flash cards and would write down ideas and we would then discuss these, after which we refined and distilled them into the final version.  In the case of both the opening and closing songs, I had composed the music before the lyrics were written.

Q: Are there any plans to release the full, three minute version of the opening theme song, or at least the lyrics?

A: At the present time, I am not aware of any such plans.

Q: What about the closing theme song?  It is very much different, stylistically, from the other music.  What motivated its composition?  Is it longer than what is broadcast?? Are there any plans to release it, or at least the lyrics?

A:  The  different musical style of the closing song was at the suggestion of Koji Takeuchi.  It is stylistically drawn from a certain genre of South American folk music which he brought to my attention.  I composed a song in which certain harmonic aspects of the music of  Cybersix were infused so as to create a sort of pop song with this folk style influence.  As with the opening song, there is also an approximate three minute version of the closing song.

Again I don't know of plans to release the song or the lyrics.

Q: Too bad.  By the way, what were the motivations for putting the ending theme song at the
end of "Daylight Devil"?

A: This was a production decision and I find that it works quite well.

Q: Coral Egan sang the lyrics for Cybersix.  How was she chosen?

A: I listened to a number of vocalists before deciding on Coral.  I thought that Coral's voice somehow suited the character of Cybersix the best.  Coral, who is the daughter of well known Canadian jazz singer Karen Young, auditioned for me and I submitted a demo to the producers, who gave me their approval.  It was on that basis that she was chosen.

Q: What was it like working with her?

A: Coral has a great vocal technique, and it was a fine experience working with her.

Q: Is any material she has done been released?

A: Coral is presently working on an album which, to my knowledge, has not been released yet.

Before we go on, I would also like to take this opportunity to mention the names of two of my colleagues, Jean Paré and Terry Brown, who worked tirelessly on the production of the music. Jean worked as programmer/sound technician, and Terry as recording/mixing engineer.  Both Jean and Terry have been close colleagues and friends of mine for many years, and have collaborated with me on many projects.  You may also perhaps know Terry Brown as a music producer himself  for the well known Canadian group "Rush" and many other successful projects.

Q: Was there any music that was written for the series that was not used?

A: There was some music that was not used, but the vast majority of music produced was used for the series.

Q: Was an "official" music video considered that would use footage and music from the series?

A: Again, not that I know of.

Q: I sent you a link to a music video put together by a Cybersix fan, De5perado.  Were you able to see it?  What do you think of it?

I watched the clip and thoroughly enjoyed it.  I have to say that it was a rather strange experience listening to different music synched to images so familiar to myself.  However, I thought that the cutting and general pacing were very good indeed.

Q: To this untrained ear, there are three, maybe four, basic musical themes related to the following characters: Cybersix, Jose, and Julian certainly, with perhaps a theme for Von Richter.  What characteristics of each character influenced you when writing their particular musical theme?  Also, are there musical themes for the other characters that, perhaps, are more subtly stated, or were simply not considered?

The choice of  having 'character identifying' themes or not was (as I believe is usually the case) a production decision. Generally speaking, I tried to focus on a particular signature aspect for each character that could be expressed musically, for example the  'Happy Julian' theme accentuates Julian's happy-go-lucky carefree nature - it is a light and singable theme.  By contrast, the Von Richter themes,  of which there are many variations, have a dark and sinister quality.  There are in fact several identifying themes for Julian - 'Happy Julian' , ' Sad Julian', etc.,  similarly for Cybersix, Von Richter and José.

There are also identifying musical themes for characters in certain specific episodes such as  'The Eye', where the musical theme gets bigger and more menacing as the eye gets bigger and more menacing.  There are themes for Orlando, Elaine (the Werewolf), Griselda, and for Terra, etc.

By the way, the 'Terra Theme' was used in various episodes after 'Terra'.  When Cybersix and Lucas (finally!) kiss in 'The Final Confrontation', the Terra Theme is used as background music.  It might also be of interest to know that the Terra Theme itself was written as a variation to the Funeral March which is first heard in the beginning of the Terra episode.

Q: And what about Lucas?  One would expect a "theme" for him, but there doesn't seem to be any.  Is this so, or is this fan missing something?

It is true that there is no specific identifying musical theme for Lucas - I believe the reason for this may be that Lucas's dramatic involvement in the series is largely circumstantial. As regards his romantic and personal interest in Cybersix:  when it is demonstrated, those instances are musically underlined by romantic music itself, etc.  Where Lucas is involved in the action, that action itself is always ascribable to Cybersix's adventure and therefore the action music in these instances is more referable to Cybersix's adventure and as a character - and so on.

Q: I shall certainly suffer a cruel, on-line end if I do not ask the following obvious question!  Orlando?  Which creature of Von Richter's was that? Tthe Blue Bird, The Eye, or the Mollusc of 'Yashimoto the Great'?  Or was it a character that never saw the light of day?

Orlando is a 'minor' villain in Episode #2, 'Data 7 and Julian'...He is Julian's unlikable boss... 'GET ME A WALLET!'

Q: Ah.  It has been noted that you produced an album for Le Cirque du Soleil.  Thus, it must have been interesting to write the music for "The Greatest Show In Meridiana", where Jose and Von Richter hatch a plan to capture Cybersix and Data 7 using a circus as the backdrop.  Do you believe that your work with Le Cirque du Soleil inspired this particular episode?

A: Actually, not that much.  I have however also worked for two other circuses besides the Cirque du Soleil; an album for one of these was released not long ago - Cirque Eloize 'Excentricus'.

The music for 'The Greatest Show in Meridiana" is perhaps closer in character to more traditional circus music than that of 'Alegria' - I believe that this traditional color (i.e., American style marching band - gone a bit nuts, eastern European Klezmer, French Valse Musette) better suited the episode.


Q: How was it like working with TMS and NOA?

A: It was extremely interesting working for TMS and NOA.  Our exchanges were always focussed on trying to get the best artistic result for the series.

Q: Did you ever meet with the voice actors?  If so, did the their voices or personality influence the musical theme of their character?

A: No, I didn't.

I think the voice actors did a fine job.  I actually first heard the voice work quite some time after I had started composing the music for the series, and happily found at the time that everything (voice acting, music, sound effects) seemed as though it was going to work very well together.

Q: On your website, Cybersix is mentioned first in your list of achievements.  What are your thoughts on the series?

A: At the time the website was created Cybersix had only recently been released and I was (and still am) quite enthusiastic about the series, which I find to be a very high quality production. As mentioned above,  I haven't really gotten going on my website yet but I will!!

Q: Okay, here's the question that is uppermost in the minds of all Cybersix fans: Will there be a second season of Cybersix?  What do you know about any plans for a second season?

A: I have no knowledge of plans for a second season at the present time.

Q: But suppose there WAS a second season.  How would you feel about working on it?

A: Great!


Q: Many of the following questions have been posed by those board members with musical talent who are interested in getting into the Music industry.  How did you get into making music for Television?  Did you have to do a demo?  Be recognized in another field?

A:  I have generally been approached directly by production companies themselves to compose and produce music for television.  The reason for this is probably because of my extensive experience in other areas of the musical world; sometimes producers wish to hire me because of some particular project of mine they have heard, as was the case for Cybersix.

I think we can talk about two kinds of demos here.   One would be a composite demo of previously recorded works.  A kind of musical resumé.  And the other would be a demo for the work being proposed, in which the composer is asked to submit his ideas for the project.

Q: What is the demand like for musicians in Television?

A: I think the demand is probably increasing due to the apparently increasing volume of television production.

Q: What's the usual way for a young person to start a career making music for television?  What sort of education is required?  Are there any interviews, auditions, or demos that have to be done?

A: I think it's usually difficult for any musician to embark on a career.  What I always tell younger musicians is:  if you have musical talent, love music enough, and you keep at it, some day something good will come of it.  If one doesn't have any professional experience, perhaps a good idea would be to record a demo with original material and try and 'shop' this around to production companies and/or agents.  I must say that I am giving this advice,  but I've never been terribly good at doing this myself!

I would recommend that young musicians listen to and read about as much music as possible, and that it be as varied in style and period as possible.  I would say that the more education, the better, but formal education itself is only a starting point.  Being a composer and a musician necessitates a constant learning process.

Regarding composing music for film, television, theater, etc.: I believe that it is also important to have as extensive a general cultural background as possible, particularly with a view to absorbing knowledge of drama and acting, reading and watching plays and films, etc.

Q: What would be your recommendations to a young person in high school?  What schools do you recommend, if any?

There are many fine schools of music.  I suppose one has to decide whether one wants to attend craft/conservatory type schools which, generally speaking,  are oriented towards getting the nuts and bolts of the musical craft together regarding skills. Alternatively, there are university musical faculties,. which seem to focus more on general and historical academic related areas.  Many universities, however, also offer the conservatory/craft oriented courses.  It's up to the young musician to decide which system suits their interests best.


Q: What other projects have you worked on or are working on now?

A: Since Cybersix, I have composed and produced the music for a number of multimedia games and theater productions and have also produced albums for various Canadian artists. I am currently working on a production for veteran Canadian rock star Michel Pagliaro and am composing and producing theme songs for a European animated series.

Q: Is any of your music available as sheet music or CDs?

A: I'll be detailing all of this on my website referred to above.  I hope to have this up and running very shortly.

Q: Thanks again, Mr. Finkel, for spending the time to answer our questions.  I (and the entire Cybersix fan community, I am sure) wish you good fortune and great success in your future endeavors.

Thank you for your good wishes and for your interest in the music of Cybersix.  I would also like to thank all of the Cybersix fans for their interest and enthusiasm.

Beethoven is believed to have said "What comes from the heart goes to the heart."  If any of you have somehow been inspired by Cybersix, my contribution to the work on it is truly rewarded.

Endnotes and personal observations

Well, this has been a treat, hasn't it?  Mr. Finkel's information about the repeated use of the Terra theme, and in such a significant place and time as the kissing scene in "Final Confrontation", especially excited and intrigued me:  Much food for thought!  And the use of the closing theme in the last few scenes of "Daylight Devil" was truly inspired:  As an American, I never saw the last two episodes until after the videos were released.  That was at a time when the hope and faith for a second season began to be sorely tried.  To have continuously heard the closing theme for 11 episodes as a normal closer, and THEN to hear it in "Daylight Devil", knowing that the next episode would be the last for a very, very long time, was literally heartwrenching.  This old man cried.

The depths and intricacies of the show, the comics, and the character never fail to astound me.  Surely, as the years and decades pass, the effects of  hype, advertising dollars, and marketing muscle on artistic judgment and criticism will fade to nothingness in the minds of those who will be qualified to write the histories of animation.

When that day comes, they will say that, in all the creative and artistic aspects that are timeless, Cybersix was truly the peak of the animator's art at the close of the Twentieth Century.