The Sonic Poetry of Michel Cusson, Composer of Odysseo CAVALIA

The Sonic Poetry of Michel Cusson, Composer of Odysseo CAVALIA (6)
Courtesy of Michel Cusson

Twelve years ago, Normand Latourelle created the imaginative world of Cavalia, featuring acrobatic and equestrian techniques that expose the Magical Encounter Between Human and Horse. The production company’s second show, Odysseo, has now arrived in Orange County and backed by popular demand, they will be extending the spectacular through March 13th.

Odysseo launched in 2011 and has already enchanted the eyes of over 900,000 people. The viewer is taking on a journey to the natural wonders of the world— waterfalls, glaciers, and canyons— as humans and horses enter a fifth dimension slated between fantasy and reality. Under the Big Top, which is the first of its kind and can accommodate 2,000 people, you will find 70 horses that have traveled from Canada, France, Spain and throughout the U.S. to perform alongside 45 human beings. The horses are trained to look to the acrobats for cues, but are also deeply steeped in the emotion of the music. Michel Cusson is responsible for composing the poetry of the soul, a composition that is never fixed and always responding to the horses mood of the moment.

The Sonic Poetry of Michel Cusson, Composer of Odysseo CAVALIA (8)EXPAND
Courtesy of Odysseo CAVALIA

Cusson grew up in a little town outside of Quebec called Drummondville. “At the time we didn’t have much to listen to so it was mainly radio. I discovered music mostly with my father, a violinist and cello player. Next I fell in love with many guitar players and discovered The Monterey Jazz Festival. I learned music by listening to records and teaching myself, although there was no instrument at the time. Later I studied music and today I consider myself half self-taught and half trained” Cusson says.

Famous rock bands like Pink Floyd fed his hunger for music and at the age of 15 he founded UZEB, a jazz-fusion trio. The band toured over 22 countries and was prominent for 14 years. “In the first part of my career, I had long hair and sang a Miles Davis cover of Blue in Green. That was also the time I met the founder of Cavalia because he was managing a famous band that UZEB was opening for.”

Cusson’s unquenchable thirst for music lead him to Montreal’s McGill University and later Boston’s Berklee College. As he continued to fall in love with music from around the world— African, Latin American, European— garnering skills for how to play and write music, he decided it was time to tackle music for picture. “My jazz-fusion background helped me creatively to be curious about all kinds of music and go really deep into continuously learning about them. I had friends that enjoyed my music, at the time, and they worked for independent producers. They gave me a shot and I did my first film [Wild Autumn ’92]. But what really started [my career] was when they asked me to do a TV series called Omertà. It was about the mafia in Montreal and it became iconic here. The thing about composing in Montreal is that you can wear many hats. I bring my performing and film experience to Cavalia and Odysseo. I can sit in the house and feel what you need to underline the music. A film is fixed— once the picture is locked it will never change. But the world of Cavalia is always changing; every night, music has to evolve” Cusson explained with pizzazz.

For Cusson, the writing begins with a few key words that bring color to the emotion. After the idea is formed, there is a lot of back-and-forth to structure a piece with the performers and horses. “The process is quite mysterious," he says. "They ask me to give them dreamy music, they try it, then film it, and give it back to me."

For Odysseo, there is a lot of improvisation and Cusson changes the music on the spot, so he had to figure out how to start with an 18 minute number and sometimes squeeze it into eight. "My job is to watch the emotion and produce a voyage, sometimes there is more action, other times is poetic or dreamy, but the musical director and musicians follow the horses actions. It is very exciting because you are always on your toes. The performer knows what to do, but when  you see the show [as a viewer] you just feel the synchronistic of energy.”

The Sonic Poetry of Michel Cusson, Composer of Odysseo CAVALIA (7)EXPAND
Courtesy of Odysseo CAVALIA

In between making tweaks to Odysseo and composing for ventures around the world, Cusson has also released a new album titled Solo. ”I was walking on the beach and saw this women throwing her family photo album into the ocean. I was shocked! The photos were going away and there were two or there people trying to grab them. Then everyone left and I was left with all the photos. I couldn’t leave them there so I took them home, put them in a box, and forgot about them."

Three years later, he opened the box and discovered the pictures and built a musical show and album around them. "The moving picture is apart of me now," he says. "It comes from my gut and if I ever feel stuck on one thing, I’ll switch to another. For Odysseo I am thinking about Spain because of the proudness of the horses gestures; I think of long melodies. There is always a cue if you listen for it and it’s like a muscle. I bike or go to the gym everyday and writing for me is the same thing” Cusson says. 

To experience “carte blanche” as Cusson puts it and identify with the magnification of emotions within this uplifting show, be sure to catch Odysseo while you can. The original score is available for purchase only inside the Big Top. 

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