Mica Levi invites the audience to experience the tone of films through powerful music

Mica Levi, also known as “Micachu”, was born just outside of London to a record collector and a professional cellist. Growing up, music was a way of life. Micachu played the violin since she was old enough to hold one, and attended the Purcell School on a scholarship given by the Music and Ballet scheme. After finishing Purcell, she went on to study composition at Guildhall School of Music and Dance, where she was awarded another scholarship. Here, she met Raisa Khan and Marc Pell, who later together formed “Micachu and the Shapes”. 

In 2009, she and the band created their debut album “Jewellery”, which won critical acclaim. In 2011 they collaborated with leading contemporary orchestra, “London Sinfonietta,” and recorded the album “Chopped & Screwed” using unconventional handmade instruments in front of a live audience at King’s Place. In 2012, she and the band released their second studio album “Never”. This was recorded and produced solely by Micachu and the Shapes in Pell’s makeshift studio. They are known for using unusual instruments, often household items such as vacuum cleaners, to make their music. In “Never”, the band accompanied their music with self-directed and produced music videos for each track. She is also the youngest artist in residence at London’s Southbank Centre. 

Mica Levi has composed for several on screen projects. She began with Under the Skin (2014), directed by Jonathan Glazer and starring Scarlett Johansson. This odd film follows a young woman, or rather an alien disguised as a young woman, luring men into her van. She drives around Scotland seducing unsuspecting men, only to have them sent to another dimension as just meat. However in the film, Johansson’s character starts to wonder about humanity. Under the Skin starts in total darkness, so the only sense that the audience uses is hearing. This means the viewer is totally immersed and focused on the music, which consists mainly of strings. Levi took inspiration from John Cage, strip-club music, and euphoric dance. She uses a mix of tremolos and some sul pont (on the bridge) for the string instruments, which creates a weird, other-worldly atmosphere. The sounds compliment the visuals of the film. Alongside the strings, there’s a type of whirring sound, almost like a generator. The strings play high pitches and harmonics, which can be piercing to the ear. Throughout the film, the music starts to become more dissonant; note values are doubled, the music is slowed down, she includes the use of canons, etc. Levi’s score and development of it in Under the Skin really makes the viewer uncomfortable. For this film, Levi was nominated for a British Independent Film Award in the Best Technical Achievement category for her music in this film, and was also nominated for a BAFTA. Under the Skin won 24 awards and gained over 100 nominations, 25 of those achievements were thanks to Mica Levi, for example, her winning a Boston Online Film Critics Association Award for Best Original Score.

In 2016, Mica Levi wrote her second most prominent film score for the film Jackie, starring Natalie Portman. The music is so heavy in its importance to the film that it creates a ‘layer of fantasy’, according to Levi herself. The intimacy of the music in Jackie focuses on the emotional and psychological aspects of the story. The strings melt in the very beginning with just a black screen, no visuals. The music in this story following Jacqueline Kennedy post-assassination of her husband, the President, is powerful. It isn’t an overpowering presence, but rather provokes and focuses on the internal emotions and psychological effects the events had on the people. The sustained minor chords in the strings that come back throughout the film reflect the sadness of the events. The music in a minor key is laced with major chords, as if to remember happy memories, only to have them tainted by tragedy. The dissonance in some of the sections echo the panic and confusion of the situation. The melting strings come back, reflecting Jackie being overwhelmed. Jackie earned Levi her second BAFTA nomination. She was also nominated for an Oscar, making her the fifth woman ever to be nominated in the film score category. This emotional film won 44 awards and 165 nominations, 33 of these accomplishments were thanks to Mica Levi.

As well as working on albums with her band and feature films, she also composes for shorts, such as Delete Beach (2016) and The Fall (2019), and a TV documentary, Ceremony: The Return of Friedrich Engels (2017).  It has been confirmed as of December 2019 that Mica Levi will be writing the film score to dark comedy thriller Zola.

© Sophia Jin (07/20/2020) FF2 Media

Feature Photo: Natalie Portman in Jackie (2016)

Top Photo: Mica Levi

Middle Photo: Scarlett Johansson in Under the Skin (2013)

Bottom Photo: Natalie Portman and Billy Crudup in Jackie (2016)

Photo Credits: © 2015 David M. Benett; Stéphanie Branchu, Bruno Calvo; 2014 – StudioCanal

Tags: Mica Levi, music composition, Sophia Jin

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Katusha Jin
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As Contributing Editor at FF2 Media, Katusha Jin interviews filmmakers, write features and reviews, and coaches interns. She grew up in the UK and studied briefly in Russia and China before moving to New York for college. Graduating magna cum laude from New York University, Katusha majored in Film and Television at Tisch School of the Arts with minors in Business and Philosophy. She has worked as a producer, director, writer, and composer for various award-winning projects including short films, branded content, independent features, and music videos.
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