Qi - The Documentary (Original Soundtrack)
Qi: The Film Score
Liner notes by Randall D. Larson
Dennis Ho’s 2018 documentary Qi demystifies the Chinese concept of energy known as qi (chi) by identifying its various properties and their empowering effects on human physiology. Ho has been an avid student of qi throughout his life, a passion he has continued exploring as a qi advisor and filmmaker. “During the last two decades, I’ve studied and practiced classical feng shui and became a practitioner of Chinese energetic healing,” said Ho. “The idea of bringing these concepts to a western audience was quite refreshing after decades of producing projects for Hollywood studios, networks, and program syndicators. My goal was to define qi, a very arcane concept, for a western audience in a comprehensive, logical, and relatable manner.”
As he was developing this film, Ho reconnected with composer Jerome Leroy, who had previously composed the music for the director’s debut, the award-winning fantasy/drama, A Better Place. “I think composers and I bond very well, maybe more so compared to other filmmakers because I have a degree in music composition and theory; so communicating musical ideas is certainly less challenging,” Ho explained. “On Qi, as with all collaborations, we had a number of back-and-forth discussions and, in the end, Jerome’s brilliance pulled together the perfect blend of eastern and western modalities to appeal to a global audience.”
To accommodate this musical balance, it was decided that the score should feature an instrumentation that was reminiscent of Asian cultures, yet could stand on its own as an accompaniment to a universal spiritual journey. “One of the core tenets of qi is that this energy source is in all of us, whether you believe in it or not,” said Leroy. “While this concept has deep roots in Chinese and pan-Asian cultures, it was important to avoid making the music too ‘Asian-centric.’”
To that effect, Leroy chose to substitute traditional Chinese instruments with Western ones: instead of an erhu, he used a solo cello (performed by Tina Guo), and instead of bamboo and wood flutes, he used a set of concert flutes (bass, alto, and regular flutes, all performed by Gina Luciani). The mixture of Chinese musical flavors speaking through orchestral instruments familiar to western audiences supports Ho’s concept of portraying qi’s Chinese origins through a universal lens.
“An important element in the philosophy surrounding the concept of qi is the idea of a constant energy loop,” said Leroy. “I decided to represent this with various orchestral motors on three acoustic and processed pianos (which I performed myself), on harp (performed by Lara Somogyi), and other various percussive instruments.” Another element the composer wanted to underscore was qi’s raw potential for power, strength, and depth—when it is properly harnessed. For that, he used thunderous world percussions such as frame drums, dolhs, toms, taikos, and various bass drums. “Obviously,” Leroy explained, “the goal was for all these separate concepts (energy, power, healing, strength, etc.) to blend so they would sound and feel musically balanced and interconnected.”
Both Ho and Leroy wanted the score to offer a kind of spiritual journey in tune with the film’s portrayal of qi’s life-changing potential. “To musically connote this impression,” said Leroy, “the score ranges in style from simple, repetitive, quasi-minimalistic pieces to epic moments featuring solos, percussion, and synth beds, and various metallic percussive touches.” In so doing, the score tracks the varied benefits and real-life implications of learning to harness qi.
“One of the interesting aspects, for me, of working on this film was that I had limited knowledge of qi before I started writing, and creating a score representing all the facets of such a wide-ranging concept felt daunting at first,” Leroy said. “Luckily, the documentary is very thorough in its exploration of qi, and the process of finding ways to musically illustrate its various philosophical implications quickly became extremely rewarding.”
Music Composed and Produced by
Cello solos performed by
Flute solos performed by
Harp solos performed by
Cello solos recorded at
Robert Irving Studios, Woodland Hills, CA
Assistant to Composer
Amit May Cohen
Visual Sounds & Music, Los Angeles, CA
Album Art Direction
Thanks to Perrine, Joachim, and Alice; Dennis Ho and Kassi Crews; Tina, Gina, and Lara for bringing their talent and soul to this score; Robert Irving, Armin Steiner, Christopher Tin and Casey Stone; and to all the Qi masters featured in this film whose timeless words deeply inspired the creation of this score.