In an interview with The New Yorker, Mika Levi describes how she was struck mute during a two-hour segment on an internet radio show that she was guest hosting. Instead of beguiling listeners with her wit and charm, she diverted attention to the music and the music only. This moment is telling of her aversion to the spotlight. She’s an awkward interviewee and it’s blatant both from reading the interview and from the interviewer constantly noting how awkward she is.
In spite of this quietness, her music is making a loud entrance in the film world, after already having gained some momentum in the alternative/electronica circuit. She did not actively seek to work in film but her contribution to 2013’s Under The Skin lifted her out of obscurity and landed her a spot on many top film score lists. She seems to be a natural fit. A haunting mix of low thuds, feverish high-pitched screechings and an overriding sense of something other, the score she created for Jonathan Glazer’s film was one of the key elements that made it such a success.
At the beginning of April, I watched Under The Skin at the Southbank with a live orchestra playing Levi’s score. Before the film, Glazer and Levi both graced the stage to take part in a Q&A. Unlike the nervous character that The New Yorker observed, Levi appeared instantly likeable and open. Seemingly nonplussed by the epic scene in front of her (you can fit 2,900 people in that place…), she came across as casual and funny. Whilst others may have become rigid and practised in their interaction with the audience, she, I suspect, became a larger version of herself.
When asked what music she would recommend others to listen to she offered nothing, stating that she doesn’t really listen to music. When asked to describe whey she’d positioned the orchestra the way she had, she responded instinctively. It just made sense.It was really satisfying to see someone like Levi on stage of the Royal Festival Hall giving earnest answers to a respectful room. It made it clear that there is room for all sort of artists in the arts industry that is so frequently criticised for only supporting those affluent enough to ride out the cost of training. Levi trained at Guildhall and was raised by two musicians, it’s not a huge stretch that she now fids herself to be a successful, working musician, but there is something undeniably charming about the sort of artist she is being in the sort of room that the Royal Festival Hall is.
Jackie is another instance of Levi impressing the film world with her distinct sounds. She credits director Pablo Larraín for placing her score in the unexpected moments that it pops up in the film, like an omniscient horror-esc track being played over the funeral scene, a scene which Levi had intended to be matched with something more ‘emotional.’ Whoever the driver was, the music in Jackie injects the film with a surreal-like quality that helps evoke the displacement that Jackie would have felt in the wake of her husband’s murder. It’s astonishing and the Academy agreed, giving Levi a nomination She’s only the fifth woman in the Academy’s history to be nominated for Best Original Film Score, there had not even been a female nominee in the 16 years previous to Levi. The more visible Levi becomes, the more fathomable it becomes for other young women to consider a career like hers.
She’s only the fifth woman in the Academy’s history to be nominated for Best Original Film Score. More shockingly, in the 16 years previous to Levi, there had not been a single female nominee. The more visible Levi becomes, the more fathomable it becomes for other young women to consider a career like hers.