Composer Mandy Woo
Composer Mandy Woo

Whether you’ve stopped to think about it, the obsession we have with music often comes to many of us through cartoons. Regardless of what decade you grew up in, there’s a somewhat Pavlovian response you have to hearing the music of shows like The Simpsons, Scooby Doo, Where Are You, SpongeBob SquarePants, and others. This goes much further than the theme songs. The scores of these productions infuse a unique identity which perfectly complements the tone of each.

Gisele’s Mashup Adventures is a recent Canadian animated series receiving a great deal of attention for its originality, both in terms of storytelling and musical approach. Mandy Woo is pleased with the recognition the series and her musical creations for it have been receiving. Ms. Woo is often noted for her eagerness to fuse modern and traditional approaches ranging from orchestral and solo violin to electronica and digital sound sources.

The eclectic perspective of Mandy was precisely what the creators of Gisele’s Mashup Adventures desired to cultivate a fantastical, quirky and magical tone for this CBC Gem and CBC TV production. The cartoon series features such notable voice actors as Canadian Screen Awards Nominated Actress Gisele Corinthios and Eliot Dahan (of CSA Award–Winning and Daytime Emmy Award–Nominated series Paw Patrol as well as Daytime Emmy Award–Winning series Blue’s Clues & You).

Composer Mandy Woo

 Whereas most cartoons structure themselves in a similar manner, Gisele’s Mashup Adventures takes a tangential approach as a foundation. The randomness of each episode makes it a pleasant and anticipated surprise. This also demands musical accompaniment that is as fond of reinvention as the storylines are.

For composer Mandy Woo who has created music for films, television, and video games, the cute and quirky demeanor of this series was a chance to explore a lighter approach. For the episode “Spaceship, Sloth, Pineapple” Mandy calibrated her score to the varying speeds of the sloths on another planet. This pineapple planet of sloths features an uplifting musical backdrop in the Lydian mode. 

 The “Campsite, Cheese, Unicorn” episode is a stand out example of how the musical accompaniment is intertwined with the storytelling as an active participant rather than simply a backdrop. When a unicorn eats cheese that transforms it into a rainbow glowing magical creature, the shimmering sounds of this transformation and the ensuing flight are propelled by the various mallet and percussive/melodic instruments. In many ways, the music Mandy Woo has created for this animated series is a featured character itself, establishing the personality of the show. 

It’s clear from a discussion with Mandy Woo that she doesn’t feel the inclination to imitate that which inspires her. She points to Ludwig Göransson’s unique blend of Orchestral and Trap in The Mandalorian and Black Panther as well as blurry/impressionist textures of Everything Everywhere All At Once, and the music of the UK’s Radiohead in equal great regard. The originality and brevity of approach is the common thread she shares with all of these.

She remarks, “I like the challenge of the collision of unconventional pairings. I like music that evokes a lot of longing and emotion, and the electronic genre is very broad. When I say electronic I don’t mean EDM but something like Dune, with its heavy synths. I’ve been creating music since I started piano at age four. Somehow, I just gravitated towards it. I remember showing my piano teacher my first song, which was me taking a storybook’s text and setting it to music.”

“As a kid, my pastimes included creating mixtapes by recording songs played on radio, learning guitar riffs by ear or by tab books, buying soundtrack books like The Simpsons and playing them on the piano for fun, and making up random new songs on the piano. It all just came really naturally but I never really thought about pursuing a career in composing until my high school music composition teacher (I went to an arts high school) suggested that I study composition in university, which I didn’t know was a thing.” It’s definitely a thing, and one which Mandy Woo is remarkably impressive at exhibiting.

Writer: Basil Thomson

By Punit