Between American Heist and Tomiris. Thoughts of the composer from Kazakhstan who wrote music to a movie starring Adrien Brody.
Just a couple of days before our meeting with young but famous composer Alim Zairov, he received a letter from Kiev with an offer to hold a solo concert in Kiev at the National Philarmonic. Alim has in his portfolio two albums: Renovazzio (2013) and Now (2017), music to motion pictures directed by Akhan Satayev and Sarik Andreasyan. He believes his main personality traits are assertiveness, which in its time led him to creation of a soundtrack to American Heist starring Adrien Brody and Hayden Christensen. Today, he plans to represent music made in Kazakhstan at foreign concert venues.
Alim, I would like to congratulate you, you are invited to give a concert in Kiev. And what do you have here?
I’ve got nothing here for the time being. The more so that this year is quite busy for me. Movies follow one after another.
Can you tell more specifically?
Presently, I am finishing music to motion picture She directed by Akhan Satayev starring Aysulu Azimbayeva. It is a psychological thriller about a young lady who lives on her own in a large city. It is a very chamber movie, almost a one-woman performance. There is also a prior consent to work with another quite successful Kazakhstan’s director. For the present I cannot tell more. Moreover, next thing on the agenda is Tomiris directed by the same Satayev. It is a large, big budget historic project. Plus, cooperation is contemplated with a director from Europe – a movie about German theater.
By the way, it is not the first time you work with Akhan Satayev. Earlier, there were quite smashing Districts.
Districts are a special work. It is first of all an opportunity to make a declaration of love to your city via music. It is a movie about Alma-Ata and music written by an Almaty local. During filming I listened to all the old compositions: A’Studio, Aray, Zhetygen, Dos-Mukasan. I was realizing that Almaty spirit will prove useful to me. Of course, final music is far from the branded Almaty vibes of the late 1980s – early 1990s. However, they inspired me very much. I was imagining how our young mothers and our fathers were walking around the city.
When I had spare time, I attended film shoots. I could right away offer Akhan something for this or that fragment. Let’s say when I saw episodes with recollections of one of the personages – they are black and white – I said right away that it cried for funk and immediately dashed to watch movies about Ocean’s friends and drew my inspiration from them as references.
We quite long struggled with the lyrical thread. A couple of first drafts turned out to figuratively speaking Moscow Does Not Believe in Tears. Meanwhile, we had to show relations of young hearts.
I think not only I feel interested in how process of work with movie music takes place. Does a director show you a rough cut?
After filming and initial postproduction, there is the first version of assembling. Let’s say if we work together with Akhan, first we scrutinize the material with him, the director formulates his wishes, shows references. I take copy of the film with me and review it once again at home. Then creative process starts.
It may happen that some time later there is a fresher version of assembling. However, usually, it does not undergo global changes. Those key points in terms of music that were highlighted stay put. There were some cases when everything was ready and then the producer said out of the blue that another version of the assembling was ready. And at that point I understand that one accent was lost here, another accent was lost there. Meanwhile, it is impossible just to cut music, to rearrange it. In that case it should be rewritten. However, in case of work with Akhan everything is professional and there was not a single case when we had to globally rewrite everything.
You have had diverse work experience, including with films made in Hollywood. Please tell us about it.
When I released my first disk, the idea of work in cinematograph permeated me very much. Before that, there were student period shorties where I got the hang of it, after that I began to look for more serious alternatives. I saw facebook proactiveness of brothers Andreasyans. Sarik – director – is the youngest, Gevond – producer – is middle, and Artashes – the eldest – is responsible for music in their projects. First, I wrote to Sarik and told a little about myself. He read the message but did not respond. I waited for two months and wrote again, and the next day Sarik recommended me to get in touch with my future boss – Artashes. With him, we quickly established a connection. I introduced him to my irreplaceable Ukrainian colleague Roman Vishnevskiy with whom we have covered seven movies. Some time later, Artashes said that there was such project as Mafia. We saw art concepts and were blown away – Moscow of future, fiction. Some time later he called and said: ‘I’ve got news. We would like to invite you to write music for American Heist.’
How did you feel?
For the first couple of minutes I did not believe. Such emotions overwhelmed me. Just image the cast... The movie starring Adrien Brody. And when the emotions slightly subsided, we received editing and work started. We finished American Heist and then returned to Mafia.
As far as I am aware, you have worked with Sarik over superhero Guardians that was recently released?
I have coauthored Game Is On song to the movie performed by Russian singer Yuliya Tereschenko. It is known that the original version of the song sounded in the very first teaser of The Guardians while its vocal was recorded by well-known Yuliya Pereyma whom I love very much. Artashes said that a jazz voice was necessary for the record and I dialed Yuliya.
Oh my gosh! It sounds branded as distinct from the movie. First I thought: where did they steal such cool track?
No, it is completely our production – Kazakhstan, Ukraine, Russia. In the final version, voice line was slightly changed but on the whole everything looked like this. Music coauthors were Roman Vishnevskiy, Artashes and Russia’s Oleg Tsoi. Eventually, it turned out to be, I dare say it, stylish, at the level of the toughest world standards.
By the way, speaking about world standards. You probably saw a video clip related to music in Marvel movies. Passers-by were asked to hum the tunes from the Star Wars, James Bond and they easily did it. But they failed to hum the tunes from either Marvel movie. And this relates to a lot of contemporary movies. This means that the music became very average, expressionless.
We live in the era of global ‘copy pasting’. Even if we talk about major Hollywood projects. A lot of subjects from the Inception in free interpretation sound in other movies. Let’s take music from Drive Angry starring Nicolas Cage. It is a ‘varnished’ but still recognizable piece of track from Mombasa directed by Hans Zimmermann.
As I understand, there is a reason for that. Producers or directors simply give composers a trial assembly with music from a movie of another director.
Yes, that is reference. I see no criminal here. It is a very good tool of guidance. We, composers, can write whatever, but unless it matches director’s intention, the work is poorly performed. It is a double edged sword. On the one hand, it facilitates the process when you understand what must sound and where it must sound. On the other hand, yes, your creative potential is brought to naught. This is because in this case we are dependent people.
Have you come across such situation in Kazakhstan?
There were no tough indications. But for instance in case of the movie Road to Mother, references were placed in the first assembly. Akhan did that to introduce me into a correct condition. Along with that, our composer’s vision was hailed; however, we tried not to go beyond references very much.
Let’s return to the starting point of our interview. You are invited to give a concert in Kiev. What about concerts here?
Here I have nobody to whom I can come and say: ‘Let’s make a concert.’ If we talk about the genre in which I make my pieces, it is neoclassic and it does not enjoy demand here. In Russia, these trends emerged earlier and such guys like Misha Mischenko, Ilya Beshevli have their own established audience. I also have had several performances here in minor establishments which I organized on my own. I am planning to hold negotiations with Moscow-based concert agency FBITS (Flowers Blossom In The Space). It focuses on neoclassics and regularly brings interesting artists – Ludovico Einaudi and so on. Simultaneously, it is a record label that represents interests of young artists who successfully give concerts throughout Russia. If we agree with FBITS, most probably there will be performances in Saint Petersburg and Moscow. In our country, we have a million of odd hip hop artists working at numerous kitchen studios. I have never belittled anyone, but I would like to deal with a serious label.