Edward Artemiev: Interview:  

Margarita Katunjan: “Interview with Edward Artemiev”


“Music is the channel of communication with the World.”
E. Artemiev

Honored Artist of the RSFSR (1985), Peoples' Artist of the Russian Federation (1999), a State Prize Winner of the RSFSR (1988), State Prizes Winner of the Russian Federation (1993, 1996, 2000), Prize Winner of RAO (2005).
Eduard Nikolayevich Artemiev belongs to plead of modern Russian composers, whose contribution to the Russian culture has been widely recognized. This is obviously witnessed, on the one hand, by thousands of records and compact discs with his compositions, even with additional issues, which are always sold out almost right away, on the other hand, by government awards and titles.
E. Artemiev is the author of a great number of compositions, which are different in their genre, style and creative goals. Among them are many works which had been created for traditional performing means: an oratory “I’ve Been Killed Near the Town of Rzhev” using the verses by A. Tvardovsky, cantatas, instrumental concertos, orchestra suites, a symphonic poem “Ocean” and other compositions. The greater part of Artemiev’s works are compositions for electronic instruments as well as compositions for mixed instruments. The most important of them, which can be called landmarks, are the compositions for electronic music and are now considered Russian classical works: they are “12 Points of View on the World of Sound”, the symphony “7 Gates to the World of Satory”, the musical scores to the films by Andrey Tarkovsky and an electronic cycle “Solaris”, “The Mirror”, “Stalker” created later, poly-chorus rock-cantata “The Ode to a Herald of Good”, which had been written for the opening ceremony of the XX Olympic Games in Moscow, the composition “Three Regards on Revolution”, the operas “The Warmth of Earth” (1988), “Crime and Punishment” based on F. M. Dostoyevsky’s novel (2002).
His active work in films and the popularity of his discs with musical score for films have won Artemiev the fame of a film composer. This fame long ago crossed the borders of our country and spread all over the world, especially after E. Artemiev wrote several musical scores in the USA (Hollywood) and France, made several discs with musical scores to well-known films such as “Solaris”, “The Mirror”, “Stalker”, “Siberiada”, “Urga”, “Burned by the Sun”, “Inner Circle”, “The Odyssey”. The more so, that two of the films mentioned, won the highest film awards — the “Golden Lion” of the Venetian Film Festival, the “Golden Bear” of the Berlin Film Festival (“Urga”) and “Oscar” of the American Film Academy (“Burned by the Sun”), Moscow prize “Nika” (“Limita”). It was for his work in films that Artemiev won four State Awards: “Messenger Boy” (1988), “Urga” (1993), “Burned by the Sun” (1996), “The Barber of Siberia” (2000).
Apart from working in films Artemiev has been working for theatres as well and writing musical scores for TV and Radio performances.
The direction of the creative work of Eduard Artemiev is unique. Having graduated from the Moscow Conservatoire in 1960 he chose for himself, above all, the work in the electronic music, and became a pathfinder in the new sphere of electronic musical art, which at that time wasn’t developed at all. As Rodion Schedrin, with whom Artemiev had been studying in the composition class under Yuri Shaporin, once noted “he was the first of our composers who began to write music especially for an electronic instrument (Synthesizer ANS). He went along the paths nobody stepped on before him. The word the first can be said about him more than once”. All this is true not only because among the composers, who got interested in the 60-s in the new sphere of music — like Andrey Volkonsky, later Edison Denisov, Alfred Schnittke, Sophia Gubaidulina, Vladimir Martynov and a number of others — only Artemiev tied up his composer’s fate with electronic music and has stayed its ardent adherent. He became its admirer and enthusiast. And mostly because of the fact that it was Artemiev who laid the beginning and the basis of the electronic music in Russia. Today, as the recognized leader of the Russian electronic music, he holds the deserved respected position among the most outstanding masters of the world in this sphere of musical art. Many of his quests, experiments and finds were based on the electronic synthesis, whose most honored researcher and most poetic master is E. Artemiev. Many composers of the new generation grew up on his music. There are his followers and sympathizers, as well as his students. Now in their turn they are composing electronic music, researching its phenomenon and teaching. In other words there is a whole school bringing up its professional composers, many of whom have won prizes of international festivals, their creative efforts have been recognized by a wide circle of those who appreciate this kind of music — and all this has been built on the basis laid by Eduard Artemiev.
In 1990 E. Artemiev founded the Russian Association of Electroacoustic Music in the framework of the International Confederation (ICEM) under the aegis of UNESCO and was elected as its President. The goals and purposes of the Association are to pool together the efforts of composers and researchers working in the field of electronic music for the purpose of further development of this trend in Russia. Using the opportunities offered by the Association, the composer tries to promote electronic music in our country and abroad by attracting attention to the gains of science in our country in the field of electronic music, which once in the past was among the first in the world, to the achievements and artistic discoveries of Soviet composers, who in the 60-s and 70-s were the members of the legendary Moscow studio of electronic music. One also tries to promote to the compositions of young composers and the works being created today.
. Artemiev is invited by the Moscow Conservatoire and other musical educational institutions of Russia to lecture to the students on the problems of electronic composition. He also conducts master classes for young composers. And, what is the most important thing — he continues to compose and experiment a lot and is always in search for new finds.
For some people Artemiev is the composer of musical score for almost 160 films, some of which had won different prizes of film festivals in Venice, Cannes, Moscow, Los Angeles, San Sebastian, Berlin… Others consider E. Artemiev to be one of the most outstanding masters in the field of electronic music. He is the first in our country, who has dedicated his creative work to the electronic composition, and by doing this, he has found himself among those, who has laid the foundation of a new direction in the music of the 20th century. How these two spheres of his creative efforts can be combined, we shall hear from the interview taken from our outstanding contemporary.

— Eduard Nikolayevich, how it all began?
— The electronic music is a vast ocean in the modern music. After Pierre Schaeffer demonstrated his “Noise Concert” on French Radio for the first time in 1948, a whole direction was created by a great number of musicians. The first of arts which had begun to use this kind of music was cinema, because it was also based on technology and this trend was very close to it. As for myself, I got into the film industry by chance. I discovered for myself long ago: that one should never move against the stream. Actually, this is not a stream, but one’s fate. Once I had a meeting with Tarkovsky and showed him my works; nobody at that time, seemed to do anything of that kind. He, at that time, was directing “Solaris”. Working for him one should have sowed both script or frame problems. The dramaturgical problem of the film was connected with the research sphere of the electronic music. If I never had such an opportunity, I would be unlikely to get so deep into the electronics. This was the consequence of coincidences — a miraculous phenomenon in my life, which actually made me almost free and gave me an opportunity to experiment. And it happened so, that film directors had noticed my doing something new and began to invite me.

— In your childhood — a choir school, than conservatoire and — suddenly electronic music?
— There were also many coincidences — my studies at the conservatoire were a lucky chance to meet Eugene Murzin, the inventor of a synthesizer ANS… I was young, my mind was inquisitive. I enjoyed painting, adored Debussy. All these circumstances had played a decisive role in my future career. When I had a chance to get closer to an electronic instrument, I was ready for it, and it seemed to me that I had found what I needed — and I had found the possibility to paint sound in music. Later I had understood the value of sound, and its ability to encompass both the macro-world and micro-world;  sound carries in itself some kind of information, and, by the way, not a technical one, but spiritual, transmitted by the performers. The sound is filled with spirit. I remember my feelings, when I came to see Murzin — that was a stunning impression. The world I have never heard before.

— Electronics, hardware, software, cables, monitors — and you spoke about the spirit…
— I have formulated for myself that an acoustic instrument is something like prolongation of a body, and a synthesizer is a prolongation of a soul. It’s superlative, as to its delicateness and the managing it, to any instrument, and synchronously responds to all your movements. Another thing that today one can find a kind of monotony, but there are the defects of the performers, who play the synthesizers and follow the well-trodden roads and use the timbres which have been installed in the instrument. One has just to press a button and that’s all. People have stopped to work on synthesis. The monotony is not the defect of an instrument but of composers.

— Perhaps electronic music today has exhausted all its resources of search, it’s got into the sphere of commercial music, which has filled the air? Or does it depend on the fact on who plays it?
— There are two extremes today. The academic electronics has a strong trend towards experiments where all composer’s efforts are focused at some technical goal, and the artistic goal remains in the background. What is important is the beauty of the idea and its realization. On the other hand the commercialization of rock-music has led to its degeneration. The spiritual foundation, with which the rock-music had literally shaken the world, did disappear. Though I was still interested in commercial music from the point of view of instrumentation and technique. Commercial music demands constant renovation of clichés. There one can find an incredible number of unfinished ideas, very interesting, related to recording, methods of playing and working with space. Perhaps it is the best text-book I have ever met.

— You started working in the Murzin studio, which was not just a studio, but a cultural center of Moscow…
— This is too pompously said, perhaps it was one of them. The most fashionable center was the van-guard circle, the members of which were Denisov, Schnittke, Gubaidulina, Karetnikov. In the beginning, when I came to the studio, electronics was terra incognita. It was considered to be a strange trend without any future. When little by little we had reached a certain level the composers mentioned by me got interested, began to come to the studio and create music. The studio began with van-guard music, and then, when rock-music had shaken the world, a number of composers moved along that line.

— What had it shocked you with?
— The extreme emotionality, technical perfection, and the discoveries in the sphere of acoustics and performing mastership. It is full of discoveries. They were “King Crimson”, “Mahavishnu Orchestra”, “Genesis”, “Pink Floyd”, “Deep Purple”, Klaus Schulze… For me rock-music had swept away everything I was doing before. It was the music I was waiting for. Before it I was rushing about, nothing would satisfy me, and this kind of music grabbed me. New people had appeared, who were younger than me, a composer Vladimir Martynov, a guitar player and sound director Jury Bogdanov, a piano player Sergey Saveliev. And this became the most important factor in the electronic studio. It allowed not to be locked in experimental work, but to break through into the real life and to resolve purely musical and artistic tasks. So in 1975 we formed a group called “Boomerang” which consisted of Martynov, myself, Aleksey Lyubimov, Bogdanovs brothers (Jury and Sergey), Sergey Saveliev, bass-guitarist Valentin Kozlovsky. Martynov and I wrote music for them and took part in playing. Due to this I generalized a certain experience in experimental music and in rock-music in the cantata “The Ode to a Herald Good” which I wrote for Moscow Olympic Games of 1980. There were also group compositions such as “Mirage”.

— Did you have any public response to those compositions?
— There were young American composers who came to visit us. They were recommended by Vladimir Usachevsky, our contemporary, he is the founder of electronic music in the USA. He liked Murzin and his synthesizer ANS very much. At the beginning our studio was at the level of the world standards, and nobody in the world had such a synthesizer like ANS. In our country, I do not know why, all this was kept hush-hush, hampered, and the authorities tried to close down everything. In the world our level was recognized to be compatible with the international standards. Actually many people visited our studio. Konchalovsky brought his friends-directors in there — Coppola, Antonioni, a composer Michel Legrand. We performed “Mirage” for them, a composition which takes an hour to play. They were impressed.

— By the music or by the technology and the technique?
— By everything together, because for the first time in their lives they had heard completely different music.

— And what was the attitude of the Ministry of Culture towards you?
— It always wanted to close the studio down. And finally it reached its goal. It was quite understandable: the electronic music appeared on the wave of the vanguard, and all this was unacceptable here. Actually Murzin opened the studio against all prohibitions. He was supported by his friend Kapitonov, who was the Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU, at that time he was one of the most powerful people in the country, once they had been studying together. When Kapitonov said that the studio was to be opened nobody could say anything against it. And the Union of Composers more than once decided to obtain the studio under its wing, in that case perhaps we would have no problems, but finally it was given over to the “Melody” label, and the studio gradually got lost in its depth and faded away.

— I first heard of the existence of the studio from the “Solaris” film titles. They said: Composer Edward Artemiev. All sounds have been created at the Studio of electronic music with the usage of the ANS synthesizer. How did it happen that your and Tarkovsky’s ways had crossed? Where did you meet first?
— At a party in the Mikhail Romadin’s apartment, an art director of “Solaris”. Once I dropped in and Tarkovsky was there. I knew nothing about him and had not seen his film “Andrey Roublyev”, just heard something about it. And then I learned that he was going to shoot the “Solaris” film. We started to talk and he asked what I was working at. He said: “I’m curious to see it”.

— And what had interested him in your electronic music?
— The opportunity to make sound-painting. He said more than once: “I do not need music as such, what I need are the states and conditions”. Not the music in its traditional understanding, but something closer to natural sounds.

— As a result there appeared an absolute audio and video contact. Tarkovsky searched for a sound equivalent of his shot. And your music is visible and spatial. There is a feeling that it does not show the picture, but scan it, and you subconsciously feel its internal layers. It is a kind of sound contemplation or sound permeability, getting knowledge from sounds. I read somewhere that any person, any subject has its own sound. Perhaps you can hear those sounds? Where does this vision come from?
— I had been under a strong impression of painting, even more than of music. Miro, Klee, Mondrian had opened for me another world, other dimensions. For me the mightiest mean of music is space. Before it the composers had never thought of it, they actually depended on acoustics of the concert hall. But it can be arranged, electronics offers this opportunity. Some people say that the development of music have found itself in a kind of a blind alley, the scale of music is limited by tempering. But there is a mighty reserve of music in space, and a composer can create it, as to where, when and where from the sound would come. Tarkovsky is a master of space. He fills it with spiritual energy, and that is why one and the same frame can be motionless, and stay on the screen for a long time. This is in itself a miracle created by an artist. “I don’t need music, but the composer’s feeling of space, what I need are the states, conditions…” I did not know how to start all this, but step-by-step I found the ways. And, it was the creation of several spaces where you can create one sound and by moving it you can watch how it lives, breathes, flowers… The most important thing is to make it in such a way, that one could not see how it is made, just a wave of sounds, and their nature cannot be understood. Perhaps this is a puzzle in itself. So we found a mutual language. Using this method I wrote music for three of his films: “Solaris”, “The Mirror”, “Stalker”. This was an enormous experience for me.

— Film music is not the main part of your creative work. But how did you benefit from composing music for movies?
— Independence, that’s what I got. And this was quite important in Soviet reality. The opportunity to be independent from the Union of Composers or the Ministry of Culture, and to be dependant only on one person — a film-director. If my work satisfies him or her, that is all. He decides everything. Actually this has never happened in any other country. There was a story with Andrey Volkonsky. He composed music for a film in the avant-guardish manner. This fact became known in the Union of Composers, that lead to a scandal, they called a meeting, discussion, he was deprecated terribly. But the director of the film said: “His music satisfies me, it helps to solve the problem of a shot”. So all this scandal stopped and nobody said a word. The music for films was considered a kind of second sort music, not the mainstream of the present day music, it was thought just a trimming for a film.

— But it cannot be said about you. The name of Artemiev in subtitles meant an excellent style, a delicate, calligraphic work. And some people say that your music makes some films a lot better. And then on the basis of film scores grew independent compositions, which also happened by Prokofiev and Shostakovich…
— I was lucky, I worked with outstanding and very good film-directors, one might say masters. They were Alexander Orlov, who brought me to cinema. Samsonov, who entrusted to me my first independent work. Karen Shakhnazarov, Denis Yevstigneyev, Surin, Tarkovsky, Konchalovsky, Mikhalkov, Berezhnykh, Viktor Sergeyev, Yasan. Outstanding Central Asian directors Eldor Ishmoukhammedov, Alexander Khamidov and others.

— And what about different opinions of Nikita Mikhalkov. Does it not embarrass you?
— I have known Nikita for many years. His first film — his diploma work “A Quiet Day at the End of War”. Since that time I took part in all his films with the exception of “Black Eyes”. He is a person of phenomenal, almost inhuman energy. I simply cannot imagine another man of such kind. It is quite easy to work with him. And after all he is a person of a surprisingly weighing nature, and deep knowledge. I was fortunate that at some time I met him, let’s God grant him good health!

— You lived several years in Los Angeles. What are your impressions of your work in Hollywood?
— The most impressive thing was Los Angeles itself. It is a fantastic city. This is a film capital of the world, and plus, the weather like in the Garden of Eden, super civilization. Something absolutely dazzling. It is almost impossible to get into Hollywood. One should go there young and little by little elbow one’s way into it. Ennio Morricone started his career there as a very young man. I, of course, would have never got there, but for Konchalovsky, who invited me to work for the film “Homer and Eddy”. When in 1979 he was leaving for the USA and we were saying good-byes, he said: “You’ll see, we’ll work together in Hollywood”. I was thinking then that he was saying this just for bidding me farewell, and that I would never see him again. But then, as soon as an opportunity appeared, he actually wrote to me “ordering to come there” and overcame all obstacles so that I began to work there.

— What was their attitude to a composer from Russia? Did they understand, whom they actually got?
— In America your past merits does not cost anything. Europe is the old world. Just show what you can do in America. And this is absolutely normal: you come to us and try to be so kind to live according to our laws. If you don’t like it, go back to your country, please. I brought my gramophone discs, tape recordings and I still did have to go through an examination. Konchalovsky’s film producer gave my four episodes, already filmed, a studio, and a week of time, so that I should write what he thought he needed. No homework, or tasks. After that several people listened to my work and said: “O.K., you’re in”. Meaning that the level satisfied them. Nothing else, no raptures…

— And what criteria did help them to make a decision?
— How one works with a frame or a shot. In Hollywood there is quite another approach to musical score than in Europe. There they need musical comments for every shot, for every theme turn, in order to support the interest of a spectator and direct him in the right way. They watch it quite closely there.

— And what about this country?
— All over Europe as well as in this country music is an emotional reflection of a shot, its emotional meaning. American film music is different from the European one like in a theatre — the school of performing differs from the school of feeling.

— Today on the background of show-business music the high-class musicians are considered to be the elite, and at the same time they are quite often not in demand. Do you consider yourself an elite musician?
— No. Absolutely not. Whatever aspect you might take. I compose melodies. I am just an orthodox academician from the point of view of composition.

— I don’t mean the style, but a composer’s scale, mastership.
— Speaking about the fact, that some of us are not in demand in general terms… If we speak of mass culture, somebody is in demand here and someone in somewhere else, so what? Pop-stars gather enormous audiences, and their work is paid for accordingly. That’s the way the world works. You can do nothing about it. It is everywhere like this and America isn’t an exception from the rules. Those who bring more profit are in greater demand in the mass intellect and mass demand of people. For them there is the TV and radio. The whole world is commercialized. They see how many people came to hear Tchaikovsky’s symphony, and how many people listened to “Uriah Heep”. This group is only in the top hundred today, but still gathers a greater audience than Tchaikovsky in a year. Another thing is that in the West there are sponsors and philanthropic organizations and whole systems, which support arts. At festivals I meet composers, who work with purely elite music, experimental one, which is not meant for any audience. They simply solve their problems in the sphere of music. They are supported by governments, by certain programs, get grants, in other words, have an opportunity to work. That is our world. Mass culture is also needed. For me it is a kind of a boiler in which all today’s technological ideas are grinded.

— How do you feel if you are ordered a piece?
— I accept such offers with great pleasure. I need to be urged. An order influences me quite positively.

— Do not the dictatorial demands of a customer constrain you?
— In films there is a film-director’s dictatorship. When you study the material, you try to feel yourself comfortably in it then everything is O. K. And you are restricted only by the time limit of a shot. And you have to resolve this problem, which is also interesting. You have to put your musical thought in the rigid time framework of a shot.

— What should a film-script be like for you to agree to work with it?
— I do not work with musicals. Songs and dances is quite a special gift, which, for instance, Gennady Gladkov has mastered brilliantly. I usually take feature, dramatic films, in which music opens up the psychology and emotional life of a character.

— Your music gives the feeling of infiniteness. You do not create your own subjective world, as many artists of the 20th century, but make the listeners hear a true space. And it is not deserted or airless, but alive, a breathing one and filled with energy. Your space comes from ancient Greeks, it unites micro and macro: the spatial and the emotional. How can you reach this effect?
— Space is a generalized vision, but emotions are individual.

— But this live Universum inculcates an unusual peace of mind, the supreme harmony and joy. It seems that you know this feeling, as if you have known it always, even before your birth. How can it happen?
— I have a feeling that music is just an instrument granted to mortal human beings for the communion with God. The thousands vibrations of a symphonic orchestra make up a system of resonance and wake up responding vibrations of souls. Due to them we sort of open a certain canal to the Supreme Mind and in such moments feel the presence of something great, inexplicable and kind. Hermits living in deserts, zealots who dedicated all their life to knowing our Lord have their own way, a special and very hard way, they are the teachers of mankind and teachers of life. As to us, just ordinary people, music gives sometimes a unique opportunity to feel the presence of the Supreme Essence of the Universe and feel certain ties with it.

— What are your plans for the future?
— Now I am taking a long pause, because I think that the time has come, and it has come for everyone, that we should stop writing musical pieces for electricity, we now should set up for ourselves certain global goals. It seems to me that the electronic music has grown out of the experimental stage, where, quite frequently, a beautiful mathematical formula is being resolved, or a technological model, and the artistic result is absolutely of no importance. We have lost the most important thing — an emotion. For me this is the strongest side of music. We are making ourselves poorer. The time has come for new goals. New technology has always gave birth to new music. Today the technology for electronic music is fantastic, but I have the impression that all musicians are just crowding around it and are afraid to make a new step. Including myself.

— You don’t feel strong enough?
— I am not prepared to take this upon myself. I understand all the difficulty of this task. The people who are twenty years of age now can do this, because their heads are still free. There should be a person who makes up his mind to do this and, naturally funds. Develop this global theme with the help of technology, not only audio, but also video, is a very expensive venture. It is a next step. I think that the development of new music in the 20th century didn’t take place. This was only the development of the music of the 19th century, it was astounding, but the music was not new. The totally new music is only felt by touches now. This new music will be written or made by those who are 20 now, who will assimilate and saturate everything and will make a qualitative break through. It is ripening now, and I feel it.

— Where one can hear serious electronic music?
— Mainly at home on a record. At concerts, festivals, but the concerts are very rare nowadays.

— Significant figures quite often try to show off with their stardom. You are a rarest exception.
— This is because I am not confident in myself. I am more a critic than a creator. Perhaps that is why…

— What is happening with you today?
— I have not dropped working in films, and films so far have not dropped me. As always I have a lot of offers. There are some foreign projects: I wrote music for the film by a German director Hardy Martins “So Weit die Füsse Tragen” (“As Far As My Feet Can Carry Me”, 2001). Recently the TV serial with my music by Alexander Proshkin “Doctor Zhivago” was shown.

— Do you have anything else in store?
Nikita Mikhalkov starts shooting the film “Burned by the Sun-2, and I should write a score for it. The film will be ready in about a year. Andron Konchalovsky and myself began working on a musical “The Nutcracker” after the music by Tchaikovsky. There, in this film, we aim at making out of the themes and melodies known all over the world something different. And the opera “Crime and Punishment” has been recorded and right now they’re making final cuts at the studio. I hope that the CD with the opera will be published in October.

Margarita Katunjan
(“Music in Russia”, 3 (10), 2006)


Reference to "Electroshock Records" website is obligatory in case of any usage of printed & photo materials from the site © "Electroshock Records", 2004