Anton Baibakov is a composer and musician based in Kiev, Ukraine. Gianmarco Del Re spoke to him about the music scene in his country and his own compositions and sound for film.
What is your background as a musician? Did you use to play in punk rock bands as a teenager like many other musicians who then shifted to instrumental and experimental music later in life?
No, I didn’t use to play in punk rock bands at all. When I was 5 years old my father and I were sitting on the balcony repairing my bicycle. And listening to sounds of cars passing by I guessed the model of each car. So when my father saw this, he decided to bring me to the music school for piano class. That’s how it started.
What is your studio setup? And what audio softwares do you tend to use and favour, Steinberg Nuendo, Pro Tools, Logic Pro?
I use Logic Pro, Cubase, Native Instruments Reaktor, Kontakt and other popular instruments from Native Instruments. Sometimes I use field recordings and also I record live instruments. As for my studio setup, I use JBL 4300 series monitors, Fatar keyboard, Mac Pro, Saffire Pro 24 dsp.
Aside from the composer Valentyn Sylvestrov, I am not too familiar with the contemporary music scene in the Ukraine. Also, in terms of experimental / noise / neo-folk and electro-acoustic music there are only a few names I am familiar with, such as the Quasi Pop label, Dakha Brakha, Endless Melancholy, and all artists on the AZH Music compilations, We Need a Voice and It’s not Boring It’s Ambient. Could you give me an idea of what it’s actually like on ground in Kiev as well as in the rest of the country in terms of festival, labels and venues?
Beside all mentioned artists and bands I’d single out the Kvitnu label, Heinali, Dakh Daughters band, Alexander Kokhanovsky, Katya Chilly, Maryana Golovko, Kirill Machinsky (Roots Controller), Alexandra Morozova, Konstantin Bushinsky, Dmitry Morozov, Anton Slepakov, Anatoly Belov, Alexey Mikrukov, and Nikita Moiseev.
You seem to work mostly as a film composer and indeed you have been very busy on that front in the past couple of years, having scored many short films and documentaries. How did your involvement with film come about in the first place?
Actually, I started out as a sound director. I graduated as a film sound director from Kyiv Film School but I’ve been always composing, just for myself. And at some point I decided to fully switch on to being a composer and so I started to score for films.
At what stage did you become involved in the making of sickfuckpeople, for which you composed the original music as well as doing the sound design? I haven’t had chance to seeing the full documentary, but I’ve watched a few interviews with the director Juri Rechinsky. It is a very powerful and hard-hitting film, which seems to have required a level of emotional involvement difficult to recover from. How did you and Juri approach the sound design of the film?
I was involved in the shooting stage and after in the editing process. And actually I felt like being 100% involved in the whole process of this film making. Speaking about sound design and music, my goal was to make its elements invisible, insensible for the audience. I was afraid of destroying this weak and elusive sense of reality.
There were some scenes which were shot as one long take and we needed to create some rhythm for them. So we took different industrial noises, which seem to be original, natural for this environment, but in reality we created them, they were artificial.
For other scenes it was necessary to give a feeling of time slowing down. And I used a tuned down guitar. Why a guitar? Because it seemed to me our characters could play it, this instrument is something really comprehensible, natural for such people.
Do you have a specific approach to film scoring or does it vary on a case by case basis?
Each film requires a personal approach, the same as every person you’re doing something together with. Sometimes music is reduced to sounds of noise and sometimes music becomes an independent film character. Sometimes music works as metronome and sometimes as an ocean wave filling out the whole picture.
You place great importance on silence and indeed your arrangements are quite sparse. Do you find yourself often stripping down your music after you’ve composed a particular track?
Silence is a part of sound. Often people forget about this. Pauses emphasise. Often in cinema music is not in the first place.
Do you perform your music live and if so, what is your live set-up?
Yes, sometimes I play live. My set up is very simple. Macbook Pro, Ableton, AKAI MPK25, sometimes a big Fatar keyboard.
As an Ukrainian what do you make of the different approaches to the subject of Chernobyl from a sound and music point of view, with works as diverse as Jacob Kirkegaard’s “Four Rooms”, Merzbow’s “Dead Zone” and Nancy Van de Vate’s “Chernobyl – Concerto n.1 for violin and orchestra”?
I haven’t gone too deep into this topic to be honest. The most powerful project about Chernobyl I know was made by Mariana Sadovska and Kronos Quartet.
You’ve worked as a composer on the documentary Euromaidan. Being based in Kiev yourself, I suspect that those months must’ve had a profound effect on you. How do you judge the reaction of the media in the west and do you feel the music community did enough to encourage an ongoing debate and the issue? Also, what did you make of Sergei Loznitsa’s take on Maidan?
My participation in Euromaidan was quite insignificant. I’ve worked on another feature documentary about Maidan events: All Things Ablaze. In my opinion this film — in contrast to Sergei Loznitsa’s Maidan — showed things how they really happened. Loznitsa sanded off the rough edges.
It is difficult to be optimistic about a swift resolution to the current situation in the Ukraine. It is also difficult to tackle such a complex subject in a short music based interview. However, I was wondering if you could recommend any English language websites, which cover the situation from different perspective?
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Sergei Loznitsa’s Maidan is currently on general release in the UK and will be screening at the BFI in London from 20 February to March 5th 2015.
sickfuckpeople is out on DVD on Hoanzl with German and English subtitles.