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Tankian Talks Scoring '1915'

Excerpt from full article from Asbarez by Ara Khatchadourian

...Another project Tankian is focusing on is writing the score for the upcoming Armenian Genocide thriller “1915,” which is set for release this year.

“1915” is the feature film debut of writer-directors Garin Hovannisian and Alec Mouhibian. Together with producer Terry Leonard (“Before I Disappear,” “Cold Comes the Night,” “Amira & Sam,” “Hounddog”) and an international cast including Simon Abkarian (“Casino Royale,” “The Cut,” “Gett”), Angela Sarafyan (“The Immigrant,” “Twilight”), Sam Page (“Mad Men,” “House of Cards”), Nikolai Kinski (“Aeon Flux”), and Jim Piddock (HBO’s “Family Tree,” “The Prestige”), “1915” was filmed on location in Los Angeles, with the production companies Bloodvine Media and Strongman announcing last week that the film will debut this year.

Set on the single day of April 24, 2015, the film follows one man’s controversial and dangerous mission to bring the ghosts of a forgotten tragedy back to life. The movie will play a leading role in the global movement this spring to shed light on all genocides of the past century.

“I think ‘1915’ is a really interesting, unique drama that deals with a unique topic that hasn’t been dealt with in films. For me the film deals with the Diasporan effect of trauma—of loss. There’s no film that’s dealt with that. Maybe it’s personal, but the message of loss—the pain of loss– is very universal. ‘1915’ does that in a very artistic way,” said Tankian who explained that he has been working on the score for months and describes the music as “orchestral, piano and very authentic instrument-based” with elements of surprise, horror and mystery.

He explained that he first wrote themes based on the script “to figure out what the emotional centerpiece of it is and then extrapolate the sub-themes and build other themes.” Working in his studio, Tankian composes the score frame-by-frame and scene-by scene, with notes from the directors.

While the entire score is original, Tankian said he has brought in a few elements of a composition called “A 100 Years,” which he co-wrote with New Zealand-based composer John Psathas. The entire composition was performed last fall with the Lark Musical Society. 

“A 100 Years” is a symphonic piece about the first Genocide of the 20th century of Armenians, Greeks and Assyrians. 

“It goes from dark to hopeful at the end,” said Tankian who engaged his musician friends from around the world to perform the piece. 

“A lot of great instrumentalists have given their time for free to be on the track,” he said, adding that a video was also made that is a montage of the various musicians playing the piece. He anticipates featuring the video on YouTube, as well as various festivals.

“’A 100 Years’ is a symphonic piece that was born in New Zealand from a collaboration that I’ve had with another composer named John Psathas, who is Greek-Kiwi. He and I have collaborated before on the ‘Elect the Dead’ symphony in 2009. He helped me arrange a lot of those songs for the orchestra. We both co-wrote and co-composed ‘A 100 Years.’ It was actually his idea,” he said.

Tankian said that some of the elements of “A 100 Years” that he has incorporated in the “1915” film score worked perfectly with the overall composition.

While discussing “1915” and other films projects about the Genocide, I asked him about a prevalent expectation among Armenians that a “Schindler’s List”-type film is the only genre that can effectively impart the Armenian Genocide narrative on screen.

“I can understand what people expect or want, but at the same time when it comes to the arts… It’s not like the Armenian people woke up one day and said ‘we expect a band like System of a Down’ that are playing progressive metal music. That’s not what the expectations were of us,” said Tankian. 

“When it comes to expectations, let’s put that aside for a moment. The important thing is to make an effective film. A film that on its own is a great film, irrespective of the topic, and other people’s expectations,” he added.

Tankian said that “1915” is an indie film and expressed hope that “it will be an award-winning indie film, because I think it’s got great acting, great performance, great writing and great music [laughs].”