Martynas Bialobžeskis: On the temporality and immortality of music

The composer Martynas Bialobžeskis, who is not self-limiting himself creatively and does not close the music to one box of style or genre, has always appreciated the innovations and challenges of composition. By realizing the synthesis of differences in a stylistic collage and moving intuitively within the framework of a musical form, the composer seeks a balance between emotion and mind. These searches simultaneously lead him in different creative ways – in the directions of academic, theatrical, club music and unfamiliar sound. At seventeen he made his debut as a theater composer after studying at the Lithuanian Academy of Music and Theater. He collaborates with various theater directors, is a member of the Diissc Orchestra and the Electronic Music Trio. He was also the director of the festivals Druskomanija (2000-2007) and Jauna muzika (since 2016). The latest creative challenge planned for this winter – the composer’s residence in Sweden was unexpectedly postponed, but in an interview Martynas Bialobžeskis talks about other creative adventures of this time, the role of music in the performance, the peripetics of collaboration with directors.

You are planning a composer residency in Sweden this fall. How have the plans changed?

My residence in Sweden, in a seaside village, is currently being postponed not because of the pandemic itself, but because of the restrictions imposed by its prevention – self-isolation, everyday life restrictions. I don’t want to get stuck in a foreign country for a few months because of a suspended movement. As a result, I decided to spend this stressful period at home, where all the work and projects are. I can’t abandon them with an easy hand for a long time. Since, although nothing is clear at the moment, I am going to Sweden in the winter, I hope that this will only make my experience at the residence even more interesting, full of completely different experiences.

The primary creative impulse that I will try to fulfill in the residence is to record the sounds of winter and the seaside – wind, water, the roar of the waves, and birds, while walking on the other coast of the Baltic Sea. From all these ambient sounds, I will be able to create a file in which they will all be divided – the rustle of waves and gusts of wind to the melodic group, the pounding of pebbles, the steps, the falling sand – to the rhythmic group, etc. After assembling the instruments in this way, I will be able to compose music from them. I am happy to have such an opportunity to travel and create.

What attracts you to this possibility of a composer’s residence?

This residency is a creative challenge for me in several respects. First of all, I have not been to Sweden yet, I will be thrown out of the comfort zone and I will have the opportunity to get to know a new environment, new people. Over the course of those few weeks, I plan to both record and systematize the sounds from which I may be able to glue together a composition. As there is not so much time, it will be an intense mobilizing experience – a few days of recording, a few days of sound selection, processing, classification and the remaining time of composing. For me, this is also a challenge.

In my opinion, today’s modern technology offers a tremendous amount of compositional expression that you wouldn’t even be able to take advantage of throughout your life. There is a constantly expanding arsenal of tools and additional sound files. While it is necessary to take advantage of such opportunities, often composer immerses himself in his love of technology and his creativity suffers from it. As a result, today it is more important than ever to create new ideas, to challenge yourself, to try new things. I have never had such a task before myself – to compose based on the recording of ambient sounds in soundscape. It will be a new creative experience and that is why I greatly appreciate this opportunity.

It seems that the testing of undiscovered things is one of the main features of your work – the music you compose is extremely diverse and stylistically difficult to define.

I often feel like a schizophrenic in my daily creative work, because at the same time I am constantly working on projects that are not related to each other in any way. For example, I recently presented an installation, at the same time finishing a piece for the Christopher Chamber Orchestra, I am currently writing music for a performance, and soundtracks for films are waiting for me in the near future. I think constant change is the most constant feature of me as a composer.

The composing process itself is also volatile. I like to be lazy – Winnie-the-Pooh’s philosophy is close to me, that when you don’t do anything, you get a lot. I don’t do anything during the days and then I start working intensively. All of this inevitably creates internal and external chaos. I enjoy combining different jobs at the same time, but it is stressful and tiring.

What does mastering different genres of music give you?

Each genre is limited by its destination and listener. But as a composer, you decide for yourself every time whether you create outside the genre or not. When writing for theater, I can often play with different genres of music, distancing myself from their purpose and thus blurring the boundaries that separate them.

But in other cases you have to play by the rules. For example, a few years ago I wrote a text for the musical Lituanica. Although the musical was aimed at an educated audience, able to purchase a ticket, the work was intended for mass consumption. No matter how much freedom the composer had, he could not present aesthetically unsatisfying music to such an audience. In principle, it is possible to write the musical Lituanica in techno style. Only when you target mass listeners do you risk losing them with your experiments. Even in contemporary music, where there is no canon and everyone seeks to expand the boundaries of the sound, one cannot write traditional genres of music – only contemporary. As a result, the genre is often a matter of agreement, which is determined by the customer, the purpose, the listener. It all depends on the circumstances.

You seem to compose differently every time. How do you shape ideas and turn them into music?

My creative brain as a composer never shuts off. It constantly, consciously or subconsciously, catches the sounds of the environment unexpectedly heard. Even when driving a car and opening a window, I often hear the harmonies created by the wind. It is unfortunate that instant noting of ideas is impossible at that time. Even if you were to record sound with a voice recorder, part of what you heard on the recording would not be audible. You have to think about how to turn certain sound elements into music. Silence in all this endless sound chaos is hard to find, which is why I always cherish silent moments. Sometimes they occur even in the city, but most often in nature. I remember stepping out of the tent in the woods in the morning and seemed to face complete silence. I realized it was silence because something was causing tension – something seemed to be missing.

How do you perceive yourself as a composer?

I don’t like the spiritualization of creativity, which I often see in Lithuania. Especially the artists like to idealize themselves and their works. I think there is a lot of arrogance and at the same time provincialism in it. While there is much pride in its uniqueness and accomplishments, everything is only local. Of course, we also have internationally recognized musicians, but in Lithuania there is often an image that everyone is brilliant, applause and merit even for achievements that doesn’t stand out. We expect the same abroad, but there are many musicians of the same level playing in bars abroad.

As a result, here in Lithuania we live in a kind of bubble, we imagine that we are what we are not. Friends walk into each other’s performances and talk to each other in defense about what the good performances of both are. So in that bubble we praise each other, if anyone expresses criticism, they are immediately attacked. Gradually, this becomes a problem as the people of culture themselves begin to inadequately accept what they see on stage, leaving no critical appraisal. When all cultural life takes place in a certain bubble, Lithuanian music simply loses its listener. Therefore, in my opinion, the sooner we recognize the fact that we are a province, the easier it will be for ourselves. After all, there is basically nothing wrong with that, we just don’t have the resources to become the center of world culture. We should learn to evaluate ourselves realistically and be content with what we have. Then we will be able to create something immersed in reality – something really valuable.

What is your reality as a composer?

After all, there will be no high art materials without reality and everyday work. For me, creativity is not associated with flight – it is a process with its own frames and responsibilities, consisting of ordering, finance, time deadlines. Of course, I don’t like to torture when composing, so I try to find someone who would bring joy, even in difficult projects. There were several projects in the theater that I knew were completely commercial. I realized that there would be a lot of work, I would not like the work, and I would not even like the result. Even then, I came up with the idea of ​​training to write the song genre. It gave me joy anyway.

Does the idealization of the composer affect the remuneration of the profession?

Reward is one of the things that is avoided to talk about. Because art is supposed to be above money, its creators do not need or allocate funds. When you underestimate yourself financially, then others don’t respect you for it. I often notice that the best directors, composers, well-known screenwriters are invited to build a theater performance and it is desired that they work for half price. The proposed salary is inadequate. For all this, the ministry of culture finds itself at the bottom, and then we keep complaining about the lack of funding for culture.

Some contemporary works often survive in just one concert. How are you dealing with the temporary nature of music?

We live in an intense, ever-changing flow of information. Everything in it is temporary. I would choose the permanence of close people and building relationships than the permanence of music or creativity. It is also important to keep in mind that even a piece of contemporary music heard during one concert remains in the subconscious. In this form, music, while intangible and invisible, continues its existence. Yesterday, for example, I do not know where and why I started whistling S. Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf”. No matter how much I tried, I couldn’t comprehend why this melody came to my mind – perhaps, without realizing it, the thoughts subconsciously caught on. Maybe I read S. Prokofiev’s name somewhere? Such things also happen on a massive level – young people listen to music from the 1980s; we can sing works created in the Baroque or Medieval period. It turns out that the music is much more durable than it seems at first glance. Because of its emotional impact, music is remembered much better than words, numbers, or other information. After singing an old melody freely, I often think for a long time, trying to remember who created it. And I really couldn’t say in which year! When I hear my previously composed pieces of music, I most vividly remember the relationships I nurtured with other people during the creative process. Because of this, I think creativity is not more important to me than the memories of other people, time spent together.

In a previous interview, you mentioned that creating for a musical theater is absorbing and expressing the whole process of staging a performance with sound, reflecting people, directing, scenography, and other elements. Do you also play music in the theater performance?

Theater is a versatile genre where music is combined with director’s ideas. Towards the integrity of the work moves intuitively, linking different elements through emotion. But everything is mastered within the framework of genre, style and context. Although the composer and the music he composes are often invisible in the theater, not mentioned in reviews, not heard anywhere else except during the performance, it has a very strong impact on the whole performance. By directly affecting the emotions, it puts the performance on the wave, helps the actors and the audience empathize with the characters, the action on stage. I see the spectators pulling the napkins and wiping with teary eyes – no matter how mesmerizing the action on stage, without such music, such sharp emotions would not be evoked.

I remember the rehearsals of one performance highlighted the importance of music in the theater and the close connection between all the elements of the performance. I didn’t like the music I wrote myself and so I decided to change it fundamentally on the last day. The next day, everyone was much confused, as the time of the performance, the overall pulse, the dramaturgy automatically changed along with the music. Suddenly the actors, the director, the choreographer, the screenwriter, the artist, the artist of the lights – all had to change their performance again. I realized that the impact of music on a performance is extremely important – it is an essential part of the whole. As a result, when creating music for a performance, I capture what the rehearsal process is, what people gather, how they interact, what the image is on stage, how it is illuminated, what directing decisions affect the audience the most. It starts to live in me and so the music of the performance becomes a part and fruit of the creative process. As a result, I often feel emptiness after the premiere, when it’s all over.

How is this different from the experience of making music for cinema?

In cinema, things are a little different because you, as a composer, are not involved in the filming process. But here, too, everything is determined by the collaboration with the director and the sound director. Acquaintance is different every time. Often during the first project with a new director, the experience is unusual, awkward. Sometimes they are speechless, vaguely articulating what result they expect from you, can be offended if you don’t understand. They are worried about how they will appreciate what you have composed for them. When interacting with the directors as a composer, I have to find out about the project as much as possible and try to read their thoughts, understand the expectations and vision of the project in a way.

Later, when you collaborate with the director for a long time, it becomes much easier to read what his commission is. Then you are free to create, experiment, offer them unusual options. Don’t be afraid to fly and fall because if you don’t even hit, you know how they will react to it. As a result, rejection is not as painful, one mistake does not interrupt cooperation. Of course, it happens that you don’t propose anything good several times in a row and still don’t get the way the director wants. In situations like this, it often happens that you give up, compose something random, and then suddenly get a response from the director that you finally understood what he was asking for.

What process of composing music for cinema did you remember the most?

The soundtrack I created for director Sulev Keedus’ film The Killer. The girl. The Shadow brought one of the most important evaluations of my work – the award of the Tallinn Film Festival “Black Nights”. This film is made up of three parts, all of which I composed music for separately. I remember the meetings with director Sulev Keedus discussing each of the plays were very abstract. He couldn’t formulate his vision exactly, seemed not to demand a result from me, but to ask for help. Although I didn’t really understand what he wanted from me, I knew I wanted to understand and to create. I left the meetings only realizing that the atmosphere created by the sound was important to him. So I continued to move intuitively, at my discretion. I seemed to be standing in the middle of the field and not knowing where to go, but I intuitively chose the direction that worked. The sound director of this film was Saulius Urbanavičius, merged my music with video, weaved it into the overall atmosphere of the film. His work also contributed to the end result and such an assessment. I am very grateful to him for that.

It seems that on the one hand you create for yourself and on the other hand you are very limited by the director and the project itself. How do you combine all this?

In fact, it is important to maintain balance – to enjoy creativity yourself and to cooperate together, to take others into account. It is important that the music is part of the theater performance so that your individualistic musical experiments do not dismantle the whole work. It is equally important not to deprive yourself of the opportunity to do what you like – to create according to your perception and imagination. In this way, you help the performance to better express what is happening on stage. I think every composer has a desire for their music to fit and to be listened to and valued by people. This is how you try to maintain a balance between creating for yourself and creating for others.

Thank you for conversation!

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