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Serj Tankian's 'Spitak' Soundtrack Balances Inspiration Against Epic Devastation
Tankian's latest project? Scoring Spitak, a film on the epic devastation of the 1988 Armenian earthquake that took 25,000 lives in 30 seconds.
The project was a uniquely personal and multi-layered experience for him, he recently shared in a Rolling Stone interview. "My problem is not adding emotion," said Tankian. "It's taking emotion away."
Born in Lebanon to Armenian parents, Tankian moved to Los Angeles as a young child but grew up with a strong sense of his Armenian heritage alongside the diversity of mainstream American life and media. Tankian covers issues pertinent to Armenia and its diaspora not just in his film work, but also the music he makes.
"I grew up listening to a lot of Armenian, Arabic and European music — all types of music," he said.
Scoring the film was special to Tankian as his wife actually lived through the quake, while attending school in the city of Spitak not far from the epicenter. A core plot element of the film is centered on a girl trapped beneath a building, hoping for rescue.
"We wanted to have hope for a little girl in the film who survives and is trapped," Tankian shared. "Her world needed to be more magical, so there's that ethereal quality to some of the score, then the heavy scenes of the devastation of the city needed music that was darker in tone. It was an interesting balance."
Spitak is not the only film he's worked on with an Armenian theme. In addition to soundtracks in the works for The Last Inhabitant, music documentary Truth To Power and videogame Midnight Star, Tankian is working on the film I Am Not Alone about the Armenian revolution.
Scoring provides Tankian an opportunity to work with genres outside of what he makes with SOAD.
"I write in orchestral music, jazz and rock," he explained. "One reason I like composing for films is because every director wants something different, genre-wise, sound-wise, emotion-wise. It's fun. I get to make a different-sounding record every time."