RA: You've also scored Turksib in the past, is there something in particular that draws you to Soviet film?
GB: Soviet films, at least from the particular era that Arsenal comes from, are fascinating in that they emerged from a climate that tolerated, and even encouraged, far greater avant garde expression than was then allowed in, for example, Hollywood cinema. Soviet filmmakers were naturally restricted in what they could depict due to the proscriptions and prescriptions of state censorship, but Hollywood had its own form of indirect censorship, of style, largely due to markets. As with many Soviet films of the era, Arsenal displays a powerful use of montage, in a strikingly geometric way, often with the effect of converting the action to an impressionistic whirl of lines and shapes. It’s thrilling, deliriously visual cinema.
RA: How did you come to compose the soundtrack for Arsenal? Was it straightforward getting support from the Ukraine, especially given the civil war?
GB: I had been in discussion with the Oleksandr Dovzhenko National Centre for some time about the score, but once the tragic events of Euromaidan and the accompanying geopolitical fallout began, we had to postpone our plans. I was finally able to commence work once things began to stabilise, at least a little, and with much appreciated support and assistance from British Council Ukraine. I debuted the soundtrack last year in Kyiv, in the actual building where the original Arsenal Uprising took place nearly a century ago, which was an exceptional honour.
RA: What makes Dovzhenko a special director in your eyes?
GB: Aside from the glorious visual poetry of his films, he occupies a special position due to his somewhat ambiguous relationship with the Soviet authorities. Arsenal frustrated Soviet state critics by not placing the Arsenal uprising itself (a historical event that saw Bolsheviks uniting with Ukrainian workers against the then ruling Ukrainian nationalists) centre stage, and instead using it as a device to explore greater questions about Ukrainian national identity and the tragedy and absurdity of war.
RA: Can you describe your process of scoring a film?
GB: The first thing I look for when scoring any film, which is especially prominent in Soviet films of this era, is the rhythm of the work. The process of montage editing used by directors such as Dovzhenko makes for incredibly dramatic sequences with their own inherent rhythm. Arsenal accumulates tempo and emotional resonance throughout. I’m also keen to use a sound palette that doesn’t jar with the narrative, or compromise the historicity – I want the sounds to emerge as if part of that world, while still keeping an appreciation of it being a contemporary accompaniment.
RA: What's your favourite scene from the film and which segment of the film did you enjoy making music for the most?
GB: There are some incredibly thrilling sequences, but I found myself drawn strongly to the heartbreaking sections that open and close the film, where we are confronted with the consequences of war through the eyes of families.
RA: What film would you like to compose for next?
GB: I’d be interested in composing for feature length contemporary cinema at some point – I believe they have these new-fangled ‘talkies’ nowadays. Having said that, it would be great to work with Dovzhenko again – Arsenal is part of the ‘Ukraine Trilogy’, and it would be exciting to work with the other two films. I’ve also lately been enjoying the early short films of Man Ray, and I feel it could be invigorating to work with something that is more experimental in tone.
Arsenal is on tour to Chapter Arts Centre (13 March), Taliesin Arts Centre (14 March), Aberystwyth Arts Centre (15 March and Theatr Clwyd (16 March) during WOW Film Festival. See http://www.wowfilmfestival.com/en/wowfilms/item/123-arsenal