Painting with Music
Get to know musician and Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellowships alumnus Van Sarkissian
April 26, 2023 | by Creative Armenia
Van Sarkissian, 2022 Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow
Music has been an integral part of Van Sarkissian’s life ever since he was a kid. Moved by the works of legendary artists, the composer and musician realized early on he wanted to create emotionally impactful music like his heroes. He has carried that spark throughout his creative career, composing in many musical genres and most recently venturing into composing for film, most recently writing the score for an Artsakh-war feature documentary Invisible Republic.
Learn more about the creative journey of our 2022 Creative Armenia-AGBU Fellow Van Sarkissian from the interview with the musician.
"After that, my parents gifted me a classical guitar. I think they wanted me to learn the academic way but it broke me."
Tell us a little about how you began your journey of becoming a musician.
My earliest experience with music is from my childhood. My parents would put on classical music pieces and when emotional parts hit, I would start crying. But these are just stories I’ve been told about.
After that, my parents gifted me a classical guitar. I think they wanted me to learn the academic way but it broke me. They took me to the best classical teacher at that time, Hakob Jaghatspanyan, and soon I learned that I was not in sync with it. I had a very hard time with it. That was until I got an electric guitar as a gift. That got me back to my world, playing the stuff I loved. I formed a band and played rock music while practicing classical guitar to apply for conservatory.
The turning point was when I got a full scholarship from the Manoukian Foundation to study at the Royal Academy of Music in London. This was a life-changing experience. There I took a composition class with Ruth Byrchmore, which launched my first attempt at composing.
Tell us about your creative inspirations – whether those are people, things, or phenomena – and what you have learned from them.
At this moment, what inspires me are stories. Stories of regular people like us; how we are all alone with the “package” that we have inherited at the beginning of our lives.
I have come to realize that I am a visual person – maybe because I come from a family of visual artists – but that is how my brain functions. The way I create music is by watching a movie in silence; the visuals put me into an interesting state of mind straight away. In that regard, Peleshyan and Tarkovsky are big inspirations for me.
" I remember working on different parts of Invisible Republic, writing music with tears on my face. Emotionally, it was a hard movie to write for."
Recently, you have been writing film scores for a lot of projects, including an Artsakh-war documentary Invisible Republic, a short film Woman, and many others. How is the process different from songwriting? What do you enjoy and find challenging about it?
I love it. My first experience with film was with Vahagn Khachatryan. He was studying film and would ask me to write things for his projects. That is when I realized that there is something in the process that truly resonates with me. I was driven by its possibilities.
In 2020, when the Artsakh war erupted, Garin Hovannisian, the director of the feature documentary Invisible Republic, came over with his crew and we spontaneously started writing a song that the protagonist of the film Lika Zakaryan would sing in the film. Afterward, Garin approached me with an idea to write the film’s score. I remember working on different parts of Invisible Republic, writing music with tears on my face. Emotionally, it was a hard movie to write for. But we developed an interesting way of going back and forth with the film’s director; I guess every film composer has to learn to communicate well with the filmmaker to get into the flow.
The process is both similar and very different. When you are writing a song, you are free because you are the only one in charge. With film, it’s like playing in a band. You have to be aware of what is happening constantly and adjust to let the voice-over fade away and come back at the right time. Visuals help a lot. When I watch the footage, I already have something in mind – a mood or even the notes – and then I start improvising with it.