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We are pleased to introduce you to the music of Mikhail Marchenko. Originally from Russia and currently living in Lenexa, KS, Marchenko is a prolific composer of soundtrack and incidental as well as orchestral and rock music. In this Listen Local feature, we learn about the special challenges that come with creating "soundscapes that match what you see on the screen" and how writing music for film differs from the other kinds of music he creates and the tools he uses to bring those musical visions to life.
Please introduce yourself. What is your background? How long have you been a composer?
My name is Mikhail Marchenko. I am a composer and, along with Harlan Ray Knapp, a co-founding member of Deflekt Records. I am also a member of a band called The Former. I grew up in a small town in Russia called Pyatigorsk. At the age of thirteen, I moved to Kansas with my mom where I have lived ever since, minus a few years that I've spent studying in Virginia. I have always loved music, even as a kid. I remember listening to Queen on tape and admiring Freddie Mercury's talent and passion for music. I have been composing music for over five years and it all started with a game called Guitar Hero. That game was a gateway for me to pick up and learn the actual guitar. I took a few guitar lessons to learn the basics and slowly started tinkering with Garage Band on my Mac and I am still discovering and learning new things every day. I don't believe that you can come to a point where there is nothing else left to learn, which makes this job so interesting!
How did you get interested in writing soundtrack music? Describe the collaborative nature of this work.
As a musician, I have always admired classical composers like Beethoven or Chopin, however I found that it was easier for me to relate to the work of contemporary film composers, such as Harry Gregson-Williams and Hans Zimmer. The process of writing soundtracks is challenging, yet extremely rewarding. You have to be able to communicate your thoughts and ideas clearly with the director, as well as create soundscapes that match what you see on the screen.
What different creative approach do you take to your non-soundtrack music?
The process for me personally is the same - create a catchy melody on the piano or a funky beat and go from there. The main difference between writing music for a film, as opposed to creating beats for hip-hop artists, is that you are not constrained by the barriers imposed on you by the film, which gives you free reign to create any music that you want to create.
How do you and write record your music?
I try different variations in melody over the same structure until I find one I like best or one that better suits the scenes. I compose and record my music using a few simple tools - my Mac, a midi keyboard controller, and Logic Pro X. The latter is a digital audio workstation that allows you to record music utilizing the built-in or 3rd party plug-ins.
What do you struggle with the most creatively and how do you push through those struggles?
All of us have good days and bad days. As Charles Dicken's wrote in A Tale of Two Cities - "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times". Taking that quote literally, same thing happens when you write music - some days nothing just comes to you and that is quite alright. I struggle with that all the time, everybody does. Yet some days the music just flows out of you. You just cannot let those dry patches define you. I find that, just by getting up and going for a walk outside helps me tremendously when I am in a creative rut.
Who or what inspires you?
I am inspired by classical and contemporary composers as well as pop audio producers. I don't think the latter get enough credit for their work, honestly. It is unbelievably difficult to create a catchy melody for one track/artist, but these guys nail it virtually every time.
1984 by George Orwell - This is one of my favorite novels by George Orwell and by far my favorite dystopian novel full stop. A must read in a post-Snowden world.
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle - I grew up reading the stories depicting the amazing life of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Originally, I've read these books in Russian (published during the golden age of the Soviet Union), which funny enough omitted Sherlock's addiction to drugs.
Anthem by Ayn Rand - This is a very interesting novel about a Prometheus-like figure with a dystopian twist. Instead of sacrificing himself to steal fire from Zeus to give to mankind the character in Rand's book discovers its modern equivalent - electricity - and is punished for it. It's a great story of perseverance and individualism and defiance against a collectivist society.
Spy Game, directed by Tony Scott - In my humble opinion this is the best spy movie ever made and the soundtrack, composed by Harry Gregson-Williams, is simply amazing.
Forrest Gump, directed by Robert Zemeckis - This is a truly great movie that everybody should see. It demonstrates that you can do anything you set your mind to as long as you put in some effort. The soundtrack by Alan Silvestri will make you cry like a baby, fair warning.
The Dark Knight, directed by Christopher Nolan - Batman has always been favorite superhero character and the one that I could relate to the most, due to his lack of superhero abilities. Instead he relies on his wit and grit to defeat the bad guys.
Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, by Kendrick Lamar
TRON Legacy OST, by Daft Punk
Gentleman, by Fela Kuti