Varhan Orchestrovic Bauer - composer of film score for "Goya's Ghosts"
The unusually named Varhan Orchestrovic Bauer (varhany means pipe organ in Czech, while Orchestrovic is derived from the word orchestra) is a well-known Czech conductor and composer whose work has featured in a number of cutting-edge films including the mock documentary Czech Dream. Nevertheless, Varhan's most ambitious work to date was composing the soundtrack for the new film by Milos Forman, called Goya's Ghosts. I was able to meet with Varhan Orchestrovic Bauer ahead of the film's gala premiere which will take place in Prague this week; he told me about what working on the film was like.
"This work was special for me because Milos Forman just heard my music expressed an interest. Even though he had someone else who was in charge of music, he was able to listen to my music and he was so interested that he put my music in his movie. Later on, they sent a letter to the American Embassy in Prague and I got a visa and went to New York to see the first edited version of Goya's Ghosts."
When you got involved you still had no idea what kind of film it would be: what was the difference between preparing music for 'a project' and then learning what the project was about?
"It was quite different because I thought that the film would be directly about Goya. But, the film is more about faith and politics and how someone can trust their whole life to an idea and somebody can't. The movie surprised me: it was very impressive and very heavy, and as a result the music that I created after was very heavy too. My first impression led to 'Credo', the film's main track."
What kind of working relationship did you have with Milos Forman? You said that you went to New York City and I understand that you spent about half a year there?
"I was flying back and forth. The relationship was based on professional qualities but he is friendly to people and very funny. As a director he is looking for unusual solutions and situations in his films as well as around him, so it was very inspiring to be around him."
"Yeah. He's working constantly. You can be out for dinner somewhere - but he's constantly thinking about the movie. And that's what I like about him."
One thing is composing, another is conducting it: I understand that for Goya's Ghosts you conducted the London Symphony Orchestra at a very famous studio.
"Yes, it was at the studio in Abbey Road. When I was little my father used to play "Abbey Road" by the Beatles for me all the time and I loved it! I knew all the words as I kid, I knew it by heart. And suddenly it happened to me that I came to Abbey Road! First, I visited the room where the Beatles recorded and I can tell you there is really a special atmosphere there. Then, I went to the bigger hall where the orchestra was waiting and from the first moment everything worked. They performed brilliantly and it was a very pleasant experience for both sides!"
How did you find the finished product, when you saw the picture and music melded together and you saw it for the first time?
"I saw it at a special premiere in Madrid in November and I can say that I saw it with a certain distance - without being 'inside it' - for the first time. For half a year I lived with the movie and knew each sentence and everything and was 'in there'. But, then I did some music for some other films and when I attended the premiere in November I was detached. But, it drew me in again and I can say I lived inside again. I think it is a powerful movie."
When you're not working on a film like Goya's Ghosts, what other projects are you involved in?
"I am doing a lot of performances with my film orchestra, which I have run for fifteen years. We do a lot of film music, some church music, and now I am working on a project involving a combination of drum n' bass and symphonic music, but, that is technically difficult because of equipment and special sound systems. You need to hear both things to mix them properly: both things have to be equal. The electronic music and symphonic music have to go through each other and not harm each other."
In general, as an artist do you enjoy mashing up different styles to go together, certain Baroque elements with a punk-like sensibility, where you're moving within genres.
"Yeah, I like it, it's a new way of doing things. You have to study both sides, you have to study for example drum'n'bass and classical music, both things together. You have to really study and suddenly you see where they meet. You see how you can make it work and see what pitfalls to avoid so they go together."
Now I know that you're asked this all the time, I know that you changed your name, you weren't born with the name Varhan Orchestrovic. At which point did you actually decide to change your name?
"I think it's not that important. What's important is that my name is 'in equality' with who I am and what I am doing. 'Nomen omen' means which name you choose and you use gives you power which you get back and if you choose properly and everything is in harmony, the result is perfect. In the name is everything: there is my love of aristocracy, there is some self-irony, a little bit of Don Quixotism or parody and I like it. Because I don't take myself so seriously and I think that's good."
Why is it that you ultimately chose to compose music so specifically for film?
"Because through film music you can speak to so many people: there are many more people in theatres all around the world than will come for one concert. It's also programme music: the music is directed by the picture, so the form and the instruments and the orchestration are all based on the picture. It is programme music of the highest type."