The Press (Christchurch, New Zealand)
January 31, 2014 Friday
Ahead of his one-off New Zealand performance with the Christchurch
Symphony Orchestra, System of a Down vocalist Serj Tankian talks to
Vicki Anderson about combining music with art and symphonies with
AXIS OF JUSTICE
Axis of Justice is a non- profit organisation formed by Tom Morello
(Rage Against the Machine/The Nightwatchman) and Tankian. Its purpose
is to bring together musicians, fans of music, and grassroots
political organisations to fight for social justice. While in
Christchurch, Tankian is looking for non-profit organisations he can
offer support to. .
Serj Tankian knew the moment his feet touched New Zealand soil that he
Best known as the lead vocalist of metal group System of A Down, the
Armenian- American singer, songwriter, composer, multi-instrumentalist
and artist shares his time equally between Auckland and Los Angeles.
"Life in New Zealand for me it's a moralistic lifestyle, a relaxed
space to be," he says.
"Ultimately it was the feeling I got when I first landed here back in
1999, it was a feeling of intuitive belonging. Ultimately you know
where you are supposed to be."
With the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, Tankian will perform a
one-off New Zealand concert in Christchurch next month for his
critically acclaimed symphony ORCA and Elect the Dead, a symphonic
interpretation of the rock record.
"I've been having an ongoing conversation for a few years with Hamish
McKeich from the CSO and it's always been a time issue. This year I am
planning to spend a lot of time in New Zealand and it worked out."
Gretchen La Roche, artistic manager for the CSO, says it is a big
highlight of the organisation's 2014 programme.
"It is an unbelievable privilege for us to be sharing the stage with
such an outstanding musician as Serj Tankian," she says. "Everyone
here is excited about it."
Tankian hasn't been to Christchurch since 2002 and believes
"emotionally and artistically, some positivity would be beneficial"
for the city.
He has recently completed a European tour which included dates in
Russia, and will bring in musicians for the one-off show, one from
Armenia alongside two "audio specialists" and he says he is interested
in hearing how the CSO interprets ORCA.
He describes the symphony as "symbolism for humanity".
"Killer Orca comes from the dolphin family which we view as so
helpful, dolphins guide people to safety in the water but killer
whales are somehow bad. It speaks volumes about humanity. We are both
the dolphin and the killer whale."
ORCA was, he says, born out of a "complete accident".
He was in Piha, working on his album Imperfect Harmonies, and a few
pieces of music he had written for the album were too long to be
"I was sitting down with a friend of mine and I played them and
suggested they could perhaps be bonus tracks on the album as they were
too long, nine or 10 minutes.
"He said 'these are the first two movements of your symphony'. It
sounds naive and dumb but that didn't occur to me initially."
The music came naturally, inspired by the vast ocean around him. The
first two parts of the symphony reached land in Piha, Victorious
Orcinus and Oceanic Subterfuge while Delphinus Capensis and
Lamentation of the Beached arrived when Tankian returned to Los
"It went through multiple changes before it was recorded live in Austria."
Tankian does not like to confine himself to musical boundaries.
"It's about not putting commercial limitations on yourself."
His solo albums and symphonies, ORCA, Elect the Dead and Jazz-iz
Christ - sonic adventures flowing over a jazz backdrop - might seem
worlds away from the bombastic textures of metal in System of a Down,
but Tankian views them as equally rich.
"I enjoy being able to taste all of these fruits".
Moving people in different ways enthrals him.
In his orchestral music, the instrumentation is vulnerable and
beautiful, and, when combined with his strong rock sensibilities, is
He describes creating as "a communication with the universe".
"My favourite time to write is when all the chores are done and I have
playtime. I can go into the studio and create something fresh, writing
with an open canvas and unlimited colours. If I have a focus, say a
film score or a video game score, I get it done quickly. Playing
around, it is a communication with the universe.
"On larger projects like an album I exercise, eat a light lunch, then
spend 10-14 hours a day in the studio, I become consumed by a project,
sleep with it. At the end I feel exhausted and drained, but having
created something, I feel redeemed."
This year he is in New Zealand "taking some time off".
That said, he has just finished the score for a video game called
Midnight Star, which he describes as "orchestral, electronic, rock, a
huge bombastic musical score" and there's a "film or two" that he's
looking at writing scores for.
Last year he turned his creative vision to combining music with visual art.
Searching for a way to make his music an exclusive experience led to
the app Eye for Sound and a musical painting exhibition, Disarming
Time, was shown in Hollywood last November.
Disarming Time included 22 original artworks by Tankian, each paired
with a track of music composed specifically for each visual work.
"I'm hoping to do a couple of exhibitions in New Zealand this year and
I'm looking for New Zealand musicians who are also artists to get them
Whether you're a diehard metaller or a classical buff, this ORCA swims
in a sea of beauty.
Serj Tankian and the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra present Orca and
Elect the Dead Symphony at CBS Canterbury Arena on March 29. Tickets
$59.90-$89.90 plus applicable fee, available from Ticketek.co.nz
Coming soon: Serj Tankian will perform with the Christchurch Symphony
Orchestra in March.
Serj Tankian will perform with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra in
Posted 02 February 2014 - 10:56 AM
The Press (Christchurch, New Zealand)
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