Executive of the GVA Music Production in Sofia (Bulgaria) and Skopje (North Macedonia), Georgi is capturing the sound of full orchestral ensembles, recording soundtracks for the movie industry. We have asked Georgi to share some of his experiences.
Music Partner: Georgi, what triggered your interest in sound recording?
Georgi Hristovski: Music as an art form. I was fortunate to have been brought up into a family who valued music. My father bought 45 RPM vinyl of Italian music or French singers and played them all the time.
We were waiting with anticipation the broadcast of the "Sanremo" music festival. We would not miss it for the world.
I remember our neighbor: Vaska Bidzhova who was a star of the Skopje opera. I used to go to her home to play with her son and witnessed some of her rehearsals live. I was mesmerized by the beauty and power of her voice. Later, as a teenager, I got into pop and listened to the "Beatles", the "Rolling Stones" and local groups who were imitating them. Our source was Radio Luxemburg which was playing lots of European pop.
For my 19th birthday, my parents bought me a double album of the "Pink Floyd". I played their music all day long for a while. I was totally fascinated by their music and began to wonder how their sound was captured?
I started to read books on the subject, and this is how my interest turned into an obsession.
MP: You followed an academic program that brought you to study in Paris France. Was it by choice?
GH: Yes, it was by choice. I fell in love with France when I was 10. My parents liked to discover new European countries, every year we would visit one. I remember reaching France via Italy through the "Mont Blanc Tunnel" which had just been inaugurated. At the time, it was the longest tunnel in the world linking Italy to France. I recall the emotion I felt, traveling this long tunnel under the highest European mountain going from a country to another. I knew I would come back.
When the time came to choose a school and become a sound engineer, I naturally decided to study in France.
MP: Are you a musician as well?
GH: In my youth, I learnt to play the guitar and the musical theory, which is helping me in my current occupation, but I cannot claim to be a musician.
MP: Is GVA Music Production just a recording studio or do you provide other services?
GH: Beyond GVA recording activities, we have our own orchestra. We have carefully chosen each musician.
We are working in 3 studios in Sofia and one major concert hall in Skopje. Those locations have been chosen for their outstanding acoustic.
The quality of our recordings is our pride. No parasite sounds, high performance equipment, such as "Euphonix" console which is used by "NASA" for their space communication.
We also do edit and mixing up to 7.1 and Atmos.
Now our company enjoys an international recognition. Many composers are trusting our orchestra to play scores of all kind, difficult or simple. Quality in our services is our priority.
MP: You have worked in capturing the sound of different music genres and from international composers yet, you are working in a region of the world where we know extraordinarily little from the music culture. Could you reveal some of its trends?
GH: The folklore of our region makes a large space to voices, especially women voices. Our music follows specific and unusual rhythms. For example: a 4/8 will be followed by a 5/8, a 7/8 by a 4/8 or a 9/8 by a 11/8. Kids at school love singing within those rhythms. Another popular rhythm is the "Sedmorka" (7th) 7/16.
The instruments used are often from Turkish origin: the "Zurna" from the oboe family, the "Tapan" which is a drum, the "Tamboura" sort of a guitar/luth, or the "Gaida" which is a bag pipe. Macedonia was under Turkish leadership for 5 centuries and a lot of the traditional Turkish culture melted with ancestral Macedonian culture.
Today, multiple festivals are taking place year-round. The Skopje Jazz Festival, the Skopje Summer Festival, the Ohrid Summer Festival, Skopje Opera Festival, and many others.
We are extremely happy to be a place where music has become an important part of people's life in Macedonia.
MP: The recording techniques to capture the sound of dozens of musicians at once are different from recording a quartet. Can you describe some of these techniques and the challenges you are facing?
GH: The biggest challenge is to have a full orchestra, recording the overall sound while controlling the sound of each musician. My state of mind before recording, is to understand what the composer's idea is by reading the score and try to capture the sound in a way imagined by the composer. We must hear every note played by each instrument, then, the mixing role will link all the sequences flawlessly.
Of course, the selection of microphones and their position and angle is where the very first challenge resides. Succession of trial and adjustment is indispensable.
Often, with my colleague's engineers, we listen to the sound during the recording and anticipate that a final mix may not be necessary. It is why we offer a stereo mix in real time to composers.
Capturing the sound of an orchestra knowing you have done a good job provides a difficult to explain joy. I love being a sound engineer, I do not see myself doing anything else.
MP: Is recording a soundtrack different from recording a musical album and do you need to see the film or do musicians just play the score as written?
GH: Recording for media nowadays involves the time factor. We often have limited time to rehearse, record, mix if necessary and deliver. There is no room for error. The composer saw the film over and over as he composed following the storyline. He is present during recording to provide guidance.
Most of the time, we can watch the film while recording which brings a better dynamic control of the recording and better synchronization with the images.
The conductor and the engineer are watching the film together before recording and during.
When recording music for an album, we have more time for each phase of the recording. We may spend a few days to record a 3-minute song to the expectation of the author.
MP: Beyond your experience and professionalism, do you have a specialty for which soundtrack composers would rather work with you?
GH: The team at GVA loves what it does. Music of course and the perpetual ambition to deliver beyond expectations.
We have developed relationships with composers who know the sincerity of our work. We never discuss the score as written and always provide the best of our experience to our clients.
Each composer has its own personality and way to explain their wishes. We enjoy working with all of them, diversity is important.
In the past, when working with a 24 tracks tape recorder, always with "AGFA" or the "BASF Studio Master" known for their low background noise, I used to record with high modulation and no distortion of course, allowing the lowest level of noise during mixing. With digital technology, I kept working with high modulation on each track, it makes mixing simpler.
MP: You are working in the Eastern European region; how do you collaborate with composers from the rest of the world?
GH: Business has become global, enhanced by the internet communication. Today we can connect and send high quality sounds and recordings anywhere in the world. This has allowed the expansion of our reach and the possibility to work with composers from the world over. It is fantastic.
MP: Could you name some of the films you have recorded the soundtrack for?
GH: The list is long, here are samples of our work:
- The Vanishing from composer Benjamin Willfisch
- The Ottoman Lieutenant from composer Geoff Zanelli
- The Red Turtle from composer Laurent Perez Del Mar
- Act of Vengeance from composer Frederik Wiedmann
- Hemingway & Gellhorn from composer Javier Navarrete
- Palm Trees in the Snow from composer Lucas Vidal.
We have recorded hundreds of soundtracks for a wide range of composers from Eric Neuveux to A.R. Rahman.
MP: Technology has become a major part of sound engineering, following equipment evolution, how did your role change for the past 35 years?
GH: When I worked for the National Radio Studios in 1983, we were equipped with multitrack tape recorders and mixing tables from the American manufacturer "MCI". We had mastered the analog way to capture sound with high level of quality.
In 2003, one of our studios received digital equipment to digitize audio archives. It is in 2007 that our studio M1 known for its impeccable acoustic, was equipped with a "SSL-Duality" 48 tracks combined with a "Pro-Tools" software. A little later, the "Millennia 8 tracks" arrived to complete the set-up.
Analog vs, Digital...
The digital offers a wider range in editing and mixing possibilities but the warmth of analog recording gets my vote.
A sound Engineer needs to adjust to new technologies all the time and be versatile to use them accordingly.
MP: You have experienced different responsibilities, from soundtrack recording to live broadcasting of concert for the Macedonian radio and TV. What are your best "gigs" and Is there a session you would dream to be part of?
GH: I have done a lot of live broadcasting of our orchestra playing at different concerts. I have great memories of a concert with tenor Jose Carreras for the opening of the Ohrid Summer Festival in 2005. The difficulty was in the location. Outside in an amphitheater built in the 70s which is in the old town of Ohrid. He had been raining a lot jeopardizing our set-up. The organizers had scheduled an alternate location in a gymnasium, and we moved material and cables to the gymnasium, but Jose Carrera did not like his voice there and he was right, we had measured a sustaining reverb of 14 seconds and preferred the open amphitheater. After checking with a central meteorology station in Rome, the forecast was sunny after 2 pm the day of the concert. This specific morning, the team moved back all material and cables to the amphitheater while still raining but at 2 pm, the rain stopped, and Jose Carrera sung.
Another great memory was the concert from the Philharmonic Orchestra of Israel under the direction of Master Zubin Mehta in 2007.
Zubin Mehta as a perfectionist did not want to conduct live before listening to the sound quality. The following day, we invited him to the studio to listen to the recording. He was satisfied and left congratulating us. I was worried, during the installation of the microphones, the Israeli security did not allow to have the microphones too close to the musicians. We were able to compensate without filtration.
The session I wish to record would be again with the Israeli philharmonic and Lisa Batiashvili as a first violin.
MP: What are your current projects?
GH: We had quite a lot of projects scheduled las year. The pandemic has put a stop to most of them. We are hoping for a better 2021.
MP: Do you have an anecdote to share with us?
GH: In 2016, during a recording in our M1 studio, which is 2 stories below ground, a 5.3 earthquake shook the studio and took us by surprise. All microphones have recorded the sound of the quake. while watching a video made from the control room, we can see clearly the musicians stopping and one running to the exit on the other side of the studio. It was scary when it happened, but the video is funny to watch. Of course, no one was hurt.
MP: Music Partner’s model is disrupting the music licensing industry. How do you see the future of music recording for media?
GH: This is a particularly good question: For the past 2 decades, the technology has evolved in such ways that with a synthesizer and a computer, you can create what we call the "Home Studio" making musical production available to many. Suddenly, composers are music producers and sound engineer.
It is important to mention that each have their specificities and complexity. It is incredibly difficult to be the best simultaneously in all of them.
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