(Progressive Newsletter Nr.38 01/02)
excerpts from an interview with Vahan Artsruni (Vocals, Guitar)
I graduated Yerevan Komitas State Conservatory in vocals in 1994. Since 1991 I was soloing with “Narek” Male Choir, State Academic Cappella of Armenia and “Haysmavourk” Mediaeval Choir. But I was in music well before that, in 1984-1986 I was playing in the band of a legendary Armenian minstrel Arthur Meschian featuring in guitar. It did the start to my music life, which I decided to recommence after graduating Yerevan Medical University and obtaining a Master’s Degree in 1991. In 1995-1997 as Artistic Director I organized four students festivals. At this time I was performing music in projects, in more sympho rock oriented style.
You work in different musical surroundings and projects. What are differences between your solo works, the band Artsruni and your more orchestral projects?
Definitely, my interests towards various forms of music expression help me introduce different music. My solo works introduce another side of Vahan Artsruni, there I sing more…I sing in Armenian, and this music is very personal, very chamber... Recently I finished recording of “Ten Revelations” studio album where I composed music on poetry of Komitas, a great Armenian composer and ethnomusicologist. It is very gentle, philosophical album recorded with the Chamber Ensemble, children choir and folk instruments... Orchestral music is also of great interest to me. Another passion! Ethnophonica is a suite in four parts. Huge thing! 110 classical musicians, “Masters”, the ensemble of traditional instruments and my band, ARTSRUNI, create very progressive sound. It is not pagan, tribal music…Oh no! I am trying to turn on nowadays-lost dialogue between roots and heavens. Orchestral music, Ethnophonica, due to its monumental range deeply impressed all those around and I realized, that the recipe, is in fact right. When you add to traditional line-up of the orchestra something unusual such as folk instruments and electric… well, it creates another language, or, better to say, type of music communication …and…and it has an incredible intonation…
When and how did you discover your love for art rock / progressive rock?
I never thought that my experiments had the name, really. I was just living and creating music, and now I am 35, and I know that what I have been doing all my life is definitely progressive music, progressive rock music. I played with different musicians, made different forms of music, but it always had the kernel that this year made a good and generous plant. We played a lot this summer with ARTSRUNI, we made “Lost and Found”, “The Live Cuts 2000/2001”, in between “Ten Revelations”, and I am eager to introduce very soon “Cruzaid”, a studio album.
How did you come in contact with the progressive rock scene?
My close friend, Arman Padaryan, General Manager of Cadence Music Centre, was present at our concert this summer. That made a crucial impression on him. He just approached and said, “Okay, I know what you are doing…” Since then he started very actively publicizing us. And four months after I found lots of reviews about us on all continents…Well, that was unusual…When you are from a very small country, very archaic nation, you never expect very cordial response… But it happened, respected British reviewers were the first to announce us worth listening. That was good to read.
In which way does the Armenian culture and heritage influence your music?
Directly, I always used my knowledge of Armenian music, literature, poetry, painting in my work. I was soloing in a choir of mediaeval music a good period of my life, so I know enough. Also, I like to use the art and skills of my friends in many of my projects. Despite severe economic strain cultural life in Armenia is far from flagging! Simply Armenia is not connected to the word…At least yet. I hope that our efforts can contribute to making our country closer to contemporary music scene.
How difficult is it for you to get play live, to realize all your different projects?
It has never been a problem. I do more than 30 different concerts a year. For Armenia it’s a big number. Let’s take this year. I started the year with a range of solo concerts. Just a guitar and me. Then I prepared a range of gigs with Marina Hovhannessyan, my, as it turned to be soon, fiancée. She reads the poetry of the great Armenian poet, Baruyr Sevag, I was playing the guitar and duduk was played by another of our friends, Gevorg Dabaghian creating the atmosphere that rooted back to centuries and suited the show perfectly. Then came the days of concerts with ARTSRUNI, my pet project. We made 22 sold out concerts this summer and autumn and plan to make 5 more on Christmas. I am really satisfied with the amount of work I have done together with my friends. I hope that the coming soon studio album will crown our efforts and I really want to play it with ARTSRUNI in Europe. I also plan to record all four parts of Ethnophonica with Armenian Philharmonic Orchestra. I just need a good label for this project.
Unfortunately there's not much known of Armenia in the "western" world. Can you tell me a little bit about the political and economical situation of your home country?
Political situation is more or less stable. Economic situation is very bad. One system, which was far not perfect, was broken, but something yet ridiculous was created instead. Many non-competent people rule the country. It’s a problem. Common people live very hard life due to selfishness and egoism of dilettante administrators abundant after ineffective reforms. Cultural life is blooming, especially this year when all Armenia, together with the whole world is celebrating 1700th Anniversary of Adopting Christianity as State Religion. Practically every day there have been concerts and other events. Many famous artists have come to the country. I think it would be interesting to talk to Didier Malherb, but he was very busy with Jivan Gasparian, our great duduk player. They played two gigs with other old greats in Yerevan and Gyumri. I could not meet them. Hope to play with them in Europe sometime!
Kristian Selm © Progressive Newsletter 2002