(All Saints Records)
Looking up Djivan Gasparyan, possibly Armenia's most famous musical export, I learned about the instrument he plays is called the duduk. It's an instrument I'm sure you've heard but, if your like me, couldn't put a name to it. Due to it's use in soundtracks it's sound is tied to the Middle East but is not dissimilar to the oboe. Gasparyan himself has contributed to numerous soundtracks, including the Hans Zimmer's score for Gladiator, Peter Gabriel's soundtrack to The Last Temptation of Christ and cult hit The Crow. For him I think the instrument has a deep association. It's use dates back at least one and a half thousand years, if not as old as Armenia itself its been there for much of its history and Djivan seems to want to preserve it's historical and cultural importance in his music he plays.
Djivan Gasparyan performs traditional Armenian folk music garnering acclaim around the world including the title of People's Artist of Armenia in his homeland . Often playing solo, his music is often spiritual and soulful, both lonely and affirming. All Saints Records have been steadily making the back catalogue of experimental and ambient music readily available once more, the latest releases are Gasparyan's first two albums 1989's I Will Not Be Sad In This World and 1993's Moon Shines At Night.
Songs like Brother Hunter or the title track from I Will Not Be Sad In This World tempt me to use flowery language as the music evokes sparse, beautiful mountains rolling away in the horizon, but I’ll try to resist. There is a timeless quality to the music, untethered from any particular era, it could have been passed down for generations and even the song titles could be snippets from old folk poems.
Tracks from The Moon Shines At Night seem to cover a larger emotional range. Gentle drones underpin the melodies, that range from overbearing melancholy on the glacial paced Sayat Nova while Tonight adds a string section to create a peace that rises and falls in swells, ahead of the curve of contemporary ambient classical acts. The addition on vocals on 7th December 1988 make it feel part of a folk song tradition, taking out most of the instrumentation to leave only a hum behind an echoing voice which, despite the language barrier, is undeniably moving.
Whilst the music is subdued and meditative it still packs in a surprising amount of emotion, it isn't background music for an inner city yoga class. In fact it's emotional core is what has made the duduk and Gasparyan's playing such an obvious fit for film soundtracks. This isn't music to match any mood, it has a time and a place, maybe a contemplative evening, but I don't see how anyone couldn't appreciate the songs that wistfully unfurl like elegant and ancient tapestries.